I was surprised to see that Haaretz’s leading story in the Hebrew print edition on Thursday covered the fact that the Civil Administration (the Israel Defense Forces’ governing body in the West Bank) destroyed 11 water cisterns in one fell swoop in the South Hebron Hills on Tuesday. (Ta’ayush reported a total of 13). I originally did not see the translated article in English (since it must have been buried somewhere on the site) but eventually found it.
According to the report, these water cisterns (or reservoirs) were built illegally and therefore, as part of the state’s effort to clamp down on illegal construction, must be destroyed. (However this clampdown is almost never implemented regarding illegal Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land.) Some were built in recent years with help from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and some were built before Israel was established. They are located on lands the state has designated for the IDF as “firing zones” – areas the army uses as training sites for live ammunition, and thus are closed off. These vast areas scattered throughout the West Bank constitute de facto confiscation of Palestinian land.
Although the Civil Administration argues that even those water cisterns created during Jordanian rule of the West Bank before 1967 demand authorization, the fact is that regardless of the legal justification, this is a violation of basic human rights. They are depriving entire communities of water and livelihood and providing no alternative. If Israel requires land for its military purposes, it should utilize open areas within the Green Line (remember that?) and inconvenience their own citizens, and not non-citizen Palestinians. Not only did they destroy the water cisterns, but they made no effort to conserve the water that spilled as a result. The Haaretz article reported that when the cistern walls were being demolished, gallons upon gallons of precious water spilled on to the ground.
Watch the last two minutes of this video, shot by a Ta’ayush activist, to see how one of the cisterns was demolished:
The destruction of these water sources fits in nicely with the broad strategy of attrition espoused by the Israeli authorities and their settler cohorts. The idea is to make life extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Palestinians in this area, such that they ultimately feel compelled to relocate and concentrate in urban centers (such as Yata), which then frees up the land for Jews to move in. According to an archaic Ottoman law applied by Israel, land not accessed for three consecutive years is expropriated by the state, so the authorities have every interest in keeping Palestinian access to their agricultural land as limited as possible.
It is not just settler whims and violence, but also formal and open Israeli policies, that are depriving Palestinians of basic human rights, and rapidly changing demographic facts on the ground in the West Bank.