“Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths.” — Muhammad Ali
The days are long and heavy, literally the air is heavy, sticky, unbearable, and exhausting here in Israel in July. I don’t pee as often as you would think considering the amount of water I drink, and recently, I started worrying about drowning my organs by drinking too much water. Tel Aviv is not the desert, but it’s close to it, because this country is that small – you can get to the Negev in about 2hrs driving. It’s a city, much like New York City (renting an apartment/finding a sublet is proving to be just as stressful and expensive in both places), and it’s a bubble – protected by a transparent shell, where social protests about jobs and real estate take precedence over the terrorist attack in Bulgaria this past week. Or even the week long battle in Damascus, (links all Haaretz pieces I helped compile/write!) where the defense minister was blown up along with Assad’s brother-in-law. Shit is going down in the Middle East, there is no question about that. The days are hot, our energy and patience is low; a man set himself on fire last week during a social protest in Tel Aviv just to prove a point. What did he accomplish besides succumbing to the wounds of his public outcry? Here at our humble abode on Y.L Peretz street, where stray cats and junkies rule the streets, we tried to burn home-grown garden variety sage to cleanse the air of negative energy in our apartment building, the stress of making decisions, and the tensions arising from the presence of guests that don’t know when to leave. After the ritual burning of herbs, seems as though things got lighter, but maybe it was just the midnight Mediterranean breeze…
The program is ending, people are considering “ascending” or “returning home” to this higher spiritual landscape by staying in this tumultuous country of “ours”. We visited Rachel’s Tomb last week, which is literally smack dab in the middle of the security fence/wall that separates the West Bank from Israel, in Bethlehem to be exact – Area A, (total) Palestinian government control. In fact the wall is built around the tomb so that Jews in Israel can still have access to this holy place without technically crossing into Arab/Palestinian territory.
I no longer view Jerusalem as a conflict about real estate; it’s about identity. Pre-1967, East Jerusalem was considered Jordan, before Israel unified/conquered (whichever way you look at it) the Holy City and established a Green Line. Lots of wars, terrorist attacks, and blown up buses later, the city consists of three groups: 1) Arabs (further divided into 3 categories): a) Arab-Israelis – no mandatory IDF service but can vote; b) Palestinians – Palestine Authority citizens and not citizens of Israel; c) Arab Permanent Residents – have the ability to vote in the municipality but abstain in order to continue the refusal of accepting Israel’s existence; 2) Haredim: religious, Orthodox Jews, who are also not obligated to serve in the Israeli military (yet); and 3) Secular Jews: who pay the taxes for the other two populations.
“We tend to understand the persistence of violence in the region between the Mediterranean and what remains of the Jordan as the result of a dispute over land – an arcane real estate feud that extends even to the realm of names, so that once you have referred to those roughly 10,000 square miles of rock and dirt as “Palestine” or “Israel” you have already take sides” — Ben Ehrenreich from the Harper’s Magazine/December 2011 report, Drip, Jordan (BE)
I’m still thinking about water, my one night in Ramallah, and not being able to flush the toilet: “But the conflict there has also, since the beginning, been fought over water, a substance much harder to contain than soil. Water evaporates, shifts course, seeps invisibly underground. Like blood, it makes poor foundation for a state, a people, or any such metaphysical entity. So let land be all that’s stable, or all that pretends to be. And let water be the ever-shifting truth of things, flowing through them and between them, sometimes hidden, sometimes not.” — BE
Drip, Jordan goes on to discuss the importance of farming and agricultural land to Zionism. By the 1970s, Israel was devoting more than three quarters of its freshwater – much of it drawn from the West Bank aquifers – to irrigation, even though agriculture only accounted for 6% of its GDP. A Knesset inquiry stated the quantity of water available to farmers should not be significantly restricted because “agriculture has a Zionist strategic-political value, which goes beyond its economic contribution.” After the Six-Day War of 1967 with the West Bank, Israel won the Jordan (River) itself and the three massive groundwater basins – Western, Eastern, and Northeaste – collectively known as the Mountain Aquifer. Two months later, Israel issued a military order granting the army authority over all water issues in the West Bank and another order prohibiting the construction of any new “water installation” without a permit issued by the IDF.
Historical and religious narratives aside, let’s break it down into basics – Israel controls all the water going into the Palestinian territories. Palestinians are pissed, human right groups are claiming illegal violations on Israel’s part – the certainty is that there is a problem with water in the region, there is not enough of it to go around and Israel needs to take care of it’s “people” before supplying water for a nation that refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist. “West Bank Palestinians consume an average of fifty liters of water per day. Fill you bathtub about a third full and try using that water to drink, cook, and flush your toilet, and to wash yourself, your clothes, your dishes… That’s precisely half the amount the World Health Organization has determined as necessary to guarantee basic health and sanitation.”(BE)
On the other hand, Palestinians refuse to treat their own wastewater: a 2009 Israel Water Authority report states “The Palestinian Water Authority planned to build a sewage treatment plant new Bruqin in the town of Salfit but abandoned the project when Israel mandated that the proposed plant also treat wastewater from Ariel (another town/settlement in the West Bank). (BE)
“Then there’s the wall, which in its meanderings, effectively annexes about 10 percent of the West Bank. Its zigzaggings have been determined primarily by the location of Israeli settlements, but it is impossible not to notice the dozens of wells and springs isolated in the so-called seam zone, between the high concrete wall and the Green Line.”
To put it simply: Palestinians are forced to purchase water from their “occupier”, there is not enough water in the region, Israel needs to provide water to both their state and a nation that refuses to accept it’s right to exist. Drip, Jordanc goes on to argue that Israel is basically pumping water located in the West Bank and providing ample amounts to Israelis while only limited (and often inhumane amounts) to Palestinians. This is definitely a problem, the black water tanks on top of boxed buildings in the Arab villages stick out and remind everyone (as if not being able to flush the toilet more than 3 times a day is not reminder enough) that water is a necessity, a human right, and a scarce resource.
As usual, my writing as of late is non-linear, unintentionally. Still trying to make sense of it all and see all sides…
“Well, Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.” — Groucho Marx