Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This Never Happened: Real West Bank Water Theft

For years, we've been told that Israel is stealing Palestinian water resources. This slogan, much promoted, particularly in Europe, was then disproven, conclusively and authoritatively, by Israel's Water Authority, which described clearly the rational, fair and, most importantly, mutually agreed upon management and distribution of water resources to both Israel and territories under Palestinian administration.

Since then, the narrative has shifted slightly. It is no longer the government of Israel which is stealing water, but Jewish settlers who are accused of the dastardly deed. The following video was taken at a well outside the Jewish community of Sussya, in the South Hebron Hills. It depicts a situation which, depending on your level of blind commitment to ending Israeli "occupation" either never happened, isn't supposed to be happening, simply doesn't fit the media narrative of Jewish theft of Arab resources or, if all sense of justice fails you, is perfectly defensible - Israeli leftist radicals helping Palestinians steal water from wells which supply Jewish communities.

Haaretz did not report this story, if you can call it a story. It's as if it never happened. Just another day of anonymous Jewish life in the Hebron Hills. This well did not go dry, not that time, not that day, and hundreds of animals - at least the ones Arab thieves didn't steal the other night - did not go thirsty. You can see the distances involved, and the constant vigilance necessary on the part of the residents to protect their rights and property.

It wasn't always this way. Sussya once had good relations with neighboring Palestinian villages. They used to help one another with the harvests, with irrigation. It's only in recent months and years that Palestinians have begun to show up, always with the encouragement and participation of radical Israeli leftists, emptying communal water cisterns, stealing livestock, making claims on prime agricultural lands cultivated by Jews that were arid desert in aerial photographs 30 years ago. This relentless harassment and predation is a daily reality for residents of Jewish communities. Yet none of it would be possible without incitement by Israeli extremists, who agitate and convince the hotheads among local Arabs to create a disturbance and then get on their cell phones to inform Haaretz and the foreign media of yet another “atrocity”.

In Sussya it's water theft. In Bat Ayin last November fields were torched. Entire orchards were burned to the ground in Achiya (next to Shvut Rachel) during October, or was it the olive groves hacked up in next-door Shilo. After a while, it's hard to keep them all in order. The settlers get hung with the “price tag” policy that no one in the settlements supports, but meanwhile the cases of arson and sabotage against the Jewish communities mount without redress or reprisals. Farmers who raise the vandalism with the Civil Administration or the Army are told to pocket the loss; if no one was hurt the Army usually isn't willing to risk going into Arab villages to go after the culprits.

Havat Gilad, a community of 24 families built on privately owned Jewish land, was nearly burned down by arsonists last fall, again, as it is every six months, sometimes in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep. And as the fire meant to destroy the village burned through the Jewish fields of clover and, spurred by a change in wind spread to neighboring Arab trees the Jews were blamed in the foreign press, without a single interview on the Jewish side. The sense of frustration and abandonment among residents of the communities, victimized first by Arab arsonists and then by international media, is palpable. This is a reality that Peace Now does not describe in its requests for donations.

One of the primary challenges in advocating for the Jewish communities in Yesha is the total absence of media coverage of their experience. With the exception of INN, no Israeli news outlet goes into the settlements and speaks to the residents, except to quote some crazy gun-toting idiot, for flavor. Instead, what gets coverage are press releases from the IDF, Civil Administration and human rights groups, which rarely represent the perspectives, challenges and rights of the residents in the communities.

This is not to say that the settlers are made of puppy fuzz. There is plenty of coverage when they do wrong, along with condemnation and criticism, domestic and international, including from within the settlement communities, including by me. What is lacking is a balance in reporting that addresses the legitimate grievances, aspirations and perspectives of hundreds of thousands of people. No matter one's position on the settlements, we cannot be content to live in a world where political convenience makes necessary the creation of a type of subhuman to whom anything can be done and then justified with a media blackout.

The attempted theft of Sussya's water, on this particular day, would never had happened, to the extent that no one would have known of it, except that someone released a video now seen by a paltry 500 people showing us that it did. That is the reality, one which does not conform easily to the prevalent media narrative, and those who wish to stand on the side of peace and justice must acknowledge it as such.

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