Friday, July 11, 2014

Water law and conflict in Mandate Palestine

As missiles fly overhead, I thought I'd post on something relevant to what's happening in my corner of the world. Though I'm not a big believer in the thesis that competition over water is at the root of conflict in the Middle East (while it's a popular theme in the press, academics have repeatedly debunked it), the converse is probably true: conflict in the region almost certainly exacerbates water problems in this relatively arid environment.

I recently published "Water law in British-ruled Palestine", which outlines the basic shape of legal conflict over water in Palestine in the years in which it was under British rule (1917-1948) (an ungated version is here). The abstract:
 This article surveys the water law of Palestine under British rule, identifying the legal norms governing the use of water and explaining some of the factors shaping the development of this area of the law. It argues that despite their lack of official lawmaking power, Arabs and Jews succeeded in decisively shaping the course taken by water law in this period. After surveying the Ottoman water law in force when the British took power in 1917, the article examines influential court decisions in a case brought by the Arab residents of the village Artas against government expropriation of water, and explains the significance of this litigation for the subsequent development of Palestine’s water law. It then discusses British initiatives meant to reform water law and subject the country’s water to state control, plans frustrated by the opposition of Zionist groups fearful of increased government regulation. It closes by noting that water law was made in this colonial context neither by imposition from above nor by resistance from below, but by intervention of subject peoples at the highest levels of official lawmaking.

Jewish National Fund poster of the water tower, a Zionist icon

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