human rights watch 88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday night attacked the ostensible
anti-Israel bias of some human rights watchdog groups. “We must expose the
hypocrisy of human rights organizations that turn a blind eye to the most
repressive regimes in the world... and instead target the only liberal
democracy in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.
appeared to be a reaction to a 166-page report entitled “Separate and Unequal,”
issued by Human Rights Watch earlier Sunday. In addition to descriptions of
alleged Israeli violations of human rights, the report, the longest and most
comprehensive issued on any Middle East country this year, called on the US to
punish Israel by deducting aid in accordance with its spending on
There is a tendency among politicians, including the prime
minister, to make sweeping charges against HRW and other human rights NGOs,
generalizing that they are riddled with malicious intent without providing
specific examples. It is worth focusing on one of the many tendentious claims in
HRW’s report to illustrate the unfortunately frequent validity of official
Israel’s sense of grievance.
THE REPORT takes Israel to task for a
purportedly discriminatory water allocation policy. HRW stated that, “Average
Israeli per capita consumption of water, including water consumption, by
settlers is 4.3 times that of Palestinians in the occupied territories
This is true, as far as it goes: Per capita water
consumption among Palestinians is 70 liters a day, compared to Israel’s average
per person of 300 liters a day. What HRW failed to mention, however, is that
access to piped water has dramatically improved in recent decades and is
significantly better than in Syria or Jordan, which would have been in control
of the West Bank had it not attacked Israeli in 1967.
In fact, as Alon
Tal of the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University
noted in a recent article in the Israel Journal for Foreign Affairs
, Israel has
significantly exceeded its requirement as set down in the 1995 Oslo II Peace
Accords, increasing supply by 60 million cubic meters (mcm) a year, instead of
28.6 mcm as required.
The 10 percent of the Palestinian population on the
West Bank who do not have reasonable access to running water might usefully be
contrasted with, say, Romania, where one-third of the population has no running
water, or closer to home, the Jordanian city of Irbid, where 400,000 residents
The relatively widespread accessibility did not happen by
itself. A World Bank report from April 2009 noted that Israel was responsible
for a 50% rise in the number of West Bank Palestinians who have access to
networked water supply. The World Bank also estimated that 45% of West Bank
Palestinians’ (and settlers’) water is provided by Mekorot, the Israeli national
water carrier, from sources located inside Israel. This has unfolded over the
past two decades, moreover, during which the Palestinian population tripled to
2,461,000. As Tal concluded, “There are few developing economies that have
achieved such dramatic improvements in such a short time.”
None of this
is mentioned in HRW’s report. And while a litany of accusations are leveled at
Israel – ranging from “over-extraction of water” to “refusal to approve
Palestinian water projects” – no blame whatsoever is placed on Palestinians.
Yet, as Tal notes, 30% of Palestinian water leaks out of poorly maintained
pipes, three times what Israel loses to leakage.
Authority – with $1 billion in annual civil aid, the world’s largest per capita
recipient of international development assistance – invests precious little, if
anything, in improving water delivery. And due to PA corruption, rural residents
are often forced to pay exorbitant rates for bottled or tanker water. Deficient
law enforcement by the PA also results in the digging of wells that threaten to
contaminate major aquifers.
SUCH SKEWED treatment of Israel’s water
policy is a microcosm of HRW’s wider failings, which were recently detailed to
shocking effect in a lecture (republished on these pages on November 25) by its
outraged founder Robert Bernstein. Not only does HRW’s obsessive and
antagonistic focus misrepresent Israel, it is also counterproductive to the
By Israeli standards, the amount of water available to
Palestinians, while higher than many developing countries, is inadequate. But
what HRW deliberately fails to acknowledge is that this is a consequence of a
complex reality that includes Palestinian negligence.
As long as the
specifics, and the wider realities, are intentionally ignored by human rights
groups maintaining cynical anti-Israeli campaigns, the root problems afflicting
Israelis and Palestinians will continue to be distorted, misunderstood, and
consequently, all the harder to resolve.