Context: Water and the Early Zionist Movement

From its early years, the Zionist movement has seen the control of water as critical to its success.  

This can be clearly seen in the draft resolutions that the Zionist Organization presented to the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919. It asked the High Contracting Parties to recognize “the historic title of the Jewish people to Palestine and the right of Jews to reconstitute in Palestine as their National Home.”

“The economic life of Palestine,” one resolution stated, “like that of every other semi-arid country, depends on the available water supply. It is, therefore, of vital importance not only to secure all water resources already feeding the country, but also to be able to conserve and control them at their sources.”  

The resolution claimed “the land itself needs redemption. Much of it is left desolate. Its present condition is a standing reproach.” 

With water seen as essential to the “redemption” of the land, the Zionist Organization suggested boundaries encompassing territory stretching from the Mediterranean across the Litani River deep into present-day Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. The Zionists especially coveted water-rich Mt. Hermon spanning Lebanon and Syria, which is “Palestine’s real ‘Father of Waters,’ and cannot be severed from it without striking at the very root of its economic life.”

The southern slopes of Mt. Hermon reach to the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967 and later unilaterally annexed, enabling it to control the headwaters of the Jordan River. Even before the 1967 war allowed Israel to consolidate its control of Palestinian water resources through its Occupation, it was taking water from the Coastal Aquifer (the only source of water in the Gaza Strip) and the Western Aquifer (which largely lies under the West Bank) as well as the Jordan River.