Since the initial observation of the United Nations World Water Day on 22 March 1993, Israel, as the Occupying Power in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), has continued to consolidate and expand its domination of the Palestinian people through its discriminatory and unlawful policies and practices around the control and distribution of water.

The human right to water encompasses a number of elements, including availability, quality, and accessibility, and includes the ability to both physically access water and the principle of non-discrimination in the distribution of water.

The OPT’s natural water supply comes from three main sources: the Jordan Valley, the Mountain Aquifer, which stretches from the West Bank across the Green Line, and the Coastal Aquifer, located around the Gaza Strip. Each of these sources are under Israeli military control, and have been the subject of extensive restrictions introduced either by the Israeli occupying forces or Mekorot, the Israeli national water company, into which the Palestinian water system has been integrated.

Palestinian direct access to water in the occupied West Bank is denied in favour of providing access to illegal Israeli settlements. Approximately 50,000 Palestinians residing in Area C of the West Bank are denied access to clean, safe, and affordable water, while as of 2016, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank consumed on average only 73 litres of water per day, well below the World Health OrganiZation’s (WHO) recommended 100 litres.

Conversely, Israeli settlers consumed approximately 369 litres per day, over three times the recommended average. It is estimated that Israeli settlers, illegally residing in the OPT, consume three to eight times more water than the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem.

In the occupied Gaza Strip, subject to an ongoing 13 year closure and blockade, itself constituting collective punishment of some 2 million Palestinians, only one in ten households have direct access to clean and safe water. Only 5% of the water supply in the Gaza Strip is provided by Israel, the Occupying Power, and less than 4% of Gaza’s fresh water supply is fit for human use and consumption.

Palestinian Bedouin communities in the Naqab within the Green Line have been significantly affected, where 80,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel have no access to emergency medical services and 56,000 residents of villages unrecognized by Israel have inadequate access to safe, clean running water.

Palestinian refugees residing in overcrowded refugee camps and Palestinian prisoners facing overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in Israeli prisons are rendered more susceptible to the pandemic and denied access to adequate water and sanitation.

Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that:

‘To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the co-operation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics. Medical personnel of all categories shall be allowed to carry out their duties.’

That Israel, as Occupying Power, has failed, and is continuing to disregard its obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is borne out not only by the absence of any effort at adopting and applying ‘the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics,’ but by Israel’s discriminatory policies and practices, which actively deny Palestinians access to adequate water and sanitation.

Israeli ‘Water-Apartheid’ constitutes a systemic attack on the Palestinian people’s right to water and sanitation as well as a concerted assault on the broader right of Palestinians to the highest attainable standard of health, at a time of unprecedented global crisis.

Accordingly, Al-Haq calls upon:

  • Third party States, the international community, and private entities to recognise Israeli policies and practices with regards to access to water in the OPT as a gross and systematic denial of the right to health and to water and sanitation,
  • Third party States, the international community to recognise the contributing factor of the construction, and maintenance, of Israel’s institutionalised regime of systematic racial domination and oppression, amounting to the crime of apartheid, over the Palestinian people as a whole.
  • In line with their obligations erga omnes under international law, we urge all States to take positive measures, address the root causes of the apartheid and occupation and to bring this unlawful situation to an end.

    ~ See the full report here.