By Rick Anderson
The sky is bronzed over with heat and dust as Fareed Tamallah carries his family’s daily supply of water on raw shoulders. It is summer in the Holy Land of Israel-Palestine and in the village of Qira the water has been cut off for several days. For the Palestinian families living here drinking water has to be collected in rain barrels or from streams clogged with dust, or bartered from neighbouring villages. Clean water is an expensive luxury and water-borne diseases are rife. Life is hot, dusty, and hard.
Half a mile away, over an imposing, 25-foot granite wall, sprinklers cascade over the manicured lawns of houses clustered around a grand central fountain. Litres of water rise and fall; the air is noticeably cooler. Laughing adults and pale-skinned children splash and play in a full-sized swimming pool. The ground around is wet with spilled water. The residents enjoy iced drinks and spend free time cultivating lush gardens.
On the other side of the wall Fareed’s 6-year-old daughter suffers kidney failure after the ingestion of contaminated drinking water.
These are the scenes featured in Ubuntu Film’s 2012 documentary ‘Roadmap to Apartheid’, shown recently by the newly-formed Strathclyde Students for Palestinian Human Rights, and they are no exaggeration – Amnesty International’s 112-page report into water supply and sanitation in the Palestinian territories is damning. According to Amnesty, some Palestinians have access to less than 20 litres of water a day – the minimum recommended even in humanitarian emergencies. In contrast, an Israeli citizen consumes an average of 300 litres of water every 24 hours.
It is worth examining how this situation came to pass. After the horrors of the Second World War much of the Jewish population of Europe found their communities destroyed and livelihoods ruined; and with many countries refusing to accept Jewish refugees there seemed nowhere for those fleeing the aftermath of the Holocaust to go. An influx of about a quarter of a million Jewish immigrants to British-ruled Palestine over the preceding years had resulted in a rise of the Jewish population there to 33%, and with the British now restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine an ‘underground railroad’ of sorts was established to help bring Jews to their ancient homeland.
With rising immigration levels causing mass discontent among the Arab population and attacks from both Jewish Zionist and Arab extremists, Britain withdrew in 1947 from its occupation of Palestine, claiming that it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews. The State of Israel declared its independence in 1948 amid heated discussion between the members states of a nascent United Nations. It was invaded the very next day by no less than four of its neighbours, narrowly avoiding destruction before going on to win a convincing victory which resulted in the displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians, an event now known to the Palestinian people as the Nakba (“catastrophe”).
This tension has continued for over 60 years. Israel has fought ferociously for its continued existence and expansion, with major and bloody conflicts occurring in 1956, 1967, and 1973. Through US economic backing and the sophistication of its military hardware – again, mostly supplied by the United States and Britain – Israel has been the clear victor in each conflict it has engaged in, more than doubling its territory and increasing its population by millions. Uniquely for a developed country, Israel is an exclusively religious state, with only those of Jewish ancestry permitted citizenship within its borders. Those Palestinians who remain in Israel, whether through the expansion of Israel’s borders or refusal to leave their homeland, are not given citizenship – instead, they are grouped under the absurd, oxymoronic term “Resident Absentees”, and are granted virtually no rights by the state.
International opinion, long tolerant or ambiguous towards Israel, has begun to erode. Despite a UN resolution requiring Israel to restrict itself to the borders agreed after the conflict of 1967, it has continued to expand and displace native Palestinians from their lands and homes. In recent years it has been widely condemned for its use of illegal weapons in conflicts against the vastly outgunned Palestinian resistance, including White Phosphorus, a horrific, burning substance reminiscent of the gases used in World War 1 against the Allied troops. In cases documented by both Human Rights Watch and a UN Fact Finding Mission, Israel’s use of such weaponry has killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including children.
The concluding half of this article, which will appear in the next edition, will examine what justifications Israel may have for these actions, and look at proposed solutions put forward by the UN and international community. It will also investigate the case for international recognition of a situation of apartheid in Israel-Palestine, and look at the growing movement within Israel of those sympathetic to the Palestinian people.