Everyday throughout the Israeli controlled sections of the West Bank (Area C), rain water harvesting cisterns face demolition orders from the Israeli Civil Administration due to the lack of building permits.
The Diakonia IHL Resource Centre weighs in on how this practice, in which thousands of Palestinians are directly affected each year, stands in relation to International Humanitarian Law, with a Human Rights Law perspective.
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Rainwater harvesting cisterns are vital to the livelihoods of marginalized Palestinian rural and herder communities in the West Bank who rely on them to provide water for livestock, to grow crops and sometimes for domestic water supply in the absence of an adequate network connection.
According to the UN Agriculture Sector and the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster, since 2009, a total of 44 cisterns and rainwater collection structures in Area C have been demolished. Twenty of them have been demolished between January and July of 2011. Those demolitions have directly affected the lives of 13,602 Palestinians. Having lost their access to water, 127 people have been displaced, including 104 children.
Initially, the brief highlights key legal aspects of the Israeli planning regime in Area C. It elaborates on the special legal status of cisterns, and identifies the scope of prohibition against their destructions under IHL. Lastly, it examines the implications of inadequate planning for and destruction of cisterns on the occupant’s humanitarian and human rights obligations towards the protected Palestinian population, including the delivery of aid in Area C.
Summary of the main legal findings:
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- Planning institutions and policies lack local representation and participation and do not serve Palestinian welfare in the West Bank including area C and are therefore unlawful.
The unlawfulness of the planning institutions and their policies renders the exercise of subsequent authorities, such as the destruction of constructions that lack permits, including cisterns, similarly illegal.
- Cisterns, by definition, fall within the specifically protected category of objects identified in IHL as essential for the survival of the civilian population according to international customary law. Essential objects, including cisterns, that are used solely by civilians during occupation should never be destroyed, even based on administrative reasons.
- Only where cisterns are used as sustenance solely by the members of the adversary’s armed forces, or at least in direct support of military actions they may be destroyed, except if the destruction is expected to leave the population with such inadequate food or water as to cause its starvation or force its movement. This is not the case in the destruction of cisterns in area C.
- Regardless of the illegality of the destruction as such, its outcome – denial of humanitarian needs – violates customary law obligations of the Israeli occupier towards the protected Palestinian population.
- The failure of the existing ICA’s coordination mechanism to allow the construction of rainwater harvesting by humanitarian agencies violates Israel’s obligations, as an occupier to agree on relief schemes and facilitate their rapid and unimpeded delivery by all means at its disposal.
Please note that this web version does not provide with references. Please download our PDF version for full references.
Download the PDF version (that includes references) of the Legal Brief on "Israel's destruction of cisterns due to the lack of building permits in Area C of the West Bank".
Area C comprises 62% of the West Bank
44 cisterns and rainwater collection structures in Area C have been demolished by the ICA since 2009, 20 of these have been demolished between January and July 2011, affecting 13,602 Palestinians and displacing 127 displaced (including 104 children)
313,000 Palestinians from 113 communities are not connected to a water network
42,000 Palestinians are ‘critically vulnerable’, accessing less than 30 litres per, and facing at acute risk of displacement
441 communities in the West Bank have access to or consume less than 60 litres of water per capita per day