Israel and the Palestinians share two main water sources. The first is the Mountain Aquifer, a system extending over approximately 130 Km, from Mount Carmel in the north to Beersheva in the south. The aquifer is some 35 Km wide - from the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley on the east, to the eastern border of the coastal strip on the west. The aquifer is fed by rain that falls mostly on the mountains of the West Bank and seeps into it. The water then flows eastward and westward to the reservoir areas, from where it is drawn by wells. This source supplies about one-quarter of the water needs of Israel and the Israeli settlements and almost all the running water that Palestinians in the West Bank receive.
The second joint source of water, according to international law, is the upper Jordan River and its tributaries: the Sea of Galilee, the Yarmuh, and the lower Jordan River . Although only the Jordan River is shared geographically, the water Israel draws from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River sources directly affects the amount of water in the river itself. This source supplies approximately one-third of Israel 's water needs, and also serves Jordan , Syria , and Lebanon . Palestinians do not receive any water from this source.
Demand for water by Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has been increasing since the 1920s. The main reason for the increase is, in addition to natural population growth, the increased number of homes connected to a central water network. The demand for water in the Occupied Territories increased at a greater rate since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967 because of the relative increase in the Palestinian standard of living following integration of the economies of the Occupied Territories and Israel .
However, Israel 's tight control of the water sector in the Occupied Territories prevented development that would enable the water sector to meet Palestinians' increasing demand for water. Israel instituted restrictions and prohibitions that had not existed under Jordanian and Egyptian control. These restrictions and prohibitions are a principal reason for the water shortage and the resultant water crisis.
Israel 's water policy in the Occupied Territories has benefited Israel in two primary ways:
- Preservation of the unequal division of the shared groundwater in the West Bank 's Western Aquifer and Northern Aquifer. This division was created prior to the occupation, a result of the gap between economic and technological development in Israel as opposed to the West Bank . However, the gap would have likely diminished had Israel not prevented it.
- Utilization of new water sources, to which Israel had no access prior to 1967, such as the Eastern Aquifer (in the West Bank ) and the Gaza Aquifer, primarily to benefit Israeli settlements established in those areas.
For residents of the Occupied Territories, the primary result of the change in the law and transfer of powers over the water sector to Israeli bodies was the drastic restriction on drilling new wells to meet their water needs. According to military orders, drilling a well required obtaining a permit, which entailed a lengthy and complicated bureaucratic process. The vast majority of applications submitted during the occupation were denied. The few that were granted were solely for domestic use, and were less than the number of wells that, after 1967, had ceased to be used due to improper maintenance or because they had dried up.
It should be emphasized that the legal and institutional changes that Israel instituted in the water sector in the Occupied Territories are not intrinsically unacceptable. They conformed to the approach taken in Israel 's water sector and could, in principle, have led to a more efficient supply of water to the Palestinians. However, Israel utilized these changes to exclusively promote Israeli interests, almost completely ignoring the needs of the Palestinian population, which was left to face a growing water shortage.
The water crisis in the Occupied Territories results not only from the restrictions Israel has placed on Palestinian residents, but also from Israel's minimal investment in water infrastructure. The neglect in infrastructure is conspicuous in two areas: construction of infrastructure to connect rural communities to a running-water network, and maintenance of the existing networks in order to prevent loss of water. When the Interim Agreement was signed, 20 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank were not connected to a running-water network. According to data from 2008, 8.6 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank (191,000 persons) live in communities that are not connected to a running-water system. Another 190,000 live in communities in which the water supplied by the system is limited and does not reach all residential areas. Leakage from pipes due to defective maintenance and old infrastructure result in the loss of one-third of the amount of the water supplied in the West Bank.