Update from the 2016 Mosaic of Peace Conference
(These blog entries provide brief reports and insights from our conference in Israel and Palestine. They are written by our participants Anne French and Emily Oshinskie and are neither comprehensive nor in depth reports, but simply glimpses into the amazing experiences we had together.)
Jane Hilal is the Head of the Water and Environment Research Unit with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ). Water is one of the most important issues in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, and Jane described the situation as a political problem of resource allocation rather than a lack of resources. She explained that Palestinians have access to only 11% of the water in the West Bank, while Israeli settlers have 89%. The Israeli government diverts a large amount of water to the Negev dessert in the south, reducing the remaining volume. Since 1967, all water is the property of Israel, under the control of the Israeli Water Company. In addition, a military zone prevents access to the Jordan River from North to South. The population of the West Bank has increased from 2 to 4 million and during that time there has been no increase in water supply.
Regarding well water, Israel controls 39 wells, from which the water is provided free to settlers, but is sold to Palestinians. Basically, 100,000 Palestinians have no access to a water source. The average consumption of Palestinian residents is 73 liters per day, in contrast to 300 liters per day for Israelis. Palestinians are not allowed to dig wells, install cisterns or even collect rainwater without permission. Proposals must be submitted to the Israeli Water Company. The rejection rate for these projects is 97%. Palestinians often resort to installing water systems without permission, which leads to the regular demolition of infrastructure, with the explanation being that such projects pose security risks. The separation wall also isolates Palestinians from water sources in Bethlehem and other areas.
Hilal concluded by asking our group, “If your family does not have water, what will you do?” After a pause, she answered her own question. “You will move,” she said simply. “You will move.”
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian American businessman and entrepreneur, living in Ramallah and born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. Bahour shared his personal narrative: growing up with a Jordanian-American mother and a Palestinian father, marrying a Palestinian, moved back to Israel/Palestine after the Oslo Accord, and starting a telecommunications company in Ramallah. He spoke about the complicated issues of citizenship, ethnicity and nationality in Israel and Palestine, illustrating that reality by sharing the variety of personal identification cards assigned to him by the Israeli government.
As an American citizen in Palestine, Bahour had been required by the Israeli government to leave the country every 3 months for 15 years. Eventually, Israel refused to recognize his U.S. citizenship, issuing him a Palestinian residency card, which dramatically restricted his movement within Israel and Palestinian. He showed our group card after card, permit after permit that he was now required as a Palestinian to obtain simply to move within Israel and Palestine, something he had previously been allowed to do without limitation. This new reality as a Palestinian-no-longer-recognized-as-an-American, was that he would have to get a permit every time he wished to travel through checkpoints, even when traveling to Jerusalem for a routine business meeting. The humiliation, lack of free movement and complicating of daily life takes its toll. And Bahour recognizes the burdens that will soon be imposed on his children as Palestinians living under occupation. “My daughter soon turns 16,” he told us. When children turn 16 the Israeli government issues them identification cards – cards that will identify them and restrict their movement and freedom. “I never saw a 16-year-old not want to turn 16, but she is not excited.”
Referencing the Oslo Accords, Bahour believes that they have actually kept the occupation of Palestine intact, allowing the Israeli government while controlling Palestinian territories, to charge Palestinians for education, healthcare, resources and utilities. Bahour’s understanding of the Oslo Accords combined with his entrepreneurial spirit, led him start the Palestinian Communications Company. He told us that most Palestinians are still using a 2G-data coverage network plan on their cell-phone while Israel uses 4G and are on their way to 5G.
In spite of the multitude of personal and professional challenges he continues to face, Bahour demonstrates a resilient spirit, determined hope and persistent quest for justice – both vocationally and personally. He is invested, literally, in the well-being of Palestine and its people, and he invited us to accompany him in that quest.