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Carr Center Speakers Express Disapproval of Israeli-Palestinian Water Distribution

By Bharath Venkatesh, Contributing Writer

Calling for comprehensive solutions to the water crisis in the West Bank, Tufts professor Annette Huber-Lee and Palestinian refugee Nidal al-Azraq presented work on improving Palestinian access to adequate safe water at an event hosted Thursday evening by the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

Though the Israeli-Palestinian Joint-Water Committee is responsible for water allocation in the West Bank, Huber-Lee said that in practice, Israel controls most of the water and severely restricts Palestinian access.

She said that 80 percent of water in the Mountain Aquifer, one of the most important sources of water for both Israelis and Palestinians, goes to Israel, while only 20 percent goes to Palestine.

“This illustrates how problematic the current allocation is,” she said. “Technically, the JWC operates by consensus...the reality is [that] Israel pretty much has veto power.”

For their part, Israelis argue that they provide more water to Palestinians than the Oslo Accords agreement requires them to give, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Huber-Lee’s research project in the West Bank, which seeks to answer the question of how water allocation in the area could be modified, takes an economic approach to the water crisis.

“The project was thinking about water value, rather than strict water quality,” she said. “I dispute the idea that water should be regulated by the free market.”

Huber-Lee stated that an unregulated market allowed Israel to exercise excessive control over water in the West Bank. She added that a few concessions on Israel’s part would greatly improve the lives of Palestinians at little to no economic cost to Israel.

“I’ve never seen a more intense system of water control anywhere,” she said. “Palestinians pay 10 times more for water than Israelis.”

Nidal al-Azraq, a researcher and Palestinian refugee who assisted Huber-Lee, described the Aida Refugee Camp—where he grew up—as an area that exemplifies the dearth of Palestinian access to water.

“The whole camp is a sad joke,” al-Azraq said.

He stated that water comes by sporadically and that there are sometimes months of drought during the summers, when people store water in tanks on their rooftops.

al-Azraq called Israeli control of water in the West Bank a human rights issue, calling the current state of water allocation a “crime against humanity.”

Israelis, however, argue that the Palestinian water shortage is a product of Palestinians’ poor management, maintenance, and pricing of their existing resources, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: May 3, 2013

An earlier version of the headline of this article incorrectly stated that Tufts professor Annette Huber-Lee and Palestinian refugee Nidal al-Azraq spoke at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. In fact, they spoke at the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

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