Thursday, February 9, 2012
Week # 1: Researching Water Rights in Israel by D.H.
Most advocacy research on water rights in Israel focuses on international solutions; information on local water usage tends to be protected within Israel's borders as tightly as information on military exercises.
Even the Hebrew press has strict orders to submit water information to censors and academics are often left with only official sources for primary data.
Since 1959, Israel's water has been a "nationalized public good"—property of the state, including water from the Jordan River and two main aquifers, as well as waste, sewer and runoff water.
Landowners do not own the water under their land and all water rights are allocated by a Water Commissioner who sets water prices, licenses the drilling of wells, and regulates water quality.
Steven Plaut explains that Israel's water allocation is based largely on political influence of users (largely farmer and settlers) and that such interests over-consume "with little fear of punishment, fines or reprisals."
Plaut calls for auctioning water based on a pure market system.
While such a system will eliminate political inequities, it will likely do little—if not figure detrimentally—for the marginalized Bedouin communities. Many Bedouin towns in the Naqab aren't even recognized, let alone have the financial means or representation to compete economically or politically for water resources.
Unrecognized, the Bedouin lack even legal rights within Israel,
and no formal legal structure exists to advocate for their legal rights internationally.
Jonathan Kuttab notes that although Israel considers all water conflicts national matters (both those with the Bedouins and with the occupied territories), there are several controlling international rules that Israel is party to.
While Kuttab shies from exploring domestic law options in Israel, the international law community—particularly the International Law Association—has noted a global trend toward convergent legal principles in international and domestic law where water rights are concerned.
The ILA's Berlin Conference Report notes that "there is increasingly explicit support in legal instruments for a right of access to water.
Kuttab points to the need for comprehensive data alongside legal arguments and highlights three major water resources that factor into any legal analysis of water issues in Israel: (1) water that originates and discharges completely within the Palestinian territories, (2) riparian waters related to the Jordan River, and (3) rainfall that feeds the two main aquifers within the State of Israel.
The latter two apply aptly to the Bedouin in the Naqab—which have suffered significant disparities in water availability alongside the Palestinians.
While Kuttab focuses on the need for accurate data, other commentaries on the research and advocacy of water rights note the equal importance of public participation.
Jeffrey Dornbos contends that public participation is important in resolving any transboundary dispute [which more closely resembles the Bedouin conflict than most typical local water rights disputes] because the more democratic process can reach the community interests more accurately, and because the community is in a better place to relate important facts and information about the situation.
Such information gathering is essential to alleviating the difficulties posed by Israel's tight restrictions on water data.