Shmulik Grossman
June 25, 2010 - 12:00am,7340,L-3910555,00.html

The Israel Defense Forces recently thwarted an attempt made by Palestinians to illegally connect to the Mekorot Israel National Water infrastructure in order to siphon off water from it.

Soldiers took note o four people trying to connect to the pipes south of Hebron. When the four noticed they had been discovered, they fled the scene and the soldiers followed after them. The soldiers managed to apprehend two of the four men, while the others got away.

Residents of the settlements and villages in Mount Hebron woke up one morning this week only to be disappointed that there was no water in their faucets at home because of the recurring problem of Palestinian water piracy.

"This is lawlessness," Yigal Klein, chairman of the secretariat at the Pnei Hever settlement, told Ynet. "The Palestinians are connecting to the pipes with trucks or via an illegal system of pipes, and we don't have water in the morning. Children want to wash their faces before they go to school, and the faucets are empty. Even a cup of coffee becomes a rare commodity."

The phenomenon, according to Israel Water Authority, has already reached the proportions of a serious issue. "The pumping fro these illegal drillings come to a massive quantity of 10 million cubic meters of water a year," said a senior water official. "The Palestinians are connecting illegally to the supply lines of Mekorot and are causing a shortage in Hebron, Kiryat Arba, Yatta, and the surrounding villages."

Beyond the heavy damage incurred by the water theft, the official said that the phenomenon has forced Israeli authorities to lay new infrastructure lines along different routes in a bid to minimize harm done. "Phenomena of this sort occur throughout Judea and Samaria. Water theft from Israeli pipes costs the State millions of shekels every year," he said.

Other victims of this phenomenon are soldiers serving on IDF bases in the area that are drying up in light of the water shortage caused by the theft. The Judea territorial brigade has discovered that water supply stops during certain hours of the day, and thus has been compelled to place water tankers on the site.

A defense official explained that the increase of water piracy has led the military and Civil Administration units in the area to initiate arrests of those suspected of stealing water. He said thus far dozens of kilometers of piping intended for illegally rerouting water have been confiscated.

"Last year, we destroyed 17 water pools built on open territory that had collected massive amounts of stolen water," the defense official said.

In light of the problem, Mekorot has instituted a team dedicated to revealing and disconnecting illegal connections to the water network. Once such a connection is identified, armed security units are dispatched to the site to remove the pirate piping.

Mount Hebron Regional Council Head Tzviki Bar-Hai accused the water theft smorgasbord on the enforcement authorities.

"They are failing in the worst possible way. I contacted all the authorities, including the Infrastructure Ministry, the Civil Administration, and Mekorot. But none of them has managed to put an end to the phenomenon that recurs every summer. It is unclear to me why these thieves are not sitting behind bars," Bar-Hai said.

The police responded to the phenomenon: "We hope to put an end to the phenomenon, which harms both Palestinians residents living in the area and those living in Hebron. The damage is on a huge scale. Those shouldering the losses are citizens of the State of Israel and residents of the areas suffering from a water shortage, who, at the end of the month, also pay for the water that was stolen."

In response to Bar-Hai's comments, the police said, "Every complaint on the matter is addressed fully through carrying out the law. Shai Regional Police view any damage to national infrastructure with gravity, and the matter is being addressed with the investment of investigation and intelligence efforts."


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