Playing with Water

Susya toilet under demolition order by the Israeli army (Amnesty International, “TROUBLED WATERS – PALESTINIANS DENIED FAIR ACCESS TO WATER”, p.2 )

Water in Israel is probably one of the most blatant faces of apartheid. As reports like the Amnesty International report of 2009, “Troubled Waters” and the B’tselem website coverage of the issue, “The Water Crisis” show us,  Israel’s resources are invested in water theft/access denial from Palestinians. But water in Israel is not just a substance of life, for those who can’t have it, it’s a tradable commodity, for those who’ll never miss it.

Like a Fish in National Waters

Water resources in Israel are all state-owned. Naturally- as is usually the case within the militaristic, nationalistic Israel- the state will allocate these resources to serve its “national needs”. Water theft is a good example of “negative” policy, which is so obviously discriminatory, violent and inexcusable, that the only way to sell it to the public is not to mention it at all. True to form, when cave- dwelling Palestinians are kicked out of their caves and their harvesting canisters (on the cave roof?) are destroyed [“Troubled Waters”, p.2], there’s no Israeli media around to record it, spin it and dish it. “Positive” policy, however, is always easy to sell. After all, we “dried the swamps and made the wilderness bloom”, and the environmental devastation of swamp drying still isn’t being taught in schools.

Sixty years on, “pure” Zionism is a little hard to sell. But there’s no 20th-century-colonial-ideology sales-gap too deep for a 21st-century-capitalist-ideology to leap in a single bound. Even if there are obvious cons, government companies can always hire a copywriter to make you believe that the only viable solution for water scarcity is a fossil-fuel operated desalination system:

Left: Disputed waters (Google Earth with annotations) Right: Israel’s natural water resources (Israel Water Authority with annotations)

All my life it’s been pumped into my head that “there’s no water” and that “we must conserve water”. So it was rather strange that after 27 years, all of a sudden, “we must conserve water for only 3 years.” This sly little advertisement for the already operating desalination plant gets even more devious, as it’s actually a follow-up to a campaign, by the Water Authority, made up of a series of guilting and fear-mongering advertisements, that focus on the Kineret lake (bordering on occupied Syrian territory) as the only source of (natural) water in Israel:

In order to stay focused, I’ll skip the racial-socioeconomic-feminist-Fisking this time, and go straight to the question at hand: Why is the National Water Authority encouraging a scary thought, such as understanding that there’s only one water source in Israel, when in fact, there are two more aquifers, larger than the Kineret lake, mentioned in their website [Hebrew]?

Governmental Osmosis

Who is the National Water Authority? This is what Wikipedia had to say:

The National Water Authority or Mekorot is a state-owned bulk water supplier, whose main functions are to establish and manage the National Water System (also known as the National Water Carrier).

I admit that while I knew Mekorot was the national water supplier, I didn’t know it’s actually what is known as the “National Water Authority”. One could argue that this doesn’t matter, as they are both governmentally managed, but it seems like the National Water Authority is adopting a rather corporate-PR manner:

Mekorot [the National Water Authority] is one of the world’s most technologically advanced water companies.
Seventy years of innovation in the face of Israel’s significant environmental and security challenges have made Mekorot [the National Water Authority] a world leader in desalination, water reclamation, water project engineering, water safety and water quality.

Through continual research, experimentation and field innovation, Mekorot [the National Water Authority] provides a steady flow of clean water to a rapidly growing population despite the region’s limited freshwater resources, arid climate and difficult geopolitical realities.

Mekorot’s [the National Water Authority’s] uniqueness as a water utility lies in its unparalleled experience, know-how, technologies and innovative processes for the management, operation and treatment of all types of water resources, whether surface water, underground water, brackish water, seawater or effluents.

This is the same National Water Authority that’s supposed to be busy managing water distribution to Palestinian farmers in the West Bank. But not for long:

The Water and Sewerage Corporations Law of 2001 provides for the gradual transfer of water and sewerage services from the municipalities to newly created corporate entities…

If water is being privatized, it means some won’t have enough to pay for it, and some are making a lot of money off of it. Mekorot/the National Water Authority is definitely quacking like a corporate duck:

Most of Israel’s $1.4 billion in water tech exports last year wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the government-owned water carrier and water tech company, chairman Eli Ronen tells ISRAEL21c. Mekorot transformed Israel into a global water leader by making water research and policy a national priority decades ago… Mekorot already manages about 30 small desalination plants in the south of Israel, and the idea is to do something similar with the brackish water along the southern California Pacific coast.

The Ashkelon desalination plant, less than 4 miles off of Gaza waters.

So if the Israeli public shows no objection to desalination (no one is asking the Palestinian public), then Israel (Ashkelon- less than 6 kilometers/4 miles from Gaza waters) can be used as a live experiment (or “test-site” as the ISRAEL21c  article unabashedly calls it) for a fossil-fueled water-tampering project that will be exported even before it goes into full use (in three years time).

How is the Israeli public so easily pacified? That’s right! Emergency regulations for their own security:

The Committee finally reached the conclusion that the  situation in the water sector fulfills the conditions that appears in article 50(a) of Basic Law: the Government, regarding the
introduction of emergency regulations, which states:  “In a state of emergency, the Government is entitled to introduce emergency regulations in order to defend… the existence
of vital supplies and services…” , and decided to recommend the introduction of regulations, at the center of which would be:

  • (a) Authorizing the Water Commissioner to diminish production, supply or consumption of water of various sources, or from a specific defined source, should the hydrological or climatic conditions make this necessary;
  • (b) Authorizing the Water Commissioner to issue new production licenses, adapted to the emergency, that will enable him to implement changes in the production licenses, by means of quick procedures, on the basis of his professional discretion;
  • (c) Authorizing the Water Commissioner to initiate and publish tenders for the establishment of enterprises for the development of new water sources, and to advance projects in the water sector, by means of quick procedures within an approved budgetary framework, while preserving the professional and administrative authority in his own hands;
  • (d) Establishing special planning committees to approve enterprises and projects in the water sector by means of a short and quick procedure, as long as the regulations are in force;
  • (e) Authorizing the Water Commissioner to connect private wells to the national water sector, and to activate wells that went out of use in the past, with the goal of supplying potable water and water for home consumption;
  • (f) Authorizing the Water Commissioner to instruct the local authorities and the water associations to manage the water sectors efficiently and frugally, including the installation or changing of accessories or installations to ensure the efficient use of water;
  • (g) Authorizing the Water Commission to stop production, supply or consumption of water immediately, in any case of a danger of contamination;
  • (h) Authorizing the Water Commissioner to enforce comprehensive inspection, to enter any location and to perform any act necessary to protect a source of water, in order to preserve it and ensure the uphold the conditions in the license.  The Commissioner will be authorized to impose financial sanctions, and hold criminal proceedings, to close a water source and suspend a production license, to the extent required;
  • (i) Concentrating the legislative powers on water matters, in the hands of the Prime Minister;
  • (j) Authorizing the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Minister of Finance, the Minister for National Infrastructures, and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, to fix the various water prices and production levies during theemergency period, according to the needs.

Let’s see if I got this right: In case of “emergency” (=threat real or imagined?)  my government can take the law into it’s own hands and stop all production, supply or consumption of water; give quicky license for whatever nutjob says they’ve got a solution to aforementioned “emergency”; steal water from private wells; force me to use government-deemed “efficient” and “frugal” “accessories”; infiltrate and close off sources of water and impose fines and jail time; give the Prime Minister all legislative powers on water; and last but not least change water prices.

Taking Desalination with a Grain of Salt

Maybe in our capitalist world, government entities are best to export technologies for the highest bitter. After all, the money is invested right back in the public interest, right?

As I said, if water is being privatized, it means someone is making a lot of money off of it. The Israeli government doesn’t really have the know-how, or the money to put into giant projects like desalination. So naturally it contracts companies that do:

The contract was formally awarded by the Israeli Ministries of National Infrastructure and Finance, on behalf of the Government of Israel. VID, the special-purpose JVC, comprises IDE Technologies (50% and lead partner) and Veolia (50%). Originally, Veolia and Dankner-Ellern Infrastructure held 25% each. However, Dankner-Ellern’s stake was later sold to Veolia Water (earlier Vivendi Water).

The engineer, procure and construct (EPC) contractor was OTID, a joint venture company formed by IDE and OTV (Veolia Group). Israel Chemicals and Delek Group are equal-share partners in IDE Technologies. Operation and maintenance is the responsibility of Adam, a joint venture company of IDE and Veolia.

The reverse osmosis membrane elements were provided by the Dow Chemical Company and the temperature and pressure transmitters by Smar. Mekorot distributes the product water.

So for all you BDS fans out there, let’s see who do we have here?

Mekorot/the National Water Authority/the Government of Israel
Of course, which only has the ability to distribute water and initiate ambitious projects via the Israeli government.

IDE Technologies
IDE Technologies sells itself as a “pioneer and world leader in water technologies” and “green water treatment”. Outside the fantasy land of corporate blather and Getty Images,  IDE Technologies is actually Israel Chemicals and Delek Group:

Both Tshuva and Sammy Ofer’s businesses are heavily rooted in fossil fuels. They are also of the 20 families known to control Israel’s economy; together, all 20 families comprise 50% of the total market share in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, owning the majority of Israel’s natural resources.

Veolia is a multinational French company operating in the fields of water, waste management, energy and transport services. It may be out of the Light Rail project, but it’s still knee-deep in settlement trash.

Dow Chemicals
I doubt Dow Chemicals needs an introduction, but just to be on the safe side:

…an American multinational corporation… As of 2007, it is the second largest chemical manufacturer in the world by revenue… and as of February 2009, the third-largest chemical company in the world by market capitalization.

Looking at the History section of the Dow Chem Wikipedia page (quoted above), we find it’s been involved in the arms trade since WWII, with subsections devoted to its involvement in nuclear weapons production, napalm and the infamous “Agent Orange.” It’s environmental record has the worst chemical spills to it’s name world wide, and countless lawsuits as a result of pollution-caused deaths and diseases.

Smar is a Brazilian company that designs and manufactures specialized industry equipment. It’s working on the desalination project through it’s exclusive Israeli representative, Technomad, who’s list of customers [end of the page] include Mekorot and Israel Desalination Engineering (the aforementioned IDE Tech), of course, and an endless list of other natural resources that were sold to the Ofer Brothers and others of the 20 families for dirt-cheap.

Thus we come full circle. While Dow chemicals can continue leaking world-wide, and Veolia can continue cleaning up after settlers, and the Ofer family and Yitzhak Tshuva can continue emptying this little patch of yellow earth for what it’s worth. And all in the name of a wad of cash and an environmentally unsound method of creating drinking water out of salt water (I remember when it seemed harmless to clean out of swamps), when there’s a plethora of available solutions [Hebrew], that the government isn’t willing to take.

Apartheid PR in the Service of Capitalism in the Service of Apartheid PR…

Approximately 500 tons of Iron hydroxide and many more tons of Phosphorus flow into the sea in a year from the Ashdod desalination plant. (Picture from the “Tzalul” association)

So why would Israel, that parades itself around as a “green leader”, promote an environmentally unsound method of water cleansing, when it has other much less costly options (not to mention promoting the rampant crony agenda it’s already notorious for)? Our wacky friends at CNBC, in the framework of their “Israel at 60 – Business Under Fire” project, which sole goal is to get international investors to invest in huge-business in Israel, have this to say:

While many high-tech companies come out of Israel, they’re often sold outside the country, leaving a small but successful Israel high-tech workforce.  But with water, Israel’s government is hoping to not only take a global lead, but to have water lead to steady and gainful employment. They’re putting a lot of hope into this relatively new technology.

Israel has always feared “brain leakage” (I couldn’t agree more…)- educated people taking better offers abroad. Combine this with Israel’s investment of 100 million shekels (around $27.9M  to date) into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs PR budget (a.k.a “Brand Israel”); It better find some grandiose projects to invest in, the more exportable- the better. As we’ve seen, desalination, is highly marketable- it has a scientific sounding name (in Hebrew it’s almost biblical in semantics), it’s very high-tech, and it addresses a very real global environmental problem: Water.

Sure, no one who’s in actual real need of water can afford it- not in the Sahara desert and not in the occupied territories- but, goddamnit, it makes the water company chairperson, Eli Ronen, feel like god:

We will create jobs and the water project will save energy. I always say that water is energy. If you give me the energy I will give you water.

But I digress… The article, as I’ve mentioned, is taken from the site Israel21c. The site is the brainchild of Israeli business school graduates and AIPAC graduates, and is endorsed by the Israeli government (not to mention a favorite press source on the Foreign Ministry website). Once again, we come full circle: Capitalism and Zionism come together in a brilliant theory that the best PR form for israel is not telling anyone about destroying water harvesting canisters, but telling everyone we’re about to export an unnecessary method of water cleansing:

ISRAEL21c’s mission is to focus media and public attention on the 21st century Israel that exists beyond the conflict.  By highlighting, emphasizing, and promoting positive images of Israel and Israelis… ~ISRAEL21c’s “About Us” page

This method of apartheid journalism actually works very well, and it’s the method originally adopted by the Israeli government:

In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 6 niches were identified in which Israel has a relative advantage, and these will be the focus of promotion on the internet. The 6 niches through which it is planned to promote Israel, in the world, are environment (with an emphases on desert agriculture); Science and technology (medicine, internet and hi-tech); Culture and art; Human variety and tradition; lifestyle and leisure culture; Tikun Olam [=Fixing the world] (support of populations of special needs).

One of Israel’s biggest successes was getting the OECD to cast it’s shadow of pseudo-respectability on Israel:

Discussions on the tourism aspects of the OECD’s program will be on the conference’s agenda, along with ways in which tourism can contribute to developing the green tourism product, the ecological effects on tourism, and identifying green business opportunities. After the conference, participants will travel around the country and visit various tourist sites…Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov said on Tuesday. “The positive image gained will have an effect on the tourist’s choice to visit Israel, and it will attract foreign investors to the country, including, among others, investors in tourism.

Somehow I doubt the OECD members are “keen to take part in the nonviolent weekly ‘anti-Wall’ demonstrations at Bil’in and Nil’in” (as the Lonely Planet guide put it). What better deal for the state of Israel, struggling with a declining image- an actual 2 for 1 that Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t conjure up in his wettest of dreams: Tourism and a “green” image, sanctioned by the worlds strongest economic elites… And all for the price of strengthening the kings of this country, that own the majority of the natural resources of this land. A land that wasn’t theirs to begin with. And if us peasants ever run out of our precious water, because these kings pollute it, we shouldn’t worry: I’m sure they’ll be gracious enough to continue selling their desalinated water for “less than 50 cents per cubic meter” (or “just over”?).

2 thoughts on “Playing with Water”

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