email a friend iconprinter friendly iconParting the Waters
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Since occupying the West Bank in 1967, Israel has built a few dozen settlements in the Jordan Valley, in addition to the 120 or so elsewhere in the West Bank. The settlers' water is provided by Mekorot, Israel's national water authority, which has drilled 42 deep wells in the West Bank, mainly to supply Israeli cities. (According to a 2009 World Bank report, Israelis use four times as much water per capita as Palestinians, much of it for agriculture. Israel disputes this, arguing that its citizens use only twice as much water and are better at conserving it.) In any case, Israel's West Bank settlements get enough water to fill their swimming pools, water their lawns, and irrigate miles of fields and greenhouses.

In contrast, West Bank Palestinians, under Israeli military rule, have been largely prevented from digging deep wells of their own, limiting their water access to shallow wells, natural springs, and rainfall that evaporates quickly in the dry desert air. When these sources run dry in the summer, Bromberg said, Auja's Palestinians have no choice but to purchase water from Israel for about a dollar a cubic yard—in effect buying back the water that's been taken out from under them by Mekorot's pumps, which also lower the water table and affect Palestinian springs and wells.

As Bromberg and I followed the Auja spring east, we passed a complex of pumps and pipes behind a barbed-wire fence—a Mekorot well, drilled 2,000 feet deep to tap the aquifer. "Blue and white pipes," Bromberg said. "This is what water theft looks like in this part of the world."

Israel's chief water negotiator, Noah Kinnarti, disagrees. Underground water knows no borders, he says, and points out that Israelis must also purchase the water they use. "Palestinians think any rain that falls in the West Bank belongs to them," he told me at his kibbutz near the Sea of Galilee. "But in the Oslo talks, we agreed to share that water. They just can't get their act together to do it."

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