“Without water – there is no life”

Photo by Fir0002 via Wikimedia Commons

World Water Day is held annually on 22 March, as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and on the right to water. The right to water is enshrined not only in international covenants, but also in Israel’s Water Law – 1959, which states that “every person has the right to receive and to use water.” This notion has since been bolstered in numerous court rulings, which have acknowledged water as a fundamental right stemming from the right to life, to dignity, and to health. As the Israeli Supreme Court noted (Civil Appeal 7262/00): “Without water – there is no life.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) works year-round to promote the approach that water is a basic right and that the State is obligated to ensure the just distribution of water among the entire public and to protect every person’s right to water.

ACRI’s Social and Economic Rights Department focuses on two aspects of the right to water:

  • The high water tariffs, which are among the highest in the world and are out of the reach of more and more sectors of the Israeli public. In a position paper sent to the Water Authority in May 2011, regarding the intention to change the water rates, attorney Tali Nir, Director of ACRI’s Social and Economic Rights Department, wrote: “The proposed prices turn water into an exclusive consumer product, as opposed to a basic right.” According to ACRI, water must be made available at a reasonable cost, especially when it comes to weaker populations. Just as the prices of bread and other staple foods are monitored, so should the consumption of an adequate amount of water be made equally affordable to all.
  • Disconnection of water supply to persons who have not paid existing debt to the water corporations. Since water is not a product like any other product, and its lack constitutes a severe health risk, ACRI maintains that disconnecting the water supply must only be carried out only under very rare circumstances, when a person has the means to pat and yet refuses to do so.

And while the price of water is soaring – there are those who are not even connected to the water grid. The residents of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev are not connected to basic infrastructure, as a result of long-term governmental neglect. Therefore, these residents do not receive water supply directly to their homes, and are forced to get water from main points that are connected to the grid.
Recently, the price of water for the residents of unrecognized villages was sharply raised, without prior notice. Last month, ACRI sent a letter to the Water Authority, asking it to reconsider the recent increase in the price of water for the unrecognized villages. In the letter, ACRI attorney Rawia Aburabia notes that this sharp rise in the price of water turns this most basic necessity to a consumer product that is out of the reach of the Negev Bedouin, one of the poorest populations in Israel. Attorney Aburabia further claims that this seemingly selective price increase constitutes blatant discrimination, aimed at the residents of the unrecognized villages.

A similar situation exists in some of the unrecognized villages in the Occupied Territories. For example, the residents of the Palestinian village al-Aqaba, which is located in Area C of the West Bank (under full Israeli control) are also not connected to the water grid, nor to any alternative water infrastructure. As a result, the residents of the village suffer from an inadequate standard of living and from an ongoing injury to their health and to their livelihood.
In June 2010, ACRI sent a letter to the Head of Israel’s Civil Administration, asking him to connect the village to the water grid. This request was denied, since the Civil Administration claimed that it cannot connect the village to the water grid until a planning process for the village is approved.
In July 2011 ACRI wrote to the new Head of the Civil Administration, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, in order to acquaint him with the initial request and to reiterate it. In the letter, ACRI attorney Raghad Jaraisy mentioned the June 2011 Supreme Court ruling (Civil Appeal 9535/06), in which Justice Ayala Procaccia regarded the right to water as a constitutional right and an essential component of the basic right to dignity, and ruled that access to water must therefore be ensured regardless of the existing or required planning procedures. Attorney Jaraisy noted therefore that not connecting al-Aqaba to the water infrastructure contradicts not only international law, but also the ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court. Currently, al-Aqaba is still not connected to the water grid, but the Civil Administration is reviewing its planning options.

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Categories: Arab Citizens of Israel, Negev Bedouins and Unrecognized Villages, Social and Economic Rights, The Occupied Territories, The Right to Equality, The Right to Health, Water

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