World Council of Churches water campaign riles pro-Israeli US foundation

(Photo: © Peter Kenny / WCC)Dinesh Suna, program executive of the World Council of churches' Ecumenical Water Network stands before the Separation Wall at Bethlehem on the West Bank on 13 February 2016.

Israel's government is displeased about a World Council of Church's Lenten water justice campaign, refuting its assertions on Palestine, and the U.S.-based conservative Gatestone Institute has sprung to Israel's defense.

"World Council of Churches demonizes Israel – again," Gatestone railed in a headline on Feb. 23. Two day later Gatestone fulminated again in another article headlined: "World Council of Churches starts seven weeks of brainwashing."

"The aim of the water campaign clearly appears to spring from an unjust and unsubstantiated discrimination against the State of Israel, as propagated in the Kairos Palestine statement," opined the Gatestone piece.

After Gatestone's attacks on the Geneva-based WCC, the council invited institute representatives in an open letter to meet in Geneva or New York City to discuss the details of Seven Weeks for Water and other work of the WCC.

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"As God stands by the oppressed and marginalized, the WCC seeks with its member churches to stand by such people, wherever they are, or whatever their faith tradition might be," the WCC letter states.

SEVEN WEEKS FOR WATER.

The WCC says on its website that the Seven Weeks for Water Lenten campaign through its ecumenical initiative - Ecumenical Water Network - has gained much attention recently, but the campaign is not new.

It started in 2008 as a gathering of weekly reflections and other resources on water, says Dinesh Suna, EWN coordinator since November 2012.

Suna refutes the Gatestone Institute's accusations that the WCC is demonizing Israel.

"Throughout this campaign, all our sources are well-documented," he said, referring to U.N. and international sources he cited. "We are not basing our statistics on one government, but being impartial and basing our campaign materials on U.N. statistics.

"We are not demonizing Israel. We are highlighting the plight of Palestinians with regard to access to water. The occupation is responsible for this injustice in water distribution. We are urging the Israeli authorities to address this issue."

Suna said the main objective of the Lenten campaign is to engage people on the issue around World Water Day on March 22, which always falls in Lent.

"We collect theological reflections on particular themes related to water. These involve small Bible studies, questions and discussions on water that give ideas for action. There are seven theological reflections for seven weeks."

"EWN is a strong advocate of water justice, focusing on injustices and situations where people are deprived of access to water," said Suna.

"This year focusses on the Middle East with specific reference to Palestine. Therefore the theme is "Thirst for Justice" and a pilgrimage of water justice.

"We think the water issues faced by people in Palestine are unique," he noted saying that the Israeli and Palestinian people live in a parched land compared to other parts of the world.

"People depend on the mountain aquifers for their water needs. The whole issue of occupation by Israel also makes the water issue all the more complex," Suna said.

He asserts that what makes the water issue so evident is the disparity between Palestinian and Israeli access to water.

"Even though not as obvious as the dividing wall, the disparity related to access to water runs deep among Israelis and Palestinians," he says.

The disparities are well-documented by UN agencies and other international agencies such as the World Bank and Amnesty International.

"One community is deprived of water. The other community has plenty of it, even more than in some developed countries."

Suna noted that some West Bank communities spend up to half their income on water, particularly in the designated Area C, under Israeli control.

A, B AND C OF WEST BANK

This is around 60 percent of the West Bank. (Area A is under Palestinian control, and B - civil administration - is under Palestinian control while security and ground water falls under Israel.)

Suna explained that since the Oslo II Accord of 1995 there has been an Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC).

"But there has been almost negligible approval for new water facilities for Palestine," he observes while noting that Israel can veto Palestinian proposals in the JWC.

"There is also the fact that Israel continues to overdraw without the JWC approval on the estimated potential by more than 50 percent, up to 1.8 times its share under the Oslo II Accord."

Gatestone argued however, "The Palestinians certainly are experiencing a water crisis; the question is to what extent are they themselves are responsible for it, and to what extent are their own leaders responsible for keeping them as victims for effective international 'marketing.'"

In its second editorial Gatestone said, "Israel now recycles 80 percent of waste water. Desalination plants have been erected along the Mediterranean coast, so that now Israel has an abundance of water."

But the WCC in its letter to Gatestone says, "Instead of attacking the WCC for raising pertinent questions about the unjust distribution of water in the occupied territories of Palestine...why not devote energy and time in advocating with the Israeli government to address critical water issues in Palestine?

"Why not advocate for making the Joint Water Committee more functional to its purpose as stipulated in the Oslo II agreement?"

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