Four months away provide just enough distance to see the madness and the cruelty for what they are. Is it not mad to deliberately deprive human beings—families, children, the elderly– of water at the height of summer in a scorching desert? It was at least 37 or 38 degrees Centigrade, almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, today in Al-Hadidiya. No running water, of course, and almost no water at all.
Once the sweet morning chill was soaked up by a white-hot sun, the world turned to flame. You could feel the liquid stuff of life being sucked out of you by the merciless sun-machine. As for us, wandering over the hills in search of the lost, ruined wells that once served Al-Hadidiya, we are drunk on the light, giddy with heat. Will I ever not be thirsty?
The Israeli settlement of Ro’i, half a mile away, has no dearth of water. Water flows freely through their pipes, some of which run through the grounds of Al-Hadidiya, and their swimming pool is, I presume, blue and beckoning and, above all, full of water. Drying out the Palestinians of Al-Hadidiya is a matter of policy, not a random affair. The Civil Administration knows what it is doing. Without water, they must assume, these people will either die or leave. We are speaking of ethnic cleansing.
Here is Abu Saqer, the strong-willed patriarch of this village who has lived all his life here among the rocks. He is at once calm, lucid, and embittered. It’s still early, around 7:30, when we sit with him in the tent as the terrible light comes flooding in, and this is what he says:
“The settlers and the Israeli state have committed many crimes and will commit many more, but the worse crime, a moral monstrosity, is denying us water. They have polluted our wells, filled them with rocks and dirt, dried them up by their deep drilling, and dried up the natural springs. I myself owned between 60 and 90 wells on the hills over there, and all of them have been destroyed. It happened already in the 70’s. At the same time, hundreds of cubic meters of water are being wasted on the settlers, on their lawns and swimming pools. Whole communities have been devastated, their people driven out, displaced by army camps and settlements. Once a hundred families lived here in Al-Hadidiya; only 14 are left. We have to bring water in tankers from far away, and often we are held up at the roadblocks for long hours, and we pay more than triple what any Israeli pays.
“In the late 80’s, at the time of the Oslo agreements, there was hope, but in the end the disaster became even more terrible. They are doing whatever they can to drive us out. We are simple people, in Al-Hadidiya. We want to graze our sheep, to feed our families, to educate our children. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the situation here should be frozen, and no more demolitions take place, but the soldiers pay no attention to the court’s ruling.”
Abu Saqer speaks slowly, weighing his words. But the story he tells is not only his. All Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley offer versions of it—the same litany of wrongs, of state terror, and, again and again, of unbearable thirst. They thirst for water as they thirst for justice. Saqer, his son, leads us over the hill. Every few minutes he stops to show us another well that has been stopped up, blocked with stones and dirt. We count twelve on a very rapid circuit. Suppose you want to build a pipeline for water—to be taken from well-known, legal Palestinian sources and paid for according to a water meter that you install—so that your tents and shacks would have the elementary happiness of running water. In theory, you could apply to the Civil Administration for a permit. Your application will be rejected. Almost all such applications are. Palestinians in the Jordan Valley cannot get water through pipes or wells by the standard bureaucratic procedures. In desperation, lacking any alternative, they may try to put a pipeline in place. They can be sure the Civil Administration will send its soldiers and policemen to demolish it and to punish them. It happened today at Al-Hadidiya. I saw it. [Abridged]