Miriam Lowi, in a book that is by and large thoroughly researched and amply documented, considers the Jordan River basin from both a politico economic and geographical perspective, and attempts comparisons (chapter 3) with other river valleys (the much larger Euphrates, Indus and Nile) having their own particular political disputes over water rights. What makes the Jordan case unique is, first, the fact that so little actual water is involved (its total discharge is only 2 percent of that of the Nile and Indus and 6 percent of the Euphrates, p. 28) and second, that three of the four countries concerned, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, have been in a state of war since 1948 (and the fourth, Jordan, ended its state of belligerency only in 1995). But for two of these states, Israel and Jordan, "the river is crucial...in their efforts to meet consumption demand" (p. 29). For Israel, the river "provided one-third of its total water supply and more than two-thirds of Jordan's" (p. 10). Here, however, the author makes the curious assertion that neither Israel nor Jordan is "the dominant power in the basin." If Israel isn't, who is? For Lebanon and Syria, who together controlled the three headwaters until 1967, the issue was largely one of politics since the actual water involved was not of major importance to them for either human consumption or agriculture.
The dependence of Israel and Jordan on Jordan Valley water has become increasingly problematic as both their population growth and the expansion of irrigated agricultural land has made larger consumer demands inevitable. The result, of course, has been an over pumping of ground waters, "an overdraft that could cause irreversible damage" (p. 31). Moreover, the greater portion of the Jordan (from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea) "because of a high degree of salinity...cannot be used for agricultural purposes. In fact, over the years it has become little more than a drainage ditch" (p. 32). Much of the groundwater Israel uses comes from the "Yarqon-Taninim aquifer" which lies under the western portion of the West Bank (p. 147). Incidentally, although one map (8.2, p. 184) is devoted to these underground aquifers, the "Yarqon-Tanimim" is not identified by name on it (as the index indicates it should be) but only as the "Western Aquifer." Heavy dependence on this source, to which Israel had access somewhat surreptitiously even before 1967, has caused the water level in some areas to fall below sea level "so that infiltration of sea water is imminent" (p. 31). There is, as has been well publicized, the additional problem of the inequitable distribution of water on the West Bank itself. Water permitted to the Arab population in 1983 for instance did not exceed the 1967 level (p. 188). Water used by Israeli settlers is heavily subsidized by the government, while Palestinian Arabs receive no subsidy at all. No Arabs have been able to drill new wells for agriculture, while settlers have been able to do so frequently and often "in close proximity to Palestinian springs" (p. 189) with obvious consequences.
The history of the four-nation rivalry for Jordan water is given considerable attention by the author with particular emphasis on the Johnston Mission of 1953-56, the Arab attempts at diversion of the headwaters 1963-67, and the discouraging failure of Jordan to be able to make better use of its major tributary source, the Yarmuk. Many attempts have been made to implement the Maqarin and Unity Dam projects which would allow Jordan to maintain a holding reservoir for its own use. But both Syria, for political reasons, and Israel, for reasons of its water needs, have prevented this development from taking place. Since 1967 Israel has diverted downstream Yarmuk water from the occupied Syrian Golan side of the river to the Sea of Galilee, roughly 25 percent of the total discharge (p. 181). No wonder it has resisted Jordanian plans to put this water to its own rightful utilization. The author also notes the long-standing Israeli goal of acquiring the Litani River, the entire length of which lies inside Lebanese territory. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 the World Zionist Organization demanded "the greater part of the Litani" (p. 40 and p. 153). During the early stages of the Johnston negotiations of the early 1950s "the Israeli team insisted that the Lebanese national river be included in the basin-wide development scheme" (pp. 153-54) even though it is not part of the Jordan watershed and flows into the Mediterranean north of the city of Tyre. Since 1982 the Israelis have controlled much of the lower Litani flow, and there have been rumors and assertions, all denied by Israel, that Litani waters are being diverted south.
Dearly the issue of water use in the Jordan Valley, as well as the Litani issue, will be with us for the foreseeable future. The author does not give us much reason to hope that the problems involved will be resolved to anyone's satisfaction other than Israel's. Her concluding remark makes this point clear: the resolution of water-rights problems are successful "only when the dominant power in the basin has been induced to cooperate" (p. 204). In the course of her book, however, much light is shed on the nature of the problem, the history and background, and the basic statistics which go a long way towards clarifying the reasons behind the continuing negotiations, demands and counter-demands from all sides.
There are major discrepancies in matters of geography that must be mentioned. First Lowi on two occasions (table 2.2, p. 24 and table 3.1, p. 55) informs us that the Jordan runs for 800 kilometers (500 miles), having previously noted in the text (p. 25) that the length of the river is between 142 and 145 kilometers (depending on whether you accept the figure of 6.5 or 10 kilometers, both of which are given on the same page, as being the distance from the Sea of Galilee to the point where the Jordan receives the Yarmuk), 25 kilometers of that total being from the point where it is formed by the confluence of its three headwaters, the Dan, the Banias and the Hasbani, and the balance from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea.
In addition, the author says on page 25 that the Dan, the largest of the three headwaters, "lies wholly within Israel" when in fact it rises very clearly on maps 2.2 (p. 24), 5.1 and 5.2 (pp. 117, 120) inside Lebanon, and, just to make matters more confusing, on map 8.1 (pp. 178-179) deep inside the occupied Golan Heights of Syria. A fifth map, 4.1 on pages 84-85, vindicates the author by showing an Israeli source. In addition, the Banias headwater, which we are told on p. 25 "flows for less than two kilometers in Syria before crossing into Israel" is to my knowledge (having just this summer been to the spring where the Banias pours out of the ground at the ancient site of Ceasarea Phillipi) as the author describes. Yet several maps (2.2, 5.1, 5.2 and 8.1) show it rising deep inside Syria. This kind of discrepancy makes one a little hesitant to trust other statistics given.
Apart from the problem of mapping and measurement there were a few other discrepancies which should be pointed out. On page 35 the author states that "the non-Jewish communities of Israel and its occupied territories-Arabs, Christians, Druzes-have consistently had higher birth rates than the Jewish population." This is wrong on two counts. First, Christians and Druze are Arabs. The author perhaps means "Muslims." Second, the Christian Arab birthrate is lower than that of Israeli Jews. The Government Information Center reported this year (1995 as quoted in the Jerusalem Post, June 21, 1995) that in 1993, the year of the publication of Lowi's book, the Jewish fertility rate (the number of children women are expected to have in their lifetime) was 2.61. For Muslims it was 4.68, for Droze and others 3.76 and for Christian Arabs only 2.03. Finally, there seems to be a puzzling use of quotation marks around terms: "free world" and "power vacuums" (p. 81), for example. Does the author wish to convey that these terms are not accurate portrayals of what they are meant to describe? And why the reference to "the so-called 'Arab victory ' of 1973? Why "so-called" and why Arab victory in quotation marks? These minor glitches aside, the author has provided a useful addition to reference works on the very vital topic of water-rights disputes in the Middle East.