While Israel watches every drop and forces its citizens to conserve water, the Palestinian Authority is reveling in a wet paradise: Dozens of illegal drilling holes are pumping water out of our common underground well; thousands of makeshift pipes redirect stolen water from Mekorot, Israel's leading water agency; their tap water (that's right, tap water — 96 percent of Palestinians have running water in their homes, in cities and in rural villages, they don't need to carry it in bottles) flows freely — and no one ever gets a water bill, nor is any type of payment collection even attempted. While orchards in the Sharon region are being uprooted because of the water shortage, half a mile away, beyond the Green Line, a carefree agricultural system flourishes.
This description, which is completely true, sounds just awful. We have grown so accustomed to thinking of our neighbors as eternally miserable that any claim that they are stealing water burns our ears, as if we have accused them of poisoning wells. I attended an Environmental Protection Ministry conference this week titled "Border-Crossing Environment," and it turns out that, at least from an environmental perspective, misery is actually the lot of the Israeli “occupier.”
Palestinians tell a good story about how Israel is stealing water from them. They display a thirsty, decrepit old man standing near a dried-up well, but even they have to smile every time this lie is repeated. Before the terrible Israeli occupation they were using a primitive water system based on ancient aqueduct systems and wells. This system supplied only 17 billion gallons per year, mostly for agricultural purposes.
In 1967, Israel occupied the territory and set up the infrastructure for the country's national water carrier, used modern drilling systems, connected cities and villages, and what do you know — the Palestinian water supply tripled to 47 billions gallons annually. This is on top of the illegal Palestinian drilling. Every time our friends in Jenin pump a little more water, the water level in the Jezreel Valley goes down.
The difference between Israel's environmental approach and the Palestinian Authority's has to do with point of view, capabilities and mainly motivation. While settlers are doing everything they can to reach out to Palestinians on environmental issues, the other side refuses to cooperate, even when it is to their own detriment. The gap between the two differing attitudes is huge. Israelis living in Judea and Samaria adhere to Israeli law and to Western standards.
In the settlements, one can find the highest concentration in the country of recycling plants, the strictest oversight on industrial plants and pollution prevention, and even the first Israeli initiative to treat waste using the method of dry anaerobic digestion. Some 85 percent of the sewage in the settlements is treated in accordance with the strictest criteria. But just a skip and a jump from there, in an area where the groundwater is most vulnerable to contamination, 70% of the urban sewage flows into our streams and most of the rural areas don't have a sewage system at all.
The Palestinian Authority is home to hundreds of unregulated, polluting factories, radioactive waste and many other environmental hazards. This affects us all: Fences and blockades cannot stop air molecules or toxins that seep into our reservoirs. A lot of so-called "diplomatic initiatives" have been thrown around. One initiative that has yet to be tried out is the idea of treating the entire area as one unit. Air and water have no borders.