Ola, a Bedouin woman living in the West Bank, has clean, plentiful water running in pipes that cross her land -- but she is not allowed to access it. Instead, in the good months of the wet season, she travels for two hours with her donkey to gather rainwater collected in a nearby cistern. In the summer, when the cistern is dry, her husband hires a tractor to transport his water tank 10 kilometers where he can pay $35 for a week's worth of water.
The Israeli military, which maintains control of the South Hebron Hills where Ola lives, refused Ola's village's request to access the water in the pipe that runs across the land. The Israeli Civil Administration only allows that pipe to provide water to a nearby Israeli settlement despite there being enough water for all the people in the land. The Palestinian Water Authority, which has no jurisdiction to approve new infrastructure in this part of the West Bank, told Ola's village that their hands are tied.
Ola's story is not unique. The Israeli Civil Administration systematically denies thousands of Bedouin in the South Hebron Hills access to drinking water. The Palestinian Authority, limited by the transitional powers of the stalled Oslo accords, can do little to increase water access without Israeli approval. Similarly, inside of Israel, the Israeli government has created policies that require Bedouins to pay up to twice as much as their non-Bedouin neighbors for minimal access to water.
While President Obama revisits the possibility of continuing peace talks for Israel and Palestine, the Israeli government's policies are further entrenching both Israeli and Palestinian citizens in unsustainable poverty. In order to build the trust necessary for peace negotiations, the United States must use its influence as the major funder of the Israeli government to demand that Israel provide clean water access to everyone living in Israel and in the West Bank. To deny people basic access to water is not only a cruel violation of human rights, but also a sure path to further discord and resentment.
There are many places in the world where access to water is a complicated problem, involving dry aquifers, limited budgets, and contaminated rivers. In the West Bank and Israel, it is a targeted government policy that creates water scarcity for some people. Solving water problems for people like Ola is neither difficult nor expensive. Providing access to water for the Bedouin in the South Hebron Hills is as easy as the Israeli government allowing them to tap into a pipe that is already on their land.
Rebecca Iwerks just returned from a fact-finding mission with the Bedouin Advocacy Project at Fordham University School of Law interviewing Bedouin villagers in Israel and Palestine. She has written on social and economic human rights issues globally.