A shortage of water, but not hospitality, in the West Bank's fields

Abu Elias, a Jericho farmer, cultivates cucumbers, eggplants, ingenuity, and a good sense of humor.

Evan Bryant
Abu Elias, a father of four, earns his livelihood by farming a small plot of land just outside the center of Jericho, West Bank, October 2012.

Abu Elias is pretty much the man in Jericho, where he has raised his four children on the income he earns from growing cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. I met him in the town square on a dusty October day while reporting a story about water shortages in the West Bank; he invited me to come see his farm – after he visited the local barber shop.

After he was all spiffed up, he had another idea: taking us to visit a local “composting” conference at a farm on the outskirts of town.

It didn’t sound very useful for my story but we agreed to join him and I’m glad we did. It turned out that the Palestinian minister of agriculture was there, along with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. Amid manure piles and fish tanks, he introduced me to both.

Afterward we headed back to Abu Elias’s tidy plot. He used to plant 20 dunams (about 5 acres) of land, but has cut back to half that due to a water shortage, which he blames on mismanagement by the Jericho municipality.

"The spring of Ein Sultan produces the same amount but the distribution and administration of water is very bad, it’s inefficient," he says. "I am being given less water than what I deserve in terms of what I pay."

He has compensated by implementing new water-saving techniques, some of which he picked up from Israel. Among them are grafting regular tomato plants onto the roots of wild tomato plants, which are hardier and better handle drought conditions.

As Israeli fighter jets roared overhead toward the Dead Sea, he took a swig of clear, cold water from a clay jug and then poured us hot tea before sending us off with a hearty invitation to return again soon. Water may be in shorter supply here, but hospitality certainly is not.

Read here to read more about Abu Elias and the challenges – and opportunities – of providing Israelis and Palestinians with water as both populations expand and a peace agreement has yet to be found.

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