Gideon Levy


The long, dry summer

(24 June 2001)


HA’ARETZ (English Edition), Sunday, June 24, 20012001
Ha’aretz English website (

Wasaf Mahmoud is a driver who makes his living hauling water to his village of Beit Dejan, near Nablus. The village, population 3,500 (in addition to 5,000 head of sheep and cattle and flocks of chickens), is not hooked up to the water system. Another 150 or so villages in the West Bank are in the same situation. All told, some 215,000 people under Israeli responsibility are without running water. With Beit Dejan under siege by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and its access roads blocked completely, Mahmoud has a hard time getting water to his village. Occasionally he can smuggle it in by roundabout routes.

That was the situation on June 14. The water had run out, and two families with 20 children between them implored Mahmoud to bring them water. An IDF jeep containing four soldiers stopped him on a dirt trail. “‘Don’t you know that movement here is prohibited?’” Mahmoud says the soldiers asked him, and confiscated the keys to his truck and his ID card. Mahmoud says the soldiers then ordered him to wait in the truck, warning: “‘If you move we’ll shoot you.’” The time was 8 a.m. Mahmoud says the soldiers returned at 5 p.m. and gave back his keys and the ID card, warning him that the next time they would shoot him. He had waited nine hours in the tanker on the dirt road. “What can we do? This is our fate,” he told a field worker from B’Tselem, the human rights organization.

A harsher experience awaited three of Mahmoud’s colleagues, also drivers from Beit Dejan, the next day. Normally, they bring about 30 tanks of water to the village, but these days they are lucky if they bring in three. At 8 p.m. on Friday, June 15, the driver Azaam Abu Jish, 47, father of six children, went out along with two other tankers to try and bring in water under cover of darkness. An IDF jeep stopped them on the dirt road on the Salem plateau. The soldiers told the three drivers to accompany them to the local roadblock. Abu Jish afterward told a B’Tselem field worker: “I said, ‘I want to bring water for the residents and the goats.’ The soldier told me: ‘Let them die. You are not allowed to travel on that road.’”

Abu Jish said one soldier then “started to hit me. Then they opened the tank and started spraying me with water. They hit me all over my body and made fun of me. They also hit the other two drivers and emptied the water from the tanks. It was not the first time. We cannot drive on the main road, not even for a short trip, and on the dirt roads the soldiers chase us and confiscate our keys and ID cards.” Abu Jish says the soldiers let them go at 10:30 p.m.

The IDF spokesman said in reaction: “The IDF recognizes the fact that there is no subterranean infrastructure to bring water to Beit Dejan and the villages in the area, and therefore, despite the encirclement, the IDF permits the passage of vehicles carrying humanitarian goods. The details of the incidents that ostensibly occurred were checked by the IDF and are now known. In fact, there was a grave phenomenon of soldiers confiscating keys of vehicles from the drivers who violated the encirclement. When this phenomenon became known to the commanding officers, it was stopped at once and the soldiers were dealt with by disciplinary means.”

Summer is upon us, and with it the traditional water distress in the territories. As hard as previous summers have been, this summer will be the hardest yet. Even the elders of Beit Dejan don’t remember anything like it: A village without running water, and that is cut off from the outside world by means of impassable roadblocks, is doomed to dry out. It is difficult to understand what the defense establishment expects the tens of thousands of villagers who have no direct access to water and no way to bring in water to do, when even during normal times they suffer from a serious water shortage. Does this have anything to do with security? Is it right that tens of thousands of people should be condemned to be thirsty for water? Isn’t this another form of violence?

Here are the statistics. According to a B’Tselem report, with respect to last summer, when there was no siege: Whereas Israelis make use of an average of 348 liters of water a day, a Palestinian in the territories has to make do with 70 liters. The daily minimum of water needed, as set by the World Health Organization (WHO), is 100 liters.

Israel cannot absolve itself of blame: An unequal and unjust distribution of the water sources, severe neglect in building proper infrastructure during the 34 years of the military occupation, discriminatory supply and low-quality water, especially in the Gaza Strip, cause serious suffering to the local population. In urban neighborhoods in the West Bank, it is common for water to run in the taps only once every two weeks during the summer. Imagine what would happen if this were the case in Tel Aviv or in Sderot!

Is it necessary to point out again that:

Drivers like Mahmoud and Abu Jish and all the residents of the villages deserve both better treatment and more water. In the overall balance of the Israeli occupation and the ensuing Palestinian violence, this form of abuse is also entered in the Israeli debit column.


Last updated on 4.8.2001