This summer, Israel and Gaza experienced another tragic war. Once again, residents of the region lived in constant fear of rocket fire or air strikes. Many fled their homes, some found refuge in bomb shelters, and the lives of all were changed. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 69 Israelis and over 2,100 Gazans, mostly civilians, were killed.
But the cessation of rockets and airstrikes has not undone the consequences of war. Within Gaza, in addition to an overwhelming death toll, Israeli air strikes effectively destroyed the area’s entire agricultural infrastructure and any possibility of immediate economic growth. For Gazans, though the airstrikes and rockets have stopped, many of the long term effects of the war are only now being felt. One of the most alarming consequences has been the destruction of the Gazan water system, rendering hundreds of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians virtually incapable of accessing safe, clean water.
At the onset of the fighting, Gaza’s water infrastructure was already critically overextended. According to Haaretz, even in quiet times, more than 90 percent of Gaza’s water is unfit for drinking, and over-pumping has resulted in seawater and sewage contamination of the groundwater. During the most recent escalation, 11 wells and two purification plants in Gaza were completely destroyed, and an additional 15 wells and four purification plants were partially destroyed. Eighteen miles of pipeline were also impaired, and close to eleven miles more were damaged, according to the Palestinian Water Authority. The Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene Group reports only half of the Gaza water system is currently functional, and the functional parts only get water once every five days. The destruction of the purification plants and pipelines has made it increasingly difficult for Gazans to access clean, potable water.
Additionally, Gaza’s only power plant was destroyed in the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas. This has worsened the already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplied to medical facilities. Since the fighting this summer, Gazans have had barely enough electricity to power their homes for a few hours a day, making it virtually impossible to power intensive sewage treatment and pumping facilities as well. Following the destruction of the Strip’s power plant, Gaza residents were immediately urged to begin rationing their water.
The water crisis in Gaza is untenable and requires immediate, meaningful action. Human rights are in everybody’s best interest: A commitment to peace must include a commitment to those with whom we share the land. Say what you will about who started this war or who is to be blamed for how it was pursued, we all bear responsibility for cleaning up the devastation brought on by months of violence. This summer, Israel fought a war against Hamas, yet thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians were devastatingly affected. Our ability to differentiate between the two, as well as our effort to help rebuild the Gazan infrastructure, will provide Gazans with hope for their future and also reaffirm our own commitment to peace. As the American Jewish community continues to assert its commitment to peace in the region, we must ensure that basic rights are not overlooked in the process.
To move forward on this issue, we must begin at the ground level. Abasan Al-Kabireh, a Fatah-run city in Gaza, located to the east of Khan Younis—a densely populated Gaza city that was nearly destroyed in the war—has sustained some of the worst damage in the Strip. The damage has left the 21,000 residents of the city without access to clean drinking water. The mayor of Abasan Al-Kabireh has called upon the international community to help provide the residents of his city with clean drinking water.
This call has not gone unheard. Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) is an environmental advocacy organization, that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists to work towards advancing the sustainable ecological development of the region. FoEME has identified the Gaza water shortage as a key environmental challenge that stifles the development of strong, sustainable communities and ultimately peace in the region.
Meanwhile, Other Voice is a grassroots initiative that empowers volunteers from cities along the Gaza border to shed light on the physical and psychological tolls that ongoing violence and conflict have on Israelis and Palestinians. Other Voice also advocates for a non-violent political solution to the Conflict, endorses coexistence, works to strengthen support for peace in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and organizes donation campaigns for Gazans in need of humanitarian assistance. Both charities are working toward the common goal of providing water for the residents of Abasan Al-Kabireh and deserve our support.
J Street U Brandeis is answering the call by organizing a campus-wide fundraiser for the residents of Abasan Al-Kabireh with FoEME and Other Voice. As American Jews, and as individuals who care deeply about the future of Israel, it is crucial that we remember our responsibility to act. If we are serious about affirming our commitment to peace—as students, Americans, Jews and individuals who maintain a genuine interest in human rights and social justice—we must take steps to empower individuals and projects on the ground, as each hold the power to shift the complicated reality away from human rights injustice and toward a viable peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
We must remain committed to the advancement of human rights wherever there is a need. Our commitment to peace in the Middle East should be mirrored by nothing less than an equal commitment to the human rights of the citizens of Israel and Palestine.
—Shani Abramowitz ’14 is the media coordinator for J Street U Brandeis
Originally published in the Justice, the independent, student newspaper of Brandeis University
Follow Shani on Twitter @grownup_blogger