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B Physical geography of Jordan and Israel


B.1 Jordan

For this overview of the physical geography of Jordan, including its geology and hydrogeology, Bender (1975) is used as the core reference.

B. 1.1 Topography

In contrast to the more uniform and monotonous morphology of most of the Arabian peninsula, the territory of Jordan is morphologically distinctive and may be divided into seven "physiographic provinces," which coincide with the geological provinces shown in fig. B.1 (RJGC

1986):

The most remarkable physical feature of the country is the Jordan Rift valley, which is a narrow depression extending from the Gulf of Aqaba for approximately 360 km north to the upper Jordan River. Much of the land in this graben, as it is called, is below sea level, with the lowest levels in the Dead Sea at-794 m. The Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, which has no outlet. The Rift valley, however, continues to the Gulf of Aqaba, where Jordan has 20 km of coastline. To the east of the Rift valley, the land rises steeply to a plateau with an average altitude of about 800 m above mean sea level and with peaks rising to over 1,500 m in the south. Ninety per cent or more of the surface water resources, which include two-third of the country's total potential water resources, are drained into the Dead Sea.

Fig. B.1 Physiographic-geolo~cal provinces of Jordan (Source: Bender 1975)

B.1.2 Hydrology

Jordan lies in a transitional zone between the Mediterranean climate in the west and the arid climate to the east and south. The synoptic climatic zone of Jordan is part of the Mediterranean big-climatic region, an essential feature of which is the concentration of rainfall during the cool winter season and a very marked summer drought. This relatively simple climatic regime is due to the interaction of two major atmospheric circulation patterns. During the winter months Jordan is within the sphere of influence of the temperate-latitudes climatic belt, and moist, cool air moves eastward from the Mediterranean over the area. In the summer months the area lies within the subtropical highpressure belt of dry air; temperatures are relatively high and no rainfall occurs. Regional distribution of rainfall within the area is related to the orographic effect of the western highlands, which are oriented normal to the direction of movement of moist air during the winter months. This produces high rainfall zones coincident with the higher mountain ranges and a marked rain shadow in the lee of the hills. Altitude has also a strong effect on temperature. Frost is common during the winter months, and snowfalls occur in most years in the western highlands from December to March.

The highest rainfall zones correspond to the major mountain blocks of the western highlands, including the highest mean annual rainfall of 664 mm at Ajlun station in the northern part of the western highlands. The mean annual rainfall is relatively abundant, in the range between 200 and 600 mm in the western highlands, but it decreases rapidly from the western highlands into the Jordan valley, Dead Sea, and Wadi Araba. From the northern end of the Dead Sea southwards and from Wadi Araba to Aqaba, the mean annual rainfall decreases to less than 100 mm and 50 mm respectively. North from the Dead Sea to Lake Tiberias rainfall increases to up to 400 mm per year. In most of the central plateau and in the eastern desert the mean annual rainfall decreases to less than 50-100 mm where the land slopes gently to the Arabian desert. Rainfall occurs between October and May and is at its highest between December and March, when more than 80% of the annual rainfall occurs. The annual rainfall varies from year to year; the range is most marked in the central plateau and in the southern part of the westem highlands, where there have been extreme records of only 2 mm per year and a maximum of 233 mm per year. The distribution of annual rainfall is shown in fig. B.2.

Owing to the hyper-arid climate with a substantial deficit in soil moisture, actual evaporation from the desert land is estimated to be very small and is less than the amount of annual rainfall plus residual soil moisture, while the potential evaporation, which as measured by class A-pan, is as high as 2,4007,400 mm per year. The highest rate of 7,400 mm per year occurs in the eastern and southern Bayir, while it is less than 3,000 mm per year in the northern and central mountain ranges and less than 2,800 mm in the mountains of Shoubak and Tafila (RJGC 1986). The highest potential evaporation occurs during the hottest months of the year, from June to August; the months with lowest evaporation are December to February.

The average annual volume of rainfall within Jordan is estimated to be 8,500 million m. With high evaporation losses, however, the average net annual run-off is only about 1,120 million m, including 242 million m in the form of groundwater and 878 million m in surface flow.

The eastern Jordan valley basin, which includes the Syrian share of the Yarmouk River basin-including the Yarmouk River, Wadi Arab, Wadi Ziqlab, Wadi Jurum, Wadi Yabis, Wadi Kufrinja, Wadi Rajib, Wadi Zarqa, Wadi Shueib, and Wadi Kafrein-has an annual average run-off estimated to be 607 million m in total, which includes 357 million m of base flow.

The Dead Sea basin, which includes Wadi Zerqa Ma'an, Wadi Wala, Wadi Mujib, Wadi al-Karak, and Wadi Hasa, has an annual average run-off estimated to be 191 million m in total, including 141 million m of base flow.

A small amount of surface flow occurs in the Wadi Araba basin south of the Dead Sea. The Wadi Araba basin includes Wadi Feifa, Wadi Khuneizir, Wadi Fidan, Wadi el-Buweirida, and Wadi Musa. The annual average run-off is estimated to be 31 million m in total, including 21.6 million m of base flow.

Other desert basins are mostly located in the eastern and southem part of Jordan, of which the wadi systems are not clearly defined.

The Yarmouk River, which runs along the northern border of Jordan with Syria, provides almost half (400 million m per year at Adasiya) of Jordan's surface water resources. The total stream-flows of Jordan are estimated to be about 878 million m per year, including 540 million m of base flow.

Fig. B.2 Mean annual rainfall map of Israel and the Jordan Rift valley

B.1.3 Geology

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is situated in the north-westem corner of the Arabian peninsula. Part of the Nubo-Arabian shield is exposed in southwestern Jordan. It is characterized by platonic and metamorphic rocks, and by some minor occurrences of Upper Proterozoic sedimentary rocks. Cambrian, Ordovician, and Silurian sandstone and shale of continental and marine origin have a maximum thickness of 1,800 m and unconformably overlie the rocks of the Precambrian basement complex.

A belt of sedimentary rocks deposited chiefly on the stable shelf area of the Tethys Sea borders the northern fringe of the shield. Most of south-eastern and central Jordan is within this belt. It is a zone of inter-fingering sedimentary rocks of continental, littoral, and neritic origin, rapid lateral facies changes, and many stratigraphic unconformities caused by pulsation and, at certain periods, transgression and regression of the Tethys Sea. Regionally, the marine influence on the deposition increases toward the north and west. The total thickness of all post-Proterozoic sedimentary rocks is 2,000-3,000 m; it exceeds 4,000 m in the baylike sedimentary basin of Al-Jafr in south-central Jordan and 5,000 m in the Al-Azraq-Wadi al-Sirhan basin in north central Jordan. These sedimentary basins strike north-west and thus seem to merge with the unstable shelf area of the Tethys Sea in the north-west.

In the transition zone to and in the area of the unstable shelf in northwestern, northern, and probably north-eastern Jordan, neritic and bathyal sedimentary rocks form the greater part of the post Palaeozoic rocks. There, the stratigraphic sequence is more complete, with fewer unconformities, and lateral facies changes are less pronounced than in the stable shelf area to the south and south-east. In north-western Jordan, west of the Jordan River, the total thickness of sedimentary rocks above the Precambrian basement may be as much as 7,000 m; in the Dead Sea area of Wadi al-Araba-Jordan Rift province, repeated structural subsidence resulted in the accumulation of sedimentary rocks as much as 10,000 m thick.

No evidence is known of post-Proterozoic structural movements characteristic of alpine orogenesis. The crustal movements affecting the country since the Cambrian were gentle regional fillings (epeirogenic movements) and a combination of faulting, block folding, and taphrogenic movements. The majority of structural features were caused by tensional forces. Evidence of compression is rare and chiefly restricted to west Jordan and to north Jordan east of the Rift.

Major volcanic activity occurred during (1) the Late Proterozoic and Early Cambrian (quartz porphyries; Wadi al-Araba), (2) the Late Jurassic (?) and Neocomian (mafic and intermediate eruptive rocks; Wadi al-Araba and west of the Jordan River), and (3) the Neogene Tertiary (includes Miocene and Pliocene) and Pleistocene (extensive basalt volcanism) (Bender 1975).

Fig. B.3 General bydrogeological section of Jordan (Source: Harshbarger 1966)

B.1.4 Hydrogeology

The main aquifers have been recognized in the pervious sequences in the formation of (1) the basalt system, (2) Rijam (B4) system, (3) Amman-Wadi Sir (B2/A7) system, (4) Lower Ajlun (A1-6) system, (5) Kurnub system, and (6) Disi system (see fig. B.3).

BASALT SYSTEM. The basalt system of Pleistocene age is a regional shallow aquifer system to the north of Azraq. High rainfall on the Jabel Druze mountains in Syria is a source of groundwater recharge, which discharges southwards to the Azraq depression. The aquifer is formed by permeable scoriaceous zones in the basaltic rock unit.

RETAM (B4) SYSTEM . The Rijam (B4) system of Eocene-Palaeocene age is a regional shallow aquifer which is formed in the central parts of the Jafr and Azraq basins. The Rijam formation has a thickness of 50-150 m or less, which is underlain by the chalky marls or chalks of the upper Muwaqqar (B3) formation. The aquifer is in an isolated independent hydrologic system, forming a water-table condition in general. Within the basin the saturated zone of the Rijam formation occurs in an area of very low rainfall, less than 50 mm per year. The aquifer receives limited recharge by infiltration of flash floods through the wadi courses, which flow in an easterly direction. The wadi system and groundwater flow in the Jafr basin have no outlet. The Rijam formation of the Azraq basin comprises part of a composite aquifer system with a basalt system which discharges at the Azraq springs and swamps. The permeability of the Rijam formation is variable, owing to varying degrees of karstification. The water is highly saline in the areas of stagnant environment and in the discharging area, while it is fresh in the areas along the wadi courses where direct infiltration from the flash floods occurs. The Rijam aquifer is a local aquifer with limited potential.

AMMAN-WADI SIR (B2/A7) AQUIFER. The most important aquifer system is the Amman-Wadi Sir (B2/A7), which consists of limestone, silicified limestone, chert, arenaceous limestone, and sandstone of Middle to Upper Cretaceous age. This system extends throughout the entire country, with a thickness of about 100-350 m. The depth of the groundwater table below the ground surface generally ranges from 50 to 250 m on the uplands. Good groundwater recharge occurs in the western highlands, where annual rainfall ranges from 200 to 600 mm. To the east, the aquifer is confined by a thick marl layer such as the Muwwaqar (B3) formation, and water salinity is increased.

LOWER AJLUN (A 1-6) AQUTFER. An intermediate aquifer system is the lower Ajlun (A1-6), which consists of alternating limestone, marl, shale, chert, and sandstone of Middle Cretaceous age. This system is underlain by the Amman-Wadi Sir formation, which is mostly confined by its relatively impervious layer of marl and shale in the AS/6 of the upper unit of A1-6. The lower Ajlun formation extends throughout the country with variable thickness and litho-facies. Southwards, the aquifers in the lower Ajlun formation become more sandy with less salinity. The system is mostly untapped, owing to its complicated hydrogeology and deep formations.

DEEP SANDSTONE AQUIFERS: KURNUB/ZARQA AND DTSI. Deep sandstone aquifers are the Kurnub/Zarqa of Lower Cretaceous age and the Disi of Palaeozoic age, which are unconformably separated by a less permeable layer of sandstone, siltstone, and shale. The Kurnub formation intercalates frequent argillaceous layers in the south, while the Disi is composed of massive and rather homogeneous arenaceous. Groundwaters in these aquifers are mostly non-renewable because of limited groundwater recharge through small outcrop areas. The quality of the groundwater in the Kurnub/Zarqa system varies from fresh to brackish. Excellent quality with low salinity, however, is found in the Disi aquifer in the southern part of the country, which has been exploited for the water supply of Aqaba and local experimental irrigation. The aquifer complex forms a huge groundwater reservoir extending under the whole of the country, which may offer opportunities for short-term or emergency uses.

B.2 Israel

B.2.1 Topography

Israel is one of the smallest states in the Middle East, covering an area of approximately 21,000 km. Its shore-line is on the eastern border of the Mediterranean Sea, and its territory extends northwards through the Golan Heights and southwards through the Negev to Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel has four geomorphologic provinces: (1) the coastal plain, (2) mountains and hills, (3) the Negev desert, and (4) the Rift valley (see fig. B.2).

The Mediterranean coastal plain, which is fertile land relatively rich in water resources from wells and springs, stretches from Rosh Hanikra south to Ashkelon, with a length of about 200 km. The source of valuable groundwater recharge for the coastal plains is mainly dependent on rainfall over the mountains and hills with permeable strata dipping westwards. The 'Emek Yizre'el is a graben with a northwest/south-east direction, of which the alluvial plain is floored by a thick layer of rich, heavy soils (fig. B.2).

The mountains and hills include the regions of upper and lower Galilee, Samaria, and Judaea. Upper Galilee is structurally part of the mountains of Lebanon, a picturesque limestone plateau dominated by Mount Hermon (2,814 m). Lower Galilee, to the south, is a mountainous block broken into many smaller hills of lower altitude with gentle slopes. Galilee as a whole is the wettest region of Israel, where both springs and streams are more numerous and richer than in Judaea. Samaria, which roughly corresponds to the heartland of the ancient Kingdom of Israel, between the 'Emek Yizre'el and the plateau of Judaea, is dissected into hills and valleys (fig. B.2). Samaria is lower in elevation than Galilee or Judaea and has rainfall up to 630750 mm, but surface water is not plentiful. The boundary between Samaria and Judaea is not physically well-defined, but may be thought of as passing some 15 km north of Jerusalem. Judaea is more like a high plateau, between 450 m and 900 m high, with dominating bleaker and barer rocky landscapes. The mountains of Judaea rise to nearly 1,000 m, with precipitation of up to 700 mm; to the east it becomes dry, with under 300 mm of rainfall.

The Negev, which forms a large triangular desert region, constituted about half of the area of pre-1947 Palestine and more than 60% of pre-1976 Israel. A ridge of mountains and hills runs across the central Negev at heights between 500 m and 600 m, rising towards the Egyptian border to above 900 m in places. The north-western part of the Negev receives fair but unreliable rainfall, while the rest of the Negev receives from 200 to less than 50 mm of mean annual rainfall. The Negev has never been thickly populated, but its economic significance is considerable since almost all of Israel's important mineral resources such as copper, phosphates, natural gas, and glass sand are found there.

The Jordan Rift valley is about 360 km long and is the northern part of the world's largest graben system, known as the Rift Valley, which connects East Africa and northern Syria over a total length of about 6,000 km. The Wadi Araba-Jordan rift strikes N15E from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea, and forms the "south graben," which has a length of approximately 200 km. The floor of the rift rises gradually from the Gulf of Aqaba to altitudes of 250 m above sea level at the watershed of Jabal al-Rishah in the center of Wadi al-Araba. From there the floor falls gently northwards to the surface of the Dead Sea at 400 m below sea level. The maximum depth of the Dead Sea is 793 m below sea level. It covers an area of 1,000 km and has two basins, which are separated by the Lisan Straits, namely the "north sea" and the "south sea," with areas of 720 km and 230 km respectively.

The rift turns from N15E to about N5E to Lake Tiberias to form the "north graben." From the mouth of the Jordan River, at 400 m below sea level, the 105-km-long Jordan valley rises to 212 m below sea level at Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee). The Jordan River, which runs on the floor of the north graben, separates the West Bank areas of the Palestine block to the west and the Trans-Jordan block, or East Bank, to the east.

The catchment includes parts of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. The watershed between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean extends approximately north-north-west from the Al-Khalil (Hebron) region through Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Ramallah to the Nablus region and reaches altitudes of about 1,000 m. The shortest distance between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean is 72 km, which corresponds to the proposed central alternative canal/tunnel route, Tel Aviv-Jerusalem-Qumran, for the Mediterranean-Dead Sea solar-hydro scheme (fig. B.2).

B.2.2 Hydrology

For about eight months of the year Israel enjoys warm and sunny weather. Winter rains fall between December and March, sometimes even in April, usually in storms of two or three days' duration. Precipitation is confined to the winter season and varies from an average of 1,000 mm in Galilee in the north to 500 mm on the coastal plain near Tel Aviv, 200 mm near Beersheba, and less than 50 mm at Eilat in the south (see fig. B.2). Rainfall varies considerably from one winter season to another, from around 25% of the longterm average in dry years to 160% of the long-term average in particularly rainy years. Over half of Israel's area receives less than 180 mm of precipitation annually (Gisser and Pohoryles 1977).

The southern part of Israel is desert, namely the Negev desert, which has a high potential evaporation, in the range between 1,700 and 2,700 mm per year, and whose relative humidity and solar radiation register 40%-60% and 195-201 kcal/cm per year respectively (Buras and Darr 1979). Owing to the low levels of precipitation and high potential evaporation, large water deficiencies have been experienced in the southern part of the Israel. Droughts are not infrequent, particularly in the southern part of the country.

The climate of the Rift valley ranges from "hot-arid" with a mean annual rainfall of less than 100-300 mm in the bottom of Jordan valley to "Mediterranean semi-arid" with more than 300-700 mm in the surrounding highlands. The climate of the Dead Sea and the southern graben is hyper-arid. Sodom, which is situated just beside the southwest shore of the Dead Sea, has an average annual rainfall of 47 mm (1931-1969), with monthly means of daily minimum temperature of 12C in January and maximum of 39C in August. The mean relative humidity is rather high, at 56% in January and 38% in August. To the south of Dead Sea, the climate becomes drier. Eilat, on the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba, has an average annual rainfall of 25 mm, with a mean daily minimum temperature of 10C in January and maximum of 40C in August. The mean relative humidity is as low as 46% in January and 28% in August. Climatic data for selected locations, including Tel Aviv on the coastal plain, Jerusalem in the mountain range, Deganya in the Rift valley, Sodom on the Dead Sea, Beersheba in the Negev desert, and Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba, are given in table B.1.

Surface drainage is largely controlled by a few streams flowing east and west, some of which have cut deeply into the highlands with their numerous head streams. The largest river, the Jordan, is entirely landlocked, terminating in the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is a closed sea with no outlet except by evaporation from the surface, which amounts to 1,500-1,600 mm per year (Carder and Neal 1984). In the past, the evaporation losses were replenished by an inflow of fresh water from the Jordan River and its tributaries, as well as from other sources such as wadi floods, springs, and rainfall. The mean volume of water flowing into the sea before 1930 was about 1.6 x 109 m per year, of which 1.1 x 109 m was contributed by the Jordan River (Weiner and Ben-Zvi 1982). Under these conditions, the Dead Sea had reached an equilibrium level of around 393 m below sea level, with some seasonal and annual fluctuation due to variations in the amount of rainfall. However, since the early 1950s, Israel, and later Jordan, have taken steps to utilize the fresh water flowing into the Dead Sea for intensified irrigation and other purposes, which has reduced the amount of water entering the sea by 1 x 109 m per year. As a consequence, the level of the Dead Sea has declined in recent years, reaching as low as 402 m below sea level today, which is almost 15 m lower than its historic equilibrium level. The surface area of the Dead Sea and the volume of evaporation vary by only a few percent between the elevations from-406 to390 m, while the water levels fluctuate considerably. The Dead Sea and its variations of water level from 1840 to 1980 are shown in fig. B.4.

Table B.1 Climatic data for selected locations m Israel

  Altitude (m) Average annual rainfall (mm) Mean relative humidity (%)
Jan. Aug.
Tel Aviv 20 564 74 73
Jerusalem 810 486 65 54
Deganya - 200 384 70 54
Sodom - 390 47 56 38
Beersheba 280 204 65 58
Eilat 12 25 46 28
  Mean daily temperature (C) Period
January August
Min. Max. Min. Max.
Tel Aviv 8 18 22 31 1949-58
Jerusalem 6 13 20 30 1951-60
Deganya 9 18 24 37 1949-58
Sodom 12 21 29 39 1961-70
Beersheba 7 17 19 33 1961-70
Eilat 10 21 26 40 1956-65

The sea is a brine water body with vast mineral wealth, including potash, common salt, bromide, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride. The extremely high salinity amounts to 230,000-300,000 mg of TDS per litre. The specific gravity of the brine water has been estimated to be 1.22-1.23.

Fig. B.4 The Dead Sea and wafer-level changes (Source: Weiner 1982)

B.2.3 Geology

The territory of Israel and the occupied areas of Palestine is part of a physiographic region consisting of marine sedimentary formations Iying along the western margins of the ancient Arabian land mass, which were folded in Miocene and Early Pliocene times to form a long anticline running roughly parallel with the Mediterranean coast. According to the "Geological Map of the Arab World" (AOMR 1987), the geology is mostly of sedimentary origin, ranging in age from Triassic to Neogene-Quaternary, except in the vicinity of Lake Tiberias, where volcanics of Miocene-Quaternary age widely cover the area. The sedimentary succession, which has a thickness of more than 1,000 m, is due mainly to a series of regional regressions and transgressions of the Tethys Sea. The stratigraphic sequence of the sedimentary rocks includes Quaternary, Pliocene-Miocene, Eocene Palaeogene, Upper to Middle Cretaceous of Cenonian and Cenomanian-Turonian, Lower Cretaceous, Jurassic, and Triassic. The lowest formation of the Palaeozoic-Precambrian system, which consists mainly of acid intrusives, outcrops in some small areas in the southern Negev near Eilat. The sedimentary sequences comprise mainly carbonate rocks and sandstones from Triassic to Plio-Pleistocene. Fig. B.5 is a geological map (AOMR 1987). The main aquifer is found in the Cretaceous (Cenomanian-Turonian) formations, which consist largely of dolomite and limestone intercalating some clay and chalk layers and have a maximum thickness of about 600-700 m (Schneider 1967), as indicated in fig. B.6, a schematic geological profile crossing central Israel.

The taphrogenic structural movements which initiated the formation of the present graben apparently occurred along old structural zones of weakness, started during the Late Eocene (?) to Oligocene. The area east of the south graben in the Trans-Jordan block was structurally elevated in the late Oligocene to Miocene. In the graben area itself, marine sediments were deposited during the Oligocene and Neogene. The thick evaporite series of Late Miocene (?) to Pliocene age in the Dead Sea area may demonstrate the gradual decrease and termination of marine deposition in a part of the graben.

Fig. B.5 Geological map of Israel/Palestine (Source: AOMR 1987)

Fig. B.6 Typical hydrogeological profile of central Israel (Source: Schneider 1967)

The Lisan formation, which consists mainly of shale and marl intercalating gravels and some gypsums and native sulphurs, unconformably overlies all older rock sequences in the Rift province. The Lisan formation was deposited in a fluctuating oligohaline and miohaline lacustrine environment in the Late Pleistocene age. The ancient Lisan Lake covered the entire Rift valley from Lake Tiberias to approximately 80 km south of the Dead Sea. Along the margin of the Rift province, the Lisan formation intercalates with coarse elastic and sandy deposits derived from the elevated areas bordering the Rift valley.

The Rift valley is covered with Holocene and Pleistocene fluvial, aeolian, and lacustrine sediments (AOMR 1987).

B.2.4 Israel and the occupied areas: Palestine issues

During the latter half of the nineteenth century more than half of the Jews in the world lived in eastern Europe and in tsarist Russia, where their conditions were as miserable as they had been everywhere in Europe for many centuries. In the 1880s their distress was added to by a series of anti-Jewish riots in southern Russia, which resulted in large scale emigration. This caused the first wave of Zionists to reach Palestine in modern times. It was their conviction that the only possible solution to the plight of Jewish communities in the East and the threat of assimilation in the West was the formation of a Jewish state. Pre 1948 Jewish colonization in Palestine thus laid the foundations for the emergence of Israel in 1948.

After the First World War and the break-up of the Ottoman Empire a "Mandate" for Palestine was entrusted to Britain by the League of Nations and continued until the eve of the birth of Israel in 1948. The boundaries of Palestine in the east followed the natural divide of the Jordan valley and the Araba depression. In the south-west the 1906 boundary between the Ottoman Empire and Egypt remained, from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Mediterranean Sea south of Gaza. This border, with the Gaza Strip enclave on the coast, was restored with Israel's withdrawal from Sinai in 1979. The northern and north-eastern boundaries of Palestine were established by Anglo-French agreement in 1920 and 1923 and remained unchanged until Israel seized the Golan Heights in June 1967.

The configuration of Israel's pre-1967 boundaries was largely determined by the location of Jewish rural settlements, and the distribution of the Jewish population was the basis of the UN's partition proposals. Jewish colonization of the Arab territories of Sinai (with the Gaza Strip), the Golan, and the West Bank began after the Six Day War of June 1967. Here again, the geopolitical dimension of the settlement strategy is of great interest, but the real significance of the occupied area settlements is that they may hold the key to the future of the state of Israel (see fig. B.7).

Although substantially larger than the area popularly thought of as biblical Palestine, the Mandated territory was one of the smallest geopolitical units in South-West Asia. Its total population was only 752,000 at the 1922 census. Yet throughout history, control of this part of the earth's surface has been the ambition of successive powers, not only because of its unrivalled strategic significance at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe and between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, but also because Palestine is revered by millions of Muslims, Christians, and Jews for its religious associations.

In many ways the West Bank is by far the most important of the remaining occupied areas, not only being the largest (5,900 km) and most populous but also being the natural focus of Palestinian political aspirations. In 1984 the Arab population, including those temporarily abroad, was more than 900,000, an increase of approximately one-third since the Israeli occupation began in 1967. The West Bank is also the focus of intensive Jewish settlement effort, spurred on by a variety of factors.

Israel's stake on the West Bank was so great that voluntary withdrawal seemed inconceivable. After September 1993, however, there is a goodwill opportunity of withdrawing from the occupied territory, including Gaza and Jericho, in exchange for peace.

Apart from heavy financial and political investment in the new settlements on the West Bank, Israel is dependent on the West Bank for some 430 million m per year of its water supply out of a total 1,655 million m, a quarter of the annual water potential. Israel's heavy dependence on the fresh renewable water resources in the occupied Golan Heights also amounts to 305 million m per year, accounting for 90% of the total potential yield of 330 million m. Thus, Israeli dependence on the water sources in occupied Palestine including the Golan Heights and the West Bank amounts to 735 million m per year, which accounts for 45% of its total annual water consumption of 1,655 million m (Zarour and Isaac 1993). This would be less critical if Israel were not already over-exploiting its water potential and facing increasing demands on water supply to cover a deficit of 230-340 million m per year. Since 1982 Israel's national water company, Mekorot, has been integrating the West Bank supplies into the Israeli network. It seems clear that control of these sources will not be surrendered until alternative resources have been secured or the demand can be reduced by water conservation. The water resources of the West Bank being diverted into Israel account for 73.5% of the West Bank's water resources.

Fig. B.7 Israel and occupied territories


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