Israel's Water Policies

During the negotiations between Egypt, Israel and the United States on the future of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, the questions least frequently raised in the Western media have been those concerned with the resources of these territories, both human and material, and their economic importance for Israel. When attention did centre on the subject, its main focus was Sinai oil and its future availability to Israel after the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Only very recently, however, was mention made of another liquid resource - water. So obscure is this subject that few outside the area realize its importance. Yet, inside Israel the debate on Israeli water policies and the possible implications for them of the proposed autonomy for the Palestinian Arab residents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is central and of crucial significance.

Uri Davis is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, England.

Antonia E.L. Maks is a Postgraduate student in Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, Holland.

John Richardson is a graduate of the School of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford currently working with Bradford University Placement Programme in Palestine. 

Full text: 


"No border will again go through Western Eretz Israel. The Green Line exists in the imagination of some people. It no longer exists in reality. It disappeared. It is gone," stated the Prime Minister Mr. Menahem Begin at the meeting of the Herut Party Centre which was convened yesterday for a discussion on the settlements.... The Minister of Agriculture, Ariel Sharon, said that the government offers the Arabs all rights in Eretz Israel, but no right on Eretz Israel, which is reserved only for Israel.

Haaretz, April 30, 1979

During the negotiations between Egypt, Israel and the United States on the future of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, the questions least frequently raised in the Western media have been those concerned with the resources of these territories, both human and material, and their economic importance for Israel. When attention did centre on the subject, its main focus was Sinai oil and its future availability to Israel after the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Only very recently, however, was mention made of another liquid resource - water. So obscure is this subject that few outside the area realize its importance. Yet, inside Israel the debate on Israeli water policies and the possible implications for them of the proposed autonomy for the Palestinian Arab residents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is central and of crucial significance. For instance, Yehuda Litani, Haaretz correspondent for what is euphemistically termed "the territories " in Israel, and one of Israel's best informed journalists, writes as follows:

Ownership of government lands in the autonomous areas, ownership of water resources in the West Bank and the formulation of official ties between the Israeli settlers in the territories and the State of Israel - these are (according to reports published last week) the three main conclusions of the interim report of the Committee appointed to determine Israel's position on the subject of autonomy headed by the Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office, Dr. Ben-Elissar, which will be submitted this week to the members of the Cabinet. It was further reported that one million dunums of state land in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will, according to the conclusions of the interim report, continue to be in "trusteeship" of the State of Israel....

On the subject of the water resources, the members of the Committee concluded - according to these reports - that the State of Israel must continue to control the water resources in the territories, both because of the danger to water reserves inside the Green Line and because it will be impossible to establish new Israeli settlements in these territories without control and supervision of the water resources. The Water Commission submitted a Memorandum to the Committee which said that the water resources of the State of Israel inside the Green Line originate in the West Bank and that incorrect application of drilling in the West Bank could salinize the water reservoirs of the State of Israel....

[This] Memorandum submitted by the Water Commission is interesting. Is it the case that in the period 1948-1967 there was incorrect application of drilling in the West Bank? What did the State of Israel do during these years in the face of this "incorrect application"? It is possible that this is the true reason, so far unknown, for the eruption of the Six Day War. [1] [Italics added]

And similarly Amir Shapira, who is one of Israel's best investigative journalists on these subjects, and whose series of articles in Al Hamishmar on the subject of Israeli water will be frequently referred to below, reports as follows:

Israeli water experts have recently briefed senior political circles on the question of the possibility that in the framework of the administrative autonomy in the West Bank [proposed in the Camp David Agreement] Israel would lose control over essential water resources, and [the experts] warned against a double bind. In the view of these circles it is inconceivable that Israel will not include in its autonomy plan articles that will prevent the development of a situation in which Israel loses the ability to secure itself against the possibility that local elements assisted by foreign finance pump water through deep drilling from the underground aquifer in West Samaria which supplies approximately one third of Israel's water consumption, and which is fed by water that originates in the watershed of the Samaria mountains. [2] 

In 1976 Israel was consuming 98 percent of its proven renewable water resources. Israeli water consumption has increased radically since 1949: from 17 percent in that year to 90 percent in 1968 to 95 percent in 1978. [3] Future economic development in Israel therefore critically depends on either the tapping of new water sources or the development of new techniques. Additional water supplies are needed not only for the further development of agriculture, but also to meet an expected increase in domestic consumption. Thus:

If a quick development of existing water resources is not undertaken soon, there will develop a shortage of 400-450 million cubic metres of water in the next decade as a result of the increase in urban population, and then we shall face the necessity of taking this quantity from agricultural consumption. [4] 

Eli Elad also pointed out in his article entitled "The Dispute over Water":

The estimate is that the future increase in urban population and in standards of living will necessitate the development of some additional 400 million cubic metres of water toward 1990. If the needed quantity is not found, it will be necessary to divert water from production to domestic consumption to an amount that is equivalent to one third (1/3) of the water consumed by agriculture today. Diversion of water from agriculture to domestic consumption will entail economic and social regression as well as injury to the policy of population dispersion [i.e., the Israeli policy of dispersion of its Jewish population from the urban metropolitan centres along the coast into the not as yet completely Judaized periphery both in pre-1967 Israel proper and in the post-1967 Israeli occupied territories]. [5] [Emphasis added]

Israel's water policies over the past three decades have thus resulted in a double bind. On the one hand, we now know authoritatively that one third of the pre-1967 Israeli water consumption of 1.6 billion cubic metres originates in the rainfall over the western slopes of the West Bank and is drawn, by drilling inside pre-1967 Israel proper, from the same water aquifer system that contains the water reserves for the West Bank, and on the other hand, that Israel will need an addition of 400-450 million cubic metres by 1990 for domestic consumption as a result of the increase in its urban Jewish population alone. This is one third of current Israeli water consumption. At present, domestic consumption in Israel consists of 15 percent of total water consumption (320 million cubic metres per annum). An increase of 400-450 million cubic metres over the next decade for urban and domestic consumption will entail at least the doubling of Israel's total water consumption, unless Israel opts to divert water from agriculture and suffer the subsequent costs of what Elad terms as "economic and social regression as well as injury to the policy of population dispersion." Given the history of Israeli territorial expansion since 1948, it is unlikely that Israel will reconcile itself to such adverse prospects.

It is the object of this article to examine the various options that are seen to be available before Israel today in the presentation of the subject in the Israeli Hebrew press and periodicals. We feel that it is in order to note that the information available at hand so far fully justifies the worst forebodings.


Palestine is situated between a subtropical desert region (Egypt) and a subtropical rainy region (Lebanon). Hence the radical differences in rainfall between the south, which has very poor rainfall, and the north, which is very rich in rainfall. All the major water resources of Palestine depend on local rainfall, and are concentrated in the northern regions of the country. The most important single water resource is the Jordan River and its tributaries, which collect the rainfall of the Mount Hermon basin.

Israel's national water economy consists of the following water resources: river waters; springs; floodwater run-offs; ground water, and recycled purified sewage and irrigation waters.

According to Yakobowitz and Prushansky, [6] the total renewable fresh water potential in (pre-1967) Israel is estimated, after the development of all available water resources, at 1,610 - 1,650 million cubic metres per annum. The breakdown is as follows:

- Ground water: 950 million cubic metres

- Jordan River and Lake Kinneret: 600 million cubic metres

- Floodwater run-offs: 60-100 million cubic metres

Total: 1,610 - 1,650 million cubic metres

Somewhat more detailed figures can be obtained from the Encyclopaedia Judaica and the Israel Pocket Library:

- Upper Jordan and its tributaries, including Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and the Beit Shean spring area, 37 percent.

- Ground water formations of the Galilee mountains and the Esdraelon (Jezreel) Valley (Marj Ibn Amir) integrated into the Jezreel-Kishon regional system, 9 percent.

- Coastal and foothill ground water formations subintegrated into a number of regional systems, 29.5 percent.

- The Yarkon River, subintegrated into the Yarkon-Negev regional system, 14 percent.

- Storm run-offs in the major coastal intermittent springs, mainly stored in the coastal unconsolidated aquifer, 5.5 percent.

- Reclaimed waste water (also stored underground) from the Tel Aviv metropolitan area (over one million inhabitants), subintegrated into the Greater Tel Aviv Metropolitan waste water reclamation project, 5 percent. [7] 

The first comprehensive outline for the development of the water resources of Palestine inside the political and economic framework of Zionist aspirations for a Jewish State was drawn by Walter Clay Lowdermilk, a development engineer and a world authority on land reclamation and conservation. It was his plan which outlined the basic concept for the implementation, twenty years later, of Israel's National Water Carrier system. [8] 

Further study of the possibilities of what I shall call the Jordan Valley Authority or JVA has convinced me that the full utilization of the Jordan Valley depression and adjoining drainage areas for reclamation and power will in time provide farms, industry and security for at least four million Jewish refugees from Europe, in addition to the 1,800,000 Arabs and Jews already in Palestine and Trans-Jordan....

Palestine has two primary needs: water and power. Water is available in the flow of the Jordan and potential power is locked in the swift and turbulent descent of the river to the depth of the Dead Sea. The main aims of the JVA are thus the diversion of the sweet waters of the Jordan and its tributaries for the purpose of irrigating the arid lands of the Jordan Valley and its slopes, and the utilization of the deep decline of the Jordan River channel for purposes of power development.... The power programme calls for the introduction of sea water from the Mediterranean into the Jordan River Valley for the double purpose of compensating the Dead Sea for the loss of the diverted sweet waters of the Jordan and of utilizing the sea water for development of power. The Jordan Valley is about twenty-five miles from the Mediterranean at Haifa Bay.... Also included within the scope of the JVA would be the reclamation of the Negev, or South Country, which comprises an area almost equal to that of the rest of Palestine. The cheap power available under the JVA would enable the decentralization of thriving industries into this region. Furthermore, the extensive areas around Beersheba would be developed by irrigation.... What of the million and a third Arabs in Palestine and Trans-Jordan? They would benefit greatly from the JVA. The increased Jewish immigration it would make possible would enlarge the market for their produce and provide them with new opportunities for investment and labour. If individual Arabs found that they disliked living in an industrialized land, they could easily settle in the great alluvial plain of the Tigris and Euphrates Valley, where there is land enough for vast numbers of immigrants. [9] 

On the basis of Lowdermilk's outline, the American engineer G.B. Hayes was invited by the World Zionist Organization to translate the vision into more concrete detail, based on his experience in the development of the -Tennessee Valley Authority. Hayes published his outline in his book The Tennessee Valley Authority on the Jordan (1946). The Hayes Plan was then developed further by another American engineer, John Cotton, who served in the years 1951-55 as an adviser to the Israeli government, and was put in charge of the development of the National Water Carrier project.

Work on the first stages of the Israeli Water Carrier project began almost immediately after the conclusion of the armistice agreements between Israel and the neighboring Arab states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt in 1949. In 1951 Israel began work on the Huleh drainage scheme and in 1953 on the first major stage of the original plan of the National Water Carrier, which aimed to divert Jordan River waters from a point north of Lake Kinneret in the demilitarized zone on the Syrian border. Syria deployed its armed forces along the border and forced Israel to introduce a number of radical changes in the original plan, most important, the shifting of the main pumping site for the National Water Carrier from the Jordan River north of Lake Kinneret to Tabha on the Israeli shores of Lake Kinneret, where the water is pumped at the Sapir station from 212 metres below to 44 metres above sea level, a total height of 256 metres.

Against this background, American President Eisenhower sent his special envoy, Eric Johnston, to the Middle East to attempt to develop a solution acceptable to all governments concerned with problems related to the exploitation of the Jordan and Yarmuk waters.

Johnston submitted a plan prepared by Gordon Clapp, Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, for the utilization of the Jordan and Yarmuk waters by the four countries for agricultural development and refugee settlement on the basis of mutually agreed quotas. In 1955, a United Water Plan, which assured each country of the quantities of water claimed by its experts, was accepted by the parties on the technical level, but the Arab League, meeting in October, refused to give political approval. Israel stated, however, that it would not use more than the quantities of water allotted in the plan. [10] 

More details of the Johnston Plan were published by Amir Shapira in his serialized study on Israel's water economy published in Hotam (Al Hamish- mar's weekly supplement) in December 1976.

Toward the end of 1954 Eric Johnston concluded his shuttle negotiations, and placed before the representatives of four states, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, his draft plan for the division of water supplies in the area. In reality, the plan referred to the quantity of water to be allocated to each country and the allocation of dams and artificial reservoirs.... Bilateral agreements were subsequently signed between the US and each of the said countries. Its basic principles were applied and accepted by all parties concerned. In the Israeli-American understanding the Plan... was termed a "constructive" project. Israel was full of humanitarian applause and noted that the Jordanian irrigation plan would constitute a lever to revitalize the Jordan Valley (on either side of the river) as a region that could aid the rehabilitation of the 1948 refugees through their resettlement there. The Johnston Plan collected data [and] presented combinations for the multi-national use of the water. It allocated measured quotas of the water flow to Israeli water projects [i.e., the National Water Carrier] as well as the Jordan projects [e.g., the Ghur irrigation projects]. The water quotas were registered "in the name of" [each respective party]. Jerusalem welcomed the Jordanian Ghur irrigation project as a "construction of peace that will make the Arab arguments crumble." [11] 

Until 1967 Israel exploited 23 million cubic metres of water pumped from the bottom section of the Yarmuk River close to its junction with the Jordan River and claimed an option on an additional 17 million cubic metres for prospective irrigation schemes in the Beit Shean Valley. [12] The Johnston Plan also allocated the annual quota of 70 million cubic metres of Yarmuk River waters to the Jordan Valley on the West Bank of the Jordan River (western Ghur). [13] And as Shapira had noted earlier in his discussion of the Jordanian-Syrian Maqarein dam project:

But the days of 1954 did not resemble the reality of 1976. During these 22 years the Jordan waters were mixed with blood. The decisive factor concerning the Jordan Valley area that has now changed is sovereignty over the western Jordan Valley. Israel has settled Jews in the Valley.... Therefore, (and at disturbing delay) it has become necessary to examine whether Israel's water quota (as the sovereign of the western Jordan Valley) is being maintained. In other words, whether the water allocations (as set by Johnston) apply in the reality of 1976; whether as the government which administers the West Bank, Israel has statutory claims in the debate on water projects [e.g., the Maqarein dam in Jordan] which may create a new reality that might diverge from the outlines set by the Johnston Plan.... The Jordanian-Syrian claim that the Johnston Plan is linked to specific destinations (namely, the percentage of the water is linked to state sovereignty) will lead to an unavoidable Israeli-American confrontation concerning the cardinal question: to whom do the Yarmuk water quotas allocated [according to the Johnston Plan] for diversion in Jordanian canals to the Jordan Valley plains on the east and the west of the Jordan River belong? Do the relevant quotas belong to Israel, who now administers the western Jordan Valley, or to the Arabs from whom the land was conquered, but whose entitlement to these water quotas is recognized because of the objective toward which these quotas were directed [the rehabilitation of refugees]?

In short, the Israeli demand (directed at the Americans) to be considered as a party in the discussions concerning the Maqarein dam through guaranteeing its share in the Yarmuk waters by force of its occuoation of the West Bank will compel the United States to decide publicly and openly on the question of Israel's status in the West Bank.... We should not have any illusions. The United States will not accept that the Yarmuk waters (as allocated by the Johnston Plan) be used in order to implement extensive Jewish settlement in the Jordan Valley. A position paper in this spirit was transmitted to Israel stiffly and without equivocation... [14] 

In later articles, Shapira pointed out that the Maqarein dam and the Jordanian irrigation plans for the eastern Ghur threatened not only Israel's post-1967 Jewish colonialization projects for the western Jordan Valley (the "Double Avenue Plan"), but also the Israeli industrial complex of bromine and potassium plants at Sedom. [15] These plants and their related industries are based on the exploitation of the Dead Sea minerals, and the diminution of the Jordan River will result in the shrinking of the Dead Sea and will threaten the industrial combine there. In the last thirty years the Dead Sea level has sunk by over 10 metres, and since 1968 alone it has sunk by five - approximately half a metre annually. At present the southern section of the Dead Sea is on average only five metres deep. The northern section is 390 metres deep. The natural connection between the two sections was severed some 3-4 years ago, and it is now possible to cross the Dead Sea on foot from the Israeli eastern shores to the Jordanian "Tongue." In order to prevent the complete evaporation of water from the southern section, anl artificial canal has been constructed over the length of 12 kilometres from the foot of the Rock of Massadah to the evaporation pans at the Sedom potassium and bromine plants. [16] 

As a result, Israel has renewed active investigations into the prospects of digging a canal from the Mediterranean (at Ashqelon or Ashdod) to the Dead Sea - the Bar Lev Plan - or from the Haifa harbour through the Jezreel Valley to Beit Shean, where the water would flow into the Jordan River at a point south of its exit from Lake Kinneret (the Gur Plan). Either plan is extremely ambitious and expensive. Such a canal would save the Dead Sea from what looks like sure death, but is irrelevant to the problems of providing a solution to Israel's fast-increasing fresh water consumption inside and outside its pre-1967 borders. It is against this background that:

Israel has made it clear to the United States that it considers itself the government of the territory and that if the US [aids the financing of the] Maqarein construction, it should kindly see that the West Bank is given [an appropriate] status in the project. [17] 

The Maqarein dam project has been developed by Jordan (and later jointly by Jordan and Syria) to replace the earlier Muheiba dam plans, effectively aborted by the Israeli victory in the June 1967 war and the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights. With Israeli soldiers now perched on the Golan Heights over the Muheiba site, the dam has been shifted some dozens of kilometres east to Maqarein. The dam will form an artificial lake of 250 million cubic metres, from where water will be released under control into the east Ghur canal. Following the Jordanian-Syrian rapprochement, Jordan is

now completing the diversion of the Yarmuk waters by means of a water carrier at the foot of the mountains: the east Ghur canal....

In addition the Jordanians have completed damming half of the streams flowing into the Jordan from the East, and the damming of the remaining streams is proceeding at full force. They have also drawn up the plans for the construction of' the Maqarein dam which is to be completed by 1982. [18] 

The Jordanian-Syrian activity in the construction of the Maqarein dam first brought to public attention the critical situation of Israel's water economy and brought into sharp focus the fragile water balance that is maintained through the Israeli exploitation of 23 million cubic metres of the Yarmuk water and its claim for an option on a further 17 million cubic metres of Yarmuk River waters, tacitly acknowledged both by Jordan and the US. However, Amir Shapira reports that:

In the opinion of a senior Israeli source, there is a need for extensive and obstinate Israeli activity inside the American administration in order to make the US aware of its responsibility to secure the concessions that allocate to Israel 25-40 million cubic metres of water (of the Yarmuk River summer water flow).... Refusal by the US to respond to the Israeli demand could lead to a decision to implement Israeli rights in the water unilaterally in ways that will not be crippled by the Jordanian plans. This issue was recently discussed by the appropriate instances, and one of the options in such an event discusses the use of the Yarmuk water for irrigation projects in the Golan Heights. [19] 

Amir Shapira informs us that:

The subject of the water strip [the aquifer along the western slopes of the West Bank], and the degree of its essential importance to Israel, was previously submitted to the American administration by the Alignment government, and it was the element that stimulated the American agreement to the Israeli intention to put settlements along the narrow strip beyond the Green Line of Israel's eastern border. [20] 

The Mediterranean - Dead Sea Canal

It seems that the only effective means to salvage the Dead Sea is through the construction of the long debated and long disputed Mediterranean-Dead Sea canal, and indeed active interest in the project has recently been renewed in Israel. One of the better known advocates of the canal is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yigal Allon, who has put his weight behind the "Jezreel Canai" designed to go from the Haifa harbour, through the Jezreel and Beit Shean Valleys, to a point south of Lake Kinneret where it would flow into the Jordan riverbed. [21] Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai informed the Israeli Knesset that:

Three routes of possible canals had been found feasible:

1. The line proposed by Allon which the Ministry calls Netiv Haemek (the Valley Route);

2. The northern mountain route from Palmahim to Kalia; and,

3. The southern mountain route - originally from Yamit via Halutzah to Massada, but now changed to begin in the Deir al-Balah [Gaza Strip] area. [22] 

The Mediterranean-Dead Sea canal, project is, however, prohibitively costly, and given the present state of Israeli politics, circumstances might arise where the Israeli government effectively decides that the sabotage of the Maqarein dam would be a much cheaper and more effective solution to the set of problems posed by the Maqarein dam and the exploitation of the Yarmuk River by Jordan.

Israeli water resources are administered by the Israeli Water Commission, at whose head is a Water Commissioner subject to the authority of the Minister of Agriculture. Israel's Minister of Agriculture since the rise of the Likud Bloc to government power in the 1977 elections has been General (Reserve) Ariel Sharon. The Israeli Water Commissioner operates inside the framework of the Israel Water Law (1959) which determines that "the water resources in the state are public property; they are subject to the control of the state and are destined for the needs of its inhabitants and the development of the country" (Article 1).

The Water Commission Administration is divided into a number of departments, of which Mekorot, Israel Water Company, and Tahal, Water Planning for Israel Company, are responsible for the construction of irrigation and water supply projects (Mekorot), and the overall planning and design engineering of Israeli water development projects (Tahal). These two agencies control the water supplied to all consumers under Israeli rule in agriculture, industry and domestic consumption. Where water supplies are not channelled through Mekorot and Tahal, authority over water allocation rests directly with the Water Commission Department for Water Allocation and Certification. The Water Commissioner has the sole authority to issue licenses for the exploitation of water resources, to fix the water tariffs and to allocate water to the various categories of consumers.

Thus since 1967 the Israeli Water Commission, through its Department for Water Allocation and Certification, has directly controlled the water resources of the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. As we shall document below, this has resulted in the complete prohibition on the drilling of a single well for agricultural irrigation by Palestinian Arab farmers, whereas at least seventeen new wells have been sunk in the West Bank to supply water for the agricultural irrigation and domestic consumption of the fast-increasing Israeli settlements there.

Mekorot was established in 1936 by the Jewish Agency and the Histadrut Labour Federation (then still officially called "The General Federation of Hebrew Workers in Eretz Israel." The name was retained until 1966, when it was altered to "The General Federation of Workers in Eretz Israel.") The Israeli government currently has a 33 percent share in Mekorot, and the remainder is divided between the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Histadrut. The controlling share in Mekorot is vested with what is termed "the National Institutions": the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund, whose operation and activity are constitutionally restricted to the exclusive support of Jewish interests:

Land is to be acquired as Jewish property, and... the title to the lands acquired is to be taken in the name of the JNF, to the end that the same shall be held as the inalienable property of the Jewish people.

The Agency shall promote agricultural colonization based on Jewish labour, and in all works or undertakings carried out or furthered by the Agency, it shall be deemed to be a matter of principle that Jewish labour shall be employed.... (Constitution of the Jewish Agency, Articles 3 (d) & (e))

[And the primary object of the Jewish National Fund is:]... To purchase, acquire on lease or in exchange, or receive on lease or otherwise, lands, forests, rights of possession, easements and any similar rights as well as immovable properties of any class... for the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties. (Memorandum of Association Article 3 (a)) [23] 

Tahal, on the other hand, was established in 1952 as a company of the Israeli government. The government has the controlling share of 52 percent and the remainder is divided equally between the so-called "national" (i.e. exclusively Jewish) institutions of the Jewish Agency (24 percent) and the Jewish National Fund (24 percent).

The pre-1967 Israeli water economy is now completely integrated into a central system consisting of some 4,000 wells and 80 regional water projects, which are all incorporated into the National Water Carrier system. The National Water Carrier was the most ambitious development project under- taken in pre-1967 Israel. It was begun in 1953 and completed in 1964. Its length from the Sapir (Tabha) pumping station at its head in Lake Kinneret to the Rosh Ha-Ayyin station, where it connects to the Yarkon-Negev regional project, is 130 kilometres. The Yarkon-Negev regional project, though developed and completed in 1956 well before the National Water Carrier, is now operating as the southern extension of the National Water Carrier consisting of two bifurcations: the western pipeline (70 inches, 66 kilometres) and the eastern pipeline (66 inches, 95 kilometres).

The National Water Carrier consists of a system of open canals (the Jordan canal: 35 kilometres, and the Netupha canal: 17.5 kilometres); tunnels (Eilabun: 0.850 kilometres, Shimron: 1.6 kilometres, Menashe A: 6.5 kilometres, and Menashe B: 0.360 kilometres); water reservoirs (Tzalmon and Eshkol) and the mainstay of the National Water Carrier: a 108-inch pipeline some 77 kilometres long from the southern-western end of the Netupha Valley to the Rosh Ha-Ayyin springs. [24] 

The National Water Carrier system is designed to convey water from the water-rich north to the areas deficient in water in the south. It has the capacity to transport 400 million cubic metres per annum.

The National Water Carrier is now the central artery for Israeli water supplies, integrating all Israel's regional water projects into one system. This central integration has now come into sharp focus in the light of the fact that Israel is currently exploiting 95 percent of its proven renewable fresh water resources, and thus, as we shall see in fuller detail below, the system has become fragile to the extreme, since vulnerability at any local waterfront exposes the entire system to danger. The issues at hand come into sharp focus in the light of Israel's water salinization problems.

In 1978 Israel's water consumption was as follows:

Agriculture:  1,200 million cubic metres (80 percent) [25] 

Domestic and urban consumption: 320 million cubic metres (15 percent)

Industrial consumption: 70 million cubic metres (5 percent) [26] 

Israeli water consumption increases by 15-20 million cubic metres per annum (approximately 1 percent of its total proven renewal water re- serves). [27] By 1980, it is estimated that Israel will consume 1,750 million cubic metres annually. In 1977-78, effective consumption had already topped the ceiling of 1,650 million cubic metres. Israeli water supplies are clearly already badly overexploited. So far, the difference between the available supplies and the increasing demand has been met through over- pumping and overexploitation of ground water. The result has been that Israel's major water resources - its ground water resources -- are now threatened by salinity.


In his excellent article "Water, Salinity and the Green Line," Michael Gerti outlines the issues relevant to the process of salinization of Israel's water supplies. Gerti bases his presentation largely on recent research in Israel following the discovery of gradual salinization of the Rosh Ha-Ayyin and the Kefar Saba springs. It will be recalled that the Rosh Ha-Ayyin springs provide the central water supplies for the Yarkon-Negev regional water project which constitutes the southern extension of the Israeli National Water Carrier system. The salinization of these water resources was, until recently, classified information. It had reached a peak curve in 1973, and as a result national research has been carried out to examine the dangers of salinization of the entire ground water reserves of the central inner plain. The results of this intensive research revealed the following:

1. There are connections between Israel's ground water reservoirs in the south and the ground water reservoirs in the north, thus overexploitation of ground water in the south will cause progressive salinization through sea water penetration from the northwest front to the southeast. The process of sea water salinization of Israel's coastal aquifer has now reached dangerous proportions through the progression of sea water across the strata of sand and gravel along the coast. This progression, however, is slow, and is in principle reversible through the injection of fresh water supplies into the overexploited aquifer. This would thus rebuild pressure inside the fresh water aquifer and push the sea water back across the sand and gravel strata.

2. There are static saline water belts surrounding the main fresh water aquifers of Israel. The salinity of these belts is higher than the salinity of sea water. As long as the pressure in the fresh water aquifer is maintained, there is no movement in the surrounding saline water belts. But the reduction of pressure in the fresh water aquifer through overexploitation results in the penetration of saline water from the surrounding belts into the fresh water aquifer. The alarm increased when it was discovered that Israel's mountain aquifers are now exposed to the real danger of salinization through the penetration of such saline water from surrounding, so far static, belts. In the case of mountain aquifers, the fresh water reservoirs enjoy free movement inside the system of hollows and caves in the chalk layers. Thus the penetration of the saline water from the surrounding belts into the main fresh water aquifer at any point could spread fast through the entire system, and unlike the salinization of the coastal fresh water aquifer, this process is in principle not reversible. Israel's water economy, which now exploits 95 percent of all of Israel's renewable fresh water resources, is thus critically vulnerable. As Gerti notes:

The political question, which will have to be dealt with both in the government and in the autonomy negotiations, is: how will Israeli control on the drilling be maintained? And will an agreement on the subject be reached with the autonomy administration, or will Israel have to keep physical control over the water resources in its hands, which also require a special military apparatus. [28]

Other commentators have been equally explicit. Under the heading "Water Specialists Warn That Autonomy in the West Bank Will Expose Israel to the Danger of Loss of Water Resources," Amir Shapira reports:

The assessment of the elements with whom I have talked is that it is not difficult to carry out a pattern of deep drilling along... the western slopes of the mountains of Samaria which could seriously disrupt the Israeli pumping system, which is fed by the same aquifer.... The fact that it will not be difficult for the autonomy administration to raise funds for this project, and the possibility that such a widescale pumping project would be presented as a humanitarian development project aiming to transport water eastwards in order to implement a massive programme of refugee rehabilitation (a programme which could receive inter- national sympathy) must - in their opinion - concern the leaders at the helm of the state, and entail Israeli preparations and the introduction of changes in the autonomy plan which will alter the Israeli status quo in the field. In their opinion, such a pattern of drilling [along the western slopes of the mountains of Samaria] could- if implemented - constitute a casus belli for Israel, because, in contrast to the situation elsewhere, no substitutes can be offered to Israel in this matter. [29]

And Amon Magen, under the title "One Source of Water to the Sharon and the Shomron," writes as follows:

Water as a source of conflict among neighbours is not a rare phenomenon in history, either in our region or in the wider world. The Middle East, whose waters are in short supply and whose climate is relatively hot, has known, and still knows numerous such conflicts.... The State of Israel has also managed in its short life to engage in confrontation with two of its neighbours, Syria and Jordan, and even mobilize aircraft and raiding forces against them on the question of the exploitation of the water of the Jordan and the Yarmuk Rivers. Meanwhile there is developing, imperceptibly as yet, another conflict between Israel and the Arabs living along (or, some would say, inside) its borders. Coincidentally, all three conflicts centre on more or less the same quantity of water: 500 million cubic metres annually. Such is approximately the flow of the Jordan River (though, in all truth, it must be said that the Syrians threaten to divert only a portion of this quantity); such is approximately the flow of the Yarmuk River; and such is approximately the quantity of water pumped in Israel whose origin is the rainfall over the slopes of Judea and Samaria.... This 500 million cubic metres which the State of Israel is pumping from springs and wells... all critically depend on the quantities of water that are pumped or otherwise in the mountains of Judea and Samaria....

Our good luck [sic! ] is that the agriculture in the West Bank is not developed. Until 1967 it was mainly dry agriculture whose water came exclusively by rainfall: 800 mm. per annum in the neighbourhood of Nablus and Ramallah to 500 mm. per annum in Hebron.... Irrigated agriculture was limited and fed on spring water. Only a few wells were sunk, partly because it was necessary to drill to depths of hundreds of metres in order to get to the ground water level (compared with 300 metres at the most in Israel). The wells were mainly utilized for domestic consumption, which was limited: some 40 cubic metres per person per annum, as compared with the 100 cubic metres per person per annum in the Israeli settlements in the Jerusalem corridor.... This great difference originates from the fact that the sons of our people wash and launder frequently in comparison with their neighbours and cultivate gardens around their homes. Forty cubic metres per person per annum multiplied by 700,000 residents comes to approximately 30 million cubic metres per annum - really not a very big quantity. After the Six Day War, the standard of living in Judea and Samaria rose considerably, but the military administration took care to apply on the West Bank the laws regulating water drilling that are in force in Israel. Permits to sink wells were given on very rare occasions, and effectively only to provide for supplies of drinking water for domestic use. This is done in order not to affect the pumping in Israel. [30]

Thus, in order to sink a well in the West Bank, one has to seek permits from the Water Commissioner offices at the Military Government head- quarters. These permits will be issued only when it is absolutely unavoidable, and impossible to evade, avoid or postpone the matter any further without seriously crippling the drinking water supplies for domestic use in the West Bank. The residents of the West Bank are doomed under Israeli occupation to consume one third of the domestic water consumption of Israeli residents in order not to affect the amount of water consumed in pre-1967 Israel proper.

There is a deep hypocrisy, however, in the presentation of the problem exclusively in terms of the pre-1967 Israeli water economy. Since 1967 Israel has introduced very intensive colonization policies in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, and in the framework of these policies, over 150 new Jewish settlements have been established throughout the occupied territories: rural agricultural settlements, communal settlements and urban centres. It is important to note that Israeli official statistics for the occupied territories do not include in them the area officially designated as the Greater Metropolitan Area of Unified Jerusalem, which now extends from the municipal boundaries of Ramallah/al-Bireh in the north to the municipal boundaries of Bethlehem in the south and Mishor Edumin (half way to Jericho) in the east. This area of approximately 70,000 dunums was officially annexed to Israel by the Israeli parliament (Knesset) following the Israeli victory in the June 1967 war. This huge area has since 1967 been colonized through the development of concentric circles of exclusively Jewish urban quarters closing upon East Jerusalem and transforming the predominantly Arab quarters of East Jerusalem into encircled ghettos. [31] 

The implications of these colonization policies for the water economy of the West Bank and its effects on the native Palestinian Arab agriculture there cannot be exaggerated. They have been meticulously documented in the recent excellent study by Dr. Paul Quiring.

As to lands, he notes:

Israel's claim that no private land has been or will be confiscated for settlement construction is not supported by evidence in the field. Conversations with farmers working lands near settlements invariably reveal the same story: land which was previously in their ownership and utilized for cultivation and/or grazing is now in the hands of the settlers. When faced with these facts ,the Israelis refine their defense even further and argue that the villagers' claim to land ownership is either unclear or illegitimate. Utilizing a provision in the land law of Jordan, which is based on categories of land ownership dating back to the Ottoman period, the Israelis claim that all village farmland is technically state land which the village can lay claim to only if it is being cultivated. Such land, termed miri land under Ottoman law, constitutes approximately 70 percent of the West Bank. The Israelis contend that if it is not actively cultivated, the ownership of the land reverts to the state, and that in such cases the government has the technical right to dispose of the land as it wishes. (Interestingly, within Israel proper the distinction between privately owned land, known as mulk, and miri farmland has been abolished by the Israeli courts, and all miri land - regardless of whether or not it is being farmed- is considered to be private property to which the state has no claim.)

The subtleties of this distinction between the various legal categories of land are largely lost on the villagers. They are simply aware that the land which they have been cultivating has been in their family for generations and that its confiscation, by whatever legal mechanism, amounts to nothing less than theft. [32] 

As to water and water rights, Dr. Quiring's information is completely consistent with the information quoted from the Hebrew press above. He reports that since 1968, Mekorot, the Israel Water Company, has drilled at least seventeen new wells inside the West Bank to provide for the domestic consumption and irrigation requirements of the new Jewish settlements, in addition to using four pre-1967 wells owned by "absentee" owners, which are also used to provide irrigation exclusively for lands now cultivated by the new Israeli settlements.

On the other hand, Dr. Quiring confirms that since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, no Palestinian Arab village or individual has received permission to drill a new irrigation well in the West Bank, and only seven permits have been issued since 1967 to drill wells to supply domestic water consumption: "This lack of water resource development, together with the confiscation of wells on 'absentee' property, means that there are fewer wells providing less water for Palestinian agriculture in the Jordan Valley today than were available on the eve of the 1967 war." [33] 

The impact of the Israeli water policies in the West Bank on the neighbouring Arab wells and springs has similarly been devastating. The need to supply water to the Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley, for instance, resulted in the drilling of six wells in close proximity to existing wells and springs developed before 1967 which supply domestic and irrigation water for Palestinian Arab villages and towns:

At the spring which supplies water for the village of al-Auja, two wells have been drilled immediately beside the spring's headquarters, and a third is under construc- tion. Water pumped from these wells is used to irrigate crops cultivated by the neighbouring settlement of Yitav. At the valley of Fasayil, two deep wells have been dug within several hundred metres of the spring of Ain Fasayil which irrigates land cultivated by a Palestinian farmer. These two pumps supply the domestic and agricultural needs of the Israeli settlement of Phatzael. Water from these pumps is brought by pipeline to the valley floor, where it is connected with an extensive irrigation network which is supplied by seven wells and is used to irrigate more than 20,000 dunums for the settlements of Yitav, Naran, Hagdud, Gilgal, Tomer, Phatzael and Massuah.

While it is theoretically possible for such wells and springs to operate side by side without affecting one another, hydrologists advise that the long-term effects of such a policy will be detrimental to the output of the pre-1967 Arab water sources - particularly in an area such as the Jordan Valley, where water is limited. [34] 

Following careful documentation of two cases in the Jordan Valley, those of the villages of Bardala and Tal al-Baida, Dr. Quiring concludes his study on the question of West Bank waters as follows:

More importantly, however, the villagers will have lost ownership and control of their water resources. As the demand for water by the settlements increases, the competition between the settlers and the Arab villagers will heighten. Under the present agreement, the Israeli Military Governor of Jericho is responsible for settling such potential conflicts; the villagers have little reason to assume that he will adjudicate such disputes in their favour. The villagers are now aware that as a farming community in an arid area, they are fully dependent upon the generosity of the occupation authorities for their continued livelihood and existence....

It is logically impossible for the Israeli government to argue that such settlement will not displace or adversely affect the indigenous Palestinian population. The land and resources needed to provide the Jewish settlement do not proceed from a vacuum. The West Bank is no more vacant of its citizens than was Mandatory Palestine prior to 1948. The policies motivating settlement in 1978 arc not unique; they are essentially the same as those employed in the 1920's and 30's. Unfortunately the effect is also the same: the claim of one people to return to a homeland is being exercised at the expense of another people's right to live in theirs. [35] 

The underlying patterns of Israel's water policies in the West Bank are further amplified in a recent study by Mr. Hisham Awartani, Chairman of the Department of Economics at al-Najah National University in Nablus (1978). In this study, Dr. Awartani quotes a recent study published by the Water Department of the Military Government of the West Bank under the title Monthly Discharge of Underground Water in Yehudah and Shomron 1977-78 as follows:

 1. The total number of artesian wells in the West Bank is 331, of which 17 have been drilled by the Israel Water Company (Mekorot) in the Jordan Valley to serve Israeli settlements in that area.

2. Twelve Arab wells have dried up following the [1967] occupation. Many others in the Jordan Valley (mostly in the northern part) are suffering a declining water level and increasing salinity.

3. The total volume of water discharged from 314 "Arab" wells amounted in 1977-78 to 33.0 million cubic metres whereas the 17 "Israeli" wells in the Jordan Valley discharged 14.1 million cubic metres. [36] 

It is in connection with the irrigation requirements of the post-1967 Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley that the double bind underlying Israeli water policies is revealed in sharp focus. Clearly, Israeli water policies are overstretched, as Abshalom Ginat points out in his recent article entitled "And You Will Draw Water to Samaria":

When [Moshe] Dayan went to the US at one of the stages of the peace treaty negotiations he said at Lydda [airport] that Israel will continue to control the water resources in Judea and Samaria, which constitute the main water resources for the coastal plain. "The Arabs in Judea and Samaria will not get more water than they have today," said Dayan, and following this policy, the [Israeli] Water Commissioner was appointed to control the waters of the West Bank. And thus, it will be recalled, began the debate on the question: to whom or to what does the autonomy apply: people or territories? Those who originated the idea of autonomy being applied to people assume that the Israeli Water Commissioner will be able to oversee the exploitation of the West Bank waters and instruct the autonomous residents if, when and where to drill. In order to prove that the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria do not damage the spirit of the peace agreement, and in order to undercut arguments against the settlements, the idea was generated of bringing in "Jewish" water, namely of piping water from Lake Kinneret and the Jordan River to the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The settlers would thus not rob the waters of the autonomous areas. The lands of Judea and Samaria will thus be irrigated with Lake Kinneret waters....

As the fresh water in the upper strata of the aquifer is reduced as a result of unplanned drilling or shortage of rainfall, the spring waters become increasingly saline. The salinization process has intensified in recent years as a result of the many water drillings and wells sunk in the Nablus [West Bank] and Harod [Israel] regions. Drillings in the Jezreel Valley [Israel] also undercut the water system in the Beit Shean Valley. The drillings radically reduce the quantity of outflow of spring water and damage its quality....

This year 14 million cubic metres of water will be lacking in the Beit Shean Valley. The local water project which hoped to pump plenty of water is standing before a broken trough: the water is disappearing. The existing water resources are becoming saline and endanger the future of agriculture in the area. A field worker from Kibbutz Kefar Ruppin said that they are already adding to every irrigation 300 cubic metres of fresh water per dunum to rinse the soil of the accumulating salinity... [37]


 In light of the fast-accelerating crisis in Israel's water economy, it is important to examine whether there are hitherto unexploited water resources available to Israel inside its pre-1967 borders, and the extent to which Israel's water crisis can be redressed through the development of new technologies. It is in this context that the danger of an attempted Israeli seizure of new sources of water from neighbouring Arab countries will be assessed.

As regards still unexploited water resources inside the pre-1967 Israeli borders, there are simply none. We have noted above that Israel already exploits 95 percent, or, according to another source, 98 percent of all its known renewable fresh water resources. [38] Israeli water resources are perhaps the best researched in the world and there is just no place left to drill new wells. [39] 

Israel has therefore undertaken a serious study of improving its water situation through the application of new technologies:

1. Cloud seeding and weather modification;

2. Desalinization of sea water;

3. Sewage reclamation;

4. Development of water saving technologies.

1. Cloud Seeding and Weather Modification

According to the Israel Economist [40] experiments made in the Lake Kinneret and the coastal region indicate that cloud seeding could result in an increase of 15 percent in precipitation. However, the present Israeli Water Commissioner, Mr. Meir Ben-Meir, is less optimistic. He has been on record stating that there is no clear evidence that artificial cloud seeding contributes to the improvement of rainfall. [41] He is not alone in this view. The Scientific American summarizes the case of cloud seeding as follows:

The efforts to induce precipitation by seeding clouds with silver iodide, frozen carbon dioxide and other substances have not yet been put on a firm scientific basis. It remains a somewhat expensive and haphazard endeavour. Only a few of the many experiments in this field have demonstrated that cloud seeding can improve precipitation in a limited range of favourable conditions. Some experiments have resulted in less precipitation. In sum, weather modification is still in the research stage. [42] 

Israel spends IL 10 million ($ 0.5 million) annually on experiments of this kind. Also, it seems that when an increase of precipitation is induced it does not necessarily fall on the Galilee, as intended, but more often into the Mediterranean or into Jordan. [43] Thus, even when perfected, cloud seeding would make little impact on Israel's overall water problem.

2. Desalinization of Sea Water

Desalinization has been used in Israel on a small scale for some time now. Fifty percent of Eilat's domestic water consumption is met by a local desalinization plant which produces two million gallons of water annually. [44] This plant in Eilat is the first stage in a 15-year desalinization programme. The second stage includes a joint Israel-US designed plant with an annual output of 12 million gallons (49.5 million litres). This plant will use non-nuclear forms of energy. In the third stage of the 15-year programme, a nuclear dual purpose plant is planned to be built on the Mediterranean shore by 1988, with the target output of 120 million cubic metres. [45] The critical question is whether such a plant can significantly meet Israeli needs at a realistic cost.

The planned nuclear plant is designed for the cheapest production costs: one cubic metre for $ 0.20 - 0.30 (IL 4.00-6.00 at present costs). [46] Due to Israel's massive rate of inflation, the costs are likely to be very much higher. It has been estimated that Israel's growing urban needs will increase by 400 million cubic metres by 1990. [47] In light of this pressing need, the most significant factor relevant to Israel's desalinization programme is time. The programme can only partially meet Israel's fast-increasing water consumption, and even in these terms it is not at all clear that production will indeed begin in 1988. According to Israel's former Water Commissioner, Mr. Mena- hem Cantor: "Our [Israel's] distance from non-conventional or nuclear alternatives is 20 years - enough to dry us out." [48]

3. Sewage Reclamation

Israel is producing 30 million cubic metres annually for agricultural irrigation. [49] This is approximately 2.5 percent of Israel's agricultural irrigation water consumption. At present Israel operates one sewage recla- mation plant at Rishon le-Zion. According to Mekorot figures, "Within eight years, more than 100 million cubic metres of purified sewage water will be pumped south from Rishon to the Negev, increasing the amount of water available there for agriculture by one third." [50]

The plant at Rishon le-Zion consists of 2,000 dunums (approximately 500 acres) of ponds, where sewage is broken down chemically and by bacteria. The water is potable. [51] However, a massive project is reported under way which, when completed, will double the national quantity of treated recycled waste water. In the first stage, a new treatment facility is planned near the existing oxidation ponds at Rishon le-Zion, and in the second stage a new treatment plant is planned at Soreq: "Up to 158 million cubic metres of reusable waste water will be available after completion of a special treatment plant at Soreq. As a result, land-based sources of pollution of the Mediterranean will be eliminated and the Tel Aviv area beaches could once again become clean and attractive." [52]

The plant at Soreq will be based on a reactivated sludge system which permits the treatment of large amounts of sewage on relatively small grounds, but the water produced by this system is not potable and is subject to much more restricted use in industry and in the agricultural production of non-edible crops. Stringent precautions must also be taken to avoid the seepage of the polluted water into existing ground water. [53] 

The cost of reclaimed sewage water is relatively low. Abraham Rabinovich quotes a Mekorot official estimate that the cost of recycled sewage water is one eighth (1/8) that of desalinized water. [54] If we take the cost of one cubic metre of desalinized water at $0.20, then reclaimed sewage water costs only $ 0.025 per cubic metre. This is very low indeed - as low as the cheapest costs per cubic metre of extracted ground water (the most expensive ground water costs $0.10 per cubic metre). [55] There is however a finite supply of sewage, and Israeli experts estimate that by the year 2000 irrigation using effluent will only constitute 325 million cubic metres per annum. [56] This is less than the seasonal fluctuation in rainfall, and is less than the amount that Israel needs to generate for domestic consumption alone in the next decade. [57]

4. Development of Water Saving Technologies

As mentioned above, agricultural irrigation takes a share of 80 percent of the total annual Israeli water consumption. [58] It is therefore to agriculture that attention must be directed in the effort to find water saving technologies that could have a significant impact on the Israeli water economy. More specifically, most water in agriculture is used in irrigation, and it is there that technical innovations will have to make their mark if a noticeable improvement in water saving is to be made.

The three basic methods of irrigation in Israel are:

1. Cutting furrows in the ground to bring water to the crops. This is labour intensive, and is used only in 3 percent of the irrigated area, namely, in the Arab sector. [59] The Arab fellah, with his low water allocation and without access to the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency subsidy facilities, has little option other than this method.

2. Drip irrigation; this method is used on 10 percent of the irrigated area in Israel.

3. Sprinkler irrigation, the most common method used on 87 percent of the irrigated area in Israel. (The irrigated area in Israel is currently 1,850,000 dunums, which is 43.2 percent of the total cultivated land.) [60]

The average sprinkler requires 10 cubic metres of water per hour per dunum. [61] Thus, with some 1,622,550 dunums under sprinkler irrigation in Israel, every hour of irrigation costs Israel 16.2 million cubic metres. If every dunum under sprinkler were watered for one hour, Israel would have used 1 percent of its total annual renewable water resources, or alternatively, if the Israeli water allocation for agriculture were all directed to sprinkler irrigation, then the country could turn the sprinklers on for a mere 75.5 hours: just a few hours per day for one single month in the year!

The drip system has a distinct advantage over the sprinkler system. By the accepted rule of thumb, the loss of water by evaporation between the sprinkler and the plant is close to 40 percent. [62] Sophisticated use of drip irrigation can reduce water consumption by up to 50 percent. The reduced level of evaporation also makes possible the use of much higher salinity levels in the irrigation water.

The capital investment in drip irrigation is considerable, and the distribution network is extensive since the pipes have to lead the water to each individual plant. The system is subject to frequent blockage, and thus rendered impracticable over large areas, where it also requires intensive labour input for its maintenance. It is only recently that these problems have been in part solved through the introduction of disposable drip pipes. [63]

A brief review of the options outlined above clearly indicates that the only effective water saving measure for Israel is large scale conversion from sprinkler to drip irrigation. So far, there has been very little economic and financial incentive for Israeli agriculture to effect such a conversion. The kibbutz and moshav federations have enjoyed extensive water subsidies without interruption since 1948. The cost of agricultural irrigation in 1978 was IL 1.30 (approx. $ 0.30) per cubic metre. [64]

However, even in circumstances that would render it economically and financially compelling to effect such a massive conversion, the change cannot be achieved overnight, and in the meantime the Israeli water economy has to be sustained at a level of 95 percent exploitation, the highest figure in the world, according to the Jerusalem Post, [65] at a margin of 2-5 percent, namely 32-80 million cubic metres per annum in a geographical area and a climate where seasonal fluctuations can be as large as 200 million cubic metres annually. [66] 


The Golan Heights (1,250 square kilometres) has been an area of intensive Israeli colonization since its military conquest from Syria in 1967. Today there are over twenty-four new Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights including the regional urban centre of Katzrin. (The total Jewish population is estimated at 3,500 residents.) The majority of the native Syrian popu- lation (over 93 percent) was expelled by the Israeli forces during and immediately following the 1967 victory. (It is estimated that the number of Syrian refugees from the Golan Heights is approximately 100,000 persons, most of them peasants whose homes and villages have been razed to make room for the new Jewish settlements.) Only some 6,000 native Druze residents remained in the Golan Heights after the Israeli occupation, and they are concentrated in five villages in the northern section of the region, the largest of which is Majd al-Shams.

The Golan Heights are not abundant in local water supplies.

According to a survey of drillings and outputs found in Kuneitra, the total output of all water drillings in the Golan Heights was some 12.5 million cubic metres per annum. Most of the drillings are located in the north and the centre of the region, and only a small minority were sunk in the south. There are prospects for an increase in the output of these water sources, but one should not assume that this increased output will exceed 15-20 million cubic metres per annum. Most of the wells (some 85 percent) are in the northern and the central areas of the Golan Heights where arable land suitable for cultivation is limited. [67] 

Eleven years later, Amir Shapira reviewed the water situation in the Golan Heights in his feature article "A Finger on the Water." [68] Within the space of this period the envisaged number of twenty new Israeli Jewish settlements had in fact been surpassed: the new Regional Council for the Golan Heights currently incorporates twenty-four post-1967 Israeli Jewish settlements, most of which are collective or cooperative agricultural settlements. According to Amir Shapira, in 1978 the Golan Heights was importing most of the water needed to support the rapid Judaization schemes for the region. Only 20 percent of the Golan Heights water consumption was supplied by local resources, with 80 percent being pumped from Lake Kinneret over the height differential of 600 metres (- 200 to + 400).

The consumption of one million cubic metres of Lake Kinneret waters to irrigate the cottonfields in the Golan Heights means an added bill of IL 2 million for energy alone at today's prices.... Any economist who gets these data into his hands will say that it is beyond Israel's capacity to maintain agriculture at the cost of IL 5.00 per cubic metre, but Israel has not established itself on the Golan in order to fill the pockets of the settlers with cash, and the economic considerations therefore vanish out of sight. [69] 

According to Tahal data, the area of the Golan Heights between the pre-1967 armistice Green Line and the post-1967 armistice Purple Line (1,150 square kilometres) divides into two unequal basins: The area of 950 square kilometres collects the Golan Heights rainfall into Lake Kinneret, and the area of 200 square kilometres collects the Golan Heights rainfall into the Ruqqad River. Amir Shapira notes that the obvious alternative to the expensive pumping of water from Lake Kinneret is the direct use of the Yarmuk River waters by Israel, yet this alternative of

...the direct use of the Yarmuk River (which collects the waters of the Ruqqab) as a reliable, economic external source... is not in the hands of the engineering administration but in the hands of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and here the unknown is greater than the known. This alternative is so unclear that we shall eliminate it from the list of concretely available alternatives.... [70] 

The Golan Heights is subdivided into three regional water systems: (1) The northern system, which has a water surplus and suffers from weakness of water transport and water production infrastructure; (2) The central region, where post-1967 Jewish settlement is still scarce, and which is temperate and suitable for the development of a reservoir system that will capture the overground flow; and, (3) The southern region, which is heavily settled by Israeli settlements utilizing expensive irrigation water pumped from Lake Kinneret for its agriculture, and suffers from an acute water shortage. The Israeli plan for the Golan Heights water supplies for 1985, which is the target year for full development of the Israeli settlements in the region, is projected as follows: [71] 

Total Consumption: 46 million cubic metres per annum:

31.3 million cubic metres              Southern region

6.0 million cubic metres                 Central region, including Katzrin

8.7 million cubic metres                 Northern region

Projected Water Resources:

16 million cubic metres                  Lake Kinneret

11 million cubic metres                  Al-Hamma and the Jordan River

10 million cubic metres                  Local drillings, springs and the Ram Pond

9 million cubic metres                    Artificial reservoirs

According to Harris the target population for the Israeli planners of the Golan Heights for circa 1985 is 50,000, of whom 20,000 are to be settled in agricultural and industrial villages. [72] The total projected water consumption is, as noted above, 46 million cubic metres. Gador quotes the figures of a Syrian survey of water output in the Golan Heights, namely 12.5 million cubic metres per annum, which supported a largely peasant population of 100,000 inhabitants. Under Israeli agricultural colonization and water development schemes an increase of close to 300 percent in water consumption is projected to support an Israeli Jewish population of half the size of the previously displaced Syrian Arab population.

If we recall the case of the Beit Shean dilemma and the outcry that was raised when the intention to divert water from Lake Kinneret to the Israeli Jewish settlements in the West Bank was made public, we will understand why Amir Shapira directs particular attention to the Yarmuk waters and the prospects of exploitation of these waters for irrigation by the Israeli Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights:

In the opinion of a senior Israeli source there is necessity for persistent, ramified Israeli activity inside the American administration in order to direct awareness to its responsibility for maintaining the conditions which allocate to Israel water (from the summer flow of the Yarmuk) at the level of 25 - 40 million cubic metres.... Refusal by the United States to respond positively to the Israeli demand may motivate a resolution that will guarantee the unilateral application of Israeli rights in a manner that will not be jeopardized by the Jordanian plans. This matter has already been discussed by the appropriate levels, and one of the possibilities in such a case outlines the use of the Yarmuk waters for irrigation plans in the Golan Heights.... Technically and economically this alternative - which has been examined - has advantages over the al-Hamma project, but according to reliable sources Israel will not carry out any action which may undermine the legitimacy of the existing arrangement concerning the subject of the Yarmuk. This is the picture of the situation as it is now: Israel will keep a low profile and will act quietly on the political level to prevent violation of the unwritten agreement (the Johnston Plan) maintained between Israel and Jordan. Nevertheless, Israel maintains for itself the option to action which will force the other party to seek to negotiate with her.... [73] 


Whereas our information on Israeli water policies in the West Bank and the Golan Heights has been put together following systematic research, our information on Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip is, at this stage of our research, scanty. We do not have at hand current estimates of the ground water renewable and non-renewable reserves for the Gaza district. At the current stage of our research we have on record only the figures quoted in a 1944 study by the late Joseph Weitz, former Chairman of the Israel Land Development Administration, former Member of the Agricultural and Planning Directorate of the Jewish Agency for Eretz Israel and the architect of the Jewish agricultural colonization of Palestine from the mid-1930's to the early 1970's. In his study of Palestine's agricultural potentialities, Joseph Weitz states as follows: "Gaza District [not quite the same as the Gaza Strip] has 100,000 dunums of ground water, about 17.5 million cubic metres a year, of which about 14 million cubic metres is exploitable." [74] 

Israeli colonization designs on the Gaza Strip and the Rafah Approaches are massive. In the Rafah Approaches and Northern Sinai, there are currently fifteen agricultural settlements and settlement nuclei in addition to the sizable city of Yamit. Following the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, all further settlement plans have currently been frozen. In the Gaza Strip there are at present five settlements: three in the Katif area (Netzer Hazani, Kativ and Ganei Tal), Morag and Kfar Daron. Six additional settlements and two regional urban centres are planned for early implementation (by 1980?). [75] 

Most of the agricultural settlements in the Gaza Strip are based on artificially irrigated, single cash crop, export-oriented glasshouse cultivation. Irrigation is by "drip," and the most common crop is the tomato. In the future, other vegetables as well as flowers will be introduced.

Much of the native agriculture in the Gaza Strip and the Rafah Approaches and Northern Sinai is based on the unique feature of the area, a huge stretch of oasis extending from south of the city of Gaza to El Arish and parallel to the coastline. The sweet water level touches the surface of the dunes, and the area is heavily and intensively planted with palm tree plantations as well as fruit orchards (guavas, citrus etc.). The area is similarly renowned for its excellent vegetable crops. The combination of the dune sand (as soil) and the sweet water available at the surface, on the one hand, and the climatic conditions of the area, on the other, create natural labour-intensive vegetable cultivation conditions which are currently artificially replicated, at enormous capital investment cost, in the drip-irrigated glasshouse facilities in the newly established Jewish settlements in the area.

According to the data of the Division of Rural Settlement, which is the unit for the construction of settlements beyond the Green Line (parallel to the Department of Rural Settlement, which deals with the establishment of settlements inside the Green Line), it is possible to determine the following costs (at 1979 prices):

1 Housing Unit                 IL 500,000

1 Dunum Glasshouse       IL 500,000

1 Dunum Irrigated Land   IL 3,000 (in the Rafah Approaches the cost is higher because of a high drip irrigation factor)

1 Dunum Fruit Orchard    IL 17,000 (excluding vines and palms)

The infrastructure for every rural settlement is IL 30-40 million. Production of constructions: approximately IL 10 million.... The production of an employment position in industry:... IL 1 million. Transport of approximately 1 million cubic metres of lime per settlement: IL 12 million....

In the Yamit District and the Gaza Strip there were at the beginning of 1979 ten permanently constructed settlements (eight moshavim and two kibbutzim) containing 611 housing units, 900 dunums of glasshouses, 1,000 dunums of fruit orchards, 6,300 dunums of irrigated land (at IL 2,500 per dunum). Adding the multipliers relevant to the settlements in the Yamit region and the Gaza Strip we get the estimate of 1.2 billion Israeli pounds at 1979 prices. [76] 


It is clear to us in light of the evidence expounded above that Eli Elad is completely correct in his assessment that Israel's water crisis is so acute that it might be necessary to solve it by cutting the amount of water consumed by the agricultural sector, with all the damage that this would entail. Since the problem is largely rooted, as we have seen above, in Israel's colonial settlement policies and territorial expansion, it is not surprising that after ruling out non-conventional alternatives such as nuclear water desalinization plants, Israel's former Water Commissioner (1960-1977) and current Chair- man of the Board of Directors of Tahal, the Water Planning for Israel Co., arrives at the following "solution":

According to Cantor, there is only one solution: to supply the water of Judea and Samaria from local resources. What are these local resources? The Jordan River is exploited more or less to its full capacity by the National Water Carrier and other pumping. It remains for me only to guess that he refers maybe to the Litani or the Nile. Even the most careful examination of the map of the area will not reveal any other sizable water resources in our near and not so near locality. But Menahem Cantor fills his mouth with water and refuses to disclose from where he intends to bring the water to Judea and Samaria while avoiding damage to one of Israel's vulnerable points. [77] 


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Uri Davis is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, England.

Antonia E.L. Maks is a Postgraduate student in Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, Holland.

John Richardson is a graduate of the School of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford currently working with Bradford University Placement Programme in Palestine. 

1 Yehuda Litani, "Before the Auction," Haaretz, November 27, 1978.

2 Amir Shapira, "Water Specialists Warn That Autonomy in the West Bank Will Expose Israel to the Danger of Loss of Water Reserves," Al Hamishmar, June 25, 1978.

3 M. Yakobowitz and Y. Prushansky, eds., The Water in Israel (Jerusalem: Israel Information Centre, 1978), p. 38.

4 The Israeli Water Commissioner, reported in Haaretz, June 5, 1978.

5 Haaretz, April 27, 1978. 

6 Yakobowitz and Prushansky, op. cit., p. 21. 

7 Israel Pocket Library, "Economy," (Jerusalem, 1973), p. 156.

8 D.H.K. Amiran, "Geographical Aspects of National Planning in Israel: The Management of Limited Resources," Institute of British Geographers, Transactions, New Series, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1978, p. 122. 

9 Walter Clay Lowdermilk, Palestine: Land of Promise (London: Victor Gallancz, 1944), pp. 122, 123, 125, 127-28.

10 Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 9, pp. 385-86. 

11 Hotam, December 24, 1976.

12 Amir Shapira in Hotam, August 11, 1978.

13 Ibid.

14 Hotam, December 24, 1976.

15 Hotam, December 31, 1976 and January 7, 1977.

16 Arnon Ben-Nahum, "The Recession of the Dead Sea," Haaretz, April 20, 1979. 

17 Hotam, December 31, 1976.

18 Jerusalem Post, November 28, 1978.

19 Amir Shapira, Hotam, August 11, 1978. 

20 Al Hamishmar, June 25, 1978.

21 Jerusalem Post, November 28, 1978.

22 Ibid. 

23 For detailed analysis of the Jewish National Fund, see U. Davis and W. Lehn, "And the Fund Still Lives: The Role of the Jewish National Fund in the Determination of Israel's Land Policies," Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. VII, No. 4 (Summer 1978).

24 Yakobowitz and Prushansky, op. cit.; Scientific American (May 1977), p. 25. 

25 In 1948-49, the total land area under irrigation in Israel was 300,000 dunums. By 1975-76, it had increased to 1,865,000 dunums - an increase of 622 percent. This means that 43.2 percent of the total agricultural cultivated land in Israel is currently under irrigation (Statistical Abstract of Israel, 1977, pp. 354, 360).

26 Yakobowitz and Prushansky, op. cit., p. 38.

27 Ibid.,p. 40. 

28 Haaretz, November 30, 1978. 

29 Al Hlamishmar, June 25, 1978. 

30 Davar, November 26, 1978.

31 Following the annexation of East (Arab) Jerusalem to Israel, the municipal area of the city has been expanded from 37,000 dunums of pre-1967 West (Jewish) Jerusalem to 105,000 dunums of what was after 1967 officially termed "The Greater Metropolitan Municipal Area of Unified Jerusalem." In this Greater Metropolitan Municipal Area live at present some 386,000 residents: 279,000 Jews and 107,000 non-Jews, of whom over 90,000 are Muslim. (Based on Akivah Eldar, "Jerusalem Encircled by Apartment Blocs," Haaretz Weekend Supplement, May 25, 1979, and Yehuda Litani, "The Demographic Situation in the Capital," Haaretz, June 5, 1977.) 

32 In Middle East International (September 1978), p. 12.

33 In Middle East International (October 1978), p. 14. 

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid., p. 15. 

36 H. Awartani, West Bank Agriculture: "A Ne'w Outlook," Research Bulletin No. 1, al-Najah National University, Nablus, West Bank, November 1978. 

37 Hotam, April 20, 1979.

38 Yakobowitz and Prushansky, op. cit., quote 95 percent, whereas the Israel Economist (January-February 1977), p. 6, quotes 98 percent.

39 Arnon Magen, Davar, November 26, 1978.

40 October 1978, p. 38.

41 Jerusalem Post, July 31, 1978. 

42 Scientific American, Vol. 236, No. 5 (May 1977), p. 25.

43 Jerusalem Post, July 31, 1978.

44 Israel Economist, January-February 1977, p. 6.

45 Ibid.

46 Ibid.

47 See Eli Elad, Haaretz, April 27, 1978; Arnon Magen, Davar, November 26, 1978; Minister of Agriculture Ariel Sharon, quoted in Haaretz, July 19, 1978. 

48 Quoted by Arnon Magen, Davar, November 26, 1978.

49 Israel Economist (October 1978), p. 38.

50 Jerusalem Post, July 27, 1978.

51 lbid.

52 Israel Economist (May 1978), p. 24.

53 Ibid.

54 Jerusalem Post, July 27, 1978. 

55 Israel Pocket Library, "Economy," p. 158.

56 Israel Economist, (October 1978), p. 38.

57 Arnon Magen in Davar, November 26, 1978.

58 Yakobowitz and Prushansky, op. cit., p. 38.

59 Israel Economist (October 1978), pp. 35-36.

60 Statistical Abstract of Israel, 1977, p. 354. 

61 Israel Economist, (January-February 1977), p. 6. 

62 Amiran, op. cit., p. 120.

63 Israel Economist (January-February 1977), p. 6.

64 Jerusalem Post, November 12, 1978.

65 Abraham Rabinovich, "Water Lack To Be Filled by Sewage," Jerusalem Post, June 26, 1978.

66 Arnon Magen, Davar, November 26, 1978. 

67 U. Gador, Golan Heigbts: Early Planning Proposals for Agricultural Development (The Jewish Agency for Eretz Israel, Galilee Office, November 1967), mimeographed, p. 9.

68 Hotam, August 11, 1978.

69 Ibid. 

70 Ibid.

71 Ibid.

72 W.W. Harris, "War and Settlement Change: The Golan Heights and the Jordan Rift," Institute of British Geographers, Transactions, New Series, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1978, p. 326. 

73 Hotam, August 11, 1978. 

74 Joseph Weitz, Palestine's Agricultural Potentialities (Tel Aviv, 1944).

75 Based on information from the Spokesman's office of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency for Eretz Israel, Jerusalem telephone interview, July 29, 1979. 

76 Eitan Lifschitz, "Billions Beyond the Line," Haaretz, June 22, 1979.

77 Arnon Magen, Davar, November 26, 1978.