By Nick Rodrigo
Bolivia’s 35-plus indigenous nations make up over 60 per cent of the country’s population and have a long history of struggle with the state. This has linked material grievances to the ethnic segregationist system, which emerged after the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Palestinians, who are witnessing the plundering of their natural resources, particularly water, by a military occupation with overt commercial interests, could learn much from the Bolivian indigenous movement, which defeated a move to privatise water in 2000.
The emerging feudal economy in postcolonial Bolivia centred on the mining industry and the seizure of indigenous lands by a rapacious hacienda creole class. In order to facilitate the incorporation of indigenous peasants into the emerging mining economy, rigid racial categories arose in which indigenous peoples were deemed eligible only as labourers, with no access to membership of the full citizenry. This contributed to the emergence of an indigenous class movement in Bolivia, which centred on a crystalizing infrastructure for dissent. This informal infrastructure was based upon the multi-faceted institutions of the tin-miners’ movement/indigenous agrarian class, and was informed cognitively by an Andean culture of insurrection, drawing on the memory of King Tupaj Aamuru’s gallant stand in the face of Spanish colonial forces. Radical ideologies began to blossom from this infrastructure, which drew on facets of Marxism and indigenous anarchism, fastening a renascent indigenous identity politics onto material realities. This indigenous dissent manifested itself at varying moments across the 20th century.
By 1999, the neoliberal counter-revolution of the 1980s had consigned vast swathes of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples to abject penury, with 80 per cent of Quechua living in poverty. Financial accountability to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) through structural adjustment loans meant the infiltration of a market logic into Bolivia’s domestic politics. In 1999 the multi-billion dollar international corporation Bechtel drew up the Aguas del Tunari, with local Cochabamba officials. Bechtel and its co-investors were granted control of Cochabamba City’s water company for forty years and guaranteed an average profit of 16 per cent for each of those years. The resultant 43 per cent increase in water rates for the poorest families pushed the unions and indigenous peasant class over the edge. In 2000 a series of pitched battles, strikes and walkouts by trade unions and other organisations was staged which came to be known as the Cochabamba water war. The central organising actor was the Coordinadora, a coalition of irrigators, coca growers and coca cutters. One of the central tactics used by the Coordinadora was roadblocks, one which had been part of the resistance repertoire of the miners’ unions during the 1970s. After months of coordination, demonstration and state retaliation, representatives from Bechtel fled the city and then the country, and President Banzer was forced to cancel the contract. Cochabamba reacted with jubilation, with Coordinadora leaders flying back from remote prisons in Bolivia’s interior to a heroes’ welcome.
Grassroots mobilisation had faced down the government of a dictator, and overcome the power of one of the world’s largest corporations. It also brought the insurrectionary nature of indigenous politics into sharper focus, and more coordination. By 2002, Evo Morales, leader of the coca growers’ unions, ran for the national presidency as head of MAS (Movement towards Socialism). Linking neoliberalism to the regulation of access to resources for Bolivia’s poorest made him a standout candidate, and he was duly elected in 2005
Four years later, the long battle for equal access to natural resources secured a legislative victory with the passage of Bolivia’s “plurinational” constitution. This guaranteed the right to water on the “principles of solidarity, complementariness, reciprocity, equity, diversity and sustainability”, whilst also passing provisions relating to the equitable and sustainable use of Bolivia’s resources and the reacquisition of land for indigenous use.
In the occupied and colonised West Bank, one manifestation of the apartheid reality for the 1.7 million Palestinians and 628,000 Israeli settler-colonists who live there is the unequal access to water. On average, a settler lives on 350 litres of water per day, whereas Palestinians live on an average of 73 litres; for the 113,000 Palestinians not hooked up to the water grid, it can be as low as 20 litres. Access to water is monitored tightly by the occupation regime, which has intertwined with the economics of occupation to limit Palestinian access.
Under Article 40 of the Oslo Accords, Israel recognised Palestinian water rights in the West Bank, but it did not take into account the excessive allocation of water to the 179 West Bank settlements, with no cap on their water supply. Oslo allocated 80 per cent of the water pumped from one of three underground water reserves to Israelis, and only 20 per cent to the Palestinians. The deal also created the Joint Water Committee (JWC), an Israeli-Palestinian body in charge of every water project (Palestinian and Israeli) in the West Bank; it is subject to the power imbalances which characterise the PA’s relationship with Israel since the former’s inception. Israel has effective veto over any water project, a veto not accorded to the Palestinians. This has resulted in a high number of Palestinian water projects being delayed and rejected between 1995 and 2010; only one Israeli project was rejected during this time.
Delays and rejections are carried out at the behest of an array of complex military orders, which have governed the West Bank since 1967. Military Order 92 transferred full authority over all water concerning issues in the West Bank from various local utilities to an Israeli official appointed by the military commander for “Judea and Samaria”. Military Order 158 introduced a permit system for all water projects; permits must be obtained when approaching the JWC. Finally, Military Order 291 declares all water resources to be the property of the State of Israel.
In 1982, Israel’s Mekorot water company took over responsibility for the water resources in the West Bank; by 2007, the company was state-owned. For Palestinians not linked to the water grid, mostly in Area C, water must be obtained from Mekorot filling stations. The most common form of dependency is through Mekorot-supplied Palestinian water institutions. The 80:20 water supply means that Palestinian water institutions have to purchase water from Mekorot in order to supply their customers; the water is often from aquafers in the West Bank. In short, Palestinians are buying their own water. “The lack of availability of Palestinian water resources has led to chronic shortages among Palestinian communities in Area C and a dependence on Mekorot” commented a UNHCR report. “Mekorot supplies almost half the water consumed by Palestinian communities.” Not surprisingly, Mekerot’s equity stands at $1.58 billion.
Infrastructure of dissent and the possibility of a “water intifada”
Since Oslo, the infrastructure for dissent which has characterised Palestinians’ relationship with Israel has become disaggregated, with the leadership class falling in line with the occupation through micromanagement of its most egregious consequences. The impending environmental security crisis which faces Palestinians over their access to water, is unprecedented; in the Gaza Strip, the situation is even worse.
Power must be reclaimed at a grassroots level, through the resurrection of the ideals of “Sumud” (steadfastness), which drove the first intifada. Fastening these ideals onto the seizure of water by the Israeli occupation could galvanise a new movement, which brings other material realities into the forefront of contemporary Palestinian resistance. The indigenous movement in Bolivia ground the state to a halt by reacting to a new phase in their centuries-long oppression — the privatisation of their water. By resurrecting the ideals of insurrection, which has characterised contemporary Palestinian nationalism, a new phase in Palestinian resistance could emerge; one which links the occupation to the fundamentals of life in Palestine.
* Nick Rodrigo is a research associate at the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg; his writing has appeared in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed
* This article was first published in the Middle East Monitor
By Afro-Middle East Centre
The recent uprising in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian West Bank points to a clear disillusionment among Palestinian youth, largely caused by Israel’s occupation, its Judaisation of Jerusalem, and the complicity of certain Palestinian political parties.
The intensification of the conflict since the beginning of October, which has caused the deaths of over sixty Palestinians and ten Israelis, was ignited by increased Israeli government sanctioning of visits of nationalist, religious Jews to the Aqsa Mosque, many of whom seek the compound’s destruction. Israel has also severely restricted Muslims access to Al-Aqsa, and increased its monitoring of Muslim groups operating at the compound. In late August and September, Israeli police prevented Palestinian women and men under fifty from visiting the mosque before noon, and in September the Murabitun and Murabitat, informal groups of men and women who offer religious classes and attempt to ensure the ban on Jewish prayer is observed, were declared illegal.
These measures have contravened the ‘status quo’, a situation that has been in place since the eighteenth century, and in terms of which the Aqsa compound will be controlled by Muslims; people of other faiths will be allowed access to the compound but will not be allowed to pray there. This status quo has been repeatedly ratified and upheld over the past two and half centuries – even after Jerusalem was occupied by Israel in 1967, and annexed to Israel in 1980. The 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan commits Israel to ‘respect the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem’. Currently, by mutual agreement between Jordan and Israel, the Aqsa Mosque compound is administered by the Jordanian Waqf. This body also, supposedly in consultation with Israel, monitors Jewish access to the site. Israeli Jewish groups entering the compound are supposed to be accompanied by police, and Waqf guides are to ensure no Jews pray on the site.
The status quo has been violated by Israel numerous times in recent years. For example, Israel often restricts Muslim access to the Aqsa Mosque compound, ranging from completely closing the Old City for Muslims to imposing age limits on those wanting to attend Friday prayers. There are also certain permanent restrictions that are less well-known. A recent privately commissioned report claims that the Israeli government has instructed that when there are Jews present in the compound, Muslim men and women under the age of 50 should not be allowed to enter. Since Israeli groups tour the compound throughout the week, this means that Muslims under 50 are not allowed access to the site every morning from Sunday to Thursday.
Further inflaming the situation, cabinet ministers, including agriculture minister Uri Ariel, who previously advocated the building of the Third Temple on the cite, visited the compound in recent weeks. This raised the ire of many Palestinians who fear the mosque is threatened with partition, as happened to Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque after Zionist fundamentalist Baruch Goldstein massacred twenty-nine worshippers in February 1994 while they were praying. The latest Israeli violations resulted in protests, then running battles inside the compound between Palestinian defenders and Israelis, and culminating in a series of into lone wolf knife attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers.
The Israeli army responded in its usual, heavy-handed way, and Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, called for a shoot first policy on ‘stabbers and stone throwers’. Neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem have been blockaded by Israeli occupation forces; extra police reservists and civil and border police have been deployed; and the homes of alleged attackers have been destroyed. This further worsened the situation, and the protests and attacks on soldiers have spread to other areas in the West Bank.
These incidents take place within a context of Israel’s increased and intensified control over East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Settler numbers have increased from 150 000 during the Oslo negotiations in 1993 to over 500 000 in 2015, and, to protect these, Israel has instituted measures such as restrictions on Palestinian movement and a minimum ten year jail term for Palestinian’s convicted of stone throwing. Palestinians in the West Bank have also increasingly become victims of settlers’ ‘price tag’ attacks, with little or no repercussions for the perpetrators. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din reports that convictions are obtained in less than two per cent of cases and that over eighty-five per cent of cases are closed before the indictment stage.
Adding to Palestinian frustration, the Palestinian Authority has become increasingly ineffective. Corruption, a lack of political will, and security coordination with Israel (a requirement of the Oslo Agreement), mean that many Palestinians view the PA as part of the problem. Many Palestinian youth – born around the time of the Oslo negotiations or thereafter– have become disillusioned with the PA’s broken promises, causing them to seek different means of articulating their dissatisfaction. This has been compounded by a cynicism among Palestinians about the role of the international community and Arab states. With negotiations non-existent, Palestinians see no end in sight for the Israeli occupation as the region’s and the world’s attention is consumed by the growth of the Islamic State group (IS), and conflicts in Syria, Libya and Ukraine.
Most major Palestinian parties have responded in a haphazard and even contradictory manner. Fatah has called for calm, and deployed its security apparatus to quell the protests in some areas, leading many to accuse it of complicity. Later, it attempted to co-opt the protests, arguing that they were against the occupation. Hamas, on the other hand, expressed support for the protests, advocating the formation of a unified Palestinian position to defend and escalate the uprising. There is little chance, however, that Hamas will want to militarise the uprising from Gaza. It has been accused by some Palestinians of wanting to benefit from the crisis, and its hands-off approach – while repeatedly calling for unity – is likely so that it does not give the impression that it wants to take control of the uprising. It is noteworthy that no party has yet sought to take the lead and formally support the protests, especially the stabbings of Israeli soldiers and settlers. The uprising, thus, is largely a leaderless revolt of Palestinian youth.
Questions over whether this may herald the beginning of the Third Intifada abound, particularly since the people’s anger is similar to that which preceded the first two intifadas, and the lives of Palestinians are more miserable now, especially considering the dire socio-economic conditions of ordinary Palestinians. Compounding this is the hopelessness caused by the lack of leadership. However, the absence of a coherent national movement and established party support raises questions about the sustainability of the protests. It is debatable whether Palestinians will be able to continue the current protest actions and endure its consequences long enough to realise substantial change without the support of established political parties. Furthermore, political fragmentation and the impact of neoliberalism have prevented ordinary Palestinians from being able to formulate a unifying vision.
The Israeli government, supported by Jordan and the Middle East quartet (the USA, EU, Russia and UN), has announced that the status quo at Al-Aqsa will remain in force, and that surveillance cameras will be installed at the compound in an attempt to prevent the protests from spreading. However, this is a disingenuous attempt to deflect attention from the fact that Israel has already been working to alter facts on the ground.
In 2014, over 11 000 Jewish religious nationalist visitors were allowed into the compound, twenty-eight per cent up from the previous year and almost double the 2009 figure. Further, the frequency of these visits increased from bi-weekly in 2012 to around twice or thrice a week in 2014. In August, the head of the notorious Third Temple Movement, Yehuda Glick, privately met with Netanyahu, and subsequently claimed the government was attuned to the needs of fundamentalist Jews regarding Al-Aqsa. The struggle over protection of the compound is thus likely to further intensify and these provocations will ensure that protests endure. This is especially since the protests over Al-Aqsa are a reflection of dissatisfaction with the larger problem of Israel’s occupation, the corruption of the PA, and the lack of political leadership.
By Na'eem Jeenah and Heidi-Jane Esakov
A ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel, which was to come into effect on Tuesday night, was delayed at the last minute due to ‘Israeli requests’. Despite the imminence of a ceasefire, Israel intensified its assault on the tiny, battered coastal strip as part of its ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’. In response, rockets continued to fly, somewhat ineffectually, from Gaza into Israel. The Palestinian death toll, currently at over 130, will undoubtedly climb as Israel’s ‘requests’ are wrangled over. Israel has the luxury to stall for time; it is the Gazans who have to bury their dead.