The distribution of deserts and water are political dynamite in Asia Minor.

An Arid Lands Problem

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You have been appointed by an international Court of Justice to act as a Court appointed master to settle a dispute among three nations and four parties to a dispute over water resources.

(in Hardin 46-47, 128-137; Dunlop & Caldwell, Hundley ch. 6, 7 & 8; )



313-324, The visits of Constantine and his mother, Helen, establishing the sacred sites in Jerusalem of the Christian traditions.

638, The moslem Arabs lay siege and take Jerusalem, making it one of the three holy cities of the Islamic tradition.

1517, Ottoman Turks defeated the Malemuks to seize control of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Arabia

1916, Sykes-Picot Agreement between the United Kingdom (Britain) and France to divide the Ottoman Empire into zones of occupation somewhat related to ethnic boundaries among Levantine, Palestinian, and other Arabic peoples.

The facts in the case are as follows. Israel, Lebanon and Jordan have disputed claims over surface and underground water supplies of the Jordan Valley. These nations and the Palestinian authority with nominal control if not now divided control over the Gaza strip and the West Bank of the Jordan River have, for more than two decades, struggled to control the limited water resources of the region. Water in the Eastern Mediterranean comes from rather limited rains and more frequent, but unreliable winter snow fall patterns. The Palestinians of Gaza elected Hamas in a 2006 legislative election to rule their territory while the West Bank Palestinians have remained loyal to the Palestinian Authority. Currently approximately 4.7 million people are considered Palestinian refugees according to Arab authorities.


As populations have grown in this area, per capita demand for water has accelerated at a faster rate than the growth of population. Now and industrially sophisticated Israel, faces a need for more water to sustain municipal demands and agricultural production.


In 1973 Shiite Muslim sponsored guerrillas attacked an Israeli Army base within Israel from across the Lebanese border.

In retaliation the Israeli --Likud government-- armed forces launched an invasion of Lebanon culminating in the seizure of southern areas adjacent to the northern Israeli frontier, including south eastern Beirut and most of the Litani river valley.

The Litani river flows south to west from the high mountains of Lebanon down to the Mediterranean Sea at Tyre, just north of the Israeli border. It supplies water to half of the 2.5 million citizens of Lebanon.

Together with the headwaters of the Jordan River, the Litani River is the sole source of surface water for the arid borderlands of southern Lebanon.

Snows on the mountains in winter sink into the porous sandy soil and form a substantial 350 mile long underground source of water lying beneath the deserts of Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Arabia, and Egypt. The snows are not regularly predictable and the region's climate is analogous to Southern California, in that respect.

This aquifer is one reason that the 10,000 year old city of Jericho was founded in Neolithic times & has been occupied ever since, because ample water had been available underground. Evaporation of water is so great in this part of what is the Great Rift Valley, that the water quality of the Dead Sea, where waters of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River ultimately flow, is heavily laden with salt.

The Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, provoked the Syrian occupation of Beirut and north eastern Lebanon, until the Israeli withdrawal. But even since the Israeli invasion, occupation and withdrawal, the waters of the Litani River and the headwaters of the Jordan River were partially redirected into the Sea of Galilee
for both irrigation of crop land (fruit trees and vegetables) and generation of electricity for the cities of Israel & communities on the West Bank of the Palestinians.

The extensive grazing lands of what is since 1948 and 1967 part of Israel were once part of the Ottoman Turk province of Palestine and those parcels belonged since before the last century to Muslim & Christian Palestinian Arabs who once raised flocks of goats and herds of sheep and camels for the caravan trade. There was since the 1880s a slow and steady movement of Eastern European Jews into the region then under Turkish control. With Arab unrest due to Ottoman rule, the effect of World War One was to encourage British promises to both Hebrew settlers and Arab alike that if these groups assisted the United Kingdom in the war each ethnic group would gain autonomy from the Ottomans after the war ended, in 1918. In the settlement of the war by the Treaty of Versailles, France gained control over Syria and the Levant and Lebanon while Britain was given the mandate to govern Palestine and Egypt.

The older Arab Palestinian landowners contend “Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas,” as law. (See "prior appropriation," in Hundley)

Since the Palestinian uprisings against the Israeli occupation forces in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have accelerated in 1998 and 2002, there has been an escalation in the relation among Israeli settlers in communities situated on the West Bank and Gaza's strategic locations, the surrounding Christian and Moslem Arabic communities and the Israeli Army.


In response to an ongoing series of Palestinian suicide bombings, provoked ostensibly by continuing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, the Israeli Army and ruling governing parties' policy has been to bulldoze the homes of those families suspected of raising, harboring or in other ways being affiliated with terrorists. The Israeli government has also bulldozed Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands not authorized for occupation by Israeli authorities and that has made some Israeli citizens angry to the point of engaging civil disobedience to protect the squatters on Palestinian lands.

These and other actions have made a fair allocation of human rights, let alone water rights a difficult situation at best.

Demographical data from 1990 on the nation's involved directly and indirectly in the dispute over water and ownership of land.

The dispute is between the land holding Palestinians, whose title to the land includes the capacity to remove water from the aquifer, and the Israeli government. The Israeli water commission wants to pump the underground aquifer to supply the agricultural needs of drip irrigated orchards and farms. The rate of extraction planned will exceed the ability of the aquifer to be re supplied since much of the deep water is geologically old in origin. Many herders in Lebanon and Jordan have customarily relied on wells to supply their flocks & homesteads. They have joined the Palestinian argument by taking the claim to an international tribunal. They insist that ownership of land means the collective protection of the aquifer for use of the Palestinian communities. Israeli settlers argue that ownership is determined best by use of the water for the most productive uses, contingent on ownership of the land.

Both groups argue that to own the land above an aquifer, entitles those owners to pump the underground water. Palestinians argue that the removal of underground water sources dries up oases as it does well water, that customarily belonged to villages and surrounding groves and pastures in common. The larger the pumps and the deeper the wells, means that shallow wells and smaller pumps are deprived of the underground pool of water.

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How will you decide to settle this dispute?

What are the critical issues here?

Will you use ex ante or ex post facto rules?


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Arid Lands Problem maps

Middle Eastern boundaries


Fill in the names of the nation’s above: (9)

“West Bank”
Gaza Strip


Fill in the names of the natural feature’s above: (9)

Mediterranean Sea
Red Sea
Gulf of Aqaba
Dead Sea
Sea of Galilee
Jordan River
Litani River
Golan Heights
Negev Desert


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Last Updated on 3/15/03, 12-23-08.