A week of calm gives hope that the Israel-Hamas ceasefire is holding. Meanwhile, Israel’s record-long drought is on the verge of causing irreparable damage, but there is a plan. Plus, a legal battle concludes, allowing the treatment of Hamas relatives in Israeli hospitals.
Sixth Year of Drought Looms
Once gushing stream beds are reduced to a trickle, new islands emerge in the Sea of Galilee, and old docks now stand on dry ground as Israel’s record-long drought begins to enter its sixth year.
Water levels across Israel and the Middle East are about to break historical low levels after five full years of insufficient and infrequent rainfall, according to a new report by the Israel Water Authority released on Sunday. The most affected areas are Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and the Golan Heights, with the Kinneret’s water level dropping 1 cm. per day, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Israel is no stranger to overcoming water scarcity. They lead the world in desalination technology, allowing them to harness the waters of the ocean to hydrate the land. But not even five large-scale desalination plants which supply 85 percent of domestic urban water reusing nearly 90 percent, can fully stem the drought; especially when changing climates and population growth increasingly tax the supply.
To cope with the devastating dry conditions, the Water Authority has announced a plan to build a system of pipelines that will bring water to Lake Kinneret from the Eshkol Reservoir in the Lower Galilee. Ha’aretz reports that if needed, additional water restrictions will be implemented such as limits on watering of grass and gardens. At worst, the agricultural water supply could even be limited.
Further in the future, the water authority is solidifying plans to build two more desalination plants that would be added to the existing five.
“The Kinneret at the end of the winter will remain below the red line,” the Water Authority reported. “Today, the water level in the Kinneret is -214.2 m., and by the beginning of the rainy season it is expected to reach close to the top of the black line.”
If the black line is reached, the most severe water level gauge at 214.4 m. below sea level, that spells irreparable damage to the Sea of Galilee.
As experts plan for more solutions, Israel is seeing the first rains of the new winter begin to fall, though they likely won’t be enough to break the drought.
A Week of Calm
The rumors of ongoing negotiations and a shaky ceasefire between Israel and Hamas have resulted in a week of unusual calm on the border, a welcome respite that Israel is showing its appreciation for by reopening a border crossing.
The calm is a rare break in the weekly violence that has engulfed the Israel-Gaza border regions for months, nearly escalating to a full-scale war. Intervention by Egypt and the U.N. brought Hamas and Israel to the negotiating table. After several failed ceasefires, which were dubious to begin with, a new deal was struck a week and a half ago that essentially promises reconstruction of Gaza in exchange for a halt to hostilities.
This week marked real progress toward that goal. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Sunday that Israel would reopen the Erez border crossing in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday in exchange for the lasting peace. The Erez crossing is primarily used for the crossing of people in and out of the Gaza Strip.
Israel also recently reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing, through which fuel, gas, and other commercial goods are passed into the coastal enclave. The crossings were closed during peak times of violence in the strip and serve as a negotiating tactic.
Despite the opening of the crossings and a halt to the rocket and mortar barrages, thousands of Gazans still gathered at the weekly protest at the border fence to clash with Israeli troops. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 189 demonstrators were wounded in clashes with IDF troops, including 50 who were hit by live fire.
Despite the continued mass protest, a quiet week may signal an end to the latest round of deadly clashes between Israel and Hamas. Another sign of hope comes in a statement from Hamas leader Ismail Haniya. Al Jazeera reports that Haniya said an end to Israel's decade-long blockade of Gaza was "around the corner" as talk of a possible truce deal intensifies. While a deal has been struck, there is no guarantee of lifting the blockade.
Additionally, Haniya went on to say that this progress was thanks to the Friday border protests and Hamas resistance.
Top Hamas Relatives Treated in Israel
A legal battle concluded this week as the Israeli Supreme Court overruled the ruling cabinet and directed Gazans with family ties to Hamas members to be allowed to be treated in Israel.
The case revolves around five Gazan women who are close relatives to Hamas members and need life-saving treatment that is not available in Gaza. Jerusalem Post reports that they first applied to Israel for medical treatment at the Augusta Victoria and al-Makassed hospitals in east Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority said it would undertake the expenses, but the Israeli government denied the request, allegedly as a negotiation tool in order to help secure a prisoner exchange with Hamas.
That denial was overturned as the Supreme Court argued that the decision violates Israel's humanitarian obligations under international and domestic law, and that the denial was unreasonable, disproportionate, and constitutes collective punishment.
"The purpose of the prevention does not relate to the applicant and does not give proper weight to his fate and the effect of the refusal on his health," adding that, "we must remember the principle that 'you cannot punish if you do not warn first,'" wrote Justice Uzi Fogelman in his decision.
Israel’s state of the art medical facilities present a stark contrast to the meager medical services available in the Gaza Strip. It is not entirely uncommon for Gazans to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.