The residents of Kafr Qaddum are no strangers to Israeli military incursions in their village, which sits northwest of Nablus in the northern occupied West Bank.
For the past nine years, the residents of the village have been holding weekly demonstrations against the confiscation of their village’s land for the use of settlement expansion and the permanent closure of the main road connecting the village to Nablus.
Nearly every week they are met with violence on part of Israeli forces, which has over the years resulted in severe injuries, disabilities, and even death.
In recent weeks, however, Israeli forces have been practicing a new tactic of suppression in the village, one the Israeli rights group B’Tselem has slammed as “collective punishment” in a new report published Wednesday.
Since the beginning of April, Israeli forces have been documented shooting holes into the water tanks on the rooftops of people’s homes in the village, causing hundreds of dollars worth of damage and significant loss of water resources for the community.
According to B’Tselem, soldiers have shot and damaged 24 water tanks in the village, in some cases damaging the same water tanks multiple times over the course of a month.
Many of the affected residents have temporarily patched up the holes in their tanks using screws and glue, but they say it’s a temporary fix that won’t last much longer.
Eventually, they’ll be forced to purchase new water tanks, which cost around $125 — a lot of money for most Palestinian families, especially during the COVID-19 crisis when many people do not have a steady income.
“Now, because of the coronavirus, we have to be especially careful about cleanliness,” Assem Aqel, whose family lost more than 450 litres of water one day, said in a testimony to B’Tselem.
“We have to shower, wash our clothes and wash our hands more often. It’s also the water we use for cooking and drinking. I don’t understand how the soldiers can be so heartless and damage water tanks like that. Water is the main source of life for every human being,” he said.
B’Tselem has concluded that “the shooting is deliberate”, and described the damage to the tanks as “sheer abuse” and “an illegal act of collective punishment.”
“As residents now have to follow strict hygienic measures, including frequent handwashing, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, this conduct is even graver,” B’Tselem said.
“Nevertheless, the shootings have continued unabated for several weeks. This indicates that rather than the random initiative of a particular soldier, this conduct is at least condoned by the commanders on the ground, in blatant disregard for residents’ lives and property.”
Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including the people of Kafr Qaddum, do not have consistent access to running water as a result of policies of the Israeli government, which controls the water supply in the West Bank.
Instead, Palestinians must stock up on water during supply hours, and store their reserves in rooftop water tanks that can hold between 500-1,000 litres of water.
Rights groups have long criticized Israel for its policies that directly result in severe water shortages for Palestinians, and a clear disparity in access to water between Palestinians living in the West Bank versus Israeli settlers.
On average, Palestinians in the West Bank have access to 73 litres of water per day, compared to the 100 litre minimum recommended by the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers have access to constant running water, and an average of 240-300 litres of water per person per day.