“Massachusetts we say NO! Water deals with Israel have got to go!”
On Friday, March 20, this chant was brought to Boston’s streets by the Boston Alliance for Water Justice, which held its first Stand Out in anticipation of Sunday’s World Water Day.
On that chilly afternoon more than 30 protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) at 63 Franklin Street. Created by the Clean Jobs Act of 2008, the MassCEC promotes clean energy technologies and is also home to the Israel-Massachusetts Innovative Water Partnership that was formed to launch joint water projects onto the world stage.
“Massachusetts see the light. Water is a human right!”
Demonstrators urged the Commonwealth not to be complicit with Israel’s theft of Palestinian water and policies that have been widely denounced as ‘Water Apartheid.’ The UN had declared that water is a human right, and Massachusetts should respect that right without exception.
The literature distributed to hundreds of passers-by and to MassCEC staff members distilled the findings of scores of reports by international agencies including Amnesty International and Palestinian organizations such as Al Haq:
- Israel appropriates Palestinian water resources for its own residents. Illegal West Bank settlements fill their swimming pools while water taps in Palestinian villages and refugee camps run dry for months at a time.
- Israel has destroyed Palestinian wells, cisterns and irrigation and sewage systems and prevented Palestinians from drilling new wells and irrigating their land.
- Tens of thousands of Palestinians do not have access to piped water and must pay up to half their income to buy back their own water from tanker trucks.
- Israel per capita water use is 4 to 5 times greater than water use by Palestinians, whose access to water is well below the minimum standard set by the World Health Organization.
The arguments made by Israel blaming water disparities on Oslo Accord agreements and on Palestinians themselves have recently been refuted at length in a report by the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ).
Plunging into troubled waters
Under the administration of former governor Deval Patrick, the relationship between Massachusetts and Israeli-founded businesses has had a “phenomenal record of growth,” according to the New England-Israel Business Council, with much of it taking place in IT, life sciences and security.
But collaborating with the Israeli water industry for commercial gain is not just business as usual, since water is essential to life, and to the ability of Palestinians to stay on and cultivate their land.
Immediately after the Six Day War, Israel issued military orders to monopolize control over water in the Palestinian territories and the headwaters of the Jordan River on the Golan Heights.
Over the decades, it perpetuated its control of West Bank aquifers and springs through its placement of West Bank settlements and the course of the Separation Wall. Through its state-owned water company Mekorot, Israel has built discrimination into its water distribution system, going so far as to provide bigger water pipes to supply settlements than Palestinian villages. Mekorot is now a target of the international BDS campaign. The overpumping of the coastal aquifer in a Gaza Strip densely crowded with refugees and Israel’s repeated destruction of its water and sanitation infrastructure have meanwhile made the Gaza Strip virtually unlivable.
Water, then, is a weapon that Israel has long deployed against the Palestinian people in violation of international law and UN rulings.
In its water deals with Israel, the Patrick administration put profit in the driver’s seat and left human rights in the dust. The relationship reportedly began during a March 2011 trade mission to Israel, when the governor encountered Booky Oren, the former head Mekorot. According to the Boston Globe, Oren for years “has focused on one problem: launching Israel’s water industry onto the global stage. Massachusetts, he believes, can provide the platform.”
By December 2012, the planks of that platform were rapidly being assembled. In that month, a group of approximately 50 Massachusetts policy makers, venture capitalists, academics, lawyers, businessmen and a few elected officials undertook a ‘Water Innovation Mission’ to Israel.
During the same month, the Israeli wastewater treatment and desalinization company Desalitech opened its US headquarters in Newton, MA while retaining its Tel Aviv office. Desalitech is a partner in Mekorot’s ‘WaTech’ Ventures Center and worked with General Electric and Mekorot to develop a membrane-based municipal wastewater treatment system at Mekorot’s Research and Development Center.
Newton-based Desalitech together with the notorious water privatizer Veolia soon played a role in “fostering our global economy” and opening the doors of Massachusetts to the world, as Governor Patrick put it. In March 2014, during his trade mission to Mexico, the governor brokered a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Desalitech and Veolia “to bring advanced, cost-effective water solutions to Mexico and countries worldwide.”
Two months later, the peripatetic governor was again in Israel, this time at the head of a 120-strong delegation including Desalitech officials and Newton mayor Setti Warren, which the Times of Israel called “the largest US business delegation ever.”
Highlights included participation in a ‘Going Global with Water Tech’ summit and the launch by MassCEC and the Israel Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor’s Office of the Chief Scientist of a ‘Global Water Innovation Network’ (Globan WIN) to push their technologies into global markets. In addition, they announced the winners of first jointly-funded ‘Massachusetts-Israel Water Innovation Challenge’ which stipulated that applicants should include at least one Israeli and one Massachusetts company in their proposals.
A personal highlight for Governor Patrick appears to have been praise of former Mekorot head Booky Oren, who “’made me feel like a proud father figure,’ Patrick said.”
The governor, Israeli officials, representatives of Desalitech and the Newton mayor also visited the municipality of Ra’anana to mark the beginning of construction of a new Desalitech wastewater facility.
What they did not do was what they had been urged to do by members of the Boston Alliance for Water Justice, who met with Alicia Barton, CEO of the MassCEC, just days before the delegation left for Israel.
Water Justice members laid out the case why in the matter of water it was ethically wrong for the Commonwealth to view itself as a “natural partner” for Massachusetts, as Barton had termed it. They urged Barton to visit the West Bank to see how Israel was using water as a weapon against the Palestinian people. If the schedule did not permit such a visit, they offered to arrange for Palestinian water experts to brief her and members of the delegation in their hotel and to have Palestinian residents of Massachusetts brief them on their return.
Those meetings have yet to occur.
After the delegation returned, the Boston Alliance widely distributed letters written by children and addressed to the governor that described the impact on their lives of Israel’s water policies in West Bank refugee camps. When a caller read one of the letters to the governor during a June 12, 2014 WGBH call in program and asked if he would travel to the West Bank to see Israel’s discriminatory water policies in action, he robustly declared: “I would love to travel to the West Bank.”
The invitation is still open.
Building a movement for water justice
As climate change imperils the world’s water resources and drought conditions in places like California promise lucrative contracts, the Commonwealth may see little financial incentive to pull back from its water partnership with Israel.
But managers of the nearly 300 water industry companies in Massachusetts are aware from trips to Singapore and Canada with Governor Patrick that Israel does not have a monopoly on innovative water technology and other innovators do not carry with them such heavy moral baggage. Why should Massachusetts choose to collaborate with Israel’s water industry when its water policies demonstrate that it is not a fit partner to solve the world’s water problems?
This is the message that the Boston Alliance for Water Justice will carry to the new Baker administration and the public in months and years ahead.
The group is also enlisting new partners. Currently supported by the Alliance for a Secular Democratic South Asia, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston, United for Justice with Peace, 1for3org and individuals who are connected with other groups, the Boston Alliance is making connections with community-based, environmental and solidarity organizations that agree with its core principles:
- Water is a human right.
- Water should be equitably distributed.
- Water should not be privatized.
- Water should not be used as a tool of political oppression.
While raising awareness about Israel’s use of water as a tool of political oppression is its main focus, the group is determined to stand in solidarity with people everywhere who are fighting for water justice.
For more information, contact [email protected]