JERUSALEM – The Society of St. Yves, a catholic human rights organization in Jerusalem, analyzes the question of arbitrary demolition of water storage tanks. Working under the patronage of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, it struggles for civil and social rights for the inhabitants in the Holy Land.
On the outskirts of Bethlehem lies a small village in Rashayida, where the inhabitants direly await Israeli trucks carrying precious liters of water. The water will be carefully used, as it rarely rains during the scorching summer months, and buying water has consumed most of inhabitants’ monthly salaries. This summer will prove to be especially trying for the farmers and families that saw their main source of water destroyed by Israeli Defense Forces last year.
The cavernous cistern, dating back to the Byz
antine period, was destroyed after the landowner undertook meager renovations to the lid of the cistern without a permit. This action cost him and 4 other families the supply of water they were counting on for the successive summer months. This has been the third such cistern in the area to be destroyed in the past 7 months.
This village could be any one of hundreds, to endure the consistent targeting of water resources over the past two years. Most of these communities are located in Area C, which covers over 60% of the West Bank and lies under full Israeli military occupation. The Israeli authorities (ICA) control all zoning, planning and security. Any structure erected must receive a permit with Israeli approval; this also includes all renovations, rehabilitations, and construction of water systems. With a permit process that can last years and with acceptance rates of between 1 to 6 percent, the latter confirmed by Israeli military statistics, most communities find themselves vulnerable to demolitions because the urgent need for water outweighs other administrative considerations.
The Society of St. Yves, the Catholic Center for Human Rights, noted a trend of targeting water resources already in 2010, when the organization started being overwhelmed by cistern demolition cases. With some of the poorest communities living in Area C, largely dependent on farming and herding, and lacking water infrastructure, the demolition of rain collecting cisterns represents the end of their means for subsistence. Extensively documented by the UN Office of Coordinating Humanitarian Affairs, the policy of water structure demolitions has coalesced into a concerted Israeli strategy for forcing Palestinian movement. From 2010 to 2011, water structure demolitions more than doubled, with 46 Palestinian rain collecting structures demolished and close to 14,000 people affected. Their destruction alone displaced 127 Palestinians, including 104 children in 2011.
The policies aimed at demolishing cisterns should be viewed in the larger context of occupation and the enforcement of a restrictive planning regime controlled by the Israeli military. In 2011, St. Yves petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice to restore local planning committees in Area C, and is currently campaigning, along with local organizations, to legally protect rain collecting cisterns from arbitrary demolitions.
This issue goes beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it is an urgent humanitarian cause. As part of the campaign an online petition was published to remind the Israeli High Court of its obligation to respect international law.
The Society of St. Yves