French-based multinational corporation Veolia is the largest privatizer of water in the world and a main profiteer of Israeli apartheid. While it is well known that Veolia plays a major role in further entrenching Israeli colonization through a number of infrastructure projects including the operation of the Jerusalem Light Rail (connecting illegal Israeli colonies to Jerusalem) and the Tovlan landfill (where trash from Israel is dumped on stolen Palestinian land in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention), Veolia may also be connected to neoliberal reforms to privatize Palestinian water supply.
In honor of World Water Day and in support of the Palestinian grassroots struggle for liberation, this article will connect Palestinians’ struggle for water rights with struggles against Veolia’s privatization of water.
Water Rights in Palestine
Israel has manufactured Palestinian dependence on Israeli national water company Mekorot. In 1982 the Israeli military commander sold Mekorot all of the state controlled water infrastructure in the West Bank that it had confiscated from the Jordanian government in 1967 for one symbolic shekel. Today Mekorot provides more than 50% of Palestinians’ domestic water supply, leaving Palestinians highly vulnerable to regular water cuts by the Israeli company.
Israel’s claims that it is providing Palestinians with more water than it is obligated to under Oslo are patently false. Oslo stipulated quantities for Palestinians to be able to develop, and quantities for Palestinians to be able to purchase from Israel. Only a little over half of the additional water quantities promised for Palestinian development as “immediate needs” before the year 2000 have actually been realized. A 2009 World Bank report found that Israel was withholding approval for 82 well drilling projects that would allow Palestinians the quantities approved under Oslo. Meanwhile deep Israeli wells have dried up a number of Palestinian wells, and Israel has denied Palestinians permission to deepen these wells, further reducing net quantities of Palestinian controlled water. Israel is selling Palestinians more than twice the amount of water it is obligated to sell to Palestinians as part of Oslo. But Palestinians want to realize their right to develop their share of the region’s transboundary water resources.
Israel is standing in the way of Palestinian water development, not only by denying permission for water infrastructure projects, but also by demolishing rainwater harvesting cisterns and reservoirs. Israel has diverted the Jordan River and militarized the Jordan Valley, making access to the Jordan Valley’s remaining water resources extremely challenging for its Palestinian inhabitants. Since 1967, Israel has prevented Palestinians from drilling a single well in the Western Aquifer, the richest and most plentiful source of water in the region. Israel has furthermore isolated Gaza, and prevented citizens of Gaza from receiving water from the relatively water rich West Bank.
Israel’s military control of Palestinian water resources is one tool that Israel has been using to undermine the Palestinian economy and to manufacture Palestinian dependency on Israel. A significant number of Palestinian local councils have developed large debts as a result of failing to collect payment from citizens for Mekorot supplied water. Israel has transferred these debts to the Palestinian Authority by deducting them unilaterally from Israel’s collection of value-added taxes (VATs) owed to Palestinians. The neoliberal government of Palestine in turn announced that it would be freezing development projects by the Palestinian Ministry of Finance for a number of villages — including upgrades to water networks, roads and schools — unless local councils began repaying their debts. It is within this context that local councils began adopting prepaid water meters in 2009.
Veolia and Water Privatization in Palestine
In fact, the first projects to implement prepaid water meters in Palestine in 2009 were funded by the national French development agency Agence Française de Développement (AFD). In 2008, a subsidiary of AFD together with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank finalized a €35 million equity deal with Veolia AMI (Africa, Middle East and India) giving these World Bank and AFD subsidiaries 13.89% and 5.56% equity stakes in Veolia AMI. “The purpose of the deal is to support Veolia Water AMI as it pursues public-private partnerships in water across Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.”
At the start of the second intifada Veolia pulled out of a contract with the West Bank Water Department for the supply of water to the south of the West Bank. At the time many Palestinians were not paying their water bills due to economic constraints imposed by the Occupation and as an act of civil disobedience. Now thanks to the initial projects of the AFD, encouragement by the World Bank and the strong neoliberal leanings of the Palestinian Authority, prepaid water meters are the new norm for Palestinians in the West Bank. Councils are boasting 120% payment of water utility bills by consumers, making water supply to Palestinians a lucrative enterprise for water privatizers such as Veolia to return.
Meanwhile, a 2012 study by LifeSource – a Palestinian-led collective working for Palestinian water justice – found extreme water consumption disparities between rich and poor, with no protections in place for households living in extreme poverty.
Mounting Resistance to Veolia and Israeli Water Apartheid
French multinational corporations Veolia and Suez have been facing opposition at home and around the globe to their water privatization schemes. Globally the privatization of water has led to increased costs and poor investment in infrastructure, causing serious risks to public health and safety, in addition to human rights concerns regarding access to adequate safe water for those living in poverty. In 2010, in Veolia’s home court, Paris remunicipalized their water services leading to reduced costs for consumers and infrastructure improvement. More than 50 cities have now remunicipalized their water services following failures with water privatization.
Incredibly, while the public is organizing against Veolia and other large water privatizers, Mekorot is trying to market their water apartheid tactics abroad. Mekorot now has contracts in Brazil, Argentina, Cyprus, India and Uganda, and is vying for stakes in Greece. But, in an amazing precedent, this past December 2013, the Netherlands’ largest supplier of drinking water, Vitens, announced in a public statement that it was severing a contract with Mekorot because “the company concluded that it would be very difficult jointly to develop possible future projects, considering that these projects cannot be seen separately from the political context.”
Resistance targeting Mekorot is gaining momentum. PENGON/Friends of the Earth Palestine, Palestinian BDS National Committee, and the Land Defense Coalition have launched the first International Week Against Mekorot beginning today on World Water Day.
Veolia, Mekorot, and BDS
To date, Veolia has lost nearly 24 billion dollars worth of contracts due to its human rights abuses and its track record of corruption. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement has been central to this success.
In 2012, the Blue Planet Project issued a report on the Human Right to Water in Palestine that calls on “global citizens [to] continue boycott, divestment and sanctions and other forms of resistance that are proving successful in building a global movement, with the aim of generating a global consensus around defying Israel’s illegal restrictions on Palestinian water and sanitation development.”
At the same time that this report was released, water justice activists at the Alternative World Water Forum issued the Marseille Declaration for Palestinian Water Rights naming five points of boycott, divestment and sanctions that highlight Israel’s system of water apartheid and corporate profiteering from violations of Palestinian water rights.
- Oppose the corporate expansion of the Israeli national water company, Mekorot, into international markets, Mekorot being one of the key instruments in denying Palestinians their water rights;
- Boycott Israeli agricultural produce, campaigning to exclude Israeli agricultural companies (e.g. Mehadrin) from access to foreign markets and expose their role in the takeover of Palestinian land and water resources;
- Support the Stop the JNF campaign and educate others about JNF’s “greenwashing” of Israeli crimes;
- Boycott and divest from Veolia, the largest privatizer of public water supply in the world, and a main profiteer of Israeli apartheid;
- Call for government sanctions on Israel, in particular, the end of all water-related cooperation agreements.
Water privatization, and Veolia and Mekorot in particular, are one of the many places where Western imperialism and Israeli Apartheid meet. With its roots in a history of French empire, Veolia has long profiteered off the colonized and the poor and now brings its tactics of privatization to Palestine. Mekorot, whose business has long been specialized in the colonization of Palestinian water resources, is now branching out and seeking to profiteer from public water supply abroad. BDS allows us to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle while we resist what endangers the health, equity and freedom of our local communities.
 via its subsidiary Connex Israel
 with the exception of a single replacement well under highly exceptional circumstances