Yesterday morning, my sister-in-law jubilantly walked into the kitchen announcing “I think I'll do laundry today! No, I'll wash the floors today and do laundry tomorrow.” I've been staying with my in-laws in Dheisheh Refugee Camp and it was the first day that they had running water in more than two weeks. She wasn't the only one with a cleaning plan. Later in the day I picked up my niece at a neighbor's house and found the neighbor busily scrubbing the floors of her own home while her teenage daughter watched my niece. Since late spring, the residents of the camp have gone without water for days and weeks at a time. Everyone was working fast so as not the waste the opportunity.
Meanwhile, the hum of motors filled the camp. Electric pumps were filling the water tanks on the roof of every home. They will probably only have running water for a few days so the tanks are a way to store up some water for cooking, bathing, and cleaning while they wait for the water to come again.
Palestinian cities and villages get water more regularly than the refugee camps, but they are all working with what's leftover after Israel confiscates more than 80% of the water in the West Bank for use inside Israel and in illegal Israeli settlements.
I live in an apartment building not far from my in-laws (I can actually see their roof from our kitchen window). Though we live in a city, we also haven't had running water in weeks and our water bill has skyrocketed since last spring when the building’s well ran dry. The building manager has been forced to buy Palestinian water back from Israeli companies so he can fill up the water tanks for each apartment.
The lack of water isn't just a challenge for personal use. The prices of fruits and vegetables are exorbitant this year as a result of the drought and Israeli policies. Many Palestinian farmers in the West Bank have less produce to sell because there is no rain and it's both difficult and expensive to access other water sources. This is compounded by Israel's ban on produce from Gaza entering the West Bank. Ordinary Palestinians have no other choice to but to purchase the more expensive Israeli produce.
It's December and we should be experiencing cold and rain but it's 74 degrees and sunny today. There's only been one day of rain so far this fall. I remember it well – I think everyone does. If there isn't a long rainy season this winter that spells hardship now but bodes even worse for next summer when heat and dust are overwhelming and people need water to survive. Of course, the Israelis living in illegal settlements all around us (I can also see a settlement from my kitchen window) are surely not feeling the effects of this unnatural season. Their government makes sure that there is Palestinian water running in their homes built on Palestinian land while the rightful owners of the land live beside them in separate and unequal conditions.
Meanwhile, washers are running, women are scrubbing, and pumps are humming as long as the water is flowing. Without water, without rights, and without freedom Palestinians continue, as they have for decades, to try to make every day life as normal as possible in the most abnormal conditions.