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Water grabbing in colonial perspective: Land and water in Israel/Palestine

Stephen Gasteyer
Department of Sociology, Michigan State University, MI, USA; gasteyer@msu.edu
Jad Isaac
Applied Research Institute Jerusalem, Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine; jad@arij.org
Jane Hillal
Applied Research Institute Jerusalem, Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine; jane@arij.org
Sean Walsh
Department of Sociology, Michigan State University, MI, USA; walshse2@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: 'Water grabbing' and 'land grabbing' have been referred to as a new colonialism, dispossessing small farmers and indigenous people of land and water for the sake of investors. The current 'grabbing' is driven by perceived scarcity of food and sustainable energy, and is enabled by global financial instruments and commodity speculation. In this paper, we argue that while in many ways different, the 'new colonialism' of land/water grabbing may be better understood through analysis of old colonialism. We use actor network and place modernisation theories to analyse the history and practice of Zionist land/water grabbing in Israel/Palestine as an ongoing remnant of old colonialism. While there are clearly unique aspects to this case, there are similarities in processes, such as the narrative of modernising 'barren', 'infertile', and 'undeveloped' land. The ongoing power imbalance in water management and access, the disproportionate burden on Palestinians of growing water scarcity, and the inability of technical fixes to address the problems of relative deprivation may be seen as cautionary tales for current 'water grabbing'.

KEYWORDS: Colonisation, place modernisation, Zionism, actor network theory, water grabbing, Israel/Palestine