EcoPeace Middle East is an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian organization dedicated to environmental peace building, primarily through water diplomacy. (photo from EcoPeace Middle East)
EcoPeace was created by Gidon Bromberg some 22 years ago after he made the connection between ecology and the lack of cooperation between the region’s various authorities regarding water issues.
At the time, he was studying for a master’s in environmental law in Washington, D.C. When he returned to Israel, he organized the very first gathering of Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian environmentalists. On the second day of the meeting, in December 1994, an agreement was struck to create EcoPeace Middle East.
Bromberg has been working together with Jordanian Munqeth Mehyar since then and Palestinian Nader Khateeb since 2001 to create an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian organization dedicated to environmental peace building, primarily through water diplomacy, and to the advancement – through both top-down advocacy and community-led grassroots work – of cross-border cooperation concerning shared water resources, pollution issues and sustainable development issues. Half of their programming is bottom-up community work through the Good Water Neighbors (GWN) project, now into its 15th year of operation.
“The second half of our work is advocacy aimed at influencing the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian governments, as well as at garnering support from the international community in advancing dialogue and cooperation between them,” Bromberg told the Independent.
The underlying assumption behind their efforts on all fronts is that regional cooperation is in each party’s best self-interest. “As altruism is not a common feature of foreign policy, particularly not in the midst of conflict, speaking to the self-interest of each side enables us to create political will for cooperation that ultimately serves the region as a whole,” said Bromberg.
Over the years, EcoPeace’s major areas of work have been focused on the rehabilitation of the Jordan River; a regional plan for sustainable development in the Jordan Valley; water and the peace process; Gaza’s water, sanitation and energy crisis; the water-energy nexus in the region; and the Red Sea-Dead Sea conduit.
Since its establishment, EcoPeace Middle East has seen many periods of extreme hostility and bloodshed in the region but, in the midst of that, has been able to make headway.
“Joint work of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians through EcoPeace’s programs has brought the leveraging of more than half a billion U.S. dollars in recent years for water supply and sanitation solutions in the GWN communities, all with a strong cross-border effect, i.e. removal of sewage from shared resources,” said Bromberg. “EcoPeace has also been able to convene Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian government representatives together and generate dialogue between them around issues such as the Jordan River, at a time when no such meetings were taking place.”
At the community level, EcoPeace holds many cross-border youth gatherings every year, wherein kids not only learn about the interdependency of their and their neighbors’ water reality, but also about each other, in an effort to break down negative stereotypes.
One of the biggest achievements of EcoPeace in terms of bringing together people from the three countries has been the facilitation of relations between Jordan Valley mayors, who have rallied together to demand joint governmental cooperation toward rehabilitating the river.
“As far as positive ripple effects, very much due to our work, there is a growing realization amongst the various stakeholders, including decision makers, that regional sustainable development is crucial for geopolitical stability and for security in the region, for economic growth, public health and other aspects of life in the region,” said Bromberg.
EcoPeace’s notion of water as a political game changer in the region, for example, is slowly but surely becoming a part of the political discourse.
“The Jordan River is a good example of persistence that has recently started to pay off,” said Bromberg. “Ten years ago, when we were trying to convince the Israeli Water Authority (IWA) to release fresh water from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River, something which had then not happened for almost 60 years, one of the seniors raised his palm and said, ‘Gidon, when hair grows on this palm, that’s when fresh water will flow again from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River.’”
Nonetheless, by mid-2013, following years of advocacy by EcoPeace and others, the IWA released nine million cubic metres (mcm) of water into the river, committing to raise this volume to 30 mcm in the near future. This is only a drop in the bucket, however. Based on research commissioned for the project, the estimate is that 400 mcm overall is required to rehabilitate the river – and not all from the Sea of Galilee, which is in Israeli territory, but also from Jordan and Syria.
This is a very important first step, said Bromberg, who is certain of EcoPeace’s ability, with the help of many partners, to convince the relevant decision makers to allow for more significant volumes of water to flow into the river.
“Times now are particularly difficult in our region,” he said. “Hostility between Israelis and Palestinians has reached a whole new level, a frightening environment that, for the most part, does not react well to cooperation.”
Bromberg believes that, through providing youth in each of their communities with opportunities and cooperation with their neighbors, even this complex environment can be overcome.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.