[To sign this Call for Action statement, click here.]
The undersigned scholars of water and environment condemn Israel's weaponization of water in the occupation of Palestine and particularly in the ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip. For decades Israel has weaponized water against Palestinians by depriving them of potable water, water for agriculture, and rendering wastewater systems inoperable, and has now extended this crime by turning seawater into a force for environmental and human destruction. We recognize that Israel’s weaponization of water is part and parcel of the settler colonial weaponization of water that has occurred around the world, and that continues today on Turtle Island (Center for Constitutional Rights). We echo Lakota assertions of the truth that “Mni Wiconi,” Water is Life, which is a vision understood by so many Indigenous people (Water Protectors Legal Collective). We see this viscerally today in the threats to life and well-being due to dehydration, water-borne illnesses, loss of agriculture, and more due to Israel’s war on Gaza.
In contravention of international humanitarian and human rights laws (OHCHR), since October 7th Israel has cut off drinking water supply lines and damaged or completely destroyed wells, pumping stations and desalination plants across the Gaza Strip (Human Rights Watch). According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on November 17th, “public sewage pumping stations, 60 water wells in the south, the two main desalination plants in Rafah and the Middle Area, two main sewage pumps in the south, and the Rafah wastewater treatment plant have all ceased operations” (OHCHR).
The targeting of water infrastructure has been an ongoing and systematic tactic (Oxfam). In November 2023 only, and after the land invasion, Israel occupied the main water infrastructure in Gaza (NPR); through air strikes and military attacks Israel has damaged or destroyed much of the water and sanitation capacity in the Gaza Strip (ARIJ). It has cut off electricity and fuel supplies making it impossible to run what remains of Gaza’s desalination capacity and causing the mass shut down of sewage and sanitation systems (Oxfam) which has led to 130,000 cubic meters of untreated water discharging into the Mediterranean Sea every day (Oxfam). The WHO estimates that in an emergency situation one person needs between 7.5 and 20 liters per day; the UN Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) program estimates that currently each Gazan can only access about three liters a day. This severe lack of clean water compounds the effects of Israel's blockade of food and medical supplies to exacerbate the already dire circumstances of the displaced and bombarded Gaza population. As Hiba Tibo (2023), Care’s Gaza and West Bank country director, put it, “My biggest fear is that waterborne disease and dehydration will be more destructive than bombing.”
Since 1967, Israel has claimed control over all water resources and has restricted Palestinians from collecting rainwater, building wells, or even maintaining them without permits (Amnesty International). Anera’s 2022 Report, “Responding to Gaza’s Existential Water Crisis,” details how decades of overuse (due to Israeli restrictions on alternative water sources), exacerbated greatly by the blockade on Gaza since 2007, has resulted in seawater intrusion into the Coastal Aquifer that supplies roughly 80% of Gaza’s drinking water. Israeli restrictions on the materials needed to build or maintain sewage infrastructures have led untreated sewage and agricultural runoff to additionally pollute the Aquifer. In 2010 the United Nations Environment Programme declared that 95% of the water in the strip had become undrinkable (B'tselem). There have been longstanding challenges of insufficient wastewater processing capacity, and Israel has repeatedly targeted water and wastewater infrastructure during previous attacks on Gaza (Weinthal and Sowers 2019). For example, in the most recent previous attack on Gaza in 2021, the World Bank highlighted 135 locations of damage to water pipelines, along with damage to 1,500 domestic water connections and 30 water wells, resulting in a 30% decrease of water supply per capita during the bombings. Nor are these issues restricted to the Gaza Strip, as is demonstrated in this B’tselem video of Israel pouring concrete into irrigation canals in the West Bank in June of 2023 (B’tselem).
Gaza’s thirst and the condition of the Coastal Aquifer is likely to get much worse due to Israel's plan to pump thousands of gallons of seawater into the ground under the Gaza Strip. On December 12th, Israel began testing a project to flood Hamas’ tunnels with the stated aim of rendering them inoperable. They began by setting up five pumps near the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, which are “capable of flooding the tunnels within weeks by pumping thousands of cubic meters of water per hour into them” according to The Times of Israel. Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, reviewed satellite imagery from the 8th of October through the 10th of December that “reveals Israeli water pumping infrastructure in and around [one of Gaza’s most important] archaeological site[s].” They “identified pipes and an earth mound over 4.5m high in a video posted by the IOF on 6 Dec.”
This inundation of seawater threatens to further degrade the quality of the Coastal Aquifer and have devastating, long-term, and irreparable consequences to the environment in Gaza and all who live there. Moreover, the potential efficacy of this plan is disputed, as Dr. Abdel Rahman al-Tamimi, the general manager of the Palestinian Hydrology Group, amply laid out in this interview with Wattan news agency.
Environmental Impacts: *Depending on the quantity of water and the reach of the tunnels, the seawater has the potential to significantly salinate the already-deteriorated Coastal Aquifer, which extends from Israel to Gaza to Sinai (Al-Tamimi, Pravda-en). Destroying this coastal aquifer is destroying the only constant, independent source of fresh water in Gaza. Additionally, although the aquifer’s movement is from Israel to Gaza, the Israeli settlements on the borders of Gaza will also be affected (The Times of Israel). *If the process is extended for weeks as planned, this will result in significant salinization of the soil of Gaza and its surroundings, which will make any agricultural activities impossible there for years (Al-Tamimi). It’s a modern-day salting of the fields, which has always been a tactic intended to make a place uninhabitable for generations. This is over and above the damage to the water and soil quality from all the phosphoric and other bombs that Israel has dropped on Gaza.
*The concentration of salt and movement of significant amounts of water in the area’s subsurface will destabilize the built environment, further damaging what remains of infrastructure and buildings in Gaza.
Moreover, the ability of this flooding tactic to succeed in the stated aim of rendering the tunnels inoperable is uncertain due to a lack of information about the tunnels' length, building materials, structures, and location. According to Dr. Al-Tamimi, the consistency of the soil (dense or sandy), and the possibility that Hamas has built wells that could either push water back out to the sea (or serve as shortcuts into the Aquifer) add additional confounding variables to the technical execution of the plan. The likelihood of success is further cast into doubt by the failure of a similar method used by Egypt (Haaretz) to close down smuggling tunnels under the border between Egypt and Gaza.
In an expression of concern, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Jeremy Lawrence told RIA that, “according to the laws of war, every attack must be justified in terms of military necessity, precaution and proportionality and cannot be excessive in terms of damage caused to civilians or civilian objects,” and further stated that they were “concerned about a number of negative consequences for human rights, some of which are long-term, as a result of pumping large amounts of salt water underground.” The larger context of climate change impacts in the region means that the damage inflicted by Israel is further degrading an already-endangered environmental future in Palestine. According to the IPCC’s sixth report, the Mediterranean region is warming faster than the global average, a “climate change hotspot,” resulting in declining ecosystems and decreases in the availability of surface and groundwater.
Therefore, the undersigned call for an an immediate end to Israel’s weaponization of water against Palestinians, including but not limited to:
1. The implementation of a negotiated, immediate, and sustainable ceasefire that guarantees resolution of water problems.
2. An immediate end to Israel’s pumping of seawater into the tunnels under Gaza.
3. An immediate opening of border crossings by Egypt and Israel to allow:
- the entrance of sufficient bottled water and water tankers into the Gaza Strip to adequately provision all 2.3 million residents of Gaza throughout the strip from south to north with the WHO’s recommended amount of 20 liters per day of potable water during emergency conditions, and on the way at least to restoring access to the WHO’s minimum daily requirement of 100 liters per person per day;
- the entrance of sufficient fuel to run desalination and wastewater treatment plants, along with pumping stations and other necessary infrastructure;
- the entrance of construction materials to repair damaged infrastructure;
- the entrance of needed experts to deal with technical challenges (engineers, hydrologists, etc.);
- the entrance of sufficient food and medical supplies to meet the needs of Gaza’s population;
- the exit of injured and ill people to seek medical care outside of Gaza.
4. An immediate and complete reopening of the three potable water pipelines from Israel into the Gaza Strip, and resumption of electricity supplies into Gaza.
5. Israel and the international community recognize Palestinians’ right to the water under and above their land, and their right to have the sovereign and secure infrastructure needed to utilize and sustain those resources.
These destructive tactics violate international humanitarian law, and not only harm Gaza's current residents, but also set the stage to harm many generations to come in Palestine and beyond.
[See below for a bibliography and list of organizations to support.]
Rabab Abdulhadi, San Francisco State University
Malek Abisaab, Arab Left Forum
Motasem Abushaban, Mohammed VI Polytechnic University
Amitangshu Acharya, IHE Delft
Sandino Acosta, UAM (México)
Majed Akhter, King's College London
Khalid Al-Kubati, IHE-Delft, Institute for Water Education
Samer Alatout, University of Wisconsin, Maddison
Nidal alazza, Director of Badil resource centre for residency and refugee rights
Diana Allan, McGill University
Nikhil Anand, University of Pennsylvania
Gary Anderson, Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME) ; Registered Professional Engineer and project manager for 2005-6 design of Gaza Regional Water Carrier project
Chandana Anusha, Northwestern University
Elizabeth Baldwin, University of Arizona
Andrea Ballestero, University of Southern California
Zeinab Benchakroun, Freelance coach
Denise Bergman, Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine
Nick Bernards, University of Warwick
Amita Bhakta, Visiting Scholar, UCL/independent academic
Regina Birchem, NCIS
Amahl Bishara, Tufts University
Fahad Ahmad Bishara, University of Virginia
Jo Bluen, London School of Economics
Meg du Bray, University of Northern Colorado
Kristin Brig-Ortiz, Johns Hopkins University
Jens de Bruijn, Institute for Environmental Studies, VUA
Rodrigo Charafeddine Bulamah, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
Danyka Byrnes, UWaterloo
Nerea Calvillo, Univeristy of Warwick
Jose A. Cañada, University of Helsinki
Alida Cantor, Portland State University
Carolina Sá Carvalho, University of Toronto
Giulio Castelli, University of Florence
Dean Chahim, New York University
Yung En Chee, The University of Melbourne
Iqra Shagufta Cheema, Graceland University
Vivian Choi, St. Olaf College
Nigel Clark, Lancaster University
Katie Collins, the Natural History Museum London
Qurratul Ain Contractor, IHE-Delft
Gabriela Cuadrado-Quesada, IHE-Delft, Institute for Water Education
Rohan D'Souza, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Muna Dajani, LSE
Darien De Lu, President, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, U.S.
Camelia Dewan, university of Oslo
Calynn Dowler, Vanderbilt University
Sara Driscoll - Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine
Hager Ben Driss, University of Tunis
Melanie DuPuis, Pace University
John Durant, Tufts University
Nevine El Nossery, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Naglaa El-Abbadi, Tufts University
Nabeel El-hady, Cairo University
Julia Elyachar, Princeton University
Lamis Essam, University of Miami
Susan Etscovitz, Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine
Tessa Farmer, University of Virginia
Mayra Flores, Dartmouth College
Leslie Ford, Pennsylvania State University
Anna M. Gade, University of Wisconsin
Mary Galvin, University of Johannesburg
Grete Gansauer, Montana State University
Stephen Gasteyer, Michigan State University
Giovanna Gioli, Bath Spa University
Ann Glick, Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine
Kevin Gould, Concordia University
Radhika Govindrajan, University of Washington
Zareena Grewal, Yale University
Luin Goldring, York University, Toronto
Tatiana Acevedo Guerrero, Utrecht University
Shubhra Gururani, York University
Peter Habib, Emory University
David Hall, Auckland University of Technology
Michelle Hak Hepburn, UBC Vancouver
Leila Harris, University of British Columbia
Maira Hayat, University of Notre Dame
Dr. Matt Henry, University of Wyoming
Antonia Hernandez, Concordia University
Colin Hoag, Smith College
Natasha Iskander, New York University—Wagner School of Public Service
Roshan Iqbal, Agnes Scott College
Kalyani Monteiro Jayasankar, University of Southern California
Wendy Jepson, Texas A&M University, Director, Household Water Insecurity Experiences Research Coordination Network (HWISE-RCN)
Ryan Cecil Jobson, University of Chicago
Khalid Kadir, UC Berkeley
Pamela Katic, NRI University of Greenwich
Jeltsje Kemerink-Seyoum, IHE Delft
Shamama Khalid, Durham College
Noor-Aiman Khan, Colgate University
Gabi Kirk, Cal Poly Humboldt
Shannon Kisa, Teacher, School District of Janesville, WI
Joseph Klein, University of California, Santa Cruz
Kathryn Kueny, Fordham University
Ekin Kurtic, Northwestern University
Yanna Lambrinidou, Virginia Tech
Owain Lawson, Cardiff University
Maria Raquel Passos Lima, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
Elizabeth MacAfee, Radboud University, The Netherlands
Barbara Magalhães Teixeira, Lund University
Hassan Mahomed, Stellenbosch University
Chowra Makaremi, anthropologist, CNRS Paris
Muhammad Irfan Malik,Tsinghua University. Beijing
Mary Ann Manahan, Ghent University
Sushmita Mandal, Stockholm Environment Institute
Tony Martel, Nelson Mandela University
Alessia Matanó, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Wendy Matsumura, UC San Diego
Tanya Matthan, LSE
Marina Reyes Lopez Mautner, Stockholm Environment Institute
Carlota McAllister, York University
Heather McFarlin, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Stuart McLean, University of Minnesota
Lyla Mehta, Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex
Haynes Miller, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Alaa Attiah Mitwaly, University of Toronto
Ruth Morgan, Australian National University
Diana Montano, Washington University
Nadira Mukhamejan, UNIGE
Mahtowin Munro, United American Indians of New England
M Murphy, University of Toronto
Nancy Murray, Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine
Daanish Mustafa, King’s College London
Mohammad Nabijalali, Ph.D Researcher at University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran
Richa Nagar, University of Minnesota
Arif Hayat Nairang, University of Houston
Raul Pacheco-Vega, FLACSO Mexico
Palestinian Hydrology Group
Saumya Pandey, Ghent University
Ankur Parashar, South Asian University
Riccardo Petrini, Dept Earth Sciences University of Pisa - Italy
Dr Thao Phan, Monash University
Kavita Philip, UBC
Susan Phillips, Pitzer College
Andrea E. Pia, London School of Economics
Camila Pierobon - San Diego State University
Elliott Prasse-Freeman, National University of Singapore
Ritu Priya, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi
Asifa Quraishi-Landes, U. Wisconsin Law School
Norma Rantisi, Concordia University
Yuda Rasyadian, University of Oregon
Viviana Re, Pisa University
Luísa Reis-Castro, University of Southern California
Lisa Rofel, University of California, Santa Cruz
Eleanor Roffman, Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine
Pam Rogers, Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine
Elliot Rooney, Water Security & Sustainable Development Hub
Andrew Ross, NYU
Marleen de Ruiter, Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam
Maria Rusca, University of Manchester
Lynn Sableman BSN RN (WILPF MEMBER)
Parag Jyoti Saikia, UNC Chapel Hill
Luis Miguel Silva-Novoa Sánchez, RPTU Kaiserslautern-Landau University
Nadine Sander, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education
David Scales, Weill Cornell Medicine
Antina von Schnitzler, The New School
Raka Sen, University of Pennsylvania
Sameer H. Shah, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington
Sarah Shields, University of North Carolina
Erin Simmons - The New School
Fairouz Slama, National Engineering School of Tunis, University of Tunis El Manar
Thomas Smucker, Ohio University
Antonia Sohns, McGill University
Mohaned Sousi, IHE Delft
Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Bard College
Farhana Sultana, Syracuse University
Eric SUYRU PhD, Ethics and Public Policy Laboratory, Catholic University of Central Africa, Cameroon
Shilpi Srivastava, Institute of Development Studies
Chilton Tippin, CU Boulder
Pedro de la Torre III, John Jay College (CUNY)
Fadime Uzun, IHE Delft
Pavithra Vasudevan, The University of Texas at Austin
Cristina Violante, UC Berkeley
Noura Wahby, American University in Cairo
Hina Walajahi, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Karen Waltorp, University of Copenhagen
Marthe Wens, Institute for Environmental Studies, VUA
Margaret Wiener, University of North Carolina
Drew Robert Winter, Lansing Community College
Lizzie Yarina, MIT
Muhammad Yasir, Wuhan University, China
Mark Zeitoun, Geneva Graduate Institute
Christiana Zenner, Fordham University
Elana Zilberg, Nature, Space and Politics, Human Rights and Migration Program, University of California San Diego
Margreet Zwarteveen, IHE Delft
Organizations doing work on water in Palestine
1for3. One Organization/Three Palestinian Rights: Water, Health, and Education https://www.1for3.org/
Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine https://www.waterjusticeinpalestine.org/
Anera, International Development & Relief Foundation: https://www.anera.org/what-we-do/water/
Right to Water Campaign by Stop the Wall: https://stopthewall.org/right2water/
Ahmed, A. Kayum. 2023. “Israeli Authorities’ Cutting of Water Leading to Public Health Crisis in Gaza.” Human Rights Watch (blog). November 16, 2023. https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/11/16/israeli-authorities-cutting-water-leading-public-health-crisis-gaza.
Al Jazeera English, dir. 2023. “Flooding Tunnels in Gaza Will Be ‘Disastrous’: Analysis.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Acq-BmqwJrQ.
Amnesty International. 2017. “The Occupation of Water.” Amnesty International. November 29, 2017. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2017/11/the-occupation-of-water/.
ANERA. 2022. “Before the Tap Runs Dry: Responding to Israel’s Existential Water Crisis.” Volume 11. ANERA Reports: On the Ground in the Middle East. Anera. https://www.anera.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Anera-Report-Water-Gaza-Palestine-spreads.pdf.
Applied Research Institute. 2023. “People in Gaza Need Water–Now.” October 19, 2023. https://www.arij.org/latest/people-in-gaza-need-water-now/
Brumfiel, Geoff, Alyson Hurt, and Brent Jones. 2023. “Israeli Forces in Gaza Control the Ground around Critical Water Facilities.” National Public Radio. November 10, 2023. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2023/11/10/1211567204/satellite-images-israeli-military-hold-ground-around-gaza-water-facilities.
B’Tselem. 2010. “23 August 2010: Water Supplied in Gaza Unfit for Drinking; Israel Prevents Entry of Materials Needed to Repair System.” August 23, 2010. http://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip/20100823_gaza_water_crisis.
———. 2023. “Israel Pours Concrete into Well and Destroys Irrigation System in the Palestinian Village of Al-Hijrah, South of Hebron.” B’Tselem. August 3, 2023. http://www.btselem.org/video/20230803_civil_administration_pours_concrete_into_irrigation_wells_used_and_destroys_pipe_in_al_hijrah_south_of_hebron.
Center for Constitutional Rights. 2021. “Episode 44: Fighting for Turtle Island: A conversation with Indigenous Water Protectors.” November 24, 2021.
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank. 2021. “The Gaza 2021 Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment.” World Bank. June 2021. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/westbankandgaza/publication/the-gaza-2021-rapid-damage-and-needs-assessment-june-2021.
Khalidi, Bushra. 2023. “The Unfolding Water Catastrophe in Gaza.” Oxfam: Views and Voices. November 10, 2023. https://views-voices.oxfam.org.uk/2023/11/water-catastrophe-gaza/.
Khoury, Jack. 2013. “Hamas: Egypt Destroying Gaza Smuggling Tunnels by Flooding Them.” Haaretz, February 11, 2013. https://www.haaretz.com/2013-02-11/ty-article/.premium/egypt-flooding-gaza-smuggling-tunnels/0000017f-f559-d460-afff-ff7f4a250000.
Oxfam. 2023. “Gazans Face Threat of Cholera and Other Infectious Diseases, Says Oxfam.” Oxfam International. October 17, 2023. https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/gazans-face-threat-cholera-and-other-infectious-diseases-says-oxfam.
Pravda. 2023. “The UN Warned about the Consequences of Flooding Tunnels in Gaza for Human Rights.” December 14, 2023. https://pravda-en.com/world/2023/12/14/223230.html.
Surkes, Sue. 2023. “Flooding Hamas Tunnels Could Harm Gaza’s Freshwater for Generations, Warns Academic.” The Times of Israel. December 5, 2023. https://www.timesofisrael.com/flooding-hamas-tunnels-could-harm-gazas-freshwater-for-generations-warns-academic/.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 2023. “Israel Must Stop Using Water as a Weapon of War: UN Expert.” OHCHR. November 17, 2023. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2023/11/israel-must-stop-using-water-weapon-war-un-expert.
United Nations U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2023. “Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report.” March 20, 2023. https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/
Watan News Agency, dir. 2023. شد حيلك يا وطن عبد الرحمن التميمي Interview with Abdel Rahman Al-Tamimi. https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=aXDQW24LXUg&embeds_referring_euri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.wattan.net%2F&source_ve_path=MjM4NTE&feature=emb_title.
Water Protectors Legal Collective. n.d. https://www.waterprotectorlegal.org/
Weinthal, Erika, and Jeannie Sowers. 2019. “Targeting Infrastructure and Livelihoods in the West Bank and Gaza.” International Affairs 95 (2): 319–40. https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiz015.