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A Drop In The Bucket

The West Bank village of Karwat Bnei Zaid is found about 17 kilometers from Israel, within the Palestinian Authority. Approximately 4000 people live in the village. Although the village is connected to the local water system, there is nearly no water at all in the village's pipes. During the two hours a week that water does flow through to the village, much of the water is lost, due to leakage from the rotted, broken condition of the pipes. Since March of 2009, no water at all has come through. Such distressing conditions have been the norm for years; this year these conditions have sharply worsened.

The village residents are mostly unemployed. Water must be purchased from tanks at 10-20 times above normal per-cubic meter price. Many families must use half of their already thin budgets to buy water. Average water use for village residents stands at approximately 15 liters a day, despite the World Health Organization's recommendation of 100 liters per day per person for minimal hygiene, drinking, washing, etc.
In contrast, neighboring Israeli settlements within the PA territories receive an unrestricted water supply for both home and agricultural use. As a result, the weekly two-hour supply, already reduced because of the rotting infrastructure, is used for the most basic of personal needs. Household animals and livestock are barely kept alive, while gardens and fields have long since died..

Karwat Bnei Zaid and nearby villages are situated directly above an underground aquifer known as the Mountain Aquifer. Nearly 80% of water taken from this aquifer is used by Israel, and only 20% of the water drawn is allotted to residents of the PA. According to the Oslo Agreement, additional wells using this natural water source must be licensed by Israel, and to date, no requests to drill wells for the villages' use have been granted.

Although I have long been aware of this issue, I became more active recently upon receiving an email from an activist friend involved in Palestinian water rights. Within Israel there are very few references to this problem in the media, and it is nearly completely ignored by the general public. Besides members of the settler movement or the Israeli Defense Forces, Jewish Israelis do not visit the West Bank, and never see the day- to-day lives of its residents. The West Bank is seen solely as a dangerous, hostile place,

I contacted Jabbar Arrar from Karwat Bnei Zaid, and he invited me to come and photograph water conditions in his village. Jabbar heads a 5-village organization which deals with the pervasive lack of water. In this capacity, he buys water with donated funds and distributes it to families who are too poor to purchase water at the inflated price.

I spent the day being welcomed into numerous homes. The families opened their doors to me and I was generously given every kind of assistance in order to publicly document their personal experience of a nearly waterless reality. In the searing heat of the Middle Eastern summer, signs of this lack of water are everywhere. Extended families of 15 people cannot quench their thirst, clean themselves, wash dishes, launder clothes or flush toilets. On rooftops and in courtyards, rusting water tanks stand empty. The grounds and gardens are dry and dead. And accross their dry gardens and fields, directly in the line of sight of the villagers of Karwat Bnei Zaid, the Israeli settlement of Halmish sits on a hilltop, with lush, green fields and the sparkle of the sun reflecting off the swimming pools filled with children - and water.

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