‘Why is water dangerous?’ A Palestinian plea to the US Congress

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There’s a crisis of demolitions underway in the West Bank’s Area C. We need your help. We’re walking the halls of Congress this week on behalf of Al Aqaba Village and on behalf of all Palestinian villages the West Bank’s Area C. Dr. Ahmad El-Atrash, senior planner for U.N. Habitat in Ramallah, is here with us to describe how the Palestinian Ministry of Local Governments and Palestinian communities work with UN-Habitat to achieve their planning and building rights – something that Congress is hearing about for maybe the first time.

Al Aqaba’s Mayor, Haj Sami Sadeq Sbaih, cares deeply about peace— and it is great to see Al Aqaba Village thrive. Here is a short film about Al Aqaba, made just this past week by Maurice Jacobsen. Over the years, at the request of constituents like me, many of members of Congress have privately called the Israeli Embassy and successfully prevented the demolition of Al Aqaba Village.

I write now with urgency to ask you to make your calls again, today, to safeguard Al Aqaba’s water system. Earlier this month, the Israeli Civil Administration issued ‘Stop Work’ orders against Al Aqaba’s new water main network and five homes currently in construction, setting May 30th as the date for their hearing.

The Israeli Army bars Al Aqaba villagers from digging their own wells or connecting to the water grid. Mayor Haj Sami rightly asks, ‘Why? Why does the Israeli Army see danger in Al Aqaba having water?’

Water delivery is expensive, a real burden for Al Aqaba’s families. In January 2016, after years of deliberation, the High Court of Israel agreed to hear Al Aqaba’s petition to connect their village with the Israeli water supply system in Area C. When the State of Israel delayed their response to the court, Mayor Haj Sami started work to connect his village to the Palestinian water supply network, originating in the town of Tubas, in Area A. On May 5th, ‘Stop Work’ orders were issued against Al Aqaba’s new water main network and five homes currently in construction citing a May 30th hearing date where the village’s lawyers and the beneficiaries themselves will raise their arguments and provide the court with additional documents.

We note with grave concern that the Israeli Army has initiated a crisis of demolitions in the West Bank’s Area C, displacing more Palestinian families this year than in all of 2015. A stated program of forced relocation is also underway. Official Israeli data indicate that in 2015 the number of new ‘building starts’ of housing units in Israeli settlements in Area C of the West Bank increased by 26% compared to 2014. Most of this construction follows plans approved for the Israeli settlements in previous years, compared to only three approved local outline plans out of the 108 plans prepared for and with the Palestinian communities. According to official Israeli figures, the Israeli Civil Administration approved only 1.5% of Palestinian building permit applications. There are now over 11,000 demolition orders outstanding against thousands of Palestinian structures in the West Bank.

Ahmad al Atrash explains West Bank planning to Sri Kularni of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's office. Donna Baranski-Walker at center
Ahmad el-Atrash explains West Bank planning to Sri Kularni of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office. Donna Baranski-Walker at center

In this past year, Rebuilding Alliance has held nearly 100 briefings with Senate and House staff to keep Susiya, Al Aqaba, Um Al Kheir and all Palestinian Villages standing. What we’re hearing from Congressional staff on both sides of aisle is this: it really makes a difference when constituents call in to express concern and to ask their members of Congress to take action.

When your Representative and Senators intervenes at your request, they save Palestinian homes and schools … they usually do this privately, by making calls to the Israeli Embassy and also to the State Department. Even the most conservative congress member will help when you, as their constituent, ask. Please, go ahead, call your Senators and Representative now to ask the to do all they can to keep Palestinian villages safe and standing.

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No water, no life.

I have repeatedly called John Lewis’s office, and he never does anything for Palestinians, despite him supposedly being a civil rights hero. And yes, I am polite.