|Press release: Israel must stop the illegal demolition of rain collecting cisterns in Area C of the West Bank|
In the wake of the World Water Day, local human rights organizations unite in protest against the illegal demolition of rain collecting cisterns in Area C of the West Bank. The demolition of cisterns is illegal under Human Rights Law (HRL), International Humanitarian Law (IHL), the Oslo Accords and an Israeli–Palestinian Declaration. Following a press release issued by the Israeli Attorney General’s Office, all pending appeals against structure demolitions in front of the High Court will receive a response no later than August 2012. The coalition will therefore demonstrate in front of the Israeli High Court of Justice in Jerusalem on March 22, World Water Day, from 11 to 1pm. With its presence the coalition calls upon the Justices to uphold the rights of the Palestinian civilians under occupation as enshrined in IHL, HRL, and the Oslo Accords. The coalition asks the Justices to remind the State of Israel of its legal obligations.
The Israeli occupation forces through the Civil Administration, in charge of over 60 percent of the West Bank, have increasingly focused their efforts on water structure demolitions. From 2010 to 2011, there was an over 50% increase in cistern demolitions. The Civil Administration has carried out water structure demolitions after the issuance of orders even more swiftly than for other demolitions. As of 2012, 3,000 structure demolition orders are outstanding and could contribute to an even higher rate of cistern demolitions for the coming year. The destruction of water, sanitation, and hygiene structures has dire consequences on the Palestinian population. In the past two years, nearly four hundred Palestinians have been internally displaced as a direct result.
Additionally, due to settler groups’ pressure, the old policy adopted by the Attorney General’s Office - to not respond to petitions pertaining to Palestinian building in Area C which is protected by interlocutory injunctions issued by the High Court of Justice - was changed. This policy which preserved a status quo which itself was an infringement to the right to water, is now suspended. As the window to act on all pending appeals against demolitions is by early August 2012, the Justices must therefore be reminded of the immediacy of this issue and their duty to act as protector of human rights and to hold the state accountable for the destruction of vital water infrastructure. The High Court of Justice has the possibility of creating life altering precedents, in protecting the Human Right to water by ruling on the exclusion of cisterns from the unjust planning system.
It is important to stress that the water structures in questions are rain collecting cisterns posing neither a threat to the environment, nor is their destruction required by imperative military necessity which under International Law would be the only legal justification. By demolishing rain collecting cisterns Israel violates its legal obligations as an occupying power under IHL, specifically Article 54 to the API-4thGC, that it must refrain from the demolition of water structures and infrastructure indispensible to the survival of the civilian population. In addition, in 2001 a Joint Declaration between Palestinian and Israeli authorities was signed agreeing to keep water infrastructure out of the cycle of violence for both parties. Instead the escalation of cistern demolitions since 2010, point to a more general, systematic approach to displacing Palestinians through their means of livelihood - access to water.
Therefore, Israel must respect its obligations under customary International Law, as a signatory to international human rights conventions, and must fulfill the Palestinian right to water as underlined in the Oslo Accords. Water is a Human Right - and the Palestinians are thirsting for justice.
Pictures on request