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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Contested Waterscapes: Constructing Israel's National Water Carrier
by Herzog, Donna, Ph.D., New York University, 2019, 306; 10188547
Abstract (Summary)

The significance of water cannot be overstated. Water is necessary for the metabolic functioning of all life. From the earliest records of human social life, water has determined where people settled and how societies formed. Yet the biological role of water does not capture its dynamic uses, running the gamut from an economic good to an object of ritualistic practice. Though the need and uses for water increase with the exponential growth of the world's population, the earth's availability of usable freshwater is limited and somewhat constant. Accordingly, while water usage throughout the centuries has been engineered, distributed, and rationed through various forms of governance, the increasing concern that the world's water resources are in jeopardy has placed the issue of water management at the forefront of global environmental concerns.

The issues of water use and management is particularly critical in arid regions, such as the Middle East, and thus there is an extensive bibliography dedicated to the topic of water and the Middle East, and a large number of studies that specifically consider water as a factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of the works are policy-driven analyses that attempt to solve the question of how riparian states in conflict can cooperate to successfully share water sources, most using the Jordan River basin as a case in point. In the wake of the Oslo Accords, a number of studies on the issue of water in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were published, most of which tried to predict the probability of future cooperation among the riparian states of the Jordan River basin.

Given the centrality of water as a primary concern (and possible source of future conflict) in the future of Palestinian-Israeli relations, it is surprising that so little has been written about the role of water planning in the process of Israeli state-building. As noted by scholars, such as Jan Selby, there is a marked absence of work that considers the role of Jewish colonization on the engineering of water in the region. Perhaps the most significant large-scale engineering project in the region, Israel's National Water Carrier was the source of bitter conflict between Israel and the other riparian states. However, aside from official company histories by Mekorot, Israel's national water company, or references to the National Water Carrier in the context of the buildup to the 1967 War, no extensive study of the role of Israel's major water infrastructure or the institutions which developed and executed the project have been published.

This dissertation considers the intersection between Israeli water planning, science, and state-building imperatives to re-trace the evolution of the National Water Carrier, both its historical place in the imaginings of Zionist ideologues as well as the practical planning involved in the financing, technical designing, and physical construction of the project. The salient questions of this research are: 1) How was the planning for the NWC enrolled as a state-building tool by the Zionist movement? 2) How did the planning of the NWC, and water management more generally, reflect the struggles amongst various networks of power in Mandatory Palestine, and in post-1948 Israel? 3) In a broad sense, how did planning the NWC shape the Israeli state?

The thesis proposed in this study is that the NWC was a transformative techno-political project which furthered Israeli state-building objectives, namely to promote an overwhelmingly Jewish state with a distinctly centralized form of governance over its water resources. I argue that the NWC was presented as a techno-scientific project crafted by experts to modernize the Jewish State's water and future country. The project was presented at different times as a way to justify claims for expanding Jewish immigration, settlement, and control over land and water.

At the same time the water project and ideas of water management in Mandatory Palestine and post-1948 Israel were fluid, and were shaped by the political imperatives that constrained it at various points in time. Far from being a monolithic project, the NWC was the product of a long process mired in political and institutional battles over the course that water planning and management, and by extension the NWC project, should take. As this study will illustrate, each of these debates and clashes, be they international conflicts between states vying for political control over a water resource to disagreements between rivals within an Israeli political party over the details of the company managing the execution of the NWC, represent the different ways that these various actors understood water management and its role in developing a Jewish state.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Zweig, Ronald
Commitee: Keshavarzian, Arang, Lockman, Zachary, Owen, Abigail, Reguer, Sara
School: New York University
Department: Hebrew and Judaic Studies and History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 81/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Middle Eastern history, Judaic studies, Water Resources Management
Keywords: Israel, Mekorot, National Water Carrier, Palestine, STS, Water
Publication Number: 10188547
ISBN: 9781085671231
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