Category Archives: water

Friends of the Earth Middle East rehabilitate the River Jordan, without Palestinian involvement

There are three major stakeholders in the Jordan Valley: Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. As we have reported here, the pressures on water in the Jordan valley are acute. Israel, which shares responsibility for the problem with other countries along the Jordan, is also part of a solution. In cooperation with Jordan, Israel has re-established the Kinneret (known in the UK as the Sea of Galilee) as the Jordan’s source.

From the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, a piece circulated by Friends of the Earth Middle East:

“The Israel Water Authority will shortly begin, for the first time, to pump water regularly from Lake Kinneret into the southern Jordan River in an effort to ecologically rehabilitate the river, the authority announced Thursday.

This was part of the Friends of the Earth Middle East, Good Water Neighbours project.”

Israel is particularly responsible for the amount of water which flows to the Lower Jordan, and the amounts of water it has pledged fall drastically short of those required to replenish the length of the river. Nevertheless, this is a positive development which should be celebrated and reinforced. I’m sad to say that despite its keen interest in the region the Green Party of England and Wales played no part in this. In fact the Green Party is against cooperation with Israel, and would therefore be obliged by its own policy to boycott the Good Water Neighbours Project, despite the obvious lack of integrity this reveals about the environment. It is also a concern that Palestinians were not involved in this development and so will continue to pollute the river, as explained in the rest of the Ha’aretz piece:

“During the first stage, 1,000 cubic meters an hour will be pumped from the lake into the river. At a later stage, the plan is to pump 30 million cubic meters a year into the river.
The plan to shore up the southern Jordan was presented Thursday at a conference organized by the Southern Jordan Streams and Drainage Authority, and it is a comprehensive plan that includes enhancing the water quality and developing projects to encourage tourism in the area.
In recent decades the water level of the southern Jordan River has dropped dramatically, because the flow of water into in from the Kinneret and the Yarmuk River has been almost totally blocked by dams. The quality of the water has seriously deteriorated, because the sewage of all the communities along the river has been flowing into it. Water from the Kinneret now only reaches the southern Jordan River if the lake’s level rises above the upper red line, at which point, to prevent flooding, the dams are opened to let water flow into the river. One of the major components of this rehabilitation plan is stopping the flow of sewage into the river and pumping clean Kinneret water into the river instead. Water Authority head Alex Kushnir told the conference that by the end of this month thousands of cubic meters of water would be flowing from the Kinneret every day.
“Within two years we will increase the quantity and it will reach 30 million cubic meters a year,” said Kushnir. “I know that’s not enough, but that’s what we can manage now. We won’t be able to restore the river to its historic flow levels of the past.
”The improvement will be primarily in the quality of the water. According to Kushnir, by the end of this year a waste treatment plant will be treating the sewage that now flows into the river. Next year, the plant will be upgraded and the treated wastewater will be suitable for agricultural use.
In addition, small desalination installations will be built to desalinate the saline water from the Kinneret springs that now flow into the Jordan, and some of the water will be allowed to continue into the river after treatment. Thus, the salinity level of the lower Jordan’s water will also be reduced.
All these activities are being conducted with the agreement in coordination with the Kingdom of Jordan. Sa’ad Abu Hamour, the Jordanian representative to the joint Israeli-Jordanian Water Committee, attended Thursday’s conference. He said that his country also wants the river’s water quality to improve, but that at this stage this was a solely Israeli-funded project.
The Palestinians are currently not involved. Gideon Bromberg, the Israeli director of the Friends of the Earth-Middle East environmental group criticized the officials promoting this plan for not soliciting Palestinian cooperation.  “We can’t deal with the political issues right now,” responded Kushnir.  “If we do, it will delay the efforts we are already making.” Abu Hamour noted, however, that because the Palestinians aren’t being included, the river will be cleaner in the area closer to the Kinneret but will remain polluted in its southernmost section, near the Dead Sea.
According to the Southern Jordan Streams and Drainage Authority, during the coming summer the National Mine-Clearance Authority will start removing mines and the fence along a 30-kilometer stretch of the river. This will eventually allow public access to parts of the river that are currently closed off.”
A Jerusalem Post piece reports that Jordan has undertaken to clear landmines (banned under the 1997 Land Mine Treaty).
It is not clear why Palestinians were not involved. However, boycotters must accept that it would be nonsensical to expect Israelis to solicit Palestinian cooperation while simultaneously urging Palestinians to boycott them.
It falls to those of us who do not support the boycott to ask why Palestinians involved, not to mention why any of these countries are growing some of the most thirsty crops you can grow, namely citrus.

Wadi Fukin, a valley of hope and dispair

At Palestine Note, Joshka Wessels writes:

“Fahmi Manasra walks to the spring he remembers from his childhood. He was a young boy when he moved from Dheisheh refugee camp to the paradise of Wadi Fukin some 30 years ago. At the time, he felt like he was in heaven.  He had wished to share this same feeling with his children but the spring is empty. Today, the spring and its reservoir are completely dried up. Nothing is left of the spring. Fahmi’s paradise is lost. The cause ? Construction of an expanding illegal Israeli settlement that is taking up land, drying up the springs and contaminating the soil.”

“During the years after the second intifada, it became clear that the increased settlement construction was severely damaging the environment.  This alarmed both the Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists to take action. The environmental NGO “Friends of the Earth Middle East”, a unique organization with offices in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and Amman, helped out with scientific research. The studies showed the large scale environmental impact by settlement activities.

A big shock came when people from Tsur Hadassah and Wadi Fukin were presented with the proposed plans for the Israeli separation wall. The building plans proposed a route that will cut the valley in two parts and destroy the environment even further. The village will become a prison, encircled by the wall and the settlement of Bitar Illit.

Alarmed by the developments, the Israeli activists and Palestinian farmers filed a case at the Israeli courts. They approached Israeli human rights lawyer, Michael Sfard, who also represents the Rachel Corrie case. Based on environmental grounds, they argued that the wall should not be build and settlement activity should stop. The process was lengthy. It included a petition in Tsur Hadassah and many rejections of the case. The group did not give up and went to the High Court and finally last year managed to get some positive verdict. The building of the Wall has now been frozen based on environmental grounds. How long this freeze will last is unclear. But the fact that they were successful in stopping the Wall gives some little hope.”

Read it all.

Notes – Friends of the Earth Middle East in London

This post is for Richard at Mabinogogiblog and his enduring vision of a Middle East peace which floats.

On 24 March 2011, the New Israel Fund UK hosted three venerable speakers from Friends of the Earth Middle East – Palestinian Director Nader Al-Khateeb, Israeli Director Gidon Bromberg, and Jordanian Director and Chair, Munqeth Mehyar, mainly talking about the region’s shared water crisis.

Notes follow.

Munqeth Mehyar gave a summary of FoEME’s work to date. Together, the three offices have been taking a dual approach in their response – top-down research and lobbying and bottom-up work within 29 communities. This includes initiatives like Good Water Neighbours which began in 2000 and survived as one of the few cooperation projects which withstood the Second Intifada. Good Water Neighbours is such a recognisably beneficial social enterprise that communities exist even between Israeli settlements and neighbouring Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem and Abu Dis.

Work like this has brought FoEME international recognition, including TIME magazine’s Environmental Heroes award in 2008, the Aristotle Onassis Award for the Protection of the Environment and a EuroMed award for dialogue work.

Munqeth Mehyar talked about the eco parks at Ein Gedi in Israel, Auja in Palestine and Sharhabil bin Hassan in Jordan’s Ziglab basin where a dam gives a vantage point from which it is possible to fully grasp the water source and the vast tracts of land it is required to irrigate.

Nader Al-Khateeb began with some statistics on Israeli and Palestinian water use. Israeli use averages 250 litres per person per day, excluding agriculture and as a population, 2 billion cubic metres per year in total. Palestinians use 50-70 litres per person to day, less that the 120 litres the World Health Organisation holds to be the minimum amount for adequate hygiene. The total Palestinian consumption including agriculture and industry is around 170 million cubic metres per year.

Israel controls the water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Nader Al-Khateeb emphasised the constraints this has imposed – no legislature, no jurisdiction over the water courses, and limited funding – that is, no real control on the part of Palestinians. FoEME’s Model Water Accord, to which we have drawn attention in a previous post, records the demise of the previous approach to cooperation established in Article 40 of the 1995 Oslo II accords. Cooperation didn’t flourish, as evidenced by the great discrepancy in availability, the under-provision to Palestinians and the contamination of ground water. There is no access for Palestinian to the waters of the Jordan and so it is drawn from the other main source, the mountain aquifer. Because extraction is slow, much of the Palestinian water supply is intermittent and stored in rooftop tanks where any breaches leave it vulnerable to contamination.

Nader Al-Khateeb showed a freshwater map of the region which made a very strong point without any commentary being required that the problem of water is a shared problem which cannot be solved without cooperation. Water doesn’t recognise borders. A final picture showed a large and happy group of mayors from cities and towns in the three countries wallowing in, I think, the Jordan. You couldn’t tell who was from where and – again – where water is concerned it doesn’t make any difference at all.

Gidon Blomberg spoke next about the circumstances required for cooperation. He pointed out that Israelis could not unequivocally welcome the unfolding revolution in Egypt because the decades-old peace treaty was very little to do with ordinary Egyptian people – there had been very little action either between Israelis and Egyptians or between Israelis and Jordanians, with whom there is also a peace treaty. The peace is a peace of strong leaders and cannot be taken for granted as a peace of peoples. On all sides of the conflict there are spoilers who exert pressure to end cooperation between Israelis and their neighbours.

Gidon Bromberg believes that water can contribute to peace because it is so tangible and undeniably shared. Water shows its shared nature when it flows from place to place irrespective of borders. However, FoEME have observed that the politicisation of water by which it is treated as a bargaining chip in the final status settlement, badly undermines cooperation. Consequently FoEME are lobbying to have it removed from the list of issues to be resolved. In a region in its 7th year of drought, Cooperating over water can then be treated as what it is – not an issue of privilege or charity, but of self-interest.

Self-interest is very important. Gidon Blomberg observes that water creates unlikely peacemakers, and holds up self-interest as means for Israelis and Palestinians who, in cooperating over water, are forced to defend themselves against their respective spoilers – those who perceive any cooperation as an unwarranted concession. When Israeli and Palestinian school-age students meet together to discuss water, their parents must sign a release form indicating their consent for the exchange. When school teachers are attacked for fraternising with the enemy, as they frequently are, they are able to make a convincing argument of self-interest in response. So instead of focussing on the sometimes-other-worldly vision of a peace deal, Israelis and Palestinians can focus instead on improving their freshwater reality, with tangible results which are sometimes beyond the immediate remit of the projects. For example, the cooperation between the Israeli village Tsur Haddassah and its lower-lying Palestinian neighbour Wadi Fukin has not only improved water quality, but is also one of the few examples of successful opposition to Israel’s security barrier.

Questions followed.

Somebody asked about veganism, and sadly everybody changed the subject to tropical fruit cultivation; in effect these countries are exporting their water in the form of bananas and citrus, whereas dates are far more appropriate, forgiving of a dry climate as they are. Munqeth Mehyar talked about sheep, the main animal eaten in the Middle East, pointing out that over-grazing and water consumption was not currently calculated in the cost of this meat.

I was going to ask whether the prospect of desalination was perceived by some as a silver bullet which removed the necessity be careful with water. Gidon Blomberg brought this up in a response to another question. Currently Israel is content to expend fossil fuel desalinating water, and membrane industry breakthroughs have enabled desalination at costs which compete increasingly favourably with extraction methods. The hope is that the crisis will stimulate further innovation in solar technology.

Somebody asked how the water situation had changed since the occupation. Gidon Blomberg responded that it was better to compare Palestine now to Jordan now rather than Palestine now to Palestine then, since infrastructure has undeniably improved since the occupation. However, whereas before the occupation, both Jordanians and Palestinians outside the main cities tended to rely on springs for water, the water realities in Jordan today are far better than in the OPTs. At the same time there is mismanagement across the Middle East, and even in Damascus where water is relatively plentiful there are times of intermittent supply. And while Israel may be very efficient, it is a mistake to confuse efficient use with sustainable use. Nader Al-Khateeb pointed out that whereas Israeli quality of life is on a par with that in Europe, Palestinians fare much worse, and Israel should expect to invest significantly in Palestinian water conservation and quality, again for reasons of self-interest.

Somebody asked why there was such low uptake of solar power given good elevation, around 3000 sun hours, and recent innovations in efficient CPV sun-tracking solar panels yielding shorter investment times. The reason is the Saudi oil lobby, and the Israeli and Egyptian natural gas lobbies. Munqeth Mehyar spoke eloquently about the ‘cash now’ mentality the Saudi rulers have adopted with respect to their oil. When we emerged from the stone age, he said, stones didn’t stop being useful to us. FoEME are lobbying for oil to be regarded as something precious to future generations which our children should have the chance to benefit from.

Postscript – for a party which appears, on the face of things at least, to take such a very keen interest in the Middle East and particularly Israel, I found it sad that the audience didn’t contain any members of the Green Party International Committee, nor any other Greens who have indicated their interest in various fora. My hunch, backed up by some references to “spoilers” from the panel, is that this kind of cooperation is absolutely incompatible with their hopes that Israel will fail and disappear. Fortunately for the residents of the region, the cooperation is strengthening because it is in everyone’s best interest that it does.

And because contaminated water does not recognise security walls, there may yet be an eco peace in the Middle East. Seven years of drought and 20 million mouths to feed along the banks of the Jordan says there must.

Friends of the Earth Middle East in London, 24 March 2011

Eco Peace in the Middle East – an event
Thursday 24 March 2011
7pm- Reception; 7:30pm- Lecture and Discussion
The Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 0AE
Fee: £7 in advance (book here)/ £10 on the door

Environment has no borders. The rain falls on Jerusalem, Amman and Ramalla; the desert expands northwards in Israel, Palestine and Jordan and the impacts of climate change will be felt by all people in the region.

The responsibility for cultivating the already fragile ecosystem in the Middle East lies with all the people who inhabit the region. The Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian co-Directors of Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) will share with us their unique partnership and set out the environmental challenges the region faces.

EcoPeace / FoEME is a unique organisation that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists since 1994. Its primary objective is the promotion of cooperative efforts to protect the shared environmental heritage across the region of the Middle East. In so doing, it seeks to advance both sustainable regional development and bring about the creation of necessary conditions for a lasting peace in the region.

New Israel Fund has helped support FoEME’s efforts to rehabilitate the lower Jordan River system, which has had its annual flow reduced by about 90% and lost its rich and diverse ecosystems. With New Israel Fund help, FoEME launched a campaign to raise awareness of the situation, and has prepared a Strategic Action Plan targeting Israeli decision makers who can implement the necessary changes.

See you there.

HT: Yishay.

A model water accord between Israelis and Palestinians

“There is an urgent need to replace the current framework of the Joint Water Committee (JWC). The JWC has failed both peoples, first, by not providing sufficient water to the Palestinians and second, by not preventing largely Palestinian pollution of shared waters reaching Israel.” (Model Water Agreement)

“Treaties and institutional arrangements cannot remain static. Factors like water requirements, use patterns & efficiency of management change with time, as do water management paradigms, practices and processes. … It may not be an easy task to formulate dynamic treaties, but one that must be considered very seriously in the coming years.” (Oral presentation)

If water isn’t political where you live, it soon will be. Israel and the Palestinian territories are no exception. There is a need to cooperate on de-nationalising the region’s fresh water and to manage demand by considering current usage in the light of needs. The Bilaterial Water Commission and Water Mediation Board proposed by Friends of the Earth Middle East would have policy-making powers and include equal numbers of Israeli and Palestinian members, and one non-regional chair.

See Friends of the Earth Middle East’s A Water Agreement Cannot Wait’ conference for the proposal, co-authored by hydrologists and social scientists, in which there is a short chapter on ‘Moving fresh water from last to first in the peace process”.

Hat tip Bob.

Palestinian green movement

Environmental engineer Muhammad Al-Ihmaidi used to head the joint Israeli-Palestinian environmental negotiations committee during the Oslo period. Nadir Al-Khatib directed the Bethlehem office of Friends of the Earth Middle East. He says that environmental consciousness had its origins in Oslo, a time of negotiations and optimism. Now that the economy in Nablus is up-turning, things are stirring again on the recycling and biodiversity fronts.

Daniella Cheslow writes in the Global Post, where you can also put faces to these names.

News from Friends of The Earth Middle East

The latest Environmental Peacemaking bulletin and cheap politics on the Dead Sea.

“FoEME is calling for the reform/replacement of the Joint Water Committee with a new body where Palestinians and Israelis are true partners in both water supply and management responsibilities.  FoEME is producing a new report on the issue of Israeli / Palestinian official water cooperation that will review the different reports of the Water Authorities and the World Bank.

~

FoEME continued to promote cross border peace building efforts, focusing on the tourism sector, by inviting Israeli and Palestinian tour guides and tour operators, as well as active adults from several participating “Good Water Neighbors” communities to visit the project’s Neighbors Paths in Southern Jordan.

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At the annual EU Green Week conference, on June 23-26, an important session on Climate Change took place in Brussels, with FoEME’s Jordanian Director, Munqeth Mehyar speaking under the title “The Mediterranean Region, a Climate Change Hot Spot”.

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Friends of the Earth Middle East organized 2 events on June 4, one in Ramallah and one in Tel Aviv, for the launching of a new report “Rising Temperatures, Rising Tensions” written by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), an independent Canadian environment and development research institute.

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There’s more to read. The bulletin (should be available on the site in the next few days):

And cheap politics:

Dead Sea Subject to Cheap Politics

June 30, 2009
Tel Aviv

Statements made this past weekend by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development Mr. Silvan Shalom, that the World Bank has approved a $1.25 Billion pilot plan of the proposed Red-Dead Canal, and the response yesterday of the World Bank citing that no agreement on funding has been reached, highlights that politicians are using the Red Dead Canal project for their own political image and not out of concern for the Dead Sea.

FoEME deplores the cheap politics that the Red-Dead project seems to attract.

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, says “the actions of these last days emphasize the need for greater integrity to be shown by all sides. Commitments previously made must be kept, such as the commitment of the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian parties, together with the World Bank, to undertake a study of alternatives to the Red-Dead Canal as a means to saving the Dead Sea.”

Despite this pledge made over a year ago, the parties have failed to launch the Alternative Study, nor have they been able to agree on its Terms of Reference. Additionally, the public was assured that the World Bank would create a high-level panel of experts that would oversee the integrity of all studies being implemented by the World Bank. These obligations have not been met.

FoEME is calling on the World Bank to declare to the parties that either an Independent Alternative Study be launched and a high-level panel created immediately, or that the World Bank withdraws from the project.

For more information, please contact:

Gidon Bromberg – Israeli Director, FoEME; gidon@foeme.org +972-52-4532597
Mira Edelstein – Foreign Media Officer; mira@foeme.org; +972-54-6392937