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Harper's Magazine confronts Israel's water wars

Harper’s Magazine recently published a report from the West Bank about Israel’s water wars with Palestinians. Below is a letter Joseph Dana wrote to Harper’s along with additional commentary regarding Ben Ehrenreich’s piece on water. 

Ben Ehrenreich’s account of the unarmed demonstrations in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh perfectly captures the Palestinians’ everyday struggles for things Westerners take for granted, from freedom of movement to access to water [“Drip, Jordan,” Report, December]. Bernard Avishai’s “Abraham’s Children” [Essay, December], on the other hand, adopts an outdated, simplistic narrative, arguing that, through economic cooperation, peace could finally be achieved. Read together, Ehrenreich’s account of the events shaping the conflict on the ground and Avishai’s idealistic argument seem to demonstrate how we must move on from the hopeful but failed logic of the Oslo process in favor of a practical discussion of civil rights. As the Israeli occupation becomes more deeply entrenched, a Palestinian uprising is increasingly likely. Without more reported pieces like Ehrenreich’s, how will the Western observer understand these developments?


The above is a letter which will be published in the January issue of Harper’s Magazine concerning Ben Ehrenreich’s recent piece about water in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Few writers have the narrative ability to capture the subtitles of the perverse situation which exists in the West Bank like Mr. Ehrenreich. It is likely due to his keen writing eye, perfected in two challenging works of fiction that he was able to deftly capture the nuance which exists here and present them in a fluid and engrossing article. Indeed, the Kafkaesque system that Israel has created for Palestinians when it comes to all aspects of daily life requires the careful attention of a novelist in order to accurately capture the hardships that define life under Israeli rule. I have long thought that the situation which exists in the West Bank is ideal fodder from which a stimulating yet filthy novel can be written, and Ehrenreich’s piece confirms this feeling.

The piece takes the reader through a water journey in the West Bank—settlements with swimming pools and barren Palestinian villages—but ultimately addresses the structure of Israeli occupation with attention to detail that typifies the work of Amira Hass. Along the way, Ehrenreich dropped into the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh—a place which has been the subject of many +972 posts—and uses his outsider perspective to capture the human details of the greater fight between Occupied Palestinians and their Israeli handlers. His piece ends with a quote from an Israeli activist who shyly notes that, in two years of unarmed resistance, villagers and their supporters have yet to reach their stolen spring. That is it! It captures the tenacity of the movement and its ultimate helplessness in the sea of Israeli occupation.

Put simply, Ehrenreich has delivered a brilliant and deeply reported piece of writing which readers of +972 would be well served to read. I have uploaded a copy of the piece to Scribd, you can read it here… just don’t tell Harper’s.

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    1. AYLA

      Joseph Dana–you’ve saved me an online subscription to Harper’s (not that it would have killed me); thank you! My novel, Measuring Rain, whose plot centers around the Red-Dead Canal, is about water wars everywhere, especially here, of course. It’s about how we correct damage with more damage, on the earth, and in our hearts.
      thank you. for everything. let us know how to find you.

      Reply to Comment
    2. I’m eager to read this harper’s essay.

      Sadly, on my linux / ubuntu / firefox PC, the three-column format OVERLAPS making it unreadable.

      Sigh. Hope it works better for other readers.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Link to http://www.waterbag.com to read the first chapter of a completed (but unpublished) novel, WATER, WAR AND PEACE, that describes how a solution to the water issues between Israelis and Palestinians uses water to bring Peace to the Middle East. Link to:
      http://www.YouTube.com/watch?v=4TEJp6UZaDI to see a demonstration of this technology in the United States. More information can be found in a Wikipedia article at: http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexible_barge. We hope to implement a demonstration of this technology in the Middle East this year. Contact Gershon Baskin, our representative in Israel, at the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information for more details.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lauren

      Can we also talk about the criminals who destroy Palestinan cisterns so they can’t have potable water to drink or water their crops.
      Israel has been stealing water for decades from their neighbors. Why is this now an issue? Oh, that’s right….. Israel’s neighbors are thristy.

      Reply to Comment
    5. sh

      Excellent piece in Harper’s. We’ve been hearing unfocused rumblings about water for years, this fits it all together in a way that is, well, potable. Thanks, Joseph, for taking the trouble to make it available for +972 readers.

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    6. AYLA

      Indeed–best piece I’ve read on the subject. You may in fact be earning Harpers subscribers with your pirate posts, JD. I’m a longtime fan of theirs, but/and, this is a best-of.

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