In the last few weeks, media attention on the violence in Israel and Palestine has died down with the shaky cease-fire between Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces. However, the oppression of Palestinian Arabs living under Israeli occupation remains. Though the stream of rocket fire and heavy bombardments is temporarily suspended, other forms of violence continue. One of the many crises facing Palestinians that has been unaddressed by the cease-fire, and will likely worsen under Israel’s new ultranationalist prime minister, is the multifaceted ecological disaster resulting from the Israeli occupation with water shortages at the forefront.

John Bernard of South Portland, left, joins a demonstration against a proposed water extraction contract between Nestlé and the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport & Wells Water District, in front of the water district office in Kennebunk in 2008. Water district trustees ultimately decided not to do business with Nestlé, which exports over 1 billion gallons of water from Maine every year. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer, File

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not primarily about religion. Fundamentally, it’s about land and water, something those of us in Maine – particularly Indigenous peoples – know all too well.

In 2016, during the holy month of Ramadan, the Israeli government shut off water to the Salfit region of the West Bank in Palestine. Tens of thousands of people were deprived of clean water, crops were ruined and people had to use expensive bottled water for drinking and hygiene.

This was one of many water shutoffs implemented by Israel in recent decades. The situation is even worse in the besieged Gaza Strip, a crowded urban enclave consisting primarily of refugees from what is now Israel. Already devastated by Israeli bombing, the nearly 2 million residents are facing one of the worst water shortages in the Middle East. Only 10 percent of Gazans have regular access to clean water, and 97 percent of Gaza’s wells are too contaminated for drinking, making them heavily reliant on water imports.

Though Palestine is a particularly extreme example, water control as a political tool is playing out across the world. Here in Maine, multinational corporations and private equity firms are seizing water sources and systems at an alarming rate. The estimated amount of water that Nestlé exports from Maine is over 1 billion gallons annually (about 845 gallons per Mainer per year). Considering the threats of ecological collapse posed by climate change, and the likelihood that water shortages will become a focal point for future conflicts, we need to ensure that stewardship of precious water sources lies with local people, not corporations. Unlike these companies, whose interest in sustainability ends where it is no longer profitable, we have a stake in protecting water from  profiteering because our futures depend on it.

Nestlé recently sold its U.S. water assets, including 10 Poland Spring pumping sites in Maine, to a pair of private equity firms operating as BlueTriton Brands. This company already possesses water systems in Asia and Africa and has built a reputation for doing whatever necessary to make its assets more profitable, regardless of long-term environmental impacts. Also, Maine Water Co., which owns water systems across Maine, merged with a California-based water corporation, making them the nation’s third largest water company. This means that many municipal water systems are now effectively controlled by out-of-state corporate executives who have little interest in Mainers besides extracting as much wealth as possible.

Without control of its own water sources, no country or community can be fully sovereign. This is as true in Palestine as it is in Maine. Nestlé, BlueTriton and Maine Water are just a few among many agents of what amounts to corporate imperialism. Across the world, corporations are scrambling to privatize water sources and profit from water crises.

According to the World Economic Forum, the chance of future wars being waged over water is 75 percent to 95 percent, in addition to the ongoing struggles facing Palestinians and Indigenous peoples of this continent denied equitable water access.

Imperialism, colonization and inordinate corporate power are barriers to the potential humans have to make a cleaner, safer world for all its people, thereby linking the struggles of Palestinians and the people of Maine for water rights and environmental justice.

Water is life. Whether it be by occupation forces or corporations, denying stewardship to water sources by those who depend on them denies people their right to life and sovereignty, and lack of access to clean water can be as deadly as any bomb.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.