On 2 December 2007, Adalah filed concluding arguments to the Supreme Court on an appeal filed in November 2006 against a decision delivered by the Haifa District Court (sitting as a Water Tribunal) upholding rulings of the Water Commissioner and the Israel Land Administration (ILA) not to provide residents of the unrecognized villages in the Naqab (Negev) with drinking water.
In its concluding arguments, Adalah argued that the residents of the unrecognized villages have been living in their villages for generations, often before 1948. “These families have not left their land and have not relocated to live in other areas, government-planned towns established by Israel … The main basis for denying the requests of these residents [for access to drinking water] is to exert pressure on them to relocate to these government-planned towns, which violates their basic right to dignity, solely in order to advance Israel’s policy. Not providing the unrecognized villages with drinking water is in practice a severe and totally illegal punishment,” Adalah argued.
The appeal was filed on behalf of six Palestinian Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, representing 128 families living in the unrecognized villages of Tel al-Maleh, Gatamat, Umm al-Hieran, Tel Arad, Tla’ Rashid, and a village located south of the main road between Beer el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) and Arad.
Most inhabitants of the unrecognized villages are forced to obtain their drinking water from water access points located several kilometers from their villages via improvised plastic hose connections or by transporting the water in unhygienic metal containers by vehicle or donkey. In addition to the problem of physical access to drinking water, the inhabitants are also exposed to health risks associated with the poor quality of their drinking water.
In 2001, Adalah filed a petition to the Supreme Court in which is demanded that seven Arab Bedouin unrecognized villages be connected to the national water network. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition in February 2003, when the state reported that water access points had been added for several of the villages. For additional claims, the Court decided that Arab Bedouin families should approach a new Water Committee, established pursuant to the petition, with concerns about water access. Thereafter Adalah filed motions to the Water Committee in 2003 and 2004 on behalf of 128 families requesting additional water access points. In October 2004, the “Bedouin Development Authority” (BDA), which operates within the framework of the ILA, issued letters to representatives of the villagers, informing them of the Water Commissioner’s decisions. The Water Commissioner denied most of the villagers’ requests. The BDA claimed that the requests were rejected because the Arab Bedouin living in the unrecognized villages were able to relocate to other towns constructed in accordance with the Planning and Building laws, and therefore connected to the water and the electricity system and provided with other essential services.
In April 2005, Adalah filed an appeal to the Haifa District Court (sitting as a Water Tribunal) against decisions of the Water Commissioner. Adalah raised three main arguments in the appeal. Firstly, Adalah argued that the Water Commissioner's decisions violate the villagers’ rights to water, health and dignity. Secondly, Adalah argued that the decisions unlawfully discriminate against the Arab Bedouin villagers on the basis of their nationality. Finally, Adalah argued that the Water Commissioner's decisions breach several basic principles of administrative law; for example, the Water Commissioner failed to exercise his own independent discretion by effectively allowing the Water Committee and the BDA to decide upon matters within his mandate.
The Water Tribunal rejected the appeal in September 2006. In the decision, the Tribunal referred to the case as one which deals with connections to the water network, however, behind it lies the issue of the organization of “Bedouin settlement”. On this basis, the Court decided that it did not have the authority to interfere in considerations relating to how “Bedouin settlement” is regulated. Adalah then filed its appeal to the Supreme Court in the same month.
In the appeal, Adalah contended that the right to access drinking water is a basic constitutional right, which is derived from the constitutional right to life, and the rights to dignity and equality. Further, Israel’s Water Law (1956) which stipulates that “Every person has the right to access and use water”, recognizes this right as a universal right enjoyed by every person by virtue of being a human being.
Adalah emphasized that the state’s shirking of its duty to provide the residents of the unrecognized villages with drinking water – at a time when vast “individual settlements” established for single Jewish families in the Naqab, often without proper permits, are immediately connected to the water network and all other basic services – discriminates against them and violates their right to equality.
Adalah further argued that the resource of water is a public resource according to the law. Therefore, using water resources to threaten the Arab Bedouin in the Naqab for the purpose of achieving the goals of the state by moving them off their lands is illegal.