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Colonial Cases

Water Ordinance, 1925


The Palestine Bulletin, 9 June 1925


The Arab Executive has forwarded the following memorandum to the colonial Office through H. E. the High Commissioner.


Owing to an insufficient rainfall during last winter, there is in Jerusalem a shortage of water.  But this scarcity does not threaten to cause a water famine owing to the existence of the Aroub and Solomon Pools water supply.  It imposed, however, a complete lull in the building activity carried to a large extent by and for Jewish new immigrants. In order to meet the full demand of water for both household and building purposes the Government affected an arrangement to be concluded between the Railway Authorities and the appointed Municipality of Jerusalem where by the former under took to bring daily, by rail, from Sarafand to Jerusalem a huge quantity of water to be sold by the latter to the inhabitants of the city.

   These combined activities of the government and the municipality of Jerusalem to alleviate the bitterness of water scarcity is very plausible.  Bu these commendable efforts should not by any means be taken as a legitimate means by the Government to legalize the illegal and trample down the uncontested and legally verified rights of the Arab owners, in order to stimulate the building activity in favour of Jewish immigration, which, owing to its unsuitability, had been condemned by the Permanent Mandate Commission of the League of Nations in its last report about the Palestine Mandate. For, acquitting, for this purpose the waters of the Artass Spring, Bethlehem Sub-District the Government did not fall short of lawlessness, as it will be explained hereafter.

   About two months ago the Sub-Governor of Bethlehem asked the inhabitants of Artass Village (Moslems and Christians) who are the exclusive and uncontested proprietors of the Artass Spring to sell all or part of these waters to the Municipality of Jerusalem for a year. But they instantly and absolutely refused to do so, pointing out that every  drop of the said waters was indispensable, for it was barely sufficient to meet the needs of the village and its orchards and cattle which are the only means of their livelihood.  Later their representatives were brought to the governor of Jerusalem and there were informed that the Government has decided to take the waters of the Artass Spring and ordered them not to use these waters for planting vegetables under penalty of a fine.  But on demand, the Governor refused to give this order in writing.  This high handed resolution led the poor owners of the said spring to bring an action against the Governor of Jerusalem in the High Court of Justice.

    They submitted their application to that Court on the 22 instant and an ex parte case was set for hearing on the 23rd instant.  There [it] was decided that the Governor of Jerusalem  should appear before the Court to say why he should not be stopped from taking the said waters.  But the Government on finding that its lawless action was bound to be condemned by the High Court of Justice, it enacted and promulgated instantly on the 25th of the same month the Artass Spring Ordinance and published it on the same day, in a specials and extraordinary number of the Official Gazette, contrary to the usual procedure, whereby the confiscation of the water property of Artass Village by itself was legalised, so that the decision of the said court, which was to have taken place four days later, should be based upon it. This procedure clearly shows the fearful absurdity of joining in one hand the two powers of Legislation and Execution as it is in Palestine.

   It is an unprecedented attitude that a Government should, when committing an illegal or high handed action, enact a new law to legalize it.  But in Palestine, where the Zionist policy is being applied, this procedure has already had its precedent.  The case of Ain Karen Moslem Wakf Lands (1923) and the Clark v. Jerusalem Municipality (1925) wherein the Government added to its illegal actions the promulgation of unlawful ordinances to escape diverse decisions by the courts are notable examples.

   The lawlessness of the Palestine Government manifested itself in the usurpation of the water property of the inhabitants of Artass terrified all Arab inhabitants.  For, there can be no difference in principle, law or sharia between those who usurp the rightful property of the rightful owners and those who usurp them of their other legitimate properties. The more wicked it appears when such usurpation is effected by means of an ordinance effected by the usurper himself.

   It cannot be contended that the said ordinance is of public interest because the water is to be sold by the Municipality and not distributed gratis, which makes it in this respect a commercial enterprise, although the rightful proprietor of the water is not paid for it.

   Besides these considerations, the Artass Spring Ordinance deprives the owners of the said waters of their personal right to appeal before the Courts of justice or follow the regular procedure of appeal as prescribed by the law, for Art. 5 thereof prohibits them from submitting their claims to such courts.  The spoliation of property, it should be noted, is affected in odder to provide mainly Jewish quarters which were allowed to be built without constructing cisterns therein for the gathering of rain water as all Arabs have been doing for ages passed, for in Jerusalem this is a necessity.

   In view of the above, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Arab Congress appeal to your Excellency for the revocation of the outraging ordinance of Artass Springs and redemption to the owners thereof all losses thereby incurred.


The case of Urtas villages v. the Palestine Government with regard to the recently issued water Ordinance was heard by the High Court yesterday.  The Attorney General represented the Government.  A number of complicated questions arose in the course of the trial, and judgment was reserved.


The Palestine Bulletin, 7 July 1925


LONDON, July 7. (P.T.A.)

  Replying to a question with regard to the Urtas Spring Water house in the House of Commons yesterday, Mr. L. S. Amery, Secretary of State for the colonies, said, that he wholly approved the ordinance in question.  The Colonial Secretary pointed out, that the villages of Urtas obtained full compensation and that no water has been taken that was necessary for their subsistence.  Mr. L. S. Amery added that he is inquiring about the decision of the high Court in Palestine.


The Palestine Bulletin, 7 July 1925


Urtas decision Palestine 1925

The Palestine Bulletin, 8 July 1925


The High Court has sustained the request of the Government to postpone the execution of the decision in the Artas case for several weeks, in order to enable the government to submit an appeal to the Privy Council.


The Palestine Bulletin, 9 July 1925

Urtas Springs case again.


The Palestine Bulletin, 14 July 1925


Commenting upon the verdict of the High Court concerning the Urtas Waters case. Local Arab newspapers express their satisfaction as follows:-

   Meraat Ul-Dshurk writes: Right triumphed over might. The sentence shows that the High Court has right to examine the legality of Ordinances issued by the High Commissioner.

   Phalaston states: One may complain of England's policy and criticise her system of colonisation, but nobody dares deny the uprightness and impartiality of British judges, as proved lately by the verdict of the high Court.

   The editor of Ul-Carmel writes: Justice never dies, whenever there is somebody to claim it.

   Praising British justice, the editor of 'Sowt Ashab' points out that the said verdict may be used by Arabs as proof that their protest against drastic laws are not false ones, since a British Court condemned one such oppressive law.  The Arab Executive should acquaint the Colonial Office, the British public opinion and the leaders of English papers with the results of the case.  Let every Arab know that the High Court is the centre of entire justice to which we may apply at any time that we feel we are oppressed.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School