This ethnographic research investigates the structural and administrative conditions of domestic water control and supply in the Dheisha refugee camp, compared to the surrounding Bethlehem district (West Bank) where it is situated. It analyzes the vertical and horizontal social relations (Hoodfar, 1998) occurring daily among the refugees in satisfying their need for domestic water – an essential resource for survival. I will show the social changes that the new PNA’s (Palestinian National Authority) organization of domestic water supply has engendered and how refugees and citizens in the West Bank locally perceive the present situation.
Water management and supply are considered as social and epistemicinterfaces (Long & Van Der Ploeg, 1989; Long & Long, 1992; Arce & Long, 1993) where different lifeworlds – understood as specific configurations of space, time and experience (Arce, 1997) – intersect around water issues.
The analysis focuses particularly on the political dynamics into play in the competition for domestic water resources. Domestic water is considered as a public sphere, where the conflict for defining refugee status is expressed, as a political arena where the legitimacy of the rising Palestinian State – represented by the PNA – is at stake.
The research was carried out during a six months’ fieldwork (from July 2009 to January 2010) as a guest of a family in the Dheisha refugee camp, through the participant observation of the daily practices through which refugees gain access to domestic water, facing the discriminating water policies implemented by the PNA and the Israeli military occupation. This ethnographic method has been completed by gathering of information through open interviews with employers of the PNA and of UNRWA (United Nation Relief and Works Agency) and with members of the Dheisha communities and the West Bank society.
Following an actor-oriented approach (Arce & Long, op. cit.),the analysis of the social practices that develop around water show the relations of solidarity and conflict established by the dwellers of the refugee camp. These relations shed light to the dimensions of belonging, which form the basis of the individual and collective identity of refugees, and perform the hierarchies that characterize the heterogeneous refugee community.
I will avoid an essentialist and deterministic representation of the social reality by representing its multiple characteristics, indeterminateness and unpredictability. For this purpose, it is important to underline the heterogeneity of the social units and interest groups considered, which are neither homogeneous in their perceptions, nor in their practices. The subjective choices and experiences of the social actors are considered as fundamental dimensions of analysis in order to understand the social dynamics and meanings collectively shared.
Water and the meaning of community
As it often happens, one day my host family found the water cisterns empty. For some days we could not wash and we had to manage with the few clean clothes and dishes. Mohammed, the father of the family, decided to ask his two brothers, who live in a nearby area in the refugee camp, to give him some water. The three brothers built a temporary link between the cisterns of the two houses through a rubber pipe and a pump to transfer the water.
If the families cannot cope with the lack of water, they exchange this resource among each other. These practices usually are acted among the conjugal families(usr?t) comprising the extended family (‘?ila), which is the main source of social security and of resistance to the daily oppression, and represents the main dimension of belonging of each individual.
Nevertheless, these practices of mutual solidarity are not shared by all the extended family. Mohammed’s patrilineal uncle does not participate because of the conflicts at stake between him and his nephew, which Mohammed explained, saying:
When we were children and our father died, we were poor. Our uncle was wealthy and dealt with us as we were inferior compared to his sons, who were better educated and dressed. When we grew up and became economically independent, we decided to break our relations with him and his sons. Until now they think to be better than us and they don’t greet us.
This case illustrates an ongoing process of fragmentation of the extended family, encouraged by the allocation system applied by UNRWA, which considers the conjugal family as economically independent (Abdallah-Latte, 1998). Moreover, the spread of the waged job as main means of support makes the last generations of refugees economically more independent from the oldest male relatives of the patrilineal extended family (Moors, 1989).
Figure 1: Social map of Dheisha camp drawn by a local family
Figure 2: Illustration of the social map of Dheisha camp
The rubber pipes built between the cisterns of the houses in order to exchange water are material connections that also reflect the social ties among the neighbours in the refugee camp. As the following social map (fig. 1) drawn by a family at Dheisha shows, despite the close proximity of the houses, which reflects the lack of an UNRWA building plan for the refugee camp (since in the past a quick resolution of the refugee issue was expected), its space is conceived by refugees as divided in different neighborhoods (??r?t). Each h?ra is called by the name of the village of origin or by the tribal group(?am?la) to which most of the families claim to belong.
Through this spatial organization, refugees undertake a continuous creative reconstruction of the ties on which the tribal organization of the evacuated villages was, once, grounded. They rebuild their social world and create « the universal metaphoric village of origin » (Farah, op. cit.: 6).
People belonging to the same tribal group are understood as tied by patrilineal kinship relations, even if these relations are not strictly genealogical. Following the dispersion of the tribal groups caused by Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian villages in 1948, refugees reshape the genealogical networks through marriages and other political strategies. The tribal group is not a social and political entity, a corporate group that has been preserved as a remnant of the past. Following a deconstructive approach (Dresch, 2009), tribalism is a model to establish and legitimize solidarity relations. It is an idiom of solidarity subject to change and a strategy to express claims related to the contemporary economic and political frame.
The sentence that a young man of Dheisha told me well expresses the role of the ?am?la in the life of the refugees:
The ?am?la comes and helps me if I run over someone with a car, but not if my family is dying from starvation or thirst.
During the private contexts of family hospitality, of marriage and tribal negotiation to solve conflicts among families, refugees mobilize and reinvent relations, social practices and values characterizing the tribal system of the villages before their evacuation, and adapt them to the new context of the refugee camp. So doing, they shape a representation of their origins, whose memory is kept through generations, thus building their social identity. Refugees consider the reinvented tribal traditions and practices as symbols of a supposed cultural authenticity (Zureik, 2003). It composes a language through which they appropriate space and negotiate the meaning of home and community, which in the absence of a shared land, is grounded on the creative construction of a common feeling of cultural belonging and intimacy. Facing the asymmetrical power relations (Peteet, 1994) with the Israeli military forces, UNRWA and the PNA, social practices, values and identity representations linked to the tribal organization constitute a weapon for the struggle of the marginalized group of refugees. Taking a role in civil society, through this strategy they aim attaking over the public space and express their specific cultural, social and political belonging as a form of self-determination and representation.
Nevertheless, the practices of water exchange are not shared by all the neighbours living in the same h?ra and belonging to the same ?am?la, due to the conflicts present between families, often engendered by the economic and status competition. Moreover, the neighborhoods are not homogeneous regarding the village of origin of the families. Families who carry out a mobility process move often out of the refugee camp (in order to live in a house that is either bought or rented), a practice that has become an index of the high social status of a family. In the lack of sharing of land and of water resources, tribal groups are fragmented by the growing economic segmentation, which overlaps with these large solidarity networks.
The changes that affected the social relations and the units of solidarity connected with the local tribal cooperative patterns of water management highlight the construction of new ideas of locality and new meanings of community, experienced by refugees in adapting to the new conditions of water availability and management, imposed by the Israeli military authorities, UNRWA and the PNA.
Water constitutes a political interface, a place for community building through the negotiation of the hierarchies, belonging dimensions and differences, all in the common language of social practices.
Citizens and refugees in the competition for water
During the demonstration against the lack of water organized by young refugees, some citizens of the Bethlehem area who were driving and walking along the road in front of the refugee camp, tried to force the road blocks made by the young refugees, in opposition to the protest and coming into conflict with them. This resulted in violent clashes, stopped by some adult refugees who were controlling the demonstration.
The demonstration against the lack of water organized by refugees is not only a form of opposition to the administrative practices of the PNA in the competition for water. It also consists in the construction of a public sphere of several interest groups, each with a definition of the self and the « others ».
Explaining the reasons of their hostility against the refugees’ claim of water, some citizens said to me:
Refugees have not enough water because they do not pay it. They do not want to respect the PNA’s laws, they are backward, they live in a tribal way, like animals.
These citizens consider the social rights of the refugees regarding water as privileges that increase the government taxes they have to pay. The problem of the Israeli colonization is not considered. On the contrary, in the opinion of Dheisha inhabitants, being a refugee means suffering to a great extent for the lack of water compared to the citizens, who are considered luckier by refugees.
The PNA does not supply water equally. The towns like Bethlehem are favored by a greater supply of water compared to the rural villages and, in particular, to the refugee camps  The Technical Manager of the Water Supply and Sewerage.... In its drive to modern state building, the PNA attempts through these strategies to secure the loyalty of the local urban elites and to reallocate water from irrigation to domestic use, favoured by the international donors themselves, when providing financial support for water modernization projects (Trottier, 1999). The PNA’s hydraulic policies cause a structural discrimination based on territorial differences, which establishes a hierarchy among the areas managed by the PNA. This hierarchy reflects the economic and political policies of marginalization of refugees in the building process of the « constructed » (Hobsbawm, 1990) and « imagined » (Anderson, 1991) Palestinian nation, which in Palestine served as a vehicle of elite interests (Hilal, 2002; Khalidi, 2010).
Most of the citizens consider tribal belonging and practices, which in the local collective imagination is associated with the refugee camps, as a sign of backwardness that hinders the construction of a modern democratic State. These citizens appropriate the dichotomous conception of the relation between citizenship and tribal belonging, influenced by social evolutionism and modernization theories. In the gradual restructuring of the PNA following the model of the modern western State, these ideas are diffused in particular among the more educated and privileged urban middle?class. In determining the differences from refugees in the appropriation of local resources like water, the Bethlehem citizens interpret the elements and practices of the western middle class culture as markers of social standing and new criteria for building the self and the image of the « other », which lead to different interpretations of the local context and new practices in social interactions.
The conflicts about marital relations between Muslim refugees and Christian citizens, usually refused by Christian families, highlight how the Christian religion too is appropriated as one of the terms of differentiation from refugees, most of whom are Muslim in the competition for local resources. Christian citizens, mostly belonging to the Palestinian economic and political elites (Hilal, op. cit.), build an ethnic and religious belonging as a strategy aimed at preserving their economic and political power. So doing, they exclude refugees from the sharing of public spaces and local resources, the negotiation of cultural meanings and values and the distribution of the institutional and economic power.
As a reaction to these political strategies of exclusion, the Dheisha dwellers interpret the urban area of Bethlehem as an immoral place where people are more individualistic and are characterized by weak solidarity relations, because of the influence of western middle class culture. On the contrary, the refugee camps are connected to the village’s ethics  The same dynamics have been observed in the refugee..., which is idealized as an expression of the Palestinian cultural « authenticity ».
The place of dwelling of the refugee camp, like that of the city, is one of the dimensions of belonging that shape the image of the self and the « other », based on the sharing of living conditions and the building of daily relations of solidarity among its inhabitants.
In the competition for water and other material and symbolic resources, the interest groups of the urban citizens and that of the refugees both use moral, cultural, and religious criteria as idioms to express differences related to various levels of belonging, like the place of dwelling and the economic segmentation that overlaps with it.
The multiple Palestinian countries
At a national level, the struggle for water – regarding both quantity and quality (Bellissari, 1994) – is locally perceived as the fight for independence by the entire Palestinian population oppressed by the colonialism of the State of Israel, the « Other », above all, which appropriated the largest part of water and other resources, such as the land (Dillman, 1989).
However, not all the Palestinians living in the West Bank endure problems in the lack of water. Unlike the Dheisha refugee camp, the Al?’arr?b refugee camp, situated in an area B between Bethlehem and Hebron, is under the siege of the Israeli military forces all the day long. Nevertheless, the families living in it benefit from the continuous water supply of the nearby Asi?n Israeli settlement.
The Mekerot  The Israeli national water company. hooks up some Palestinian villages and refugee camps situated in the areas C and a few areas B of the West Bank to the water network of the nearby Israeli colonies. The development of the Israeli water systems is a physical expression of a « territorialization » (Trottier, 2000: 38) strategy aimed at extending the Israel State control over the West Bank territory. The integration of the basic water services in the Occupied Territories with those of Israel leads to the complete dependence of the former services on those of Israel, increasing the dependence of the Occupied Territories to the Israeli economy (Dillman, op. cit.).
The unequal access to water and other resources implies different experiences of deprivation, thus preventing the cohesion around resistance and solidarity practices, which are fragmented as the territory is.
The wall surrounding the West Bank, the division of its territory into different areas A, B, C, the check?points, the Israeli settlements and the roads connecting them, define a political process of fragmentation of the Occupied Territories not only horizontally but also vertically. With the attempt of creating an Israeli territorial contiguity, the Israeli « by?pass » roads allowed by the Oslo Agreement, which connect the Israeli settlements to each other and to Israel bypassing Arab towns, divide the territory also in its vertical dimension through highways, bridges and tunnels  Like the Tunnel Road connecting Jerusalem with the.... While the cartographic imagination represents the territory as a two?dimensional surface, this « politics of verticality » (Weizman, 2003) imagines and creates it as a three-dimensional volume, dividing it into a layered and overlapping series of ethnic, political and strategic alienated national islands.
Following this strategy, the subterranean spaces of the Occupied Territories, containing underground aquifers, infrastructure systems, archaeological sites and other resources, have been transformed into a conflict zone. By keeping the control of the underground water resources, the State of Israel establishes a form of « subterranean sovereignty », which erodes the basics of the Palestinian national sovereignty (Weizman, ibid.).
These practices of control and domination make any attempt to establish a potential continuous border between Israel and the Occupied Territories impossible and hinder the possibility of a formal coherence of a territory. The PNA established by the Oslo accords is a virtual body that has not sovereignty, independence, jurisdiction and ultimate control over a contiguous territory and its resources, held by the Israeli military forces. The lack of a close correspondence between the sovereignty, the legal, political system and the territory entails a critical reflection on the specific political?cultural form of the nation?state (Clifford, 1988; Agamben, 2005), which is based on the western « sedentary metaphysics » (Malkki, 1992: 32, 1995), leading to deal with the theoretical problem of the present sense of political reality (Appadurai, op. cit.; Hall, 1992; Escobar, 1995).
Israel’s policy of fragmentation of the West Bank constitutes borders that create discrimination among Palestinians. The permeability of these borders and the resulting possibility to get access to the territory and its material and symbolic resources like water, are linked to the nationality (Israeli or Palestinian), class of belonging, place of dwelling (Israel or Occupied Territories; area A, B, C, urban area, rural one or refugee camp), religious belonging (Jewish, Islamic, or Christian) and criminal record. These terms of differentiation are resources ever more important in defining the local forms of belonging and hierarchies.
Most of the Palestinians belonging to the new generations are confined to their homes, cities, towns, villages or refugee camps, locally called « countries » (bil?d) and experienced as an « archipelago of large open?air prisons » (Khalidi, op. cit.).
According to the possibilities to experience the territory and its resources, the perception of space, time and social identity ? which are built through the continuous repositioning with respect to the « others » and the material world – take different forms, disintegrating the Palestinian society.
The West Bank territory, and the Occupied Territories in general, is not experienced as one contiguous territory by its inhabitants, but as fragmented in multiple « islands of experience » (Khalidi, ibid.), multiple Palestinian countries. Each country (balad) gives shape to different conceptions of collective identity and national belonging, bringing about multiple perceptions of the political and social reality and different political prospects and hopes for the future.
In the West Bank there is not just one kind of water. Water is « national water » (mayya baladiyya), « water of the city » (mayya madaniyya), « water of the cisterns » (mayya al?khazz?n?t), « water from the tankers » (tank mayya) or « water from the stone cutter company » (mayya al?kassar?t), depending on the social and political relations that provide the access to it.These relations produce the cultural politics of water, which exceeds the technical?economic issues considered by the engineering, management and economics approaches (Mosse, 2009).
Water emerged as medium of the local and regional political relations in the construction and negotiation of different forms of identification and differentiation comprised in Palestinian society of the West Bank, which is not at all homogeneous but rich in visions of « others » that are at conflict, collaborate or simply co?exist.
For the Israeli military occupation water projects are tools for the creation and domination of Palestinians as colonial subjects. On the contrary, for the PNA water policies are central in the formation of citizens in the building of a Palestinian nation, following the model of the contemporary western nation-state. The infra?political practices acted by refugees show that citizenship is not just a discrete extension of the state bureaucracy; on the contrary, it is a public process of construction that entails the negotiation of values, meanings and claims among different interest groups.
The access to domestic water is not defined by the normative regime of the modern state and liberal citizenship. Depending on the unstable negotiation and articulation of the effective regimes of political and social relations and on the technological and environmental dimensions, the different conditions of water access produce a set of differentiated citizenships and multiple meanings of the state and the political collective belonging experienced by local population.
The political practices regarding water appropriation and supply, which include a few social groups and exclude « others », strengthen the formation of different solidarity networks, connected with the place of dwelling and in relations to the definition of the « others ». This situation contributes to the growing social differences, disaffection and estrangement among the local Palestinian population, and prevents cohesion in the practices of resistance to the Israeli occupation and in the building of a common feeling of national belonging.