Ahmad Arafat, a Palestinian senior at the College of Idaho from Nablus, won the prestigious $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace award to improve water accessibility in the village of Kafa, which is located on the 1967 Israeli-Palestinian Green Line, and under direct Israeli control in Area C of the occupied Palestinian territory. The award is part of a yearly commitment by the estate of the late international philanthropist Kathryn Davis. Students at select U.S. colleges submit proposals “that will bring new thinking to the prospects of peace in the world,” Davis said in February 2007, upon launching the one million dollar initiative.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have suffered from severe water shortages since Israel occupied their lands in June 1967. According to a report by Amnesty International, Israel issued several military orders in 1967 that appropriated Palestinian water resources, including military orders 92, 158, and 291, which established the basis of discriminatory water quotas and prevented Palestinians from accessing and developing their own water supply systems. As an occupying power under international law, Israel is responsible for ensuring the appropriate use and protection of natural resources to benefit its occupied subjects. However, as the occupation concludes its fiftieth year, Israel’s exploitation of Palestinian water resources continues to have “a crippling impact” on Palestinian livelihood, affecting agricultural growth, education, and public health. In the meantime, Israeli settlers “have been given virtually unlimited access to water supplies to develop and irrigate the large farms which help to support unlawful Israeli settlement,” according to the report.
This bleak reality motivated Arafat, a mathematics and computer science major, to submit a project proposal for the Davis award competition in January, along with seven other competing proposals from the College of Idaho. Entitled “Access to Water: A Matter of Health, Education, and Justice,” Arafat’s proposal notes that Israelis living in the Avnei Hefetz settlement, which surrounds Kafa, “consume up to 287 liters of water per capita per day for domestic, commercial, and industrial purposes. In contrast, Palestinians in Kafa are left with only 79 liters per capita per day to use, falling well below the 100 liters per capita per day that the World Health Organization recommends.”
The starkly unequal distribution of water, favoring Israelis over Palestinians, has fueled tensions between the villagers of Kafa and the Israeli occupation forces, particularly because the village has immense agricultural potential with its arable lands, and as such water accessibility is crucial for the livelihood of its residents, most of whom are farmers.
Under the current Israeli military administration, “if villagers consume more water than the quota determined by Israel, they have to pay additional taxes, even though the village’s water resource is an aquifer,” said Arafat. The alternative would be to buy trucked-in water at a rate three times higher than what Israeli settlers pay. The water shortage has also decreased students’ ability to learn since Kafa’s only school lacks functional bathrooms and water fountains. Often, parents decide to enroll their children in a distant school, even though this can risk their safety because they have to pass through a number of military checkpoints. Students’ traumatic experiences at Area C checkpoints have caused many of them to drop out of school, leaving the students vulnerable to violence and radicalization, according to an interview Arafat conducted with officials at the Palestinian Health and Education ministries.
Arafat hopes to reduce the adverse impacts of the Israeli occupation’s water practices by building an alternative water well capable of collecting, purifying, and pumping 300,000 liters of rainwater. Consulting with village officials, a local LEED® Green Associate, and Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, Arafat has developed a system that would collect the rainwater through the surrounding greenhouses and power the well’s pump using solar panels, as well as connect the school to the village’s main water infrastructure.
As a Davis United World College Scholar, Arafat has been pursuing an international education since high school thanks to the philanthropic generosity of individuals like Kathryn Davis. He hopes that his project will inspire his Palestinian peers to seek out opportunities and find creative solutions to the immediate challenges they face.