In October 2013 I had the privilege of going on a trip to the Holy Land with the The Telos Group, a non-profit organization that seeks to help Evangelical Christians engage with the people who represent various sides of the issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One of those issues has become a major source of contention.
Or the lack thereof for the Palestinian people who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
During my trip I heard stories about and from Palestinians who were not receiving regular access to running water—sometimes for periods of up to a month or more—but that Israelis, even those who lived in settlements in the West Bank, did have access.
Cameron Strang, CEO & Founder of Relevant Media Group, wrote about the water shortages in his March/April 2014 lead article, Is Peace Possible?, following his participation on a similar trip sponsored by The Telos Group:
Because Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not citizens of Israel, they do not have the civil rights of Israeli citizens. However, they are almost completely controlled by policies established by the Israeli government. What this means in everyday life is that Palestinians have limited access to local resources such as water. Israel only turns on water for most Palestinian towns intermittently. That’s why you’ll see large black tubs on the roofs of every Palestinian building in the West Bank—residents try to fill them up before the water is turned off, and then ration their supply until the next time water is available. By contrast, Israeli settlements, which are often adjacent to these West Bank villages, have uninterrupted water supply.
To hear first-hand accounts about the water restrictions, I invite you to watch a couple of short videos from Gregory Khalil, the Co-founder and President of The Telos Group, and Sami Awad, the Executive Director of Holy Land Trust.
Suffice to say, hearing stories about people not getting regular access to water, something that I certainly take for granted in my part of the world, left me feeling a bit agitated and even suspicious of the Israeli government. I can only imagine that there were others on the trip who left feeling the same way, or at the very least a bit confused.
But in all disputes I have learned that there are two sides to every story, and hearing both sides is invaluable to the efforts of peacemaking and honest reporting.
Unfortunately the information we received during our trip about limited access to water for the Palestinians was presented as the only side. But I discovered that Prof. Haim Gvirtzman, a member of the Israel Water Authority Council and a long-time advisor of the Israel-PA Joint Water Committee, also has his side of the story. In his 2012 analysis and report, The Truth Behind the Palestinian Water Libels, he concludes:
Water shortages in the Palestinian Authority are the result of Palestinian policies that deliberately waste water and destroy the regional water ecology. The Palestinians refuse to develop their own significant underground water resources, build a seawater desalination plant, fix massive leakage from their municipal water pipes, build sewage treatment plants, irrigate land with treated sewage effluents or modern water-saving devices, or bill their own citizens for consumer water usage, leading to enormous waste. At the same time, they drill illegally into Israel’s water resources, and send their sewage flowing into the valleys and streams of central Israel. In short, the Palestinian Authority is using water as a weapon against the State of Israel. It is not interested in practical solutions to solve the Palestinian people’s water shortages, but rather perpetuation of the shortages and the besmirching of Israel.
Whether one wants to agree or disagree with Gvirtzman’s analysis is really not the point of my article. My point is that serious students of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and those who purport to be peacemakers within it should be very careful about drawing conclusions or making inferences of culpability until they have done the hard work of hearing and researching both sides of an issue.
The late Walter Cronkite wisely stated, “In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.”
While I am keenly aware of how difficult it can sometimes be to get to the actual facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how easy it is to rely on others we regard as trustworthy and reliable sources, we must always be very careful about jumping to conclusions.
Because if one wants to be taken seriously about caring for both Israelis and Palestinians, then doing so demands this level of thorough and honest engagement, lest we betray the very people we’re trying to speak up for.
The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the writer and do not represent any of the organizations that the writer is affiliated with