Tuesday, 24 August 2010

23 August 2010: Water supplied in Gaza unfit for drinking; Israel prevents entry of materials needed to repair system

23 August 2010: Water supplied in Gaza unfit for drinking; Israel prevents entry of materials needed to repair system

Almost 95 percent of the water pumped in the Gaza Strip is polluted and unfit for drinking. This warning was recently issued by the UN Environment Programme, the Palestinian Water Authority, the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, and international aid organizations. They estimate it will take at least 20 years to rehabilitate Gaza’s underground water system, and any delay in dealing with the problem will lead to additional deterioration in the situation and thus might extend the rehabilitation process for hundreds of years. Since it began its siege on the Gaza Strip, in June 2007, Israel has forbidden the entry of equipment and materials needed to rehabilitate the water and wastewater-treatment systems there. The prohibition has remained despite the recent easing of the siege.

Child filling water from a container provided by OXFAM, at Jabalya refugee camp. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 18 Aug. ’10.
Child filling water from a container provided by OXFAM, at Jabalya refugee camp. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 18 Aug. ’10.

Reasons for the water pollution in Gaza

The water crisis in the Gaza Strip arose following over-pumping of the underground water of the Coast Aquifer. It is estimated that the amount of water annually pumped from the aquifer is roughly twice the amount of water that replenishes it. As a result of the over-pumping, which has been going on for several decades, salt water has penetrated the aquifer. In addition, the poor maintenance of the wastewater-treatment facilities in Gaza, which increased following the siege, and the damage done to the wastewater-treatment facility in Gaza City during Operation Cast Lead, led to further pollution of the underground water by wastewater, and to greater salinity. Another factor for the pollution is the waste-disposal sites in Gaza, which are not properly handled. Following Operation Cast Lead, these sites received enormous amounts of waste – more than 600,000 tons – including asbestos, medial waste, oils, and fuels.

Wastewater flowing through the Rafah regional waste dump. Photo: Courtesy of EWASH.
Wastewater flowing through the Rafah regional waste dump. Photo: Courtesy of EWASH.

Water consumption in Gaza

The daily per capita water consumption in the Gaza Strip is 91 liters, slightly higher than in the West Bank, where the figure is 73 liters, yet lower than the minimum of 100 liters recommended by the World Heath Organization. By comparison, daily per capita consumption in Israel is 242 liters in urban areas and 211 liters in rural areas.

Resident of ‘Izbet ‘Abd Rabo in Jabalya refugee camp carrying home water from a container provided by OXFAM. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 18 Aug. ’10
Resident of ‘Izbet ‘Abd Rabo in Jabalya refugee camp carrying home water from a container provided by OXFAM. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 18 Aug. ’10

Magnitude of the pollution

The director of quality control in the Gazan Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, Eng. Majed Ghanem, told B'Tselem that an examination conducted in late 2009 in 180 wells revealed that, in 93 percent of them, the chloride level (which indicates the water’s salinity) was 1,000 to 2,000 mg/liter, four to eight times higher than the 250 mg/liter amount recommended by the WHO. Water with a chloride level this high is unfit for drinking. According to Ghanem, the pollution also affects the water’s color and causes its repellent odor.

In addition, an examination carried out by the UN Environment Programme on a number of wells in Gaza found that the concentration of nitrates was six times higher than the 50 mg level recommended by the WHO. This high level of nitrates is liable to cause anemia among children and methemoglobinemia (“blue infants” syndrome) among infants, which is liable to lead to choking and death. A study published in 2007, in which a sample of 340 infants from Gaza were examined, found that almost half of them suffered from troubling symptoms of the syndrome.

The Palestinian Water Authority estimates that almost 40 percent of the incidence of disease in Gaza is related to polluted drinking water. According to international aid organizations, 20 percent of Gazan families have at least one child under age five who suffers from diarrhea as a result of polluted water. A UN study published in 2009 estimates that diarrhea is the cause of 12 percent of children’s deaths in Gaza. The lack of potable drinking water is liable to cause malnutrition in children and affect their physical and cognitive development.

In the absence of other materials due to the siege, parts of the old barrier wall at Rafah are used to line a wastewater treatment pond there. Photo: Courtesy of EWASH.
In the absence of other materials due to the siege, parts of the old barrier wall at Rafah are used to line a wastewater treatment pond there. Photo: Courtesy of EWASH.

The water pollution also harms the area’s agricultural produce. According to Ghanem, the milk given by cows in Gaza is polluted, and farm crops that once characterized the area, such as oranges, have declined in quantity and quality.

Effects of the siege and Operation Cast Lead

Since the beginning of the siege, Israel has prohibited the entry of equipment and materials that can be used to improve water quality and taste, and to develop and rehabilitate the water infrastructure and the wastewater-treatment facilities in Gaza. The prohibition has remained in force even after the recent easing of restrictions, and despite the Cabinet’s decision to allow the entry of building materials for projects that have been approved by the Palestinian Authority and are supervised by international organizations. The equipment needed includes water pumps, pipes, generators, computers, building cement, and chloride. Israel classifies these materials as dual-use items that are liable to be used for military purposes, and therefore prohibits their entry.

The Gazan Coastal Municipalities Water Utility currently requires 1,250 tons of cement just to rebuild water reservoirs. The Sufa Crossing between Gaza and Israel, which is intended, among other things, for the transfer of building materials, has been closed since March 2009. The by-laws of the international organizations prohibit them from purchasing cement smuggled into Gaza through tunnels, for the rehabilitation projects.

The lack of construction materials and replacement parts has also led to greater loss of water from the supply network in Gaza. Prior to the siege, the loss had been 30 percent of the amount of water supplied to consumers, generally resulting from leaks in the pipes. In 2009, the loss reached 47 percent, according to figures of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility.

The Gaza Strip’s power station has been working at partial output since Israel bombed it in June 2006. There is also a shortage of industrial fuel needed to operate the station, following the disputes that arose between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas regarding its funding, which has led to frequent power outages. The outages prevent the wastewater-treatment facilities from completing the 14-day treatment cycle and also impair the frequency of water supply to houses. According to UN figures, water is supplied to houses in Gaza City for four to six hours once every five days, and in the rest of the Gaza Strip for four to six hours once every three days. Due to the low pressure, the water does not reach the top floors in tall buildings.

In Operation Cast Lead, Israel damaged Gaza City’s wastewater-treatment facility, leading to untreated wastewater flooding extensive farm areas. According to the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, 30 kilometers of water networks, 11 wells, and 6,000 home water tanks were damaged during the operation, and the overall damage to the water and wastewater-treatment facilities amounted to six million dollars.

Untreated wastewater flowing daily into the sea in a-Nuseirat Camp in central Gaza Strip. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 18 Aug. ’10.
Untreated wastewater flowing daily into the sea in a-Nuseirat Camp in central Gaza Strip. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 18 Aug. ’10.

Most of Gaza’s wastewater now flows to the Mediterranean Sea, some as raw wastewater, and some following partial treatment. International organizations have found that the shoreline near which the wastewater flows is polluted and unfit for bathing. Proper wastewater treatment would have enabled use of the treated wastewater for agricultural purposes and reduced pumping of the underground water.

Effect of the economic situation on water consumption

Due to the poor water quality, many Gazans are forced to buy water treated in facilities operated by local entrepreneurs or to use home desalination devices. The quality of the water provided in this way is unsupervised, and the lack of replacement parts and regular power supply has harmed them, too.

Since treatment of water from pollutants such as nitrates and chlorides is very expensive, the cost of a cubic meter of treated water is a high as 50 shekels (some 13 US dollars in August 2010), 10 times higher than the price paid by households in Israel. Many Gazans cannot afford this luxury: the unemployment rate in Gaza reached 39 percent in 2009, and poverty in 2007 was 43 percent. In 2007, average family expenditures in Gaza stood at slightly more than 2,000 shekels a month.

Recommendations of the UN Environment Programme

To prevent the collapse of the Gazan water economy, the UN Environment Programme recommended, a year ago, that pumping of water from the Coast Aquifer in Gaza cease. The Programme also suggested that Israel and Egypt, countries which share the water of the aquifer, formulate a joint action plan – including alternative water-supply sources, among them desalination facilities – to deal with the water crisis in Gaza. The Programme also recommended that an epidemiological survey be made to study the effects of polluted-water consumption on the Gazan population, especially on the children.

To cope with the grave water crisis in Gaza, Israel must immediately allow the entry of materials and equipment needed to rehabilitate and develop the water and wastewater-treatment systems there. Also, all the sides – Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas government, and Egypt – must take action to stop the rapid deterioration in the condition of the underground water system of the Coast Aquifer, which serves residents of the Gaza Strip, and find additional sources of drinking water for the residents.



Friday, 6 August 2010

Voice From Gaza: Israel has turned Gaza into the largest concentrat...

Voice From Gaza: Israel has turned Gaza into the largest concentrat...: "Written by Editors Sunday, 25 July 2010 01:52Interview with Haidar EidFounding member of the PCACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic..."

Israel has turned Gaza into the largest concentration camp in history

Written by Editors
Sunday, 25 July 2010 01:52

Interview with Haidar Eid

Founding member of the PCACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel).


The world was appalled by the Israeli massacre at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. But then Gaza disappeared from Western news media. What is the situation today in Gaza, a year and a half after that genocidal attack?

To best describe the situation in Gaza today would be to refer to what Richard Falk, the UN rapporteur to the Occupied Territories, called "prelude to genocide" and what the Israeli anti-Zionist activist Ilan Pappe called a "slow-motion genocide." Despite the fact that bombs are not falling over us every few minutes as they did during the 22 day genocidal war, when the Israelis bomb or attack, they do so to kill as many Palestinians as possible.

After the occupation redeployed its troops around Gaza in 2006, what was a Bantustan turned into the largest concentration camp since Auschwitz and Warsaw during WW II as a direct result of the brutal blockade. We have over 90 medicines unavailable. Prenatal births, kidney dialysis and cancer patients are doomed to fatality as soon as they are diagnosed. Unavailable medical equipments and appropriate medical care are extinct and the slightest flue could have serious repercussions. A four year old child would not know what spaghetti or chocolate taste like because Israel has a list of 40 basic items that it allows in. We are treated as prisoners, rather much worse. Jimmy Carter said "Palestinians of Gaza are treated worse than animals!"

We wish we were prisoners in a so-called First World country for at least they have visitation rights which we don’t. Some of us have not seen their families and relatives for years now, and they could be only 40 minutes away in Jerusalem or in the other Bantustans of the West Bank. As a university professor, I have no resources to undergo research in my domain. The material I assign to my students is what I could find available on the internet—and only when electricity allows. Basic material like stationary and paper are unavailable. Books are also unavailable. Fuel is unavailable and I have lost my best students as a result of the deterioration of their conditions.

Many of their parents were factory workers but after Israel bombed factories and due to its hermetic siege, over forty thousand workers have lost their income. The occupation shoots, injures and often kills farmers as they harvest or water their crops. The fishermen are not allowed to exceed three miles at sea and are attacked, imprisoned and often killed at a distance of one mile depending on the soldiers’ whims. You can’t sleep, you can’t write, you can’t love, you can’t express yourself, or your pain under these conditions and the trauma is only growing as injustice continues.

How was the Zionist attack on May 31st against the humanitarian flotilla seen in Gaza?

It was a surprise and not a surprise. Yes, Israel is a terrorist state. One built on the blood and dead bodies of the Palestinians it has been ethnically cleansing since 1948. So, it’s killing of peace activists was not a surprise. What was a surprise was that it did it as the whole world was watching. We did not expect Israel to be stupid, but then again, isn’t that what fascist states mean to do? Ploy their own destruction? Zionism is a colonial movement and hence it is self-defeating.

Can we say it was a political victory for the Palestinian people, since the true nature of Zionism was revealed and Israel is isolated? Did that have a role in the temporary suspension of the blockade by Egypt? What is the situation on the Egypt/Gaza border?

How many more people should be killed for Israel to be held accountable in front of the international community and punished for its crimes? Weren’t the 413 children killed during the 22 day attacks enough? Weren’t the thousands of Palestinian killed since 1967 enough for the international community to put Israel in its place? The international community is complicit in the siege and in the killing as it stands silent and in denial. Richard Goldstone very clearly called Israel's attacks "war crimes and possible crimes against humanity!"

You are wrong to believe that the Rafah Crossing is open as the movement of people freely through is not allowed. Out of thousands a few hundreds are allowed, and their conditions are usually severe, and they have tried numerous times before that. If all the crossing surrounding Gaza were opened and Rafeh remained closed, then the siege remains. Rafeh is the only crossing that guarantees the freedom of movement of Gazans; it is our only exit to the external world.

The Israeli attack against the activists of the flotilla of the Free Gaza movement shocked everyone who feels respect for human beings. Why does Israel still blockade Gaza?

With the support of the international community and in particular the support of the US, Israel will not back down, it will continue the blockade, the settlement expansion, and the home demolitions in the West Bank. Its arrogance and power are to no limits and it won’t stop at anything until it is put in its place. As I mentioned earlier, the blockade is a continuation of Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide that it has been practicing since 1948. We are a "surplus population", like Native Americans, that should not have existed in the first place!

But the direct reason as to why it still blockades Gaza is that Palestinians, "naively" taking George Bush for his words about "spreading democracy in the Middle East", went to the polling stations in January 2006 and voted a party that neither Israel nor the Us and Official Arab regimes want, a party that is against the Oslo Accords. That was a huge blow to the Bush doctrine and the peace industry. Hence the collective punishment by Israel, with the direct support and participation of the West.

Do you see any possibilities of gains for Palestinians through the so called peace process led by the Quartet (USA, ONU, EU, and Russia)?

Haven’t we learnt from Oslo and Camp David that Israel translates its military power onto the negotiation table? There will be and should be no peace without justice. That means for Israel to be punished for its war crimes and crimes against humanity and for the UN resolution 194 to be implemented and the return of all refugees who were expelled in the Nakba of 1948. No negotiation is possible between the executioner and the victim. After Gaza 2009, we no longer have faith in the international community, but in civil society. Due to the huge imbalance of power, Israel being the largest nuclear power in the region and owning the fourth largest army in the world on one hand, and Palestinians with stones and sometimes firecrackers called "rockets" on the other, the only way this imbalance could be overcome is to build on an international solidarity movement. There have been turning points in the Palestinian issue, with the First and Second Intifada, with Gaza 2009, and now the massacre against peace activists.

Similar to the growing international solidarity movement that lead to, amongst other pillars of struggle, the liberation of South Africa and the collapse of the racist apartheid regime, the liberation of Palestine is through this path. And what could be more powerful than the global BDS movement against Israel that has resulted in the South African dock workers boycotting apartheid Israel, the British UCU union of colleges and universities boycott, the Scottish and Irish trade unions, and also the achievements of brave student bodies in the US-- such as the Hampshire college, UC, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan at Dearborne-- that resulted in divestment from some companies that support Israel.

How is the Obama administration seen in Gaza?

The Obama administration is not different from Bush's. When Obama gave his much talked about speech at Cairo University, very few people took him seriously. They were proven right only last week when he held the white flag before Netanyahu upon the latter's visit to the White House. Israel is still expanding its settlements, ethnically cleansing Jerusalem, besieging Gaza, killing Palestinians and Internationals with the full support of the Obama administration. Obama never had a single word of sympathy with the murdered children and starving women of Gaza. The only difference between Obama and Bush, when it comes to Palestine, is only in style, not substance.

Do you believe the Arab and Muslim governments supported the Palestinian people against Israel all they should?

A defeatist attitude governs the official Arab regimes. The idea of an invincible Israel and the constant fear and need to satisfy the US are prevalent. The organization of Islamic conferences along with the Arab league have failed the Palestinian people and failed to put an end to this deadly siege. The mainstream and dominant political discourse in the Arab world is to make peace with Israel, no matter what this entails.

What is the importance of the BDS campaign (Boycott, De-invest, and Sanctions) to isolate Israel? Why is it important to establish a link between Israel and South African apartheid?

Our BDS campaign is modeled on the South African boycott campaign. Its importance emanates from the fact that there is a huge power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians, similar to the imbalance between the apartheid regime and anti-apartheids campaign. The international community was called on to intervene and live up to its responsibilityagainst the racist regime. We expect the same. In the mid-70's an UN resolution considered apartheid a crime against humanity. Israel is an apartheid state that discriminates against the 1.2 million Israelis of Palestinian descent. But the 2005 Palestinian call for BDS called also for the end of the military occupation and colonization of the 1967 areas and the return of refugees in accordance with UN resolution 194. In other words, the importance of the BDS emanates from the fact that it is a rights-based campaign and the fact that it addresses ordinary people all over the world, represented by civil society, to live up to their moral responsibility. The campaign is democratic, secular, inclusive and universal. It worked against the apartheid regime, and it is working now against apartheid Israel.

What is your view of the PNA? And of the political forces on the left such as PFLP and DFLP?

The PNA is the product of the Oslo Accords, which were signed in 1993 in betrayal of the aspirations of the Palestinian people. The PLO recognized Israel, whereas the latter refused to recognize the Palestinian people's right to an independent state. Oslo gave the wrong impression that there are two equal parties fighting for border adjustments. Israel managed to get rid of the responsibility of administering heavily populated areas in the West Bank and Gaza, and has kept total control over the land, air and sea. Israeli occupation forces were redeployed and never withdrew.

The Oslo accords led to the creation of a neo-colonial administration at the expense of the PLO; an administration that does not have real power in spite of the flag, the national anthem, the presidencies, premierships and ministries: all mean absolutely nothing except a perpetuation of the occupation, but in a different gown. After 17 years of the "peace industry", Gaza has been transformed into a large open-air prison, a concentration camp a la Auschwitz and Warsaw, and the West Bank has been sliced into three major Bantustans—but with no sovereignty whatsoever.

The most dangerous outcome of Oslo is that it has managed to pacify the Palestinian Left. Nothing is left of Palestinian Left! Most left-wing activist, and I mean the hard-core here, have been NGOized. This process of NGOization, interrelated with Osloization, aims at washing out any revolutionary consciousness that the left is supposed to safeguard and replace it with false consciousness characterized by a new discourse about "empowerment of the disfranchised, projects, proposals, culture of peace, negotiations…etc".