Sunday, September 13, 2009

Water: tension seeking behavior

"BEIRUT, 10 September 2009 (IRIN) - The politics of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, a rugged sliver of mountainside wedged between Lebanon, Israel and Syria, have long overshadowed what some Lebanese environmentalists call “the real issue” of the disputed area: its water resources.

Now activists are calling for hydro-diplomacy to take precedence over political manoeuvring as the most effective solution to one of the key stumbling blocks to Middle East peace.

Rising Temperatures Rising Tensions, a report published in June by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, considers water to be a major trigger for conflict in the Middle East, the world’s most water scarce region." (Thanks Marcy)

A few days ago, someone from the BBC called me to ask me if I could talk about water as a source of conflict in the Middle East, especially between Israelis and Arabs. I told them that the idea is ludicrous, because:

1. There is already a war going on between Israel and the Arab people, including the Palestinians, Lebanese, and others. The cause of the war is not water, and it doesn't look like it is ending soon.

2. There is no water issue: Israel takes what it wants and refuses to subscribe to international ruling. Arab regimes watch powerlessly and sometimes offer a helping hand. Where are the seeds of the conflict here?

3. Does anyone really believe that the current Arab regimes will go to war with Israel over water? I mean how silly can one be?

The person who was talking to me agreed, but said that this would not make a "good" news item. The concept that water scarcity may trigger war in a "volatile region" that is drying due to climate change is so much more romantic. It is as if Arabs do not really have a problem with occupation, oppression, massacres, theft of land and colonialism: no, they only have one problem with Israel: water. So once you get them around a table to discuss this and share the water among themselves, then the tensions will disappear. Incidentally, one of the problems with this approach is that it presumes a recognition of Israel. Could this be why the "international community of charitable world cops" is always trying to brandish the water scarecrow and make Arabs and Israelis get together and talk about it, as if the future of humanity depended on it? I have a suggestion: why doesn't Israel give back all it has stolen since its creation, and there will be no water problem left between Israel and the Arabs.


Habib Battah said...

Hi Rami, thanks for posting. I'm wondering what you think of the water-related argument from the Arab, or more specifically Lebanese perspective that says that Israel is plotting a long term plan to usurp Lebanon's water supply. I've talked to many in Lebanon who subscribe to this and see it as an important reason for supporting Hezbollah. Wondering what you think about that argument and whether or not you are aware of any statistics on the amount of water reportedly used by Israel from Lebanon.

Rami Zurayk said...

Of course Habib, this is a very common argument, and one that is very possibly true. And I say very possibly because I have not seen the documentation myself, but I base my analysis on:

Israel has usurped the Jordan water and continued to do that after "peace", the Palestinian water and the Syrian water of the Golan. If previous behaviour is any indication of future performance, this one is pretty clear.

Israel has always had views on the Litani water, look at this post and other related posts

There are tons of articles that were written about this. But what is interesting is how the issue is presented: as a case of conflict over the use of riparian resources, as is the case with say, the Nile water between Sudan and Egypt, or the Euphrates between Syria and Turkey. This was one of the topics of the World Water Forum that was held in Istambul in March 2009: the Litani, a case study. But Israel cannot claim any of that water, yet, the idea is introduced that this is a contentious case and that a settlement must be reached. Slowly, this will become a matter of negotiations of a share of the Litani rather than one only deserving a flat refusal. An international ruling may lead to Israel deciding to take action to get what it will claim is its property.

This is why the whole idea of negotiation over water, as is often suggested, between politicians and specially academicians should be rejected, and the laws governing boycott in Lebanon must be strictly implemented with no exceptions.

What I was saying in my post does not contradict this: I'm saying there won't be a war over water, Israel might use it as an excuse to attack Lebanon (the Hasbani water pumping station is commonly threatened and bombed when settlers need water, and the Lebanese government never did much about that, but it will not be the cause of war. War is already going on, and its cause is the implantation of a colonial entity in Palestine.