BEIT FURIK, West Bank - Riding the family donkey along the high road through the olive groves, Meri Mohammed Aref Mleitat seems worlds removed from the big questions of war and peace in the Middle East.
But the skinny 15-year-old's daily 6-mile ride to a spring in the side of a mountain, where he fills jerry cans and soda bottles with 20 gallons of water for his family of 12, puts him at the center of a critical issue in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and in the Middle East - water.
''We have no water at home,'' he said, incredulous that anyone might be surprised or interested in this commonplace problem in the West Bank. The months before the winter rains are usually times of shortage. For the past three autumns, armed struggle between Israelis and Palestinians has made matters worse.
''Our cistern is empty,'' Mleitat said. ''We paid for 10 cubic meters'' to be delivered, ''but there are...