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Dwindling Resources
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Middle East Wars Are About Water


By James Donahue

October 2006


Water has been the real bone of contention fueling the fires of hatred and war in the Middle East. It has little to do with oil, racial or religious origins. There are millions of people packed into that region and all trying to live in a dry desert region. So the issue of water is always present, lurking in the background behind the religious and nationalist slogans and rhetoric.


This has been one of the little-known facts that the media has either purposefully ignored, or perhaps carelessly overlooked.


The water issue was probably best portrayed in a 1995 ENCOP survey that examined the distribution of water resources in the Jordan River Basin between Israel, Palestine and neighboring countries. The survey made it clear that the supply of water is limited and it is claimed by everybody.


Surveyor Stephan Libiszewski, who conducted the survey, found that:


--Most Middle Eastern countries suffer from a shortage of water and that issue is constantly used as a lever in the politics of the region.


--There has always been a water crisis in the region. It has been exacerbated by population growth and the decision by the Jews to claim the center of the Palestinian state as their homeland during and since World War II. Over 9 million people now live in the region and it has taken some advanced engineering, and a few acts of theft, to supply the water needs of so many.


--Feasible peaceful solutions to this water problem are available, including desalination of sea water or import of water from neighbors such as Turkey. But political complications and a lack of cooperation to raise needed investment capital prevent their implementation.


--The report concludes that the water issue has become somewhat of a parable for all of the problems in the Middle East. It has thus become more of a political problem than an objective problem. As one writer concludes: “If there is a water war, it will not be the water that caused the war, but rather a war that was in search of an issue, and found water.”


The Libiszewski study was done eleven years ago. Since then, the issues have intensified and water resources are reaching a crisis situation.


Excessive water use, water and ground pollution, and a warming planet causing excessive evaporation and drought has resulted in a drying up of the Sea of Galilee that provides water for Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan and Syria. The water levels this summer dropped below a danger line where it is believed that salt waters may begin to damage the lake and its ecology.


Meir Ben Meir, Israel’s Water Commissioner, projects a scarcity of water from the sea within the next five years. “I can promise that if there is not sufficient water in our region, if there is scarcity of water, if people remain thirsty for water, then we shall doubtless face war,” he said.


Other sources of water have been the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, but because of political conflicts, boundary issues and general distrust among ethnic groups, the danger of a conflict over water is high. Some say it has been the primary issue that has stood in the way of peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian people, who are attempting to share the same barren piece of rock.


Palestinians argue that to ensure peace, Israel must release not only land but water and change the way it uses the water it has.


Nabil Sha’ath, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, believes the Israelis must change their agricultural practices. “They’ve got to change their crops, cut down on citrus, cut down on rice,” he said. “You grow rice and cotton in the desert. They are the most water-consuming crops of all.”


To date, however, Israel shows no sign of returning land with access to rivers or underground reservoirs. This is why peace issues are stalled in that region. It is why hatred spills out on the streets.


The recent war between Israel and the Hezbollah that sent Israeli forces deep into neighboring Lebanon seemed excessive to most observers at the time, but to the Israelis there was method in their madness.


The Islamic-based newspaper al-Jazeera reports that after a peace settlement was reached and Israel agreed to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, the withdrawal was conditional. There was a separation of the “once-Syrian town of al-Ghajar” from the rest of the occupied territory of Sheba’a Farms, changing the town into a military station surrounded with barbed wire, trenches and earthen piles.


The Syrian Arab News Agency reported on September 20 that Lebanese President Emile Lahoud came before the United Nations General Assembly in New York to condemn Israel for extending pipes to pull water from the Wazzani Spring into al-Ghajar, which was still being held by the Israeli Army.


Yet another news report on September 25 noted that witnesses in the South stated that “Israel continues to steal Lebanon’s water, and is altering the Blue Line and shoveling earth to transport to the Israeli side of the border.”


The Arab Monitor said that once the fighting was over the Israeli forces “redeployed to other areas leaving behind them a trail of destruction. In addition, convoys of Israeli trucks are transporting Lebanese agricultural soil over the border to Israeli settlements and Israeli soldiers are building a water duct to carry water from the Wazzani River to Israel.”


In an essay on this subject New York writer Ronald Bleier said: “As a settler community, the Jewish state has historically taken for itself land and resources belonging to its Arab inhabitants and the neighboring Arab countries. A clear example of Israel’s appropriation of the water belonging to Arabs is Israel’s interest early on in diverting the waters of the Jordan River from the Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean and to the Negev.” This was an act of thievery accomplished in 1953.