In a seemingly noble gesture, the Israeli embassy in South Africa cancelled its annual Independence Day celebrations this year, claiming to use that money to help South Africa find solutions to our water crisis.
The products associated with Israel’s water triumphs were offered to South Africa’s public and private sector during SA-Israel Water Week, which kicked off in Joburg on Monday.
Israel is indeed a leader in water innovation and is promising to liberate us from the threats of drought and scarcity through drip irrigation, desalination and recycling.
But according to South African water expert Lorenzo Fioramonti, Israel is hiding its own water policies behind pseudo-technical discussions about water technology.
SA-Israel Water Week isn’t just about finding solutions to our water crisis. It’s also a public relations campaign to combat a growing awareness in South Africa about Israel’s subjugation of its Palestinian population. It’s about putting an innovative, technological, caring face to apartheid, occupation and siege.
There were huge disparities and inequities with respect to access to water in apartheid South Africa. Apartheid laws governing water in this country were shaped and developed by the needs and aspirations of white people, who enacted laws that served their domestic, agricultural and industrial needs. Israel’s water policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is reminiscent of these water policies.
Half a million illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank use more water than the Palestinian population of over 2.4 million. Although the mountain aquifer in the OPT – lying under Palestinian land – is the sole water source for Palestinians, Israel uses 80 percent of it, leaving only the remaining 20 percent for the Palestinians.
The World Bank reports that the average Palestinian daily consumption of water is about 50 litres per person, well below the 100 litres recommended by the World Health Organisation. In contrast, the average Israeli settler uses almost 300 litres a day.
In case you were wondering, average daily consumption in South Africa is about 250 litres per person.
While it is true that Israel is selling Palestinians more water than it is obligated to in terms of the 1995 Oslo agreement, it is also true that Israel is preventing Palestinians from developing their own water networks and resources. Since 1967, Israel has not allowed Palestinians to drill a single new well in the western aquifer.
The Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), which controls 60 percent of the West Bank, requires Palestinian communities to apply for permits to extend water networks, drill boreholes and wells. Only 1.5 percent of permit applications were granted.
The ICA forbids the digging of cisterns for collecting rainwater.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 85 percent of Israel’s domestic wastewater is recycled. Yet, the Israeli authorities have granted permits and security clearance for the construction and operation of just one wastewater treatment facility in the occupied West Bank.
In Gaza, the coastal aquifer is the only source of “freshwater” for 1.8 million Palestinians. The pollution and salinity levels of the aquifer are so high that 95 percent of its water is not fit for human consumption. Israeli authorities are preventing the entry of parts, chemicals and materials into Gaza urgently needed to desalinate the water.
So, while Israel promotes its desalination technology as a viable alternative for South Africa, it prevents Palestinians in Gaza from using this technology to solve its own water shortages.
These policies entrench Palestinian dependence on their Israeli occupiers for water, in the same way that South Africa’s Bantustans were completely dependent on the apartheid government for water. Should democratic South Africa be seeking water solutions with a regime that is emulating our apartheid regime by using water as a weapon to control a section of its population?
Israel is also not the only arid country with expertise to share with South Africa. All countries that have embarked and achieved successes in water management must be consulted to find long-term sustainable water solutions for South Africa.
Our discussions on South Africa’s water shortage must not be confined to technical issues as the Israeli embassy encourages. They must encompass human rights, social justice and governance innovation too.
South Africa’s water crisis must not be used as a marketing opportunity for Israel to whitewash its crimes against the Palestinians.