Grenoble, August 2011
Eco-peacebuilding in Israel-Palestine
An initiative by Friends of the Earth Middle East to bring together local municipalities and communities to address the threats to their shared environmental resources.
Wadi Fukin, a small Palestinian village of 1,200 people in the West Bank, sits between Tzur Hadassah, an Israeli community of about 5,000 residents to the West and Betar Ilit, a fast-growing Jewish Orthodox settlement of some 35,000 residents to the East. Proposed by the Palestinian Antiquities Authority to be a UNESCO heritage site, Wadi Fukin, like many Palestinian villages, sits next to the Green Line and risks being separated from its land and neighbors by the Israeli separation wall. However, unlike many Palestinian villages, Wadi Fukin has a strong ally in at least one of its neighboring Israeli towns.
Tzur Hadassah and Wadi Fukin participate in the Good Water Neighbors project run by Friends of the Earth Middle East, a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian environmental NGO that partners communities together to manage shared resources.
Established in 1994, Friends of the Earth Middle East works to protect the region’s environmental resources and promote cross-border cooperation in managing one of the region’s rapidly disappearing resources: water.
With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in perpetual gridlock, a lack of sewage treatment, over-pumping of aquifers, and excessive diversion of surface water flows, have created environmental and health hazards for both Israeli and Palestinian communities.
It is within this context that Friends of the Earth Middle East bring together local municipalities and communities to address the threats to their shared environmental resources. Despite cross-border tension, these communities work together to put pressure on their respective governments to address problems surrounding the inadequate management of transboundary resources.
With closed borders and the construction of the separation barrier, Israeli and Palestinian contact has become increasingly limited, perpetuating existing fears and stereotypes as well as leaving many Israelis unaware of what life is like for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
FoEME’s cross-border environmental work has lead to increased contact between communities, resulting in a subtle shift in perceptions at the local level that is translating into action at the higher political level. When the citizens of Tsur Hadassah signed a petition protesting against the route of the separation barrier, they were making a clear statement that they saw Wadi Fukin residents as their neighbors and not their enemy.
« We do not believe that this Barrier will lead to security », commented Dr. Dudy Tzfati from Tsur Hadassah. « Security lies in honoring the rights of the citizens of Wadi Fukin, and in particular, in honoring their right to continue their historical tradition of agriculture so unique to this valley. »
Environmental issues provide a more neutral arena of cooperation, in which communities are more willing to come together to discuss topics of shared consideration - such as regional water pollution or deforestation- in spite of larger political differences.
The pollution of shared aquifers, for example, is a topic of mutual concern for both Israelis and Palestinians. Friends of the Earth Middle East currently has 29 communities involved in its Good Water Neighbors Project which partners Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli communities together to manage local water resources. Through the organization of youth camps, school programs, conferences, community meetings, and media tours, FoEME provides community members with environmental education and campaigning tools as well as a platform to address environmental issues in a cooperative fashion.
By bringing communities together, generating awareness, and lobbying governments at the local and regional levels, FoEME has been able to leverage over $120 million invested in partnering communities, mostly on the Palestinian side to improve water supply and sanitation. FoEME actions to rehabilitate the Jordan River have resulted in the building of sewage treatment plants removing sewage from the historic river, establishing eco-tourism and environmental education centers throughout the region, developing plans for peace parks and trails, and even preventing the construction of the section of the separation barrier near Wadi Fukin.
Through FoEME’s initiatives, communities like Wadi Fukin and Tzur Hadassah have been able to work together to protect their environmental resources and to challenge Israeli military policy. Even the settlement of Betar Ilit that overshadows Wadi Fukin, has been forced to stop its sewage spilling onto nearby Palestinian agricultural fields and seeping into shared aquifers. Soon, thanks to World Bank support, a new water supply network will be built for Wadi Fukin, doubling fresh water supply for the village. A study is underway to plan the collection and treatment of the wastewater of Wadi Fukin that currently pollutes shared groundwater.
Authors : Nikki Hodgson and Henry Tidy