Despite months of unstable water supplies in several east Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the security barrier, authorities have yet to clarify who will be responsible for restoring the resource to these communities.
Due to the fact that many homes in the neighborhoods of Ras Hamis, Ras Shahada, Dahyat a-Salam and the Shuafat refugee camp had either no water or very low water pressure since February, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and area residents filed a petition on the matter to the High Court of Justice on March 25.
A week after receiving the petition, the High Court granted the respondents – the Water Authority, the National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Ministry, the Jerusalem municipality and Hagihon–Jerusalem water and Sewage Industries – 60 days to file progress reports on the situation.
While Hagihon largely slammed the Water Authority, the Energy ministry and other national bodies for the lack of improvements, these authorities requested an additional 90 days to further assess the situation.
The Jerusalem municipality issued a statement claiming that it is not responsible for delivering water to city residents, and has no authority in the matter because under existing laws it has “no practical ability to control the water within its boundaries.”
“Life has become unbearable over the past few months. The water crisis limits our ability to shower, clean and launder clothes – basic things,” Jamil Sanduka, chairman of the Ras Hamis Neighborhood Committee and one of the petitioners said. “If this happened in the west of the city a committee of inquiry would have been established. We can’t stand it any longer.”
In Hagihon’s response, the water corporation criticized the Water Authority, the Energy ministry and the Treasury for failing to deliver solutions to the problem, such as how to properly finance the infrastructure required to bring proper water flow to the communities. The company estimated that all in all, the work would require about NIS 189.5 million.
“Hagihon and the residents of the neighborhoods beyond the separation fence are ‘falling between the cracks’ of the Water Authority, the Finance ministry and the Justice ministry,” a statement from Hagihon said. “These neighborhoods are characterized by illegal construction at an unprecedented scale, which creates a compound of legal, planning, budgetary, security and above all humanitarian issues.”
The company said that far before the petition was filed it began demanding that the relevant government authorities address all of these security, legal and budgetary aspects, as Hagihon is unable to bear the legal and economic demands of the situation.
In addition, Hagihon requested that the High Court order the Water Authority and the other government bodies to act to regulate the circumstances without further delay, particularly because “hot summer days are ahead of us and are expected to exacerbate the problem.”
“Hagihon provides thus far water on a humanitarian basis at a cost of NIS 10m. per year, and will not be able to continue to do so in the long term,” a statement from the company said.
Tens of thousands of people live in these neighborhoods, many in illegal housing, to which a 1965 planning and building law forbids the provision of water, the Water Authority and Energy Ministry wrote in their response.
Many residents are connected to the water network illegally, through pirate systems, and the network experiences great congestion, the response added.
According to reports received by the Water Authority and the Energy ministry, improvements in supply occurred in April.
Nonetheless, the authorities said, finding solutions for the previous cessations has been difficult due to problems identifying the root of the issue.
With the goal of pinpointing solutions from planning, engineering, legal, financial and security perspectives, the Water Authority and Energy ministry wrote that they have held several high-level meetings with relevant parties.
The municipality said that its ability to provide ongoing services to neighborhoods in east Jerusalem is limited.
Association for Civil Rights in Israel attorney Keren Tzafrir, who was responsible for filing the petition, said: “Sadly, just weeks after the celebrations marking the ‘unification’ of the city, the municipality doesn’t even hide its sweeping repudiation of Jerusalem residents living on the other side of the separation barrier.”
“Just a month ago, we saw the mayor rush to the Hagihon control room following a water supply problem in west Jerusalem,” Tzafrir said, referring to an April 30 water contamination incident.
“In the eastern neighborhoods, beyond the barrier, this problem has persisted for four months and it seems no government body deems it urgent enough to solve.”