National Geographic : 2010 Apr
2009 World Bank report, Israelis use four times as much water per capita as Palestinians, much of it for agriculture. Israel disputes this, arguing that its citizens use only twice as much water and are better at conserving it.) In any case, Israel's West Bank settlements get enough water to ll their swimming pools, water their lawns, and irrigate miles of elds and greenhouses. In contrast, West Bank Palestinians, under Israeli military rule, have been largely prevented from digging deep wells of their own, limit- ing their water access to shallow wells, natural springs, and rainfall that evaporates quickly in the dry desert air. When these sources run dry in the summer, Bromberg said, Auja's Palestin- ians have no choice but to purchase water from Israel for about a dollar a cubic yard---in e ect buying back the water that's been taken out from under them by Mekorot's pumps, which also lower the water table and a ect Palestinian springs and wells. As Bromberg and I followed the Auja spring east, we passed a complex of pumps and pipes behind a barbed-wire fence---a Mekorot well, drilled 2,000 feet deep to tap the aquifer. "Blue and white pipes," Bromberg said. " is is what water the looks like in this part of the world." Israel's chief water negotiator, Noah Kinnarti, disagrees. Underground water knows no bor- ders, he says, and points out that Israelis must also purchase the water they use. "Palestin- ians think any rain that falls in the West Bank belongs to them," he told me at his kibbutz near the Sea of Galilee. "But in the Oslo talks, we agreed to share that water. ey just can't get their act together to do it." FOEME began confronting these tough issues in 2001, during a period of intense Palestinian- Israeli violence. But by focusing rst on ways to improve water quality, the NGO mobilized support and built trust through its Good Water Neighbors program, a grassroots education ini- tiative. It's also working to establish a Jordanian- Israeli peace park on a midstream island. Perhaps most important, it has pressured governments to live up to the water-sharing commitments em- bedded in the region's peace agreements, seeking to make the Jordan River a model for the kind of cooperation needed to avert future water wars. "People all over the world associate the Jor- dan River with peace," says Munqeth Mehyar, FOEME's co-director in Jordan. "We're just helping it live up to its reputation!" When I returned to Auja in early May, its spring had been reduced to a trickle, leaving the village as dry as a stful of talcum powder. e elds around it lay empty and exhausted, while on Auja's one plot of flat ground, boys were playing soccer amid a swirling dust cloud they were kicking up, chasing an old leather ball worn to the consistency of annel. I stopped by the home of an elderly farmer named Muhammad Salama. "We haven't had running water in my house for ve weeks," Salama said. "So now I have to buy a tank of water every day from Mekorot to supply my family and to water my sheep, goats, and horses." He also has to buy feed for his animals because there is no water to irrigate crops. To meet these costs he is selling o his livestock, and his sons have taken jobs at an Israeli settlement, tending the toma- toes, melons, and other crops irrigated from the aquifer that is o -limits to Palestinian farmers. "What can we do?" he asked, pouring me a glass of Mekorot water from a plastic bottle. "It's not fair, but we're powerless to do anything about it." It was a clear day, and from his front window we could see across the parched, brown valley all the way to the thin line of gray-green vegeta- tion marking the path of the Jordan River. For a moment, its water seemed within reach. "But to get there I'd have to jump an electric fence, cross a mine eld, and ght the Israeli army," Salama said. "I'd have to start a water war!" j Israel and its neighbors face a similar situation: eir survival is at stake---which makes the line between war and peace very ne indeed.