The Jordan River—A Political Bargaining Chip

January 3, 2007
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The Jordan River originates in the mountains of eastern Lebanon and flows through the entrance of the Great Syrian Rift Valley. It is fed by the Hasbani River, which flows from Lebanon to Israel; the Banyas River, which flows from Syria to Israel; the Dan River, which begins and flows inside Israel; and the Yarmouk River, which begins near the Golan Heights and flows into the Jordan. A 1997 study described the Jordan River as “the only natural and clean river in the country.” What a difference a decade makes! “South of the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River doesn’t flow anymore. All of the water is diverted for domestic use and agriculture. What goes into it is raw sewage and agricultural runoff from all sides,” Edelstein said. This also affects the Dead Sea. An Integrated Regional Information Network reports, “Only 10% of the water in the River Jordan gets to the Dead Sea.”

Water—A Weapon of War
Because Jordan and Syria face a constant challenge in meeting their own water needs, they—together with Israel—are in what can be called a water war. The outcome is a trickle rather than a river, leaving little fresh water for the river and its once thriving ecosystem. Analysts have determined that 50% of Israel’s water supply actually falls outside her state borders. Therefore, water has become a precious commodity open to tactical manipulations, making Israel’s access to the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Golan Heights critical.

Not too many people think of water as a weapon of war. Yet, the Jordan River has become a valuable bargaining chip. The region has been at war over water before. The June 1967 Six Day War took place after the Israeli army and air force attacked a Syrian diversion of the Banyas River. Israel captured the Golan Heights, allowing her to prevent further Banyas diversions.

There is a dangerous lack of cooperation between the countries along the Jordan, and eventually the results will be catastrophic. Will the next war be over water or oil?

The Crisis Just Ahead
In an interview with me, Bromberg told how the Jordan’s annual flow has dropped from more than 1.3 billion cubic meters (1.7 billion cubic yards) per year to less than 100 million cubic meters (130 million cubic yards). “Israel, Jordan, and Syria are each grabbing as much clean water as they can, and sadly it is the sewage that is keeping the river alive today,” he said. Bromberg warned that the Jordan could be dry by next summer.

Israel has denied that she is taking more than her fair share of water from the Jordan River Basin. A peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed in 1967. The two signatories agreed to share the waters of the Jordan River as well as the Yarmouk, a tributary. Jordanians have complained that Israel is consuming more water than was agreed. That complaint fell on deaf ears, yet Edelstein admits, “We are taking more water than anyone else. It’s more than our share, and it’s something we need to fix. It will have to be part of a final peace treaty with the Palestinians. Israel knows it will have to change its ways when we start talking about peace. Water is almost as difficult an issue as the refugee issue.”

A new dam built as a joint Jordan–Syria project is causing mounting concern. Experts say the new dam will hold 110 million cubic meters (144 million cubic yards) of water and seriously affect the flow of the Yarmouk River into the Jordan between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The new dam will reduce the flow into the Jordan to nothing more than a trickle, Bromberg warned.

We Can Help
Bromberg appealed for support from Christians around the world who regard the Jordan River as holy because Yeshua (Jesus) was baptized there. Bromberg said, “The Jordan has biblical significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and it needs their response if it is to remain.”

He advised that appeals to the Israel Ministry of Tourism could produce a positive response. He urged that letters be written to the King of Jordan, the Israeli Prime Minister, and local Israeli embassies to protest the situation. He also asked that the media be contacted and made aware of the impending crisis. Visit FoEME’s Web site (www.foeme.org) and join their campaign to rescue the Jordan River or e-mail Gidon Bromberg at info@foeme.org

By Ron Ross,
Israel Mosaic Radio

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