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Israeli occupation hindering Palestinian farmers

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Palestinian life and agriculture are intertwined as the foundations of society. Palestinian agriculture is suffering due to the Israeli occupation and alleged negligence of the Palestinian Authority.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - Rows of settlement houses stipple the higher elevations. Water here is difficult to come by. Permits to dig wells are hardly ever given by Israeli authorities, in spite of it being readily available for Israeli settlers nearby.

"Forty-four million square meters of water a year is allocated to fewer than 10,000 settlers living in the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea area. This amount is almost one-third the amount of water accessible to the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank," according to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.

Unequal water distribution has allowed settlements to flourish while reducing the amount of Palestinian land cultivated, resulting in a decline in the competitiveness of crops.

There are dissenting opinions. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Spokesperson Ilana Stein says that B'Tselem's findings are partial and incorrect.

"The provision of water in the Palestinian Authority (PA) areas of jurisdiction is under their responsibility; they decide on these issues so if the distribution is somehow lacking the questions regarding that should be addressed to the PA," Stein says.

"Some of these matters could have been resolved if the PA would have accepted desalinated water from Israel, or invested in their own desalination programs. [Moreover] water to the Israeli residents in the West Bank comes from Israel and has nothing to do with the Palestinian quotas of water."

As a result, agriculture only contributes 4.6 percent of the Palestinian Gross Domestic Product, down from some 13 percent in 1994.

The World Bank reported last month that the share of exports in the Palestinian economy has also been in steady decline since 1994, dropping to 7 percent of GDP in 2011.

In addition, a system of checkpoints and movement restrictions has led to a contraction in the agriculture sector.

The PA has acknowledged that there is much to do to help farmers, and lamented the "denied potential" of the agriculture sector.

"It's not a matter of whether it's our priority, it's a matter of being prevented from implementing policies that support agriculture," Nour Odeh, the Palestinian government spokeswoman says. "Part of the problem is that we have no control over borders, and the majority of arable land is in Area C."

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