Supreme Court Refuses Water to Unrecognized Arab Bedouin Village Umm el-Hieran
Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher: "Water is a basic human right, but the state is unable to separate this right from its special interests."
Supreme Court: 8 km trip to purchase water is "sufficient"
On 20 February 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition submitted by Adalah to connect the unrecognized Arab Bedouin village of Umm el-Hieran (pop: 500) in the Naqab (Negev) to the national water network. The Court ruled that the village's current source of water - a private citizen who lives 4 kilometers away and allows the villagers to purchase water from him at exorbitantly high prices - constitutes "sufficient access."
The Court delivered its decision in response to Adalah's appeal against a Haifa Water Tribunal decision in 2012 refusing to connect the village.
Residents pay three times the normal price for water
In its decision, the Court ignored the fact that residents of Umm el-Hieran – Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel - pay exorbitantly high prices for their water, including transportation charges and the provider's commission, amounting to more than three times what other citizens in Israel pay the state for drinking water. The residents are also at risk of disease from the poor quality of water due to the way in which the water must be transported and stored in trucks and tanks.
Supreme Court refuses to clarify "minimal access"
This decision contradicts the Supreme Court's 2011 decision in which it held that the right to water is a constitutional right and that the Arab Bedouin living in the Naqab (in unplanned communities) have the right to "minimal access to water." In its decision in this case, the Court refused to clarify what constitutes "minimal access," and whether retrieving and paying high prices for water located eight kilometers away from the village falls within this requirement.
Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher, who represented the residents of Umm el-Hieran stated that, "The court refused to clarify what it meant by 'minimal access to water' – a basic human right and primary necessity."
Adalah Attorney: State does not care for basic rights of its own citizens
Attorney Zaher continued, "The Court claims in the decision that the people have minimal access because water is sold to the village and the villagers receive it, but the legal question here is who is responsible for fulfilling the basic rights of the citizens? We see here that the state cannot disentangle human and basic rights from special, private interests."
Legal challenge has continued following landmark Supreme Court decision
In a prior case, Petitioner Salim Abu al-Qi'an, together with Adalah, has led a legal battle on behalf of 34 families in the village to win access to drinking water. In January 2012,the Haifa District Court, sitting as a Water Tribunal, rejected the villagers' demand to connect the village to the water network; the villagers' submitted their demand in September 2011. This case followed a landmark Supreme Court decision delivered in June 2011 ruling that all citizens possess the right to minimal water access, regardless of the legal status of their community or of eviction or demolition orders against the residents or their homes.[repetitive] (See C.A. (Civil Appeal) 9535/06, Abdullah Abu Musa'ed, et al. v. The Water Commissioner and the Israel Land Administration).
Case Citation: C.A. (Civil Appeal) 2541/12 - Salib Abu al-Qi'an vs. The Government Authority for Water and Sewage