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Israel's new weapon: water

Yet another report accuses Israel of human rights abuses, this time for denying Palestinians water.

A Palestinian boy drinks water from a public tap during anti-Israel rally organized by the Islamic Jihad movement in Abasan in the southern Gaza Strip, July 24, 2009. (Suhaib Salem/Reuter)

JERUSALEM — Human-rights reports condemning Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians have become so frequent of late they’re like the dripping of Chinese water torture.

In the last few months, there have been reports on the conduct of Israeli forces in Gaza, on restrictions on medical supplies and food entering Gaza and the necessity for a boycott of Israeli products and people. This week Amnesty International made its latest contribution with a report on water itself.

Amnesty issued a 112-page report that accuses Israel of denying sufficient water to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The report says Israelis uses more than three times as much water per person as Palestinians, and that Gazans are down to 20 liters of water a day — the World Health Organization’s designated minimum level for subsistence.

“Water is a basic need and a right, but for many Palestinians obtaining even poor-quality, subsistence-level quantities of water has become a luxury that they can barely afford,” said Amnesty's researcher for Israel and the Palestinian territories Donatella Rovera.

Palestinian officials gushed about the Amnesty report. Israelis told them to suck it up.

A measure of the importance of water in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and throughout the parched Middle East — is the position water rights were given in the Oslo Peace Accords between the two sides.

When the peace agreement was signed in 1993, the most difficult issues were set aside for “final-status negotiations.” In other words, the two sides figured they’d be able to agree on some issues only when they’d already made nice for a few years, their people would’ve seen the benefits of early measures, and consequently would accept compromise on the toughest questions.

Those tough questions, by the way, were: the status of Jerusalem, the future of Palestinian refugees, the final borders of a Palestinian state.

And water.

The first three issues are essentially at the heart of every story you read every day about this conflict. Water, on the other hand, doesn’t get so much coverage.

Because it’s harder to deal with than any of the others.

That’s right. You can pay refugees to make new lives in the West Bank and Gaza or Sweden. You can draw a line on a map and call one side of the line “Palestine.” You can even give sovereignty over the Temple Mount above ground to the Palestinians and underground (where all their ancient relics are) to the Israelis.

But you can’t make more water.

There are three main sources of water for Israel and the Palestinians, and they’re all in rotten shape.