Palestinian Studies

2018 Workshop

Muna Dajani

PhD candidate in Geography and Environment, London School of Economics (LSE)

Sahl al-Battuf: A Site of Protest and Contestation Against the National Water Carrier (1954-1964)

The national water carrier (NWC) is Israel’s largest water infrastructure project and can be considered to be the epitome of Israel’s water hegemony over the shared transboundary water resources of the Jordan River Basin. The construction of the NWC began in 1953 and was operative by 1964 and with its operation, the Israeli state carried out the first and only out-of-basin diversion of the waters of the tributaries of the Upper Jordan River toward the coastal cities and the Naqab. It was considered one of the main factors for Syrian retaliation in the demilitarized zone in the 1950s, protest and resolution in the UN, and has been an escalating factor in the Arab-Israeli water conflict, especially as a factor for the 1967 war.

Going beyond its geopolitical and regional significance as an instigator of conflict and war, the NWC also impacted the lives of Palestinian farmers inside Israel, especially in Sahl al-Battuf in the Galilee in the 1950s and 60s where the NWC expropriated thousands of dunums and severely restricted the livelihoods of farmers there. Drawing on sources from British and Israeli archives and extensive fieldwork in al-Battuf, this paper aims to represent Palestinian fellahin (farmers) as protagonists of the untold story of water and land politics in Palestine in general and the NWC story in the Galilee in particular. Continuously framed as a state-level issue, water politics are manifested here in the continuous efforts of the farmers of al-Battuf as active agents who protested against the NWC, demanded rights to water infrastructure in the valley and re-configured agricultural practices to defy the exclusionary and discriminatory Israeli water and land policies. It also aims to shed light on the underlying conditions and materiality which shaped and configured the Israeli water sector in those critical decades following 1948 and allowed its hegemonic control of Palestinian and Arab water.

Muna  Dajani is a Palestinian environmental researcher from Jerusalem. She holds a Masters degree in international development and environment from the University of Manchester and a BSc in civil engineering from Birzeit University. She is currently a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics (LSE) at the department of Geography and Environment. Her research investigates identity and belonging of agricultural communities under settler colonial context, specifically in the occupied Golan Heights and the Battuf Valley. She worked as a researcher on multiple international development projects focusing on water politics, sustainable agriculture, environmental justice and climate change politics. She has contributed to research such as The Hydro-political Baseline of the Upper Jordan (UEA), and Transboundary Climate Security: Climate Vulnerability and Rural Livelihoods in the Jordan River Basin (LSE and Birzeit University), and most recently to the Yarmouk Hydropolitical Baseline Study (UEA).