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Watering the Prospects for Peace

February 5, 2008
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Imagine stretches of green heads of lettuce or open hills barely touched by human machinery sitting beneath a pale blue sky. It’s not likely most would expect such a scene in the dry, arid Middle East, but EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) has not only targeted those areas of the biblical region, but is also using them to advance regional peace. Viewing water resources and the environment as issues that can unite Jordanians, Israelis, and Palestinians, the organization seeks to connect the parties in their Good Water Neighbors program, which partners communities that share a common water source. Recently, that program took another step forward with the launching of the Neighbors’ Paths tours.

Mira Edelstein, FoEME Israeli project coordinator for the Jordan River rehabilitation, gives a concise description of an effort seeking to alter more than 60 years of bad history. The Neighbors’ Paths water and environment-focused tours are a feature of each of the 17 Good Water Neighbor communities, including four in Jordan. The tours highlight each of the communities, the water-related issues in them, and the environmental positives and negatives. Want to understand the water concerns surrounding the shrinking Dead Sea? Take a peek into the murky water lying at the bottom of sinkholes that randomly break up vast stretches of beach. Want to see a different side of Jordan? Try visiting an ecological park there.

For now, the Neighbors’ Paths tours are currently for local, educational purposes, but a future goal is to open them up to the foreign public as eco-tourism. However, it is not a tourist gimmick. One Jordanian said that efforts like the Neighbors’ Paths can help improve relations between Israel and Jordan at a personal level. “Such projects, I think, can build a bridge of trust between the people themselves, not only the politicians,” he said. “This issue, from my own point of view, is an important issue. Let the people know each other and have a contact with each other at lower levels, not as a politician. At least they can know each other’s behavior, and they can become closer, and such relations can be stronger than the politician relations.”

Palestinian and Israeli Towns Help Each Other

The Neighbors’ Paths idea originated near the community of Tsur Hadassah, a Jewish town near the Green Line (the 1967 cease-fire line). Surrounding the town on the Judean mountains are vast stretches of open space and a narrow dirt trail that curves around bushes, rocks, and overlooks on both sides of the Green Line. The path, part of which is a goat herders’ path, was set up by Friends of the Earth Middle East as the first Neighbors’ Path and received endorsement from the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The trail allows those on the tour to see the importance of open land near an ever-growing Tsur Hadassah.

Ehud Uziel, Tsur Hadassah coordinator of the Good Water Neighbors project, said one reason open space is so important to water in the region is that the mountain aquifer underground water is a key resource. Concrete and buildings, which prevent the water from soaking into the ground, cause damage to that underground water source.

The Tsur Hadassah path also looks into the valley where the Palestinian village of Wadi Foqien sits. This village has its own Neighbors’ Path, which winds past the spring-based irrigation system. Green vegetables and white-topped greenhouse tents provide a stark contrast to the brown and rocky hillsides. At one point on the tour, those hillsides become a point of interest, as one could see sewage pollution rushing from a town up on the ridgeline, contaminating an area of Wadi Foqien. Edelstein said such a sight not only provides awareness, but could lead to action.

As an example of how an environmental water issue can lead to teamwork, Tsur Hadassah, which has good relations with Wadi Foqien despite being on the opposite side of the Green Line from them, is already helping them with the pollution. Edelstein said the Jewish town is fighting the problem “just as hard as the residents of Wadi Foqien, and even harder.” Such an example demonstrates how water can be used as a uniting factor.

“We think that water is a bridge for peace and not a reason for conflict,” said Edelstein. “When you look just on the surface, you think everybody’s fighting over water. The way we see it is that you have to make peace because we all need the water. Just two different ideologies, and ours is to adopt the understanding of the interdependence of water and how that brings people together.”

By Joshua Spurlock, Correspondent, BFP Israel Mosaic Radio

Photo Credit: israelimages.com/Duby Tal/Albatross

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