The Water Potential in Judea and Samaria – Myths and Facts
The Largest Natural Water Source in Israel – the Mountain Aquifer
The Israeli waterworks system is based on two types of water: natural water and desalinated water:
- Of the natural water connected to the national water system, the division is as follows: water from the Sea of Galilee – 38%, the Coastal Aquifer – 27%, the Mountain Aquifer [from one of its basins only (Yarkon-Taninim)] – 35%.
- The Mountain Aquifer supplies water to three basins: the Yarkon-Taninim basin, the eastern basin and the northern basin. The Yarkon-Taninim basin is connected to the national water system and supplies approximately 35% of the natural water in the system, while the eastern and northern basins are not connected to the national water system, instead supplying water to their surroundings. The northern basin supplies to Harod, Beit Shean, Gilboa and the Jezreel Valley; the eastern basin supplies to Judea and Samaria.
- From the Yarkon-Taninim basin, it is possible to obtain approximately 364 million cubic meters per annum, from the northern basin – approximately 145 million cubic meters per annum, and from the eastern basin, another approximately 170 million cubic meters per annum.
- Essentially, the filling capability of the Mountain Aquifer is greater than that of the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee’s water supply capability is 560 million cubic meters per annum, while the Mountain Aquifer can supply 679 million cubic meters per annum. The Mountain Aquifer is mostly filled by precipitation infiltrating from Judea and Samaria.
Illegal Drilling: A Real Threat to the Entire Mountain Aquifer
In the Oslo Accords, Israel agreed that the Palestinians could conduct water drilling in fixed quantities from the Mountain Aquifer. A joint committee (the JWC) was established to approve waterworks and drilling operations. The committee approved 70 drilling projects in the eastern region that was agreed upon (because this is an “available” region not yet utilized), but of those, only half were executed.
However, the Palestinians preferred to drill illegally in approximately 250 additional drilling projects in the northern and western regions, areas that were not approved. In this manner, they are damaging the quantity and quality of the water of Israel’s citizens, in addition to the many pirate connections to the Israeli water network that were also set up.
Against the agreements, according to which the supply of water for the Palestinians would increase by approximately 26 million cubic meters per annum, their usage up to 2006 grew by 60 million cubic meters per annum, without the additional drilling operations already approved for them.
The issue of the unsupervised and illegal water drilling is critical to the condition of the entire Mountain Aquifer. To put matters in perspective, in Gaza, immediately following the Disengagement, 3,000 drillings were made that caused the water level to drop and severely harmed the water in the aquifer. Were a similar operation to take place along the length of the central mountain ridge that supplies the water to the largest aquifer in Israel, the damage could be catastrophic and severely impair the State of Israel’s basic conditions for existence.
The Palestinians demand full control over the Mountain Auqifer, or as the Water Authority phrased the Palestinian demands: “Give us all of the potable water (water suitable for drinking) that we need today and in the future, take the sewage that we produce, and desalinate sea water for yourselves instead of the water that we’re taking from you.”
This demand would threaten the State of Israel’s existence. Desalinated water is very expensive, pollutes the sea, and using them is dangerous because the drinking water is exposed in vulnerable facilities. In addition, there is no guarantee that the production pace would indeed meet the needs of Israel’s population.
The Palestinian demand does not meet the international legal standards, from several perspectives:
[A] The Historical Perspective – Prior Use:
International law attributes importance to identifying the past users. The Mountain Aquifer was used almost exclusively by the early Israeli pioneers in the lowlands and in the north. A small portion of it in the east and west was used by the Palestinian population. As a result, they were awarded drilling rights in regions included in the accords, but as aforementioned, they prefer to drill in regions that were not approved for their use, in the west and the north.
[B] Alternate Water Sources:
International law puts special emphasis on this element. Such a source exists – the eastern aquifer, which was indeed allocated for the Palestinians, but they barely utilize it.
[C] Effective Usage and Waste Prevention:
International law requires that this issue be addressed before the resources are divided and distributed. The Palestinian Authority itself reported that approximately one third of the water leaks from the internal pipelines of its towns. In addition, irrigation is conducted using primitive methods, and sewage is not utilized for agricultural purposes. All of these are dire signs of waste.
Water for the Arabs in Judea and Samaria from 1967 until Today: A Revolution
The supply of water to the Palestinian residents between 1948 and 1967, during the period of Jordanian control, was conducted primitively, and the results followed accordingly: starting from 18 million cubic meters per annum at the beginning of the period, and up to 65 million cubic meters per annum at the end. Essentially, only four towns benefited from regular water supply to the homes, out of approximately 700 towns.
When Israel returned to Judea and Samaria in 1967, the Arabs of Judea and Samaria experienced a revolution: within five years, an increase of 50% in water usage was recorded. Until the Oslo Accords in 1995, the supply quantity doubled to 120 million cubic meters per annum.
As of 2004 (for which we have figures from the Palestinian hydrogeological group), 643 out of the 708 towns are connected to the Water Authority. Of these, in 443 towns, there is also an internal distribution system. Meaning, over the past 40 years, almost the entire Arab population was connected to the Israeli Water Authority.
Claims of Inequality in Average Usage Per Capita
A common myth claims that the average usage per capita is several times greater for the Israeli resident in comparison to a Palestinian resident.
- The facts show that actually, in this field, there is a trend of improved quality of life and water usage among the Palestinians: while in 1967, the average water usage per capita per year was 93 cubic meters among the Palestinians, but 508 cubic meters among Israelis, in 2006, the gap shrunk to 129 cubic meters per capita per year among the Palestinian population versus 170 cubic meters per capita per year among the Israeli population. This gap shrunk even more (due to 13 additional drilling operations approved for the Palestinians), and as of 2012 was 140 cubic meters per capita per year among the Palestinians, and 150 cubic meters per capita per year among the Israelis. Meaning, a difference of just 7%.
- These numbers relate to a rough division of the total amount of water used among the population. Those who would like to prove that there is a very large gap between Israeli usage and Palestinian usage often calculate only urban usage (to take out the large quantities used for agriculture – this can be done by cutting out agricultural regions and calculating urban areas only). This type of calculation shows, as of 2006 (the last year for which we have data), Palestinian usage of 58 cubic meters per person per year, as opposed to Israeli usage of 84 cubic meters per person per year. But according to this calculation as well, the Palestinian usage is much higher than the WHO standard, which is 100 liters a day, or 5 cubic meters per person per year.
Precipitation in Judea and Samaria, absorbed in the Mountain Aquifer, is vital to the Israeli water system, because the Mountain Aquifer is the largest natural water source in Israel. Israel’s loss of control over this water would result in pirate, unsupervised drilling operations, sewage pollution of the groundwater and would be a potential ecological and human catastrophe for the State of Israel.
 The above data regarding the distribution of natural water is from “The Israeli-Palestinian Water Issue,” published by the Water Authority [2009, p. 21-22], found at: http://www.water.gov.il/Hebrew/about-reshut-hamaim/The-Authority/FilesWatermanagement/IsraelRashut.pdf  Data regarding the water distribution in Palestinian towns during the different periods is from an article by Prof. Chaim Gvirtzman, “Ecology and Environment – A Journal of Science and Environmental Policy.” http://magazine.isees.org.il/ArticlePage.aspx?ArticleId=52