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Amnesty’s Well of Truth is Brackish

This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman

Amnesty International published a report this week on water allocation in Israel and the Disputed Territories.

I was at the meeting held by Amnesty to discuss this in London on Wednesday.

The first point to make is that the Israel Water Authority say that they were never given the chance to comment on the report.

Amnesty said at the meeting that they emailed the IWA twice. However they admitted that they never followed up with a phone call – which would seem to have been the courteous thing to do.

The Report comes to some conclusions which would be striking – if they were true. That Israelis consume four times as much water as Palestinians; that 90-95% of the water in Gaza is “contaminated and unfit for human consumption”; and there are photos of swimming pools in Israel contrasted with empty reservoirs in the West Bank.

But of course they are not true, or not proven. Impartiality is a core value of Amnesty within its statute. As regards Israel, Amnesty is blatantly biased. It recently in London hosted Jeff Halper who frequently calls Israel an ‘apartheid’ state, an antisemitic  statement (see EUMC Definition of antisemitism). And on Wednesday it was Ben White who spoke about water. His recent book has the same antisemitic title (“Israeli Apartheid”) and is full of untruths and misquotations:

The Amnesty Report is shamefully biased, as I set out below. (NB this article covers ‘fresh natural water’ – desalinated water is additional and in principle is unlimited, but the Palestinians in Gaza have refused Israeli help to build a desalination plant even though they have had grants for it).

Amnesty p3: “Palestinian consumption in the OPT is about 70 litres per day per person whereas Israeli daily per capita consumption is about 300 litres”

Truth: In 2008 Palestinian per capita daily consumption was 270 litres per day, Israel’s was 405, a factor of 1.5, not 4. Egypt, Lebanon and Syria consume about 5-6 times more water per capita than Israel. Israeli consumption has dropped dramatically due to the need to use water more economically after consecutive years of drought. (Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from Israel Water Authority). The claim that the Palestinian water supply is beneath that recommended for basic living standards is entirely false.

Amnesty p3: “Palestinian families must spend as much as a quarter or more of their income on water”.

Truth: No source is cited by Amnesty to support this assertion.

Amnesty p4 and seriatim: “The 450,000 Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank in violation of international law … ”

Truth: Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention says that population cannot be deported or transferred into an occupied area. The settlers were not ‘deported or transferred’: The US does not consider the settlements illegal.

Amnesty p4: “Israel has used the OPT as a dumping ground for its waste”

Truth: Some time ago an article by David Ratner appeared in Haaretz with the title “Israel to dump 10,000 tons of garbage a month in the West Bank.” It was rife with serious factual errors. It wrongly stated that the new Kedumim dump would not benefit the local Palestinian population. Ratner falsely wrote that the new dump would accept only garbage from Israel. Ratner claimed that the Israeli government refused to let Palestinians build modern waste disposal sites. It’s nonsense. In Area A the Israeli government has no say in what is built.  Moreover, a number of Israeli-administered sites in Area C service the Palestinian population. For instance, the Tovlan dump services household garbage from the Nablus area. A site near Abu Dis services the Palestinian population in Bethlehem, Abu Dis, and surrounding areas. And, a site near Psagot, next to Ramallah, services Ramallah, Al-Bireh and other neighbouring Palestinian towns.

In fact in all of Israel and the Palestinian areas, there is only one site designated for hazardous material – Ramat Hovev, in southern Israel. So Palestinian hazardous waste is deposited in Israel – the opposite of what Amnesty alleges!

Amnesty p10: “According to the World Bank, “Palestinians have access to one fifth of the resources of the Mountain Aquifer. …..Israel overdraws without JWC [Joint Water Committee] approval on the “estimated potential” by more than 50%…. Over-extraction by deep wells combined with reduced recharge has created risks for the aquifers and a decline in water available to Palestinians through shallower wells”

Truth: The source for this is an April 2009 World Bank Report. Here is what the Israeli government commented at the time (MFA Press Release): “The authors of the report met with Israeli government officials and were briefed on all the factual details. They were also presented with the Israeli position paper on the subject, which contained verifiable facts that contradict all the objections presented in the World Bank’s report. Significantly, the authors chose to ignore the MFA position, and declined to take the facts presented to them into consideration in the published report. They rely totally on unsubstantiated information supplied by the Palestinian Authority, which raises a serious question mark over the credibility of the report and the intentions of its authors. Amnesty cites this World Bank Report six times.

Amnesty p11: “Today some 90-95 per cent of Gaza’s water is polluted and unfit for human consumption”

Truth: No source is cited by Amnesty to support this assertion.

Amnesty p17: “… the PA did not acquire control of water resources in the OPT under the Oslo Accords. It acquired only the responsibility for managing the supply of the insufficient quantity of water allocated for use by the Palestinian population …”

Truth: (Source: Israel Water Authority, March 2009) The Water Agreement (Oslo II, September 1995) determined that water supply to the Palestinians would increase during the period of that Interim Agreement by 28.6 Million Cubic Meters/year, of which 5 MCM/yr would be supplied to the Gaza Strip and 23.6 MCM/yr to the West Bank. It was agreed that this quantity would be in addition to the quantity consumed by the Palestinians in 2005, namely, 118 MCM. In other words, it was agreed that water supply to the Palestinians during the Interim Agreement period would in the West Bank increase by 20%. This quantity of water would be part of the quantity defined as the “Future Needs” of the Palestinians in the West Bank, ie about 70-80 MCM/yr, which would be provided in the framework of the permanent arrangement. In practice, during the 13 years that have elapsed since the Interim Agreement was signed, water supply to the Palestinians in the West Bank has been increased by 60 MCM/yr (not including Gaza), ie by about 50%.

Amnesty p22: “Israel has forcibly imposed other changes in the OPT whose impact has reduced access to water for the Palestinian population, notably …. the prohibition on Palestinians taking measures to develop their own infrastructure and economy”

Truth: The West Bank economy is growing strongly despite the worst global recession in decades. The IMF is forecasting a 7 percent growth rate for 2009. It is not possible for growth to be this strong when water is as scarce as Amnesty alleges.

Where has the missing Palestinian water gone?

In March 2009 the Israel Water Authority published a document called “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians”.

On page 34 there is a table which sets out the agreed obligation to provide water and its implementation (MCM=million cubic meters).

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The obligation is to supply 31 mcm, and in 2008 an additional 20.8 mcm was supplied, making 52 mcm in total.

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Figure 2.1 (page 8 of the same paper) says that the Palestinians were allocated 200 mcm a year (tallest bar) in 2007. This is the equivalent of about 300 litres per day per person. Yet the Palestinians claim they are only pumping 70 litres per day per person, the equivalent of 46 mcm (70 litres is the figure cited on page 3 of the Amnesty Report).

The first thing to say is that the claimed total of 46 mcm is more than doubled by the Israeli supply of 52 mcm.

But where is the missing 154 mcm? In 1995 (when the water agreements were signed) the Palestinian capacity was an agreed 118 mcm (first bar) and even back in 1967 it was 60 mcm  (p15 of the same paper)

When I asked this question at the Amnesty meeting, Kristian Benedict (Amnesty – the chair of the meeting) simply said the Israel Water Authority “lies”. A ‘water troofer ………..’ I guess.

Finally let’s look at those carefully juxtaposed photos which contrast swimming pools in Israel with empty reservoirs in the West Bank. What a nasty little deception this is. This link shows pictures of half a dozen municipal swimming pools in the big Palestinian towns and the text describes the existence of several more.

All the usual suspects have of course jumped  on the Amnesty Report including Stephen Sizer. Watch him debate here with Geoffrey Smith who is superb. Sizer says some pretty outrageous things – even for him.

The next ‘impartial’ Amnesty speakers are Kathleen and Bill Christison on 10 November. [See this HP post]

Yeah right – very impartial.