Shuafat Ridge, East Jerusalem—It’s not yet summer when I arrive in East Jerusalem during a broiling heat wave. In the area known as Shuafat Ridge, bitter fights break out between neighbors this time of year, when water becomes more scarce and the neighborhood is rife with accusations of water theft. The tens of thousands of Palestinians who live here use around half the amount of water recommended by the World Health Organization—and they struggle to obtain even that.
Shuafat Ridge, on the eastern edge of Jerusalem, is cut off from the rest of the city by the twisting, eight-meter Separation Wall, which Israel began building here in 2005. Soaring apartment buildings, packed tightly into the cramped space allotted to these residents, loom over the barrier.
Just to the east of Shuafat is the huge Jewish settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, established in the early 1980s. The people living there can gaze down onto the backyards and dilapidated homes of what has become Jerusalem’s slum. Shuafat Ridge, like the land on which Pisgat Ze’ev is built and the rest of East Jerusalem, was annexed by Israel in 1967, though the international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty here.
While precise population data on Shuafat Ridge don’t exist, it is estimated that it has quadrupled in the past ten years, with some 80,000 people living in its four neighborhoods, which include a refugee camp. The antiquated water infrastructure is sufficient for just 15,000. Last year most people here went over a month without any running water (they survived by trucking water in from the West Bank and buying bottled water).
Meanwhile, the European Union rated Jerusalem among the top five cities in the world for water efficiency, management, and innovation. Indeed, Israel’s annual water technology exports have climbed to a peak of over $2 billion. Israel’s water technology has been praised since the state first claimed to make the desert bloom. At first, the industry helped to unify the young Jewish state. The government poured money into constructing the National Water Carrier, which diverted water from Lake Tiberias in the north to the Negev desert in the south, supplying the agricultural kibbutzim. Israel wrested control over the lake’s northern source by seizing Syria’s Golan Heights in the 1967 war, when it also conquered the West Bank with its valuable aquifers.
Today, Israel offers the products associated with its so-called water triumphs to the world, promising to liberate other regions from the threats of drought and scarcity. At home, it uses water to control Palestinians.
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Dahoud Abu Assab, or Abu Adam, picked me up just outside the Separation Wall in his dusty Range Rover. Wearing a white baseball cap and matching collared shirt, Abu Adam offered me his blistered hand before driving us through the Israeli military checkpoint to get to Shuafat Ridge.