Occupied Palestinian Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:16 pm on 29th April 2004.

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Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park 5:16 pm, 29th April 2004

I welcome the report and congratulate the Chairman of the Committee, Tony Baldry and the other members of the Committee on its publication. It is comprehensive and brave, and it says all the right things, although whether that will lead to our Government doing the right things is a different matter.

I expect that hon. Members all know how passionately I feel about this problem. Some share my view that strong action against Israel, as well as insistence that it complies with UN resolutions and the fourth Geneva convention, are essential to achieve peace between the two countries and in the wider middle east.

I appreciate that it is necessary to understand the history but, as Jeremy Corbyn said, we are dealing not with the history but with the present and the future. Whatever the history, it cannot be denied that the current behaviour of Israel as an occupying force is outrageous.

As we are short of time, I want to concentrate on the issue of water. Mr. Kaufman, in a magnificent speech, mentioned ethnic cleansing. What better method of ethnic cleansing is there than depriving a population of clean, drinkable water? My geologist son keeps reminding me that water is the oil of the 21st century and that we politicians pay only lip service to the problem.

After Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979, he said:

"The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water."

All the Arab states are anxious about future water supplies; all see this as a flashpoint for war. Israel is well aware of that, and with characteristic brilliance and foresight has made water supplies one of its main concerns in its plans for Israel and Palestine.

During my recent visit to Palestine, I met Jeff Halper, an admirable American Jew, who works for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions—members of the Select Committee may also have met him. He was clear about Israeli plans to create three Bantustans in the west bank, cut off from the River Jordan, along with the Gaza strip near the sea. Sadly, seawater is not what people need to live. Water supplies to Israel have been incorporated into that plan; that has been considered carefully. Israel squanders water: it has the highest per capita water consumption in the middle east. As the Chairman of the Committee said, Israelis use six times—I have heard it is 10 times—the amount of water used per capita by the Palestinians.

When I was in Bethlehem, in February this year, people were getting clean water through their pipes once a week. Up the road, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton said, people were squandering water—filling their swimming pools and putting sprinklers on their lawns—which could easily be seen by the Palestinians. Israelis consume far more water than they produce, and the report notes that it is estimated that 80 to 90 per cent. of the water that Israel uses comes from the occupied territories.

All water in Israel and the occupied territories is controlled by the Israeli water authority. It appears that that started during the Oslo peace process, when Israel was given control of water supplies. Farmers in the occupied territories are monitored by meters on pumps, which allow them far less water than their Israeli counterparts. Wells have been dug along the borders of the Gaza strip on the Israeli side to collect the water that comes down from the hills. That is good advance planning for the planned withdrawal from Gaza by the Israelis. The people there are already desperate for water; they dig wells in their back yards, which become contaminated with sea water because they are so near the sea. The people then get blamed and fined by Israel for mismanagement of resources.

The Select Committee received submissions on deliberate pollution of water supplies. In the west bank I saw sewage from a Jewish settlement going into the stream that supplied a couple of Palestinian villages with water. Other wells have been filled with concrete or destroyed by bulldozers. That is unnecessary. Lack of water and contamination of what water there is severely affect the health of Palestinian children and cause kidney disease in adults.

Why do Palestinians pay $1.20 for 1 cu m of water when settlers in the same area pay only 40 cents? Why are permits to dig wells, which are issued by the Israeli defence forces, in such short supply for Palestinians? Has anyone listed the wells and underground aquifers in the occupied territories that just happen to lie on the Israeli side of the security wall? The course of that wall has been deliberately altered to enclose not only settlements and land, but crucial aquifers and water supplies.

Is anyone other than the Israelis recording the water level in the Sea of Galilee, which provides 25 per cent. of Israel's water? There is a red line below which the water level should not fall, but Israel keeps lowering the line to keep up with the falling water level—it has dropped 2.5 m over the past two decades. What international body is monitoring that? For that matter, why are there no international monitors in Israel and the occupied territories watching what is happening?

What plans does the Department for International Development have to encourage the Israelis to build the desalination plants that I heard about? Israel is suggesting that they be built in Gaza, presumably with international money. Why can they not be built on Israeli territory? It has a far bigger Mediterranean coast and Israeli money could be used to build them.

The report is good, but it devotes only one and a half pages to the subject of water, which the Committee rightly describes as

"a core human right and a Millennium Development Goal."

I wonder whether anyone is taking Israel's theft of water from the occupied territories seriously enough. Water must be a shared resource and must be shared fairly. What assessments are being made of Israeli misappropriation and misuse of water? Are negotiations going on to ensure the right to water for a future state for Palestinians or will they for ever depend on the few drops that the Israelis allow them? Plans must be made to ensure that if and when there are two secure, peaceful states in the region—please God, let there be—war will not break out again over water.