Well-poisoning is the criminal act of malicious manipulation of drinking water in order to cause illness or death, or to deny an opponent access to fresh water resources.
Well poisoning has been historically documented as strategy during wartime since Antiquity, and was used both offensively (as a terror tactic to disrupt and depopulate a target area) and defensively (as a scorched earth tactic to deny an invading army sources of clean water). Rotting corpses (both animal and human) thrown down wells were the most common implementation; in one of the earliest examples of biological warfare, corpses known to have died from common transmissible diseases such as bubonic plague or tuberculosis were especially favored for well-poisoning.
In 1462, for example, Prince Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia utilized this method to delay his pursuing Ottoman Turk adversaries. Whilst retreating through Turkish-controlled Bulgaria, across the Danube River and back to the capital of Wallachia that same year, Vlad's army employed the poisoning of wells and other sources of water, as well as other scorched earth tactics en route to his country on both sides of the Danube, meaning that he deliberately polluted the water supplies of his fellow Romanians even at the cost of their lives if it slowed down his Muslim foes.
During the 20th century, the practice of poisoning wells has lost most of its potency and practicality against an organized force as modern military logistics ensure secure and decontaminated supplies and resources. Nevertheless German forces during First World War poisoned wells in France as part of Operation Alberich.
A few religions have laws condemning such scorched earth tactics. Most notably Islam, in its scripture, dictates that water-bodies may not be poisoned even during a battle and enemies must be allowed access to water.
The Black Death was reportedly first introduced to Europe at the trading city of Caffa in the Crimea in 1347. After a protracted siege, during which a Mongol army was suffering from the disease, the army catapulted the infected corpses over the city walls to infect the inhabitants. Traders fled the city, taking the plague by ship into Sicily and the south of Europe, whence it spread north.
The disease killed a large part of the population of Europe. Various groups were suspected of spreading the disease including lepers, friars, foreigners, beggars, and pilgrims.
Jews were suspected in part because of an often lower disease frequency which may in turn be related to isolation in ghettos and to better hygiene due to Jewish religious rules and/or due to higher wealth. The accusations included well poisoning and caused severe persecutions.
Post-WWII plan by Jews to poison Germans
Accusations of well-poisoning have also been brought up against Serbs. Most notoriously, Serbs were accused of poisoning Kosovo Albanians. There are also accusations of well-poisoning as a part of the Srebrenica massacre.
Jewish forces used well poisoning during the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of 1948, in order to ensure that Arabs could not return to villages they had been expelled from.
Naeim Giladi, an Iraqi Jew who had initially embraced Zionism, wrote:
Uri Mileshtin, an official historian for the Israeli Defense Force, has written and spoken about the use of bacteriological agents. According to Mileshtin, Gen. Moshe Dayan, former Israeli Defense Minister, gave orders in 1948 to remove Arabs from their villages, bulldoze their homes, and render water wells unusable with typhus and dysentery bacteria. [End note: "Mileshtin was quoted by the Israeli daily, Hadashot, in an article published August 13, 1993. The writer, Sarah Laybobis-Dar, interviewed a number of Israelis who had knowledge of the use of bacteriological weapons in the 1948 war. Mileshtin said bacteria was used to poison the wells of every village emptied of its Arab inhabitants."]
I heard a corroborating account myself from a technician with Mekorot, the Israeli Water Authority, who was testing a well near a construction site where I was working. I asked him what he was doing. Assuming I had fought in 1948 [ed - Giladi was only a bit too young] he said, "Don't you remember? We used bacteria in many places. Every village we occupied we put bacteria in the wells. Now we keep testing them to keep track of when it is safe to use them again."
Embittered by Israeli racism, rejected for any government or professional job, Naeim Giladi was nevertheless resourceful enough to leave Israel for the US and there self-publish "Ben Gurion's Scandals: How the Haganah & the Mossad Eliminated Jews".
See also the article Poisoning the wells of Arce, Palestine.
In recent years, Israeli settler in the West Bank have been accused of well contamination. Cases include that of rotting chicken carcases found in a well at At-tuwani near Hebron in 2004, although suspected settlers blamed Arab infighting. In the following years, various NGOs reported similar occurrences, accusing settlers of deliberately contaminating cisterns.
In April 2013, Israeli settlers were accused of poisoning the water well of villagers south of Hebron. The villagers also complained of other forms of mistreatement.
- Settlers suspected of well attack
- Accusation of Well-Poisoning (Jewish Encyclopedia)
- The Virtual Jewish History Tour. Belgium
- Amnesty: West Bank farms poisoned (BBC)
- PLO Official Again Says Israel is Poisoning Arab Food
- Jews are Poisoning Bananas says Imam
- The Winter War, the Russo-Finnish War of 1939-40, William R. Trotter, Aurum Press Ltd, London 2003, ISBN 1-85410-932-4
- CThe Making of Peace: Rulers, States, and the Aftermath of War edited by Williamson Murray, Jim Lacey Cambridge University Press page 218
- David Nirenberg, Communities of Violence, 1998, ISBN 0-691-05889-X
- ,  - UN.org, dead links, allegations against Serbs for poisoning Kosovars.
- David Rohde: "Bosnian Serbs Poisoned Streams To Capture Refugees, Muslims Say" Colombia.edu, October 24, 1995.
- Dr K R Bolton (2006) ANTI-SEMITISM: CUI BONO?" Renaissance Press, p.15: "In the 1948 war, Jewish forces would empty Arab villages of their populations, often by threats, sometimes by just gunning down a half-dozen unarmed Arabs as examples to the rest. To make sure the Arabs couldn't return to make a fresh life for themselves in these villages, the Israelis put typhus and dysentery bacteria into the water wells.".
- cited in "The Jews of Iraq" by Naeim Giladi on the release of his book "Ben Gurion's Scandals: How the Haganah & the Mossad Eliminated Jews". Published in "The Link", forward by John F. Mahoney of "Americans for Middle East Understanding" (AMEU) who interviewed Giladi for three hours on March 16, 1998.
- Ibid "Don't you remember? We used bacteria in many places ... we keep testing them to keep track of when it is safe to use them again."
- "Settlers suspected of well attack" BBC News, 13 July 2004.
- AT-TUWANI: Cistern contaminated in Humra Valley, CPTnet, 19 January 2008.
- Water Wars, Channel 4, retrieved on 18 August 2008.
- Running on empty, by Fred Pearce, The Guardian, 1 March 2006
- "Israeli settlers poison Palestinians water well" Press TV, Apr 28, 2013.
- "Israeli jets destroying Gaza water and sewerage systems: officials" Health crisis looming as Israeli attacks accused of targeting already fragile water and sewage infrastructure, Middle East Eye, 13 July 2014.