Is The Israeli/Lebanon War Over Water?

In my research of this area, I discovered that there has been a threat of war for years over waters being diverted from the Wazzani River in Lebanon, and Israel's alleged attempts at taking water from the Jordan and the Litani Rivers. So, is taking out Lebanon's pumps and gaining control of the Litani and Wazzani Rivers now also part of the plan of these current attacks? The Israeli government is denying water and subsistence to innocent people, and that is a human rights abuse. Per this article from 12 years ago (which shows how long this dispute has been going on): (bolding my emphasis)

Israel's Appropriation of Arab Water: An Obstacle to Peace

by Ronald Bleier (
Middle East Labor Bulletin, Spring 1994
"There is no reason for Palestinians to claim that just because they sit on lands, they have the rights to that water," Mr. Katz-Oz [Israel's negotiator on water] said. "The mountains do not own the water that fall on them. It's the same with Canada and the United States. It's the same all over the world." -- NYT 10/93
On the whole, when it comes to the common water resources shared with Palestinians and other Arabs, Israel ... acts like a great sponge. -- Sharif Elmusa (1993)

Palestinian hopes for genuine self-determination hinge on a number of factors, not the least of which is Israel's ability to solve its perennial and growing water shortage. According to Dr. Hussein A. Amery, of the Department of Geography, Bishop's University, Quebec, Israel uses 17% more than the 1.9 billion cubic meters of water that is renewable from natural sources.

"The deficit in water supply is being met by desalinating brackish salty waters, recycling waste water and over- pumping underground waters." ("Israel's designs on Lebanese water," MEI, 10 September 93 [No. 458] p. 18.)

But these facts and figures don't address the question of equity. Arguably 50% or more of the water that Israel uses is unilaterally appropriated from water that should fairly go to its Arab neighbors. Even the New York Times used the word "theft" when quoting an "Arab" in connection with Israel's appropriation of regional water resources. ("Hurdle to Peace: Parting the Mideast's Waters" by Alan Cowell NYT, 10.10.93 p. 1)

As a settler community, the Jewish state has historically taken for itself land and resources belonging to its Arab inhabitants and the neighboring Arab countries. A clear example of Israel's appropriation of the water belonging to Arabs is Israel's interest early on in diverting the waters of the Jordan River from the Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean and to the Negev.

Accordingly, in 1951, contrary to the armistice agreements and over the protests of U.S. and U.N. officials, the Israelis began moving military units and bulldozers into the demilitarized zone on the Syrian border. Spurred by hostilities in the area over water, in 1953, the Eisenhower Administration prepared a unified plan for the use of the Jordan River. In September 1953, Israel, in an apparent attempt to preempt the American plan, secretly began a crash program to construct a nine-mile long pipeline in the demilitarized zone to divert Jordan River waters.

When the Americans learned of Israel's activities which included around the clock work crews, they protested and President Eisenhower went so far as to suspend vital economic aid to Israel. No announcement about the aid suspension was made at the time, perhaps to keep from drawing the ire of the Zionist lobby at home.

However, soon afterward, the Israelis launched an unrelated attack on a West Bank Jordanian village, killing 53 people which came to be known as the Kibya massacre. As a result of the ensuing furor, on October 18, 1953, the Eisenhower administration made public its cutoff of aid to Israel. Eleven days later, under the pressure from the U.S. Zionist lobby and a pledge by Israel to suspend work on the diversion project, U.S. aid was resumed. (Taking Sides: America's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel, by Stephen Green, William Morrow and Co., N.Y. 1984. "The 1953 Aid Cutoff: A Parable for Our Times," pp. 76- 93.)

Israeli work on diverting the water of the Jordan River was only temporarily suspended -- perhaps for as long as two years. By 1960, however, the diversion project -- which came to be known as the National Water Carrier -- was complete and in fact was the target of the PLO's first (and unsuccessful) attack in 1964.

Jordan and Syria strongly protested Israel's unilateral appropriation of their water because Israel's diversion made local agricultural activity impossible.

Before the Israeli diversion, the U.S. plan apportioned 33% of Jordan River water for Israel's use. As Stephen Green points out, the significance of this figure is that only 23% of the flow of the Jordan River originates in Israel. The Israelis, however, wanted more than 33%. Today, Israel takes virtually all of the Jordan River flow leaving only brackish, unusable water for the Syrians and Jordanians. Moreover, Israel's diversion of the Jordan River water to the Mediterranean littoral and to the Negev, defies an important principle of international law regarding water use; namely that water should not be diverted from its catchment basin.


Ever since the Israelis captured the West Bank and Gaza in the Six-Day War in 1967, they have strictly controlled the water resources in the territories largely because they have become so dependent on Palestinian water emanating from underground aquifers on the West Bank.
West Bank water not only makes up 30% of the water in Tel Aviv households but also is critical to preserving the pressure balance which keeps the salt water of the Mediterranean from invading the coastal aquifers.

Israel has permitted no new drilling of agricultural wells for water for the Palestinians in the territories and has permitted fewer than a dozen for domestic use. Moreover, the Israelis charge the Palestinians fees that are three times higher than they charge Israelis for water for domestic use (with even higher relative charges in Gaza).

As Sharif Elmusa points out: "[I]n terms of relative GNP per capita, Palestinians pay a minimum of fifteen times more than Israeli consumers -- a phenomenal difference for water systems managed by the same company." ("Dividing the Common Palestinian-Israeli Waters: An International Water Law Approach" in Journal of Palestine Studies, Spring 1993, No. 87, p. 63. See also note 11, p. 74.)

West Bank water is so critical to Israeli water usage that it is difficult to imagine the Israeli government making even minor concessions on water issues in upcoming negotiations with the Palestinians. Indeed, according to press reports, the present public negotiating position of the Israelis is to ignore Palestinian claims to the water of the West Bank and Gaza to "negotiate" instead over new water sources, presumably through desalinization techniques. Needless to say, Palestinians will have difficulty accepting Israel's negotiating policy on water.

The water shortage in Gaza is even more critical than it is on the West Bank. Experts predict that before the year 2000, under current use, the Gaza aquifer will be so depleted that salt water from the Mediterranean will make it unusable.

[color=red]Even in Gaza where the Arab population outnumbers the approximately 5,000 Jewish settlers by more than 170 to 1, the Israeli government appropriates 10-25% of Gaza water for Jews. (see Elmusa, pp. 61)/color]


Zionist interest in the waters of Lebanon goes back as least as far as the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 when Chaim Wietzman wrote to the British Prime Minister explaining that because of its water requirements, a Jewish homeland in Palestine must include the Litani River. In the 50's, Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharett recorded in his diaries that Moshe Dayan's plan for the control of the Litani River was to "'enter Lebanon, occupy the relevant territory' then the 'territory south of the Litani will be annexed to Israel and everything will fall into place.'" (Quoted in Amery, pp. 18-19)


Since its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 there have been innumerable rumors and many unsubstantiated reports that Israel has been taking more or less water from the Litani River. Since Israel doesn't allow outside observers to the Litani area or to its self-proclaimed "security zone" these rumors and reports have been impossible to verify.

However, after the 1982 invasion Israel prohibited the sinking of new wells just as they did on the West Bank. They also "seized all the hydrographic charts and technical documents about the Litani and its hydro-electric installations, and carried out seismic soundings and surveys near the Litani's western bend, most likely to determine the optimum place for a diversion tunnel." (Amery, p. 19)

So far Professor Amery is alone in pointing to the "hydrological" aspect of the barbarous Israeli barrage of Lebanon during the last week of July 1993 where the express purpose was to create hundreds of thousands of refugees and make much of the area uninhabitable.

Amery's analysis suggests that Israel's interest in Lebanon is -- along with its political goals -- to maintain and/or establish control over as much of Lebanese water as possible. Amery notes that since 1985 former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon has been calling for an enlarged "security zone" in Lebanon that stretches to the Awali River (north of the Litani).

Amery quotes a Lebanese newspaper that agues that a larger security zone was already in process of "being established by depopulating and flattening 30 ... villages that border the zone" (p. 19). Longer term, the demographic issue is bound to have a major impact on the politics of water use. The population of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and Jordan today is approximately 10 million. Current forecasts are that by 2020 the population of the same area will double to 20 million with no prospect of any significant increase in water supplies. Without a peaceful resolution of land and water issues, instability and possibly more war loom as awful prospects.

Despite or because of the September 1993 Oslo Accords, it is clearly even more urgent to ask if there is any means to convince Israel to reverse its policy of unilaterally taking for itself the legitimate Arab share of the area's water.
The third river system of the Middle East, the The Jordan River, is the most disputed water source in this area, and is bordered by countries whose leaders all have vowed to go to war for the water. The annual flow in the entire area has been controlled by Israel since 1967, and is just under 500 cubic meters per person. The latest figures I could find reference to from 1991 indicate that Israelis use 375 cubic meters apiece, and Palestinians 180 cubic meters (even though Palestinians have a higher birth rate. These figures may also have gone up somewhat since that date) The population could also double some time between 2010 and 2020, which puts a even greater strain on these water resources. And because of the arid nature of the land, the flow cannot be improved either. Water shortages have been endemic here even despite water rationing. Bottomline: Israel is using too much water and needs to conserve and share these resources.

Arabs also never fail to mention that while the Jordanian average use is 80 liters per day, Israelis use 300 liters of the same river and the same aquifers. Is this true? And if so, is this necessary? Or is this just another way to systematically punish their neighbors? And I'm not talking about Hizbollah here, I'm talking about Palestinian families who need this water to subsist and for agriculture. There is no excuse for deliberately keeping water from ANYONE.

The presence of some 100 Israeli settlements populated by over 100,000 Jews on land occupied in the West Bank in 1967 was also a very contentious issue, and more than likely why that region has been occupied again. I believe that water is very much in the heart of this conflict. The 100,000 settlers were given almost as much water as the one million Palestinians who live in the region. This is then a source of bitter resentment, and a roadblock to a peaceful solution.

Israelis are also alleged to take 80 percent of the annual flow of 615 million cubic meter of mountain aquifers that are said to be "Palestinian water." Arabs see this as "stolen water" and want it back...ergo, war. The Israeli counter argument on being entitled to this water is based on their military superiority and a status quo (including aid from this government,) as well as the lack of clearly drawn out provisions regarding ownership and water use in International law, which we need desperately.

Therefore, it is my contention that there will never be peace in this region as long as water is in the middle of this conflict. With population figures slated to double with the next ten years and these resources remaining finite, war is the only way these people know and will know in order to get it. Israel would have to give up the West Bank which gives it control of the southern portion of the Jordan River, its acquifiers, as well as the headwaters of the Jordan in the Golan Heights in Syria, and also the southern portion of Lebanon which includes the Wazzani, Zahrani, and Litani Rivers. And face it, that isn't going to happen.

There would have to be a miraculous discovery of a new source of water flowing into their country like manna from Heaven. But it seems in this supposed, "Holy Land," we see and will see nothing but death and destruction, in part because people no matter whether they are Israeli, Palestinian, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, or American, cannot see beyond their own selfish needs for water, rather than sharing it amicably. Terrorism will also have a stronghold in areas like Southern Lebanon as long as people there are kept in poverty and politically oppressive conditions and denied resources that are their basic human rights, like water. And again, I am not talking about Hizbollah here, I am talking about basic human rights.

Therefore, do you really want to stop war in the Middle East? It may be as simple as a plan for real peace in providing adequate and equitable distribution of water resources to ALL who inhabit this area, and the United States government needs to also stand up for this. Otherwise, as long as population rises and water resources dwindle with Israel using its military force to control the majority of the flow, again, we will never see peace in this region. Using water as a political lever is unconscienable. This is a MORAL issue.

Other references:

Water In The Middle East Conflict

Lebanese-Israeli Water Conflict Threatens To Boil Over

Definition of Israel's Water Problems

UN Officials Prepare For Health Crisis In Lebanon'

Humanitarian Crisis Looms

What is our moral duty?