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In Focus: The West Bank

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No Respite for West Bank Locals

By Andrew Cockburn

The latest news from the West Bank, occupied by Israel since June 1967, differs from earlier reports only in that the situation for the vast majority of inhabitants has grown even worse. Take, for example, one of the most fundamental human requirements: water. The drought that has been ravaging the entire Middle East for several years hit Israel hard, and Palestinians, according to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, have been undergoing "a severe water shortage." Two hundred thousand Palestinians on the West Bank found themselves without any access to a water pipeline network and therefore had to rely in part on supplies brought in by tanker, which cost them three to five times as much as piped water.

However, the tankers often come from areas that are under Israeli curfew (meaning that all outside movement is forbidden.) They therefore have to wait until the curfew is lifted before filling up and setting off to make deliveries. The roughly 8,500 people living in the town of Bayt Furik, for example, totally depend in water brought in from the city of Nablus, which has been frequently under curfew for most of the day since May. The Israeli military authorities allow tankers to enter Bayt Furik only between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. In consequence, each of the 13 tankers serving the town can make only one delivery a day, as opposed to the four or five daily deliveries that they usually made before the present disturbances, known as the Al Aqsa intifada, began in September 2000. The effect of this severe reduction in summer water supply on the town's beef and chicken industry has been predictably severe, just one more reason why some 70 percent of the inhabitants of the occupied territories are living on $2 a day or less.

Besides the curfews, Palestinians are also circumscribed by the policy of "internal closure" that restricts travel between towns and villages and forces people to forsake the (blockaded) road and travel the way they did 150 years ago. As the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz noted on September 4, Palestinians are "walking by foot on dirt paths, riding donkeys or tractors (the modern alternative to the camel) in order to fulfill basic needs like water, a few vegetables, medicines and studies." The distances traveled are expanding all the time. It now, on average, takes half a day to get from Hebron to Bethlehem (about 15 miles/ 24 kilometers) and several days to get from Jenin to Ramallah (about 40 miles/ 64 kilometers).

The occupation and intifada are wreaking an immense toll on the Israeli as well as the Palestinian economy. The chairman of the Israeli National Security Council recently announced that the intifada was causing the equivalent of 2.5 - 3 billion dollars or more a year in damage to the economy, and that Israel could not "endure the stresses imposed by its security needs" for long.

Increasing numbers of Palestinians are also concluding they can no longer endure the situation. While some politicians in the Israeli government have long urged the "transfer" of the Palestinian population, this now appears to be actually happening. According to one Palestinian official, 80,000 people, finding living conditions under the occupation unbearable, have left the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the beginning of the year, a rise of 50 percent over last year. There are reports of thousands more camped near the Jordanian border waiting their turn to cross and join millions of their fellow countrymen already living in embittered exile.

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