Monday, 21 February 2011

Nothing is free in Area C

15 October 2007
Mike Bailey, Oxfam's Civil Society Programme Co-ordinator, reports on the current situation.
Back in 1994 the Oslo accord promised peace to the Palestinians and almost everything else to Israel. The West Bank was split into Areas A (full Palestinian control), B (Israeli control of security) and C (Israeli control of everything). Now, 13 years on we rise early to reach Jiftlik, a sprawling village in the north Jordan valley, deep in the heart of Area C. We have to meet soldiers, water engineers from the Israeli water company Mekerot carrying automatic firearms, the mayor and the village council's engineer.
 Mekerot supplies water by the barrel
We have brought our own project staff and an engineer from the Palestine Water Authority. In Jiftlik 6000 people get inadequate water from the low pressure Mekerot supply. Often there is no water when Om-Ali Masa'ed turns on her tap, sometimes for 10 days. Our plan is to install a big tank that will work as a reservoir making water available whenever the families of Jiftlik turn on their taps.
Because we are deep in Palestine but under Israeli control we must get permits for everything we need to do here. It's not enough that the village council have asked for the tank, it's not enough that Mekerot are keen to supply the water we need the permission of young soldiers who act in the role of the planning authority. We wonder what giving water to 6000 poor people has to do with the security of Israel. It's not clear.
We realise quickly that our plans were too simple for this complicated situation. The Mekerot water supply stops a kilometre from our site across a road on the other side of the valley. Mekerot offers to bring the supply closer but it will still need to be pumped from the other side of the road. We will need a new permit to extend the supply, another permit for the booster pump, a further permit to cross the road, all as well as the one we came here to start the process to obtain to put in the tank.
 Now we need 4 permits to get the water from here to over there
We can only go ahead with our work once we have all these permits. Four instead of the one we set out to get at 6.30 this morning.
We nod and shake hands and keep smiling to these young soliders, a sense of the absurd rather than gratitude keeping our expressions sweet.
We move on to look at the homes where we are planning to build 40 new latrines. The Mekerot gang have gone off for target practice leaving the young soldiers to us. One of them has braces on his teeth, the other has a mum who gives him antique oriental cushion covers for his office. 
They smile and take snapshots and talk about satellite photographs on which we must mark the location of each proposed latrine. They can only be built if they are in the small area where development is allowed on the master plan. We ask for specific criteria on which they will decide, they tell us each case is different. We are on familiar ground in a game with no fixed rules and a referee who is part of the opposing team.
 We need permission from these young soldiers for a disabled Palestinian girl to have a toilet at home that she can use for the first time in her life
We have work to do, permit submissions to prepare, GPS co-ordinates to fix, maps to mark. Then, if the young soldiers tell us to go ahead, we are in the hands of faceless people at the Ministry of Planning, hands that take many months to do their mysterious work. If we are successful Om-Ali Masa'ed may get water every time she turns on her tap for her three children, and so may the other two families who share that one tap. If we are successful with the satellite map and the permits for the new latrines, Om Omer's disabled daughter may have a toilet she can use for the first time in her life, a toilet with a wash hand basin.
The problem is that nothing is certain in Area C except that it will not be easy or quick.

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