Water apartheid is a daily reality in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. But Scotland is not free from complicity in this. As the Scottish Green Party raises a motion in Parliament urging the Government to withdraw subsidies to Eden Springs UK, Tariq Al-Bazz charts the link between this Scottish water company and its Israeli parent company which sources its water on illegally occupied territory on the West Bank.
In Scotland we have it pretty good as far as water is concerned. There’s loads of it, and we can even afford to sell some to our poor neighbours down south. But what if those neighbours chose to bomb our cities, invade our country and proceed to surround all our population centres with settlements guarded by heavily armed troops? What if they poured lots of money into these settlements, gave settlers loads of privileges, and commandeered our water for themselves? “It couldn’t happen here”, you might say. Everyone has an equal right to water – even if we do have to pay for it. That’s what the people of Palestine thought before they were hounded out of their land and occupied by the state of Israel. Water apartheid is now a daily reality for Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.
The facts speak for themselves. Israelis use three times as much water as Palestinians. Palestinian water usage barely reaches the minimum daily standard of 100 litres per person per day as defined by the World Health Organisation. Israel exerts strict control over water availability, and ensures that its own population is plentifully supplied with water, whilst restricting that provided to Palestinians.
Water is legally defined as (Israeli) public property. As such a permit is required to drill new wells or fix existing ones. Permits go through eighteen stages of approval in various administrative departments. Furthermore, quotas limit the drawing of water from each well. In many cases, Palestinians are deprived of access to water resources by being deprived of access to their land in general. Israeli land grabs are frequently carried out by establishing military areas on natural reserves, especially in the Jordan Valley.
Israel also makes no effort to maintain the water system. Neglect of infra-structure is a deliberate Israeli policy which also goes well beyond the water sector. The amount of public expenditure in the Territories in all fields is less than the fiscal revenues that Israel collects from the Palestinian population.
In addition to not authorizing construction of new water networks and repeatedly rejecting requests to be connected to existing networks, the Israeli Civil Administration often destroys or confiscates the modest structures that Palestinians build to collect water. Through settlements and Mekerot, (the state water company), Israel damages existing Palestinian access to water by drilling deeper, more advanced wells in close proximity to Palestinian wells or streams, causing a reduction in the yield of Palestinian water sources.
The extreme water crisis felt by Palestinians is only magnified by the blatant overuse of water in nearby Israeli settlements. As mentioned above, the average Israeli consumes up to 350 litres of water each day, Israeli settlers typically consume even more, despite living among a majority Palestinian population denied proper access to water.
In the Jordan Valley, for example, there are 56,000 Palestinians and 9,400 settlers. Settlers use six times more water than Palestinians. This discrepancy in water allocation is particularly brutal in the hot summer months when Israeli settlements are provided with an uninterrupted flow of water while Palestinians are often cut off from the pumps.
All this colonial domination by Israel flies in the face of international law and human rights.
According to the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem “Article 55 of the Hague Regulations limits the right of occupying states to utilize the water sources of occupied territory. The use is limited to military needs and may not exceed past use. Use of groundwater of the Occupied Territories in the settlements does not meet these criteria and therefore breaches article 55.”
But what relevance does all this have to us in Scotland? Well, it seems that the Scottish Government has been complicit in supporting water apartheid in Israel. In October last year the Government announced the award of a £156,000 grant to Eden Springs UK. Eden Springs is the largest provider of water coolers to workplaces and offices in Scotland. It supplies drinking water to most Scottish Health Boards, to a large number of Scottish Councils, Universities, Colleges, and office complexes. The Scottish Enterprise Grant followed a meeting in January 2010, between John Swinney, then Cabinet Secretary for Finance & Sustainable Growth, and the UK Managing Director of Eden Springs.
Eden Springs UK is a subsidiary of Eden Springs Ltd of Israel. This company extracts water from the Salukia spring in the Golan Heights, where it also has a bottling plant. The Golan Heights is part of Israel’s colonialist expansion in the Middle East. It is Syrian Territory illegally occupied by Israel since June 1967. The UN condemns Israel’s actions in illegally occupying the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights and in Security Council resolution 242 emphasised “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and affirmed that a just and lasting peace can only be established when there is a “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied”. In effect, Eden Springs is stealing water from the Golan Heights.
Of course Eden Springs UK does not itself source its water from the Golan. Its main depot is in Blantyre, although it has other sites in Inverness, Aberdeen, & Dundee. However, this is part of an international company whose complicity with water apartheid in Palestine is well established. Alex Salmond has said in the past “you can’t have normal relationships if you believe another country has been involved in what Israel has been involved in”. I agree with him and ask therefore that his administration withdraws its support from an organisation that is complicit in Israeli apartheid. It is time that the Scottish Government acted on its principles and withdrew its grant to Eden Springs.