IN THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT
Prepared by David Paul*
1) Israeli Designs on Lebanon and Syria:
Chaim Weizman wrote David Lloyd George, Britain's Prime Minister,
in 1919 stating the "minimum requirements essential to the realization
of the Jewish National Home" promised in the Balfour Declaration two
though "the boundaries cannot be drawn exclusively on historic
[biblical] lines ... our claims to the north are imperatively demanded
by the requirements of modern economic life."
"The whole economic future of Palestine is dependent upon its water
supply for irrigation and for electric power, and the water supply must
mainly be derived from the slopes of Mount Hermon, from the headwaters
of the Jordan and from the Litany [sic] river [of Lebanon]... [We] consider
it essential that the Northern Frontier of Palestine should include the
Valley of the Litany, for a distance of 25 miles above the bend, and the
Western and Southern slopes of Mount Hermon...
The very areas presently occupied by Israel in Lebanon and Syria!
Moshe Sharett, Israeli Prime Minister, wrote in the 1950s:
"According to him [Dayan] the only thing that's necessary is to
find an officer, even just a major. We should either win his heart or buy
him with money, to make him agree to declare himself the savior of the
Maronite population. Then the Israeli army will enter Lebanon, will occupy
the necessary territory, and create a Christian regime which will ally
itself with Israel. The territory from the Litani southward will be totally
annexed to Israel and everything will be all right."
David Ben-Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister felt it was wise to
"push Lebanon, that is, the Maronites in that country, to proclaim
a Christian state."
2) Syria & Israel: The Struggle for Water
1951-1956: The DMZs
1. When the war ended in 1948 the only parts of the northern sector
of Mandate Palestine not occupied by Israel were the areas along the Jordan
River controlled by Syria.
2. Israel insisted on retaining all the territory it had seized that
was designated for the Palestinian state. However, it demanded that Syria
not be allowed to remain in the areas that it occupied.
3. UN mediator Ralph Bunche convinced Syria to withdraw on the understanding
that the sovereignty of the 3 demilitarized zones (DMZs) thus created (totalling
66.5 sq. miles) would remain undetermined until a peace settlement.
4. The DMZs:
The smallest was uninhabited and in the northeast salient of the Israeli-Syrian
frontier near Baniyas Spring. Its land was used for farming and grazing.
The central DMZ was a narrow strip that stretched from the
southern edge of Lake Huleh to the northern tip of Lake Tiberias straddling
the Jordan River with a triangular budge in the middle. there was one Jewish
settlement, Mishmar HaYarden, and 4 Palestinian villages: Kirad
al-Baqqara, Kirad al-Ghannama, Mansura al-Khayt and Yarda.
The largest was the southern sector which began about halfway on the
eastern shore of Lake Tiberias and ran south to the tip of the lake and
then jutted east to meet the Yarmak River where the borders of Syria, Israel
and Jordan meet. There was one Jewish settlement, Ein Gev, and three Palestinian
villages: al-Hamma, Nuqayb and al-Samra.
5. Each DMZ represented two concentric circles: the DMZ (a completely
demilitarized inner core) and an outer shell limited to defense forces.
6. The DMZs were monitored by the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization
7. Mixed Armistice Commissions (MAC) were set up to ensure the "full
implemention" of the agreements.
8. Tensions built as Jews in increasing numbers moved into the Upper
Galilee establishing settlements and farms on Palestinian property.
UNTSO Chief of Staff Carl von Horn of Sweden:
In 1950, the Israelis had established a new kibbutz at Beit Katzir in
the [southern] demilitarized zone. Like most of their kibbutzim in troubled
areas, it was fortified with trenches and a double-apron barbed-wire fence
from behind which its settlers sallied out to cultivate the surrounding
land, digging irrigation canals to channel the water from Lake Tiberias
with such vigour that before long no Arab farmer in the area was allowed
into the stretch of land between the kibbutz and the lake.
From here they
soon extended their activities so that the inhabitants of the two neighboring
Arab villages, Lower and Upper Tawafiq observed the kibbutznik tractor-drivers
with alarm as they speeded up each turn at the eastern boundaries of their
fields, making the ploughs swerve out, thus slowly but surely extending
their 'previous' cultivation eastward into Arab [Palestinian] land.
was, of course, part of a premeditated Israeli policy to edge east through
the demilitarized zone towards the old Palestine border (as shown on their
maps) and to get all Arabs out of the way by fair means of foul.
Gradually, beneath the glowering eyes of the Syrians, who held the high
ground overlooking the zone, the area had become a network of Israeli canals
and irrigation channels edging up against and always encroaching on Arab-owned
property . . . For the ground was so fertile that every square foot was
a gold mine in grain.
21 January 1951-
The Jewish National Fund of the World Zionist
Organization agrees to help finance a $250 million development project
that includes drainage of the 15,000-acre Huleh Marshes (an integral part
of the Jordan River system) and irrigation of the Negev and the Jerusalem
corridor. Almost from the beginning it was obvious that the drainage channels
would impinge on Syrian territory within the central DMZ.
13 March 1951-
Israel begins digging a drainage ditch. the Syrian-Israel
MAC examined Syria's complaint and ruled that the Israeli project "constitutes
a flagrant violation" of the armistice.
24 March 1951-
For the first time Israel asserts that it held
sovereignty over the zone and thus had a right to proceed.
25 March 1951-
Israel resumes digging in the DMZ. Clashes between
Syrian and Israeli forces ensue.
30 March 1951-
Israel retaliates by expelling 785 Palestinians
from their 3 villages in the central DMZ and bulldozing their homes.
4 April 1951-
seven Israeli soldiers on patrol are killed in
an ambush by Syrian troops. The next day the Israeli cabinet decided, in
secret, that the DMZs should be "cleared of Arabs [Palestinians]."
On the same day Israel bombed the Al-Hamma district in the southern DMZ
killing 2 Palestinian women and wounding civilians. Though the US protested
that the Israeli actions were "in no way justified" about 1200
Palestinians in the central and southern sections were forced out. Syria's
counterattack was repulsed and in the next year the Bedouin were driven
18 May 1951-
UN Security Council Resolution 92 calls on Israel
to stop draining the marshes of Lake Huleh and allow the return of the
Palestinians. Israel prevented all but 350 from returning.
20 June 1951-
Israel now informs the UNTSO that it would no longer
attend meetings of the Syrian-Israeli MAC as long as complaints involving
the DMZs were on the agenda. Israel agrued that since it alone had sovereignty
over the zones Syria had no rights and therefore, no standing to discuss
UNTSO Chief of Staff, Canadian general E.L.M. Burns:
The Israelis claimed sovereignty over the territory covered by the DMZ
. . . They then proceeded, as opportunity offered, to encroach on the specific
restrictions and so eventually to free themselves, on various pretexts,
from all of them.
Thus, Israel immobilized the MAC. Further, Israel refused to allow UN
observers to demarcate the line of the DMZs and thereby no one was ever
sure exactly where the line lay.
The spring fighting resulted in Syria gaining control of the village
of al-Hamma in the southern zone, all of the tiny northern zone and the
uninhabited narrow stretch of land on the east side of the Jordan River
in the central zone. Israel took the rest- most of the southern zone and
all of the central zone west of the Jordan River.
Israel launches, on a crash basis, a diversion
project on a nine-mile channel midway between the huleh Marshes and Lake
Tiberias in the central DMZ. The plan was to divert enough water to help
irrigate the coastal Sharon Plain and eventually the Negev desert. syria
claimed it would dry up 12,000 acres of Syrian land. The UNTSO Chief of
Staff Major General Vagn Bennike of Denmark noted that the project was
denying water to two Palestinian water mills, was drying up Palestinian
farm land and was a substantial militarybenefit to Israel against Syria.
The US cut off aid to Israel. The Israeli response was to increase work.
UN Security Council Resolution 100 asked Israel to stop work pending an
investigation. Israel finally backed off and for the next three years the
US kept its economic sanctions in effect bt insisting on tying aid to Israel's
11 December 1955-
Under the command of Ariel Sharon Israel attacks
Syrian military posts and the village of Kursi outside the DMZ, near the
northeast shore of Lake Tiberias. 56 Syrians including 3 women were killed.
Israel lost 6 killed. The US expressed "shock" ay Israel's "flagrant
violation" of the armistice agreement.
The purpose of the strike was to provoke Egypt into honoring
its mutual defense pack with Syria by attacking Israel, thereby igniting
the war Israel sought with Egypt. But Egypt did not take the bait and Israel
had to wait almost a year for the Suez War. Israel also had in mind its
long-term policy of establishing exclusive control over Lake Tiberias.
30 October 1956-
Israel attacks Egypt across the Sinai peninsula.
The remainder of the Palestinians living in the DMZs were driven into Syria.
Commenting on this was UNTSO Chief of Staff Odd Bull of Norway who observed:
I imagine that a number of those evicted settled somewhere in the Golan
Heights and that their children have watched the land that had been in
their families for hundreds of years being cultivated by Israeli farmers,
From time to time they opened fire on these farmers. That, of course, was
a violation of the armistice agreement, though I could not help thinking
that in similar circumstances Norwegian peasants would almost certainly
have acted in the same way. In the course of time all Arab villages disappeared.
3) 1957-67: The Water Issue
Israel quietly resumed work on its National Water
Carrier but avoiding the DMZs, and thereby US objections. It diverted
water directly from Lake Tiberias, sending it to irrigate the northern
section of the Negev desert. It did this without consulting Syria and Jordan,
riparian states with the right of consultation on usage of joint waters.
The precedent was set. The Arab states felt free to develop their own
schemes. In August 1956 Jordan began work, without consulting Israel,
on the East Ghor canal to siphon water from the Yarmuk River before it
joined the Jordan.
There was a major difference between the Israeli National Water Carrier
and the Jordanian plan. The Jordanian plan returned the water within the
Jordan River complex. The Israeli plan removed the water to the Negev,
thus depriving Syria and Jordan of their share.
Israel launched a raid on the village of Nuqayb in
the central DMZ over fishing rights on Lake Tiberias. 30 Syrians and 5
Israelis killed. On 9 April 1956 the Security Council "deplored"
the fighting and found Israel in "flagarant violation" of the
General Armistice Agreements. Hereafter, the plans by Israel, Jordan and
Syria to divert water of the Jordan complex took priority, rather than
the side issues such as fishing rights in the DMZs.
17 January 1964-
The Arab leaders gathered in Cairo issued their
final communiqué. It called the National Water Carrier an "aggressive
plan to divert the course of the River Jordan thereby, grievously endangering
the riparian rights of the Arabs. The Arabs had no military force and the
Israelis completed the project on 28 May 1964.
In retaliation for Israeli projects the Arabs vowed to draw water from
the Baniyas in Syria and send the water east through Syria and Jordan to
south of Lake Tiberias. They began digging in February of 1964 but the
Israelis then destroyed their bulldozers by artillery fire. In the summer
of 1966 Syria tried to resume work. On 14 July Israeli planes bombed the
equipment and the engineering works permanently destroying the Syrian project.
The Security Council draft resolution (S/7575/Rev.1), supported by the
US asked Syria "to strengthen its measures for preventing incidents
that constitute a violation of the General Armistice Agreement" and
"invited" Israel "to cooperate fully with the Israel-Syrian
Mixed Armistice Commission." The Soviets vetoed on 4 November 1966
because it equated the actions of Syria to those of Israel.
From then on the region devolved in ever-accelerating acts of violence
culminating in Israel launching a general war against Egypt, Jordan and
Near the end of 1964-
Israel laid claim to the River Dan, a reservoir,
and all the springs in the area (the headwaters of the Jordan River). Syria
claimed several of the springs and part of the reservoir and pointed out
that the road Israel had built to patrol the area intruded on Syrian territory.
13 November 1964-
Syria fired on an Israeli patrol resulting
in a mortar and artillery exchange. Israel also bombed deep in Syrian territory.
7 Syrians and 3 Israeli were killed in the exchanges.
The Security Council draft resolution (S/6113) failed to note Israel's
introduction of war planes (the first use since 1951). Though supported
by the Johnson administration it was vetoed by the Russians on 17 Dec.
1965 on the grounds that it placed the Arab victims on the same level as
the Israeli aggressors.
26 October 1965-
Israel launched it first armed raid into Lebanon
and destroyed three water reservoirs in a Lebanese border town. Water pumps
and pipelines were frequently the target of Israeli strikes into Jordan
and Syria at this time.
9 June 1967-
Israel broke the cease-fire then in effect and seized
the Golan Heights. About a quarter of the 139,000 Syrians living in the
captured areas fled.
Tabitha Petran (historian):
In the next 6 months Israel expelled 95,000, demolishing villages, cutting
off water and food supplies, and by threats reinforced by torture and execution
of those who refused to leave. Expellees were compelled to leave behind
everything they owned- shops full of goods, sheep and goats, clothes and
household possessions, as well as lands, homes, vineyards and apple trees.
In the end there were only about 6,000 Syrians left- mainly Druze. On
15 July 1967, Israel established its first settlement on the Golan.
Donald Neff (historian):
The threat posed to Israel by Syrian heavy artillery on the Golan before
1967 does not appear to have had the prominence at the time that it subsequently
acquired in Israeli pronouncements.
None of the UNTSO chiefs of staff in
the memoirs considered as especially menacing the Golan gun emplacements.
In fact, the heights themselves are seldom mentioned.
UNTSO Chief of Staff
von Horn was one of the few to make a direct reference to Syrian guns on
the Golan, remarking: "It is unlikely that these would ever have come
into action had it not been for Israeli provocation."
of Syrian artillery on the Golan Heights was not great enough to deter
Israel from taking over the DMZs and the water of the Jordan Valley, or
to prevent Israel's capture of the heights. And while there appears to
be no reliable record of total casualties caused by Syrian guns aimed at
Israeli civilians between 1949 and 1967, not a single Israeli civilian
is reported to have been killed by Syrian artillery in the six months before
the 1967 war, a period of intense skirmishes between the two countries.
1) British Mandate:
1. The northern borders of Palestine were fixed by Britain and France
after World War I in a manner that gave the Zionist movement potential
access to, but not direct control over, much of the Jordan headwaters,
including the Hasbani, Banias and Yarmuk rivers and Lake Tiberias but no
access to the Litani.
2. The British authorities made agreements with the Zionists regarding
70 year concession to Rotenberg Co. to exploit waters of the Jordan
and Yarmuk rivers and to generate electricity
concessions to Jewish companies to exploit inland rivers of Palestine
concession to drain and exploit the lands of Lake Huleh
Walter C. Lowdermilk water development proposal (1944):
(Lowdermilk was an engineer who had worked at TVA.)
1. was to be modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the
2. would allow the development of farms, industry, and provide security
for at least 4 million Jews from Europe in addition to the 1.8 million
Arabs and Jews already living in Palestine and Transjordan
3. called for-
irrigation in the Jordan Valley
diversion of the waters of the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers for hydroelectric
diversion of the water from northern Palestine to the Negev desert
use of water from the Litani River in Lebanon
2) The Hayes Plan (1946):
1. The World Zionist Organization asked James B. Hayes, an American
engineer who helped develop the TVA to translate the Lowdermilk outline
into a detailed and solid plan.
2. His plan called for-
exploitation of waters outside Israeli territory: a dam on the Hasbani
River in Lebanon, and diversion southward through Israel of the Jordan
headwaters bordering on Syria and Jordan
half of the water of the Yarmuk to be diverted into Lake Tiberias
to replace water lost by diversion of the upper Jordan River, as called
for in the Lowdermilk plan
the other half of Yarmuk waters to be allotted to Transjordan
Note: According to Hayes this allocation "must await the
completion of the previous irrigation works and diversions for the River,
which will enable a more accurate determination of what is left in the
Thus the needs of the future Jewish state would take precedence over
those of the Arab population of the region.
3) United Nations Partition Plan (1947):
1. Palestine to be divided into two states, one Jewish and one Arab
Jews owned less than 7% of the land & made up 30% of the population
Jews were to receive 55% of the land
the Jewish state got the upper Jordan in the north and thereby the
opportunity to carry out the basic conception of the Lowdermilk-Hayes project
as Hayes noted
Dr. Emmanuel Neuman, president of the Zionist Organization of
"Fortunately, those who had been responsible for working out the
details of the United Nations partition plan, were familiar with the basic
aspects of the Lowdermilk-Hayes project and took it largely into account
in drawing the boundaries of the new states... The Jewish state was thus
provided with far-reaching possibilities for utilizing the most vital resource
of the country for large-scale irrigation, agricultural colonization and
4) Israel's National Water Carrier Project (1953):
1. Followed basic outline of the Lowdermilk-Hayes plan
2. When Israel began work to divert the Jordan River Syria took its
complaint to the UN Security Council charging Israel with violating their
3. The U.S. agreed with Syria that Israel's moves were provocative-
it censured Israel and threatened to cut-off aid (then $50 million per
4. First stage adopted in 1964.
Arabs then proposed to decrease the flow of water to Israel by constructing
two storage dams on the Yarmuk and diverting water from the Banias River
to Syria and Jordan
Israel attacked Syrian work sites on the Banias in March & May
1965 and again in July 1966
5. In 1967 Israel attacked its Arab neighbors and occupied the Golan
Heights ending Syrian projects there and seizing Syrian equipment
5) Johnston's mission (1953-55):
1. The US aim was to utilize the principle of sharing the Jordan in
provide the material means of resettling the Palestinian refugees
provide Israel with the largest possible share of the Jordan waters
establish a pattern of technical cooperation between Israeli and Arab
governments as a prelude to political negotiations
2. A basic issue of conflict was the use of the waters of the Jordan
all Arab plans provided that these waters were to be used within the
Israeli plans called for its use in irrigating other areas, especially
3. US President Eisenhower sent his special envoy Eric Johnston to mediate
4. Johnson proposed a water plan developed by Charles Main
5. Both Arabs and Israel objected and developed their own counter proposals:
The Arab Technical Committee Plan (ATC Plan) and the Cotton Plan (named
after an American engineer trusted with implementing the Hayes plan).
Water Allocation by Plan
Note: the Israeli Cotton Plan included the Litani River, allocating
400 mcm of its waters to Israel and 300 to Lebanon.
6. Johnston continued to mediate throughout 1954 and 1955 concluding
in Oct. 1955 with a plan even more favorable to Israel. Israel's share
rose from 394 mcm in the original proposal to 565 mcm and Jordan's share
fell to 720 mcm.
7. Though the Arab Technical Committee approved the modified Johnston
Plan. the Arab League rejected it.
8. Some sources say Israel also rejected it.
With Israeli seizure of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, the
conflict changed. Though Israel now had access to more water, its desire
for Lebanese water continued.
1. Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1978 gave it temporary control of
the Wazzani, a fresh water stream feeding the Jordan.
2. Israel also set up pumps and pipes along the Hasbani, which runs
from Lebanon into Israel.
3. Lebanese suspect that Israel, in addition to the Hasbani surface
pumps, has been pumping water underground from Lebanon for its own use
for several years.
4. Israel demanded of its Lebanese client Major Hadad that local farmers
stop drilling new wells and they bricked up some old ones.
5. Hydraulic engineers have long known that a tap on the Litani closest
to the Israeli border would capture only a small fraction of the river's
annual flow. To be effective, diversions would have to be made upstream,
beginning with the dam of Lake Qir'awn where the flow averages 700 mcm
6. In 1982 one of the first acts of the Israeli invaders upon reaching
Lake Qir'awn in Lebanon was to seize all the hydrographic data on the dam
and the river and ship a complete set to Israel.
7. Continued Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in defiance of Security
Council Resolution 425 allows it continued access to Lebanon's water resources.
1) Israeli Organizational Structure for Water:
Minister of Agriculture-
Empowered with water policy making authority
and is responsible for the entire water system. by the very nature of its
operations it is closer to the interests of the farmers, who consume most
of the water in the country. This is also reflected in their share of representation
in the Water Council.
Consulted by the Minister of Agriculture on all
problems related to water policy. The Water Council consists of from 27
to 39 members appointed by the government with the Minister of Agriculture
as chair, and the Water Commissioner as deputy chair. In any combination,
the majority of the representatives are affiliated with the agricultural
The governmental body with primary control
over the implementation of water policy. The following units operate within
its framework: Allocation and Licensing, the Hydrological Services, Soil
Conservation and Drainage, Efficient Utilization of Water, and the Israel
Center for Water Equipment. The Water Commissioner heads this unit
and is appointed by the Cabinet.
In concert with the Water Commission regulates
the differences in water prices for consumers in the various regions independently
of the real cost of supply.
Consists of a judge appointed by the Minister
of Justice and two representatives selected from a list drawn up by the
Minister of Agriculture. the tribunal hears cases concerning fines imposed
on water-law offenders, appeals against decisions by the bodies dealing
with water, etc.
A non-profit, public corporation founded in 1938 and
authorized by the government to be the "National Water Authority."
Mekorot is in charge of the construction, operation, and maintenance of
the water plants and the licensing of the various sectors for the use of
water. It supplies about 80% of Israel's water. Since 1967 it controls
all surface and underground water in the occupied territories. It is owned
by the Israeli government, the Histadrut (the General Federation of Workers
in Eretz Israel), the Jewish Agency, and the Jewish National
Fund- the latter two holding a controlling share.
Water-Planning for Israel Company is a non-profit government
corporation founded in 1952. It is Israel's water planning authority charged
with research and consumption forecasts, planner and engineering advisor
for water projects being constructed by Mekorot. It is owned by the Israeli
government (52%), the Jewish Agency (24%) and the Jewish National
In practice Mekorot and Tahal enjoy a large measure of independence
in their operations, but the former is by far the most powerful water institution
The Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund are restricted by
their respective constitutions to the exclusive support of Jewish interests.
Thus the companies which plan, design, and construct water projects on
the West Bank are controlled by groups which serve only Jewish people as
opposed to all Israelis or the residents of the territories.
2) Israel's Water Policy:
In accordance with the Israeli Water Law of 1959, water was declared
to be a public commodity soon after the occupation began- exceeding the
rights of an occupying power under international law. Military Order
158 required a license for digging new wells and was used to block
development of new water sources by the non-Jewish population only.
Israeli policy is driven by political rather than economic motives.
Jewish settlements and territorial expansion (the vision of making the
desert bloom) are the objectives. Water has always been a marginal factor.
The decision to establish a colonial settlement was taken, and only afterwards
were attempts made to solve the water problems that might confront the
settlement. Priority was given to national goals and socially accepted
values- agricultural development.
* David Paul is a documents librarian at Harvard College.