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WATER ISSUES
IN THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT

Prepared by David Paul*

 

    A) HISTORICAL BACKGROUND-

1) Israeli Designs on Lebanon and Syria:

Chaim Weizman wrote David Lloyd George, Britain's Prime Minister, in 1919 stating the "minimum requirements essential to the realization of the Jewish National Home" promised in the Balfour Declaration two years previously:

though "the boundaries cannot be drawn exclusively on historic [biblical] lines ... our claims to the north are imperatively demanded by the requirements of modern economic life."

"The whole economic future of Palestine is dependent upon its water supply for irrigation and for electric power, and the water supply must mainly be derived from the slopes of Mount Hermon, from the headwaters of the Jordan and from the Litany [sic] river [of Lebanon]... [We] consider it essential that the Northern Frontier of Palestine should include the Valley of the Litany, for a distance of 25 miles above the bend, and the Western and Southern slopes of Mount Hermon...


The very areas presently occupied by Israel in Lebanon and Syria!


Moshe Sharett, Israeli Prime Minister, wrote in the 1950s:

"According to him [Dayan] the only thing that's necessary is to find an officer, even just a major. We should either win his heart or buy him with money, to make him agree to declare himself the savior of the Maronite population. Then the Israeli army will enter Lebanon, will occupy the necessary territory, and create a Christian regime which will ally itself with Israel. The territory from the Litani southward will be totally annexed to Israel and everything will be all right."

David Ben-Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister felt it was wise to

"push Lebanon, that is, the Maronites in that country, to proclaim a Christian state."

2) Syria & Israel: The Struggle for Water

1951-1956: The DMZs

1. When the war ended in 1948 the only parts of the northern sector of Mandate Palestine not occupied by Israel were the areas along the Jordan River controlled by Syria.

2. Israel insisted on retaining all the territory it had seized that was designated for the Palestinian state. However, it demanded that Syria not be allowed to remain in the areas that it occupied.

3. UN mediator Ralph Bunche convinced Syria to withdraw on the understanding that the sovereignty of the 3 demilitarized zones (DMZs) thus created (totalling 66.5 sq. miles) would remain undetermined until a peace settlement.

4. The DMZs:

• The smallest was uninhabited and in the northeast salient of the Israeli-Syrian frontier near Baniyas Spring. Its land was used for farming and grazing.

• The central DMZ was a narrow strip that stretched from the southern edge of Lake Huleh to the northern tip of Lake Tiberias straddling the Jordan River with a triangular budge in the middle. there was one Jewish settlement, Mishmar HaYarden, and 4 Palestinian villages: Kirad al-Baqqara, Kirad al-Ghannama, Mansura al-Khayt and Yarda.

• The largest was the southern sector which began about halfway on the eastern shore of Lake Tiberias and ran south to the tip of the lake and then jutted east to meet the Yarmak River where the borders of Syria, Israel and Jordan meet. There was one Jewish settlement, Ein Gev, and three Palestinian villages: al-Hamma, Nuqayb and al-Samra.

5. Each DMZ represented two concentric circles: the DMZ (a completely demilitarized inner core) and an outer shell limited to defense forces.

6. The DMZs were monitored by the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).

7. Mixed Armistice Commissions (MAC) were set up to ensure the "full implemention" of the agreements.

8. Tensions built as Jews in increasing numbers moved into the Upper Galilee establishing settlements and farms on Palestinian property.


UNTSO Chief of Staff Carl von Horn of Sweden:

In 1950, the Israelis had established a new kibbutz at Beit Katzir in the [southern] demilitarized zone. Like most of their kibbutzim in troubled areas, it was fortified with trenches and a double-apron barbed-wire fence from behind which its settlers sallied out to cultivate the surrounding land, digging irrigation canals to channel the water from Lake Tiberias with such vigour that before long no Arab farmer in the area was allowed into the stretch of land between the kibbutz and the lake.

From here they soon extended their activities so that the inhabitants of the two neighboring Arab villages, Lower and Upper Tawafiq observed the kibbutznik tractor-drivers with alarm as they speeded up each turn at the eastern boundaries of their fields, making the ploughs swerve out, thus slowly but surely extending their 'previous' cultivation eastward into Arab [Palestinian] land.

This was, of course, part of a premeditated Israeli policy to edge east through the demilitarized zone towards the old Palestine border (as shown on their maps) and to get all Arabs out of the way by fair means of foul.


Gradually, beneath the glowering eyes of the Syrians, who held the high ground overlooking the zone, the area had become a network of Israeli canals and irrigation channels edging up against and always encroaching on Arab-owned property . . . For the ground was so fertile that every square foot was a gold mine in grain.

  • 21 January 1951-
     The Jewish National Fund of the World Zionist Organization agrees to help finance a $250 million development project that includes drainage of the 15,000-acre Huleh Marshes (an integral part of the Jordan River system) and irrigation of the Negev and the Jerusalem corridor. Almost from the beginning it was obvious that the drainage channels would impinge on Syrian territory within the central DMZ.

  • 13 March 1951-
     Israel begins digging a drainage ditch. the Syrian-Israel MAC examined Syria's complaint and ruled that the Israeli project "constitutes a flagrant violation" of the armistice.

  • 24 March 1951-
     For the first time Israel asserts that it held sovereignty over the zone and thus had a right to proceed.

  • 25 March 1951-
     Israel resumes digging in the DMZ. Clashes between Syrian and Israeli forces ensue.

  • 30 March 1951-
     Israel retaliates by expelling 785 Palestinians from their 3 villages in the central DMZ and bulldozing their homes.

  • 4 April 1951-
     seven Israeli soldiers on patrol are killed in an ambush by Syrian troops. The next day the Israeli cabinet decided, in secret, that the DMZs should be "cleared of Arabs [Palestinians]." On the same day Israel bombed the Al-Hamma district in the southern DMZ killing 2 Palestinian women and wounding civilians. Though the US protested that the Israeli actions were "in no way justified" about 1200 Palestinians in the central and southern sections were forced out. Syria's counterattack was repulsed and in the next year the Bedouin were driven out.

  • 18 May 1951-
     UN Security Council Resolution 92 calls on Israel to stop draining the marshes of Lake Huleh and allow the return of the Palestinians. Israel prevented all but 350 from returning.

  • 20 June 1951-
     Israel now informs the UNTSO that it would no longer attend meetings of the Syrian-Israeli MAC as long as complaints involving the DMZs were on the agenda. Israel agrued that since it alone had sovereignty over the zones Syria had no rights and therefore, no standing to discuss the zones.


UNTSO Chief of Staff, Canadian general E.L.M. Burns:

The Israelis claimed sovereignty over the territory covered by the DMZ . . . They then proceeded, as opportunity offered, to encroach on the specific restrictions and so eventually to free themselves, on various pretexts, from all of them.


Thus, Israel immobilized the MAC. Further, Israel refused to allow UN observers to demarcate the line of the DMZs and thereby no one was ever sure exactly where the line lay.

The spring fighting resulted in Syria gaining control of the village of al-Hamma in the southern zone, all of the tiny northern zone and the uninhabited narrow stretch of land on the east side of the Jordan River in the central zone. Israel took the rest- most of the southern zone and all of the central zone west of the Jordan River.

September 1953-
 Israel launches, on a crash basis, a diversion project on a nine-mile channel midway between the huleh Marshes and Lake Tiberias in the central DMZ. The plan was to divert enough water to help irrigate the coastal Sharon Plain and eventually the Negev desert. syria claimed it would dry up 12,000 acres of Syrian land. The UNTSO Chief of Staff Major General Vagn Bennike of Denmark noted that the project was denying water to two Palestinian water mills, was drying up Palestinian farm land and was a substantial militarybenefit to Israel against Syria. The US cut off aid to Israel. The Israeli response was to increase work. UN Security Council Resolution 100 asked Israel to stop work pending an investigation. Israel finally backed off and for the next three years the US kept its economic sanctions in effect bt insisting on tying aid to Israel's behavior.

11 December 1955-
 Under the command of Ariel Sharon Israel attacks Syrian military posts and the village of Kursi outside the DMZ, near the northeast shore of Lake Tiberias. 56 Syrians including 3 women were killed. Israel lost 6 killed. The US expressed "shock" ay Israel's "flagrant violation" of the armistice agreement.

The purpose of the strike was to provoke Egypt into honoring its mutual defense pack with Syria by attacking Israel, thereby igniting the war Israel sought with Egypt. But Egypt did not take the bait and Israel had to wait almost a year for the Suez War. Israel also had in mind its long-term policy of establishing exclusive control over Lake Tiberias.

30 October 1956-
 Israel attacks Egypt across the Sinai peninsula. The remainder of the Palestinians living in the DMZs were driven into Syria. Commenting on this was UNTSO Chief of Staff Odd Bull of Norway who observed:

I imagine that a number of those evicted settled somewhere in the Golan Heights and that their children have watched the land that had been in their families for hundreds of years being cultivated by Israeli farmers, From time to time they opened fire on these farmers. That, of course, was a violation of the armistice agreement, though I could not help thinking that in similar circumstances Norwegian peasants would almost certainly have acted in the same way. In the course of time all Arab villages disappeared.


3) 1957-67: The Water Issue

Late 1956-
Israel quietly resumed work on its National Water Carrier but avoiding the DMZs, and thereby US objections. It diverted water directly from Lake Tiberias, sending it to irrigate the northern section of the Negev desert. It did this without consulting Syria and Jordan, riparian states with the right of consultation on usage of joint waters.

The precedent was set. The Arab states felt free to develop their own schemes. In August 1956 Jordan began work, without consulting Israel, on the East Ghor canal to siphon water from the Yarmuk River before it joined the Jordan.

There was a major difference between the Israeli National Water Carrier and the Jordanian plan. The Jordanian plan returned the water within the Jordan River complex. The Israeli plan removed the water to the Negev, thus depriving Syria and Jordan of their share.

Early 1962-
Israel launched a raid on the village of Nuqayb in the central DMZ over fishing rights on Lake Tiberias. 30 Syrians and 5 Israelis killed. On 9 April 1956 the Security Council "deplored" the fighting and found Israel in "flagarant violation" of the General Armistice Agreements. Hereafter, the plans by Israel, Jordan and Syria to divert water of the Jordan complex took priority, rather than the side issues such as fishing rights in the DMZs.

17 January 1964-
The Arab leaders gathered in Cairo issued their final communiqué. It called the National Water Carrier an "aggressive plan to divert the course of the River Jordan thereby, grievously endangering the riparian rights of the Arabs. The Arabs had no military force and the Israelis completed the project on 28 May 1964.

In retaliation for Israeli projects the Arabs vowed to draw water from the Baniyas in Syria and send the water east through Syria and Jordan to south of Lake Tiberias. They began digging in February of 1964 but the Israelis then destroyed their bulldozers by artillery fire. In the summer of 1966 Syria tried to resume work. On 14 July Israeli planes bombed the equipment and the engineering works permanently destroying the Syrian project.

The Security Council draft resolution (S/7575/Rev.1), supported by the US asked Syria "to strengthen its measures for preventing incidents that constitute a violation of the General Armistice Agreement" and "invited" Israel "to cooperate fully with the Israel-Syrian Mixed Armistice Commission." The Soviets vetoed on 4 November 1966 because it equated the actions of Syria to those of Israel.

From then on the region devolved in ever-accelerating acts of violence culminating in Israel launching a general war against Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Near the end of 1964-
Israel laid claim to the River Dan, a reservoir, and all the springs in the area (the headwaters of the Jordan River). Syria claimed several of the springs and part of the reservoir and pointed out that the road Israel had built to patrol the area intruded on Syrian territory.

13 November 1964-
Syria fired on an Israeli patrol resulting in a mortar and artillery exchange. Israel also bombed deep in Syrian territory. 7 Syrians and 3 Israeli were killed in the exchanges.

The Security Council draft resolution (S/6113) failed to note Israel's introduction of war planes (the first use since 1951). Though supported by the Johnson administration it was vetoed by the Russians on 17 Dec. 1965 on the grounds that it placed the Arab victims on the same level as the Israeli aggressors.

26 October 1965-
Israel launched it first armed raid into Lebanon and destroyed three water reservoirs in a Lebanese border town. Water pumps and pipelines were frequently the target of Israeli strikes into Jordan and Syria at this time.

9 June 1967-
Israel broke the cease-fire then in effect and seized the Golan Heights. About a quarter of the 139,000 Syrians living in the captured areas fled.


Tabitha Petran (historian):

In the next 6 months Israel expelled 95,000, demolishing villages, cutting off water and food supplies, and by threats reinforced by torture and execution of those who refused to leave. Expellees were compelled to leave behind everything they owned- shops full of goods, sheep and goats, clothes and household possessions, as well as lands, homes, vineyards and apple trees.


In the end there were only about 6,000 Syrians left- mainly Druze. On 15 July 1967, Israel established its first settlement on the Golan.


Donald Neff (historian):

The threat posed to Israel by Syrian heavy artillery on the Golan before 1967 does not appear to have had the prominence at the time that it subsequently acquired in Israeli pronouncements.

None of the UNTSO chiefs of staff in the memoirs considered as especially menacing the Golan gun emplacements. In fact, the heights themselves are seldom mentioned.

UNTSO Chief of Staff von Horn was one of the few to make a direct reference to Syrian guns on the Golan, remarking: "It is unlikely that these would ever have come into action had it not been for Israeli provocation."

The efficacy of Syrian artillery on the Golan Heights was not great enough to deter Israel from taking over the DMZs and the water of the Jordan Valley, or to prevent Israel's capture of the heights. And while there appears to be no reliable record of total casualties caused by Syrian guns aimed at Israeli civilians between 1949 and 1967, not a single Israeli civilian is reported to have been killed by Syrian artillery in the six months before the 1967 war, a period of intense skirmishes between the two countries.


    B) Early Development Schemes

1) British Mandate:

1. The northern borders of Palestine were fixed by Britain and France after World War I in a manner that gave the Zionist movement potential access to, but not direct control over, much of the Jordan headwaters, including the Hasbani, Banias and Yarmuk rivers and Lake Tiberias but no access to the Litani.

2. The British authorities made agreements with the Zionists regarding water resources-

• 70 year concession to Rotenberg Co. to exploit waters of the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers and to generate electricity

• concessions to Jewish companies to exploit inland rivers of Palestine

• concession to drain and exploit the lands of Lake Huleh

Walter C. Lowdermilk water development proposal (1944):

(Lowdermilk was an engineer who had worked at TVA.)

1. was to be modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the US

2. would allow the development of farms, industry, and provide security for at least 4 million Jews from Europe in addition to the 1.8 million Arabs and Jews already living in Palestine and Transjordan

3. called for-

• irrigation in the Jordan Valley

• diversion of the waters of the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers for hydroelectric power

• diversion of the water from northern Palestine to the Negev desert

• use of water from the Litani River in Lebanon

2) The Hayes Plan (1946):

1. The World Zionist Organization asked James B. Hayes, an American engineer who helped develop the TVA to translate the Lowdermilk outline into a detailed and solid plan.

2. His plan called for-

• exploitation of waters outside Israeli territory: a dam on the Hasbani River in Lebanon, and diversion southward through Israel of the Jordan headwaters bordering on Syria and Jordan

• half of the water of the Yarmuk to be diverted into Lake Tiberias to replace water lost by diversion of the upper Jordan River, as called for in the Lowdermilk plan

• the other half of Yarmuk waters to be allotted to Transjordan

Note: According to Hayes this allocation "must await the completion of the previous irrigation works and diversions for the River, which will enable a more accurate determination of what is left in the Jordan."

Thus the needs of the future Jewish state would take precedence over those of the Arab population of the region.


3) United Nations Partition Plan (1947):

1. Palestine to be divided into two states, one Jewish and one Arab

• Jews owned less than 7% of the land & made up 30% of the population

• Jews were to receive 55% of the land

• the Jewish state got the upper Jordan in the north and thereby the opportunity to carry out the basic conception of the Lowdermilk-Hayes project as Hayes noted


Dr. Emmanuel Neuman, president of the Zionist Organization of America:

"Fortunately, those who had been responsible for working out the details of the United Nations partition plan, were familiar with the basic aspects of the Lowdermilk-Hayes project and took it largely into account in drawing the boundaries of the new states... The Jewish state was thus provided with far-reaching possibilities for utilizing the most vital resource of the country for large-scale irrigation, agricultural colonization and hydroelectric development."


4) Israel's National Water Carrier Project (1953):

1. Followed basic outline of the Lowdermilk-Hayes plan

2. When Israel began work to divert the Jordan River Syria took its complaint to the UN Security Council charging Israel with violating their cease-fire agreement.

3. The U.S. agreed with Syria that Israel's moves were provocative- it censured Israel and threatened to cut-off aid (then $50 million per year).

4. First stage adopted in 1964.

• Arabs then proposed to decrease the flow of water to Israel by constructing two storage dams on the Yarmuk and diverting water from the Banias River to Syria and Jordan

• Israel attacked Syrian work sites on the Banias in March & May 1965 and again in July 1966

5. In 1967 Israel attacked its Arab neighbors and occupied the Golan Heights ending Syrian projects there and seizing Syrian equipment

5) Johnston's mission (1953-55):

1. The US aim was to utilize the principle of sharing the Jordan in order to

• provide the material means of resettling the Palestinian refugees in Jordan

• provide Israel with the largest possible share of the Jordan waters

• establish a pattern of technical cooperation between Israeli and Arab governments as a prelude to political negotiations

2. A basic issue of conflict was the use of the waters of the Jordan River-

• all Arab plans provided that these waters were to be used within the Jordan Valley

• Israeli plans called for its use in irrigating other areas, especially the Negev

3. US President Eisenhower sent his special envoy Eric Johnston to mediate

4. Johnson proposed a water plan developed by Charles Main

5. Both Arabs and Israel objected and developed their own counter proposals: The Arab Technical Committee Plan (ATC Plan) and the Cotton Plan (named after an American engineer trusted with implementing the Hayes plan).


Water Allocation by Plan

Country

Main Plan

Cotton Plan

ATC Plan

Israel

394 mcm

1,290 mcm

200 mcm

Jordan

774 mcm

575 mcm

861 mcm

Syria

45 mcm

30 mcm

132 mcm

Lebanon

------------

450.7 mcm

35 mcm

Total

1,213 mcm

2,345.7 mcm

1,228 mcm

Note: the Israeli Cotton Plan included the Litani River, allocating 400 mcm of its waters to Israel and 300 to Lebanon.

6. Johnston continued to mediate throughout 1954 and 1955 concluding in Oct. 1955 with a plan even more favorable to Israel. Israel's share rose from 394 mcm in the original proposal to 565 mcm and Jordan's share fell to 720 mcm.

7. Though the Arab Technical Committee approved the modified Johnston Plan. the Arab League rejected it.

8. Some sources say Israel also rejected it.

Post 1967:

With Israeli seizure of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, the conflict changed. Though Israel now had access to more water, its desire for Lebanese water continued.

1. Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1978 gave it temporary control of the Wazzani, a fresh water stream feeding the Jordan.

2. Israel also set up pumps and pipes along the Hasbani, which runs from Lebanon into Israel.

3. Lebanese suspect that Israel, in addition to the Hasbani surface pumps, has been pumping water underground from Lebanon for its own use for several years.

4. Israel demanded of its Lebanese client Major Hadad that local farmers stop drilling new wells and they bricked up some old ones.

5. Hydraulic engineers have long known that a tap on the Litani closest to the Israeli border would capture only a small fraction of the river's annual flow. To be effective, diversions would have to be made upstream, beginning with the dam of Lake Qir'awn where the flow averages 700 mcm per year.

6. In 1982 one of the first acts of the Israeli invaders upon reaching Lake Qir'awn in Lebanon was to seize all the hydrographic data on the dam and the river and ship a complete set to Israel.

7. Continued Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in defiance of Security Council Resolution 425 allows it continued access to Lebanon's water resources.

     

    C) WATER POLICY-

1) Israeli Organizational Structure for Water:

Minister of Agriculture-
Empowered with water policy making authority and is responsible for the entire water system. by the very nature of its operations it is closer to the interests of the farmers, who consume most of the water in the country. This is also reflected in their share of representation in the Water Council.

Water Council-
Consulted by the Minister of Agriculture on all problems related to water policy. The Water Council consists of from 27 to 39 members appointed by the government with the Minister of Agriculture as chair, and the Water Commissioner as deputy chair. In any combination, the majority of the representatives are affiliated with the agricultural sector.

Water Commission-
The governmental body with primary control over the implementation of water policy. The following units operate within its framework: Allocation and Licensing, the Hydrological Services, Soil Conservation and Drainage, Efficient Utilization of Water, and the Israel Center for Water Equipment. The Water Commissioner heads this unit and is appointed by the Cabinet.

Equalization Fund-
In concert with the Water Commission regulates the differences in water prices for consumers in the various regions independently of the real cost of supply.

Water Tribunal-
Consists of a judge appointed by the Minister of Justice and two representatives selected from a list drawn up by the Minister of Agriculture. the tribunal hears cases concerning fines imposed on water-law offenders, appeals against decisions by the bodies dealing with water, etc.

Mekorot-
A non-profit, public corporation founded in 1938 and authorized by the government to be the "National Water Authority." Mekorot is in charge of the construction, operation, and maintenance of the water plants and the licensing of the various sectors for the use of water. It supplies about 80% of Israel's water. Since 1967 it controls all surface and underground water in the occupied territories. It is owned by the Israeli government, the Histadrut (the General Federation of Workers in Eretz Israel), the Jewish Agency, and the Jewish National Fund- the latter two holding a controlling share.

Tahal-
Water-Planning for Israel Company is a non-profit government corporation founded in 1952. It is Israel's water planning authority charged with research and consumption forecasts, planner and engineering advisor for water projects being constructed by Mekorot. It is owned by the Israeli government (52%), the Jewish Agency (24%) and the Jewish National Fund (24%).

In practice Mekorot and Tahal enjoy a large measure of independence in their operations, but the former is by far the most powerful water institution in Israel.

 


The Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund are restricted by their respective constitutions to the exclusive support of Jewish interests. Thus the companies which plan, design, and construct water projects on the West Bank are controlled by groups which serve only Jewish people as opposed to all Israelis or the residents of the territories.


2) Israel's Water Policy:

In accordance with the Israeli Water Law of 1959, water was declared to be a public commodity soon after the occupation began- exceeding the rights of an occupying power under international law. Military Order 158 required a license for digging new wells and was used to block development of new water sources by the non-Jewish population only.

Israeli policy is driven by political rather than economic motives. Jewish settlements and territorial expansion (the vision of making the desert bloom) are the objectives. Water has always been a marginal factor. The decision to establish a colonial settlement was taken, and only afterwards were attempts made to solve the water problems that might confront the settlement. Priority was given to national goals and socially accepted values- agricultural development.


* David Paul is a documents librarian at Harvard College.

Source: http://salam.org/palestine/water.html

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