On World Water Day, Water NGO: LifeSource, Backs Call on University of Johannesburg to Terminate Cooperation with Israeli Universities

22 March 2011

On World Water Day, Water NGO: Life Source, Backs Call on University of Johannesburg to Terminate Cooperation with Israeli Universities.

LifeSource wishes to express its support to the call made on the University of Johannesburg to terminate its cooperation with Ben-Gurion University by the University of Johannesburg’s Student Representative Council, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and more than 300 South African academics. 

LifeSource is a Palestinian collective working with communities on the ground so that we all understand our human rights to water and sanitation and our options for taking action to resist Israel’s colonization of Palestinian water resources.  Globally we educate communities about Israeli violations of Palestinians human rights to water and sanitation, and organize to put real pressure on Israel to comply with international law by encouraging individuals and organizations to leverage and align their resources with their values. 

The UN Human Rights Committee voted on August 5, 2010, and found Israel guilty of directly violating Palestinians human rights to water and sanitation, in direct contravention of human rights conventions Israel signed in 1991.  But international law alone today is very weak, and even after the UN Human Rights Committee found Israel guilty of human rights violations, there is no way using international law alone to enforce Israel to respect human rights.   Looking at Israeli violations of Palestinians human rights to water and sanitation and the failure of international law to protect Palestinians, we see the imperative as members of a global community to leverage our people power to ensure that human rights are protected for everyone.

We believe that boycott is a meaningful and peaceful way to demonstrate support for human rights, fairness, justice and equality – values which continue to be under attack by the Israeli military occupation of Palestine and its ongoing colonization of Palestinian land and water resources. The great struggle against apartheid in South Africa remains one of the key inspiring factors behind the Palestinian civil society boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

We are heartened by this initiative being undertaken by our brothers and sisters in South Africa, as we are greatly inspired by the long and humanistic struggle that South Africans continue to wage against the former racist regime of apartheid and the scars that remain. 

As stated in the letter by the Student Representative Council on March 7th, a decision by UJ to terminate its relationship with Ben-Gurion University would be a major landmark in the global struggle for human rights.  We hope that this campaign will help the Palestinian people to realize our full rights one day very soon, including our most basic human rights to water and sanitation.

The agreement in question between UJ and BGU centers on research for water purification.  We understand that it will be difficult for some of the global supporters of our water justice campaign to understand why we are in favor of ending an agreement that develops improved water technology, so today, on World Water Day, we will explain. 

While in general we applaud scientific advancement that allows us to live in better harmony with our environment, it would be false to try to place water purification research in Israel in some kind of social or political vacuum.  The fact is that access to water and sanitation in Israel and Palestine is based upon a discriminatory system, which privileges Israeli institutions while denying Palestinians our basic human rights to water and sanitation.  Palestinians are not suffering human rights violations due to a lack of technology or scientific advancement.  We are suffering because of the Israeli occupation that will not allow us to enjoy our full rights to our groundwater and surface water, and will not even allow us to construct facilities for treating our wastewater.  We are committed to taking non-violent action to bring these and other human rights violations to an end.

Placing Israel’s water and sanitation policies in context

Israel prevents Palestinians from developing normal water infrastructure and from continuing to use the natural resources that we have been using for centuries.  As Palestinians, we are limited to merely 17% of the water under our land, even though more than 80% of the rain that recharges the shared groundwater falls over the West Bank. [1] Israelis consume on average more than 3-and-a-half times as much water per capita than Palestinians. [2] Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley export water-intensive crops to Europe, virtually exporting an amount of water equal to about ¼ of the total amount of water that 2.5 million Palestinians have for domestic purposes, agriculture and industry [3]—while many of our people are surviving on just 20 liters of water per person per day! [4] Springs located amid Palestinian farmland between Palestinian villages continue to be stolen by illegal Israeli settlers with support of the Israeli military. [5]

Discriminatory policies in wastewater infrastructure development are also appalling, and particularly relevant to understanding why we are getting behind this call on the University of Johannesburg to terminate its cooperation with Ben-Gurion University.

The biggest obstacle to wastewater treatment in the West Bank is Israeli negotiators, Israeli policy makers and the Israeli military.  The Palestinian Authority has funds ready from the international donor community for the development of wastewater infrastructure, the plans are ready, everything is ready – but Israeli permission is denied [6].  Even one time, in a fifteen-year window, when Israeli permission was given for the Salfit Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Israeli military interfered and shut down the project. [7] Israel paid the German contractors a million shekels worth of apology for shutting down the project after it had been fully permitted.  Meanwhile, the rest of the wastewater projects applied for from 1996 on, still were not permitted by 2010, again, despites millions of dollars of funds at the ready, leaving the only completed wastewater treatment facility in the West Bank, one that was built in the tiny window after Oslo before the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee was formed. [8]

Today in Gaza, Israel’s blockade is preventing the import of building materials, spare parts, and energy needed for even the most basic treatment of wastewater. [9] Even PVC for the pipe factory is prohibited.  Chemicals for desalinating the brackish water that comes from the ground are prohibited [10].  Several sewage basins built in Rafah, along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, were lined with slabs from the cement wall that once existed along the border between Gaza and Egypt [11] before fortunately being dismantled when Hamas came to power.  In Beit Lahia, in the north of the Gaza Strip, a foreseeable collapse of a sewage basin caused 5 residents of the village Um An-Nasser to drown to death in sewage, because materials needed were denied entry despite desperate calls from local authorities and the UN on Israel to avert this disaster. [12] The UN and other agencies continue to invest hundreds upon thousands of hours in negotiating with Israeli authorities for the entrance of certain priority materials, including the most basic spare parts and building supplies needed for safe water and sewage infrastructure.

For Palestinian citizens of Israel, despite paying equal or higher taxes (for not serving in the army), sewage infrastructure is not a given.  Some Palestinian neighborhoods of Lid (Lydda), for example, do not have basic sewage pipes, while Jewish Israelis who have moved to the city in recent years receive necessary sewage infrastructure.

The Israeli colonial regime which continues to take more Palestinian land and water resources and deny Palestinians their most basic human rights has let its politics of appropriating Palestinian land for the Jewish state prevent the construction of the most normal and basic water and sanitation projects.  We call on departments at Ben-Gurion University and ultimately the university itself to condemn and distance itself from Israel’s water policies, which are directly responsible for grave human rights abuses.  Short of this, it is difficult to see how research at BGU and UJ’s participation in any research could achieve anything less than the wholesale legitimitization of an illegal and discriminatory system.  We hope that the UJ-BGU campaign, in calling for a severing of UJ’s links with Israeli institutions, will succeed in putting pressure on the state of Israel to allow Palestinians to enjoy their full rights, including their rights to water and sanitation. 

Achieving ethical research

For anyone to claim that the boycott movement, which aims merely to achieve basic human rights and accountability to international law, is introducing politics into normal research projects, while Israel has used military force against international law to prevent even a single wastewater treatment facility from being built in 15 years for a population of 2.5 million people – well, this would be plain hypocrisy.  On the contrary, we are campaigning to put pressure on Israel so that the rights to water and sanitation no longer fall victim to politics, so that the occupation, colonization and siege end and everyone is free to enjoy their rights.

It is true that Israel has a number of green practices, which are to be commended, as we note that,
“Palestinians do not have the freedom to be green.”  They do not even have the freedom to treat their sewage!

Any research concerning water purification in the region is failing to adequately define the problem and the context if it fails to mention that the single most major obstacle to the development of sanitation systems in the West Bank is the Israeli military and colonial occupation, and, in Gaza, the siege.  Water purification technology that does not require Israeli permission – namely, technology whose implementation does not require digging, or use of concrete or steel – if made accessible to Palestinians, would do a lot to improve the treatment of wastewater in Palestinian territory.  However, what we really need to improve the situation of our people is to end the occupation, colonization, and siege.

There are some who would like us to overlook the direct connections between BGU’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research (BIDR), BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR), and BGU’s Microalgal Biotechnology Laboratory (MBL) with the Jewish National Fund, which has expropriated vast properties belonging to millions of Palestinians exclusively for persons of “Jewish nationality,” [13] and Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest “private” military contractor [14].  Some prefer to highlight positive aspects of one or more of these departments. 

However, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is not about penalizing some universities or departments and rewarding others.  It is about ending the 44 year military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan Heights, demanding respect for all UN-sanctioned Palestinian rights, including the right to water and sanitation and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes occupied in 1948, and about resisting the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem. 
These are long-term goals.  We will need to make some sacrifices in the meantime.  Despite any perceived benefits from the research agreement in question or any endeavor in any Israeli university, we believe that the PACBI-led and South Africa-inspired campaign for boycotting Israeli academic and cultural institutions due to their complicity in Israel’s occupation and apartheid is one of the tools that will bring us our full rights, as we see that ultimately boycott, including the academic and cultural boycott, is a peaceful and effective way to put real and sustained pressure on Israel to comply with the norms we have established for our global community including a respect for human rights and international law.


LifeSource is a Palestinian organization supporting a popular movement for Palestinian water justice. LifeSource has been active in Palestine the last three years working with communities on the ground to understand their options and taking action to resist Israel’s colonization of Palestinian water resources.  http://www.lifesource.ps/


[1] Using consumption figures from the Israeli Hydrological Service and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, occupied Palestinian territory.

[2] B’tselem analysis using Palestinian Water Authprity and Israeli Water Authority figures posted on their website:

[3] According to Oslo, for a five-year period from 1995-2000, Israelis were permitted to abstract 40 million cubic meters from the Eastern Aquifer, which lies almost completely within the West Bank (Oslo II Agreement, Article XXXX), an amount the illegal Israeli colonies continue to exploit today, while according to various sources including the Palestinian Water Authority and the Israeli Water Authority, total water supply to Palestinians in the West Bank today is between 152 and 180 million cubic meters.

[4] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, occupied Palestinian territory.

[5] Such as springs at Nabi Saleh in northern Ramallah district and Wadrahal in Bethlehem district, just to name two recent examples where the theft is current or only recently transpired.

[6] The World Bank, “Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Sector Development”.

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, occupied Palestinian territory.

[10] Ibid

[11] A project of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

[12] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, occupied Palestinian territory. The
World Bank, “Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Sector Development”.

[13] The following two reports on the JNF were submitted by the Human Rights organization, Adalah, to the United Nations:

[14] Elbit Systems is one of two main providers of the electronic detection fence to the Separation Wall; the Wall is deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice. Furthermore, the company supplied Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) to the Israeli army, which are in operational use during combat in the West Bank and Gaza: