By Shai Gefen
interview with Dr. Chaim Gewirtzman of Hebrew University of Yerushalayim
Eretz Yisroel is in semi-arid land characterized by frequent years
of drought. In the ‘80’s, for example, there were two hot cycles of
three years each (in 1983-1985, the rains were 22% less than usual, and
in 1988-1990, the rains were 30% less than usual). A more serious
example is the six straight years of drought from 1957-1962, in which
the average rainfall was 40% less in comparison to the year with the
do we know this won’t happen again? If, ch’v, our prayers
aren’t answered, 5761 will also be a year of drought and we will have
to pump water from under the red line, both in the Kineret and the
underground reservoirs. That will only supply municipal needs, and the
farmers will have to have their water supply cut by 70-80%. If we don’t
have a miracle and 5762 will also be hot, we will have irreversible
damage done to our water sources, the significance of which we cannot
is the state of Eretz Yisroel’s water supply?
was the year of the worst drought in the last hundred years! In most of
the country, the amount of rainfall was only 45% compared to an average
year. In April of 1999, even before the pumping season, the Kineret was
three meters lower than it should be optimally. In other words, the
water level of the Kineret was only one meter above the emergency red
of this lower water level, the water authority was instructed to provide
water from reservoirs of well-water to those who supply the water to the
consumers. Pumping from the Kineret was limited to suppliers who had no
connection to alternate sources of water. But none of this helped. The
evaporation during the summer heat as well as the pumping by the
national pipeline led to a drop in water level to the red line. Today
the level is 25 centimeters below the red line.
nation’s emergency reservoirs of water have been emptied with nothing
remaining. This is the state of our water supply, the likes of which we
haven’t had since they began gathering hydrological data.
is the main reason for this frightening lack of water?
addition to the fact that there has been little rain, the wasting of
water did not stop. The need to conserve water was mentioned every so
often, but nothing was done to force conservation. People keep wasting
water. It should be noted that the municipal authorities are interested
in waste. They profit from increased water use in homes since they buy a
cubic meter of water from Mekorot for 1.30 shekel and sell it for 4.00
shekel on average. Why should the struggling municipalities give up this
source of income?
is also tremendous waste on the part of the farmers, who consume 60% of
the nation’s water.
in 5760 the rains were better than in 5759.
more rain fell than the year before, it still isn’t enough. The water
situation in Eretz Yisroel is worse than ever. Now they’re talking
about bringing water from Turkey and they’re thinking of other ideas.
We caused this intolerable situation that threatens the existence of the
state because of the signing of political agreements with the
Palestinians and Jordanians.
talking about desalinating ocean water. Is that feasible?
the State of Israel is not desalinating water. Even if the State of
Israel gave the green light and would announce it is accepting bids on
the building of desalinization plants, the work would take two or three
years to complete.
they’re talking about importing water from Turkey, though we’re not
ready for that either. You need to prepare a port and connect it to the
national water supply through a giant pipe, and that kind of work takes
a long time. Even if they base themselves at the oil port of Ashkelon
and even if they expropriate the necessary lands on the grounds of
emergency in order to lay the pipe, the work will take nearly a year to
all we can do is pray for rain?
can’t rely on a miracle!
water situation in Eretz Yisroel is terrible. Even the state of the
official institutions charged with the responsibility of monitoring the
drinking water is terrible. It’s been a long time now that they aren’t
functioning. The Mekorot company with its glorious past – it
established many water concerns throughout the country – is under
constant threat by the union and is unable to be effective in its work.
Tahal company, which served for decades as the national water advisory
and helped many developing countries with their water supplies, is no
longer involved on the national scene. The water authorities are busy
with internal quarrels for years now. The academicians at the
universities prefer doing research on foreign countries.
the Israeli government in the past and the present has been unable to
make decisions. The Ministry wants to make many reforms – among them
raising the price of water, building desalinization plants, importing
water from Turkey, cutting the water supply for agriculture, completing
plants that will recycle sewer water – but they don’t do a thing.
does the water problem have to do with political agreements?
recent years, Eretz Yisroel has committed to providing tens of millions
of cubic meters of water to the Palestinians and Jordanians, and it’s
impossible to get out of it even during years of drought. These
agreements were signed in 1991-1994. There was a lot of rain at that
time. The atmosphere of the "new Middle East," the ridiculous
self-confidence that we could produce unlimited water, and the severe
degeneration of the professional and administrative agencies producing
water, contributed to the signing of water agreements at Oslo. It’s
doubtful that agreements such as these would have been signed during
present water conditions.
seems as though the public knows nothing about the water reservoirs in
Yehuda-Shomron that are about to be given away to the Palestinians. What’s
going on there?
natural reservoir in Yehuda-Shomron is called Aquifer HaHar, and it’s
the largest and most important reservoir of water in Eretz Yisroel. It
provides 600 million cubic meters in an average year, which is a third
of the total consumption.
water of Aquifer HaHar is of the best quality in all Eretz Yisroel. It
is divided into three subterranean basins. The western one is called
Aquifer Yarkon-Taninim, and it supplies 360 million cubic meters a year;
the northern one is called Aquifer Sh’chem-Gilboa, and it supplies 140
million cubic meters a year; the eastern one supplies 100 million cubic
meters of water a year. The Aquifer Yarkon-Taninim is the biggest and
most important and is the source for about two and a half million
consumers who live in Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv, and most of the cities in
the center of the country.
were the Palestinians promised at Oslo?
Oslo the amount of additional water which the Palestinians would get
during the intermediate stages of the process was specified as a total
of 28.6 million cubic meters a year. This amount is more than the 220
million cubic meters a year which was allowed the Palestinians in
Yehuda-Shomron and Aza on the day the agreement was signed. Since then,
Eretz Yisroel has come through on all its promises.
settlements were harmed as a result of the intermediate agreements?
7 bore-holes of Herodion and Shadma, which used to supply water to the
settlements of Maaleh Adumim and Efrat, today supply water to Chevron
and Beis Lechem. The Americans and Germans are presently completing
drilling of four additional wells in the Herodion area for the
Palestinians. Additional drilling has been done to reinforce the water
supply for other cities (like in Ein Semia for Ramala, in Odla for Sh’chem,
and Nachal Ginat for Jenin). In addition, dozens of villages were
connected to the water supply that were never connected to the pipe; and
new water lines set up for hundreds of other villages.
also fulfilled its obligation in the Gaza strip and placed a water pipe
from Kisufim to Chan-Yunes.
a shocking contrast: the Israeli supply is a disaster while the
Palestinian Authority is expanding its water use. It’s simply absurd.
water agreements will be signed by Barak as part of the final agreement?
Oslo, they wrote that the water rights of Palestinians on the West Bank
would be discussed at the negotiations for a final agreement. In
official publications of the Palestinian Authority, it says that their
rights at the Aquifer HaHar are estimated at about 500 million cubic
meters a year!
can’t know what a withdrawal will bring in its wake. Their actions in
Aza after the withdrawal can serve as an indication of what will happen
in the future. After the I.D.F. retreated from Aza, they drilled – in
opposition to their agreement – 500 new wells! Who knows how they will
behave in another 5 or 10 years? And what will happen when tensions
rise? Can we allow ourselves to gamble with the Aquifer Yarkon-Taninim?
there is already a need to take precautions to prevent excessive pumping
by the Palestinians in the near and distant future. For this reason,
there’s a need for exclusive Israeli control over the vital pumping
have to remember that if the Palestinians rule over the area of Beit-A’ohr
and Beit Likia, the pumping in the Eilon fields (five bore-holes) and
Modiin (four bore-holes) will be in danger. If they rule over the area
of Kfar Naama and Dir-Amar, the pumping in the Yarkon fields (nine
bore-holes) and Lud (31 bore-holes) will be affected. If they rule over
the area of Dir-Esna and Bidia, the pumping in the fields of Rosh HaAyin
(nine bore-holes) won’t be able to continue for many years. Today the
Palestinians rule over the area of Kalkilia and Tol-Kerem, and Israel
hardly pumps from there at all. If their rule expands in this area and
extends north until Beka-El-Sharika, the pumping in the fields of
Yad-Chana, Tira, Kakon, Shaar Menashe, and Maanit will be endangered.
can you say to those who are involved in negotiating with the
have to deal directly with the team responsible for negotiating with the
Palestinians over a final agreement and tell them: When you go to draw
up the permanent map with the Palestinians, protect the water reserves
in Yehuda-Shomron, especially the strategic areas for water, which are
so vital to us. Don’t let those yellow and brown spots (areas A and B)
say that in agreements with the Palestinians, Israel is endangering the
water supplies for all Israelis. There is no doubt that the Palestinians
will slowly pump all the water out of the Aquifer HaHar, and we won’t
be able to pump from these places anymore. You have to remember that we’re
talking about 37% of the water Eretz Yisroel uses. The withdrawal Eretz
Yisroel plans from Yehuda-Shomron will not allow us to guard these water
you know what’s happening in the negotiations?
I don’t. It’s all top-secret, but according to what was agreed to
with the Jordanians at Oslo, I’m sure they will repeat the same
mistake and abandon our water sources to the Palestinians. We have seen
that at least when it comes to the water supply, Israel has not
protected its vital interests. This is an indication of what is going on
with all other topics under discussion at the negotiations.
can we do?
cannot rely on our leaders in matters so crucial such as our water
supply. We must bring this information before the public and emphasize
that the serious water problem we now have will get worse and become
critical if Eretz Yisroel continues to forsake its water supply and hand
it over to the Palestinian Authority.