Gazan rescuers wade through the flooded streets after a heavy rain and the filtration system overflowed
Understanding oppression means understanding the materiality of oppressive social relations. Meaning that oppression can be principally understood as a set of power relations which become coercive in the last instance. These relations are founded in material conditions and expressed through qualitatively observable forms of material interaction. Furthermore, imperialism is characterized by a number of power relationships which exist in context to the domination of monopoly capital usually expediting the exploitation of one nation by another. Necessarily, imperialism embodies a very specific form of oppression generally that between oppressor and oppressed nations. The general conception of imperialism is a more socio-historic extrapolation of monopoly capital between blocs of classes but this is merely the ‘universal’ in a dialectic which necessitates a particularity. Therefore, to concretely understand imperialism we should observe how the universal is manifested through the particular in a given social condition.
What does this have to do with the title?
Well, there is no more stark of a contemporary example to imperialism than the relationship between the chauvinist-settler expansionist state of Israel and the displaced peoples of Palestine whom for the sake of clarity (and brevity) I shall refer to as Palestinians (although they should not be considered homogeneous in any sense). Certainly equally heinous forms of imperialism exist however unfortunately few seem to draw the media attention as easily as that between Israelis and Palestinians (reflective of intra-imperialist contradictions regarding the state of Israel, a topic for another time perhaps). In addition, the imperialism of the Israeli state offers unique opportunities to interrogate the particularities of capitalist-imperialism given the course of history between the two aspects and the forms by which the Israeli state exerts its dominance.
One such particularity would be what I call Israel’s “Water Imperialism”. And while the appropriation of a natural resource by an imperialist or colonial power is not ‘new’ the issue of Israel’s water domination is of fundamental importance to understanding the ‘identity’ of this contradiction between the Israeli power and the Palestinians.
First we should understand the history of this particular ‘water imperialism’. In 1967, Israel placed tight restrictions on the distribution of water to the West Bank and other Palestinian territories. The stated reason for such was the immediate requirements of the 1967 war (Six-Day War) which placed Israel in direct contest with its immediate Arab neighbors including the Palestinian people (with ‘water politics’ being a primary contributor to the conflict) . However these legal restrictions remained long after the end of the Six Day War surviving up until today where the Mountain Aquifer, the primary source of water to both Israel and the Palestinians, is held as public property by the state of Israel. This Mountain Aquifer, extending under both Israel and the West Bank, is typically divided into three sub-aquifers: the Western, Northern and Eastern Mountain Aquifers . In addition to legal and physical control of these sub-aquifers (comprising the Mountain Aquifer), the state of Israel consumes a disproportionate amount of this water especially the Western Aquifer where the water is of highest quality. There in the Western Aquifer, Israel consumes about 95% of the available water as well as 70% and 37% of Northern and Eastern Aquifers, respectively .
Along with control of the aquifer system, the primary surface water system the Jordan Basin is also partially owned by Israel along with several neighboring Arab nations. Approximately 90% of the Jordan Basin is being diverted for some process of consumption or production leaving the entire ecosystem struggling to survive. While Israel enjoys 31% of all water diverted from the Jordan Basin, the Palestinian people receive not a single drop .
Legal ownership by the state of Israel upon the major bodies of fresh water also means significant physical limitations to accessing this water supply. For example, to construct a well or repair existing water infrastructure in the Palestinian territory requires a legal permit which can only be granted by the correct ‘legal’ Israeli body. The permit to drill a new well must travel through eighteen stages in multiple administrative organs before the construction may lawfully proceed. Even then there are various limits to the amount of water which may be drawn from any given well set by the state of Israel and ultimately most Palestinians are simply denied their own access. More troubling is the fact that over the past 12 years, the Palestinian share of water consumption, relative to the water available, has actually fallen .
As would seem obvious, but worth noting, this massive differential in regard to ‘water sovereignty’ has produced an immense inequality in the consumption and distribution of water resources between Israel and the Palestinian peoples.
Around 313,000 Palestinians fall between an internationally recognized “high” and “medium risk of water scarcity” while 50,000 in the West Bank alone are condemned to less than 30 liters per day; it should be noted that receiving 25 liters or less is “on par with disaster and humanitarian crisis criteria” .
Yet, what makes a ‘crisis’ is principally ideology. How the rational and observable evidence of our objective world is transmuted by the ideological apparatus will ultimately determine whether or not some instance of blatant injustice becomes a ‘crisis’. And this is why I hesitate to call the situation of water scarcity among the Palestinian people a ‘crisis’ despite the clear suffering taking place. An objective interpretation of the word ‘crisis’ would necessarily indicate a determinant contradiction existing between humanity and some material condition. Therefore, it is conceivable that some great natural disaster might deliver a terrible crisis as it pits the survival of humans in direct contradiction with the capacity of their material condition. However, if a ‘crisis’ is determined by tenable social forces then it ceases to be a formal ‘crisis’ but instead becomes the consequence of a deliberate ‘struggle’ (often taking the concrete form of imperialist occupation, domination, oppression etc.).
Thus, to reflect upon the real suffering of the Palestinian people as a mere ‘crisis’ effectively negates the role of Israeli imperialism as the primary aspect in this given contradiction. Being there is no “real” shortage of water beyond that articulated by the state of Israel. For example, the 9,600 Israeli settlers living in (occupying) the West Bank consume roughly 45 million cubic meters of water per year; the same amount that is allocated to nearly 830,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank . Furthermore, we find that while the average Palestinian consumes around 73 liters of water per day (still well below the World Health Organization recommended level of 100 liters/day) the average Israeli living inside Israel consumes 300 liters/day with his West Bank-settler counterpart at a staggering 369 liters/day .
As much as Israel would like to shove this issue into the corner of faultless ambiguity, we can see along with the marginalized Palestinian peoples who the real enemy is. Through their struggle we can discern the material relationships which compose this ugly oppression. This is not some ‘unfortunate crisis’ but the reality of Israeli ‘water imperialism’; a concrete expression of Israeli domination so physically obvious it has been called the “Water Apartheid” by some human rights observers .
Nothing could be more indicative of this deliberate offensive than the severe negligence of clean water infrastructure particularly in the Gaza Strip. As stated earlier, all water is public property of Israel and therefore all additions, repairs, or improvements upon water infrastructure must be approved by the appropriate Israeli state organ. Not only must this be approved, but the process must be carried out by some Israeli agency or paid for by the money allocated to the Palestinian Authority (a dismally small sum) . Ultimately this leads to a severe negligence of the water infrastructure as the Palestinians lack the money and the Israelis have no desire to maintain a system sufficient for adequate distribution; consequentially the present filtration system is greatly overloaded and regularly releases millions of cubic meters of untreated waste water into the sea and surrounding water bodies. This terrible negligence has also left 500,000 Gazans without a reliable connection to the water system .
And Israel would have us gawk at the launching of a few unguided missiles from Palestinian territory as some basis for their brutal military campaigns; it would be generous to consider this behavior ‘negligent irony’.
Regardless, we should never lose sight of the internal ‘logic’ behind the behavior of the Israeli state. As pointed out in a previous article surrounding the legacy of former Israeli defense minister, Ariel Sharon, the internal ‘logic’ of imperialism not only systematizes but necessitates these atrocities in their never ending extrapolation of capital. While the entirety of Israel is literally built atop the land and labor of the Palestinian people we might find it useful to investigate a concrete expression of this settler-imperialist economy in a specific sector of development: namely, the progression of Israeli agriculture.
While not as critical today, Israeli agricultural exports and production composed critical growth in the developing economy over the previous decades. This intensive agriculture, and specifically, the domination of Israeli agriculture required a massive investment of water resources. Water that was no doubt diverted away from the development of Palestinian agriculture which can at least intuitively be taken account when reviewing the rather ‘backwards’ development thereof. In fact, it has been projected that if water were distributed more equitably especially in the case of agricultural allocation the Palestinian agricultural sector would gain $1.88 billion or roughly 1/4th of the West Bank’s entire GDP . However, that is only a casual projection in one particular case of growth stunted by Israeli ‘water imperialism’, it is difficult and perhaps impossible to truly measure the economic damage sustained from the current “Water Apartheid” given water is so intrinsically connected to the processes of production and consumption in nearly all commodities. What we can discern is this reality of the oppressor state, Israel, having taken up the weapon we call ‘water politics’ in a manner so they might expedite the expansion and circulation of their own capital.
We must ask, what can we conclude from this analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian water struggle?
First and foremost, that oppression has a material foundation. And this visual reification of oppression specifically in having a material ‘foundation’ is incredibly useful in the given circumstance. Could we imagine this “Water Apartheid” without the ‘foundation’ of some dominant material relationship? Without the physical control over the access to water by the Israeli state? Of course not. At least in the concrete instance we have analyzed in this piece. Not that oppression cannot exist ‘immaterially’ in some form however it’s clear without the material domination of these resources the oppressive social relations in Israeli ‘water politics’ could not be articulated so strongly and reproduced so easily. This question of materiality must remain central when we explore opportunities for the self-determination of the Palestinian people. We must seek to actually transform these material relationships and the conditions upon which they exist so they might give way to a comprehensive liberation.
What better way to accomplish this then set forth upon the task of the national liberation of the Palestinian people? The complete and utter destruction of the Zionist project and their settler-imperialist state under a nationally liberated state of Palestine; this is the real condition by which capital, as a social relationship, might be negated in the process of destroying capitalism: the process of a social revolution.
Clearly, we have a long way to go but the first step in any action is successful and critical analysis. Discerning the contradictions so we might resolve them; discovering the truth so we might act upon it. We can start here, by recognizing the suffering of the Palestinian people is no natural ‘crisis’ but a carefully articulated “Water Apartheid”. And the answer to such an apartheid is not an appeal to the World Health Organization, or the United Nations, or any bourgeois acting body including those non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We must set forth on the objective of destroying Israeli-settlerism and imperialism through the process of national liberation in the program of socialist revolution. To tear down the walls, both physical and social, which condemn the Palestinian people to a life of unquestionable suffering and imprisoned generation after generation the oppressed; to utterly destroy the old and reject this disgusting and admonishing notion of Israeli neutrality; to stand in solidarity with the liberated peoples of Palestine and build anew.
 DeVoir, Joseph. 2012. “Palestine Monitor – Exposing Life Under Occupation”. The Health, Development, and Information Policy Institute. p. 53.
 Ibid. p. 54.
 Ibid. p. 50.
 Ibid. p. 52
 Nieuwhof, Adri. 2013. “Israeli Settler’s use six times more water than Palestinians”. Electronic Intifada. p. 3. (author cites Al-Haq human rights report: Water for One People Only).
 Ibid. p. 4.
 DeVoir. p. 52.
 Ibid. p. 51.
 Ibid. p. 52.