Saturday, September 6, 2008

Water Issues in the Middle East

This article, from Time Magazine, isn't directly about the occupation, but touches on a key regional issue in Israel, Palestine and Jordan: water. It nicely sketches out the direness of the issue and also the opportunities to build partnerships across borders. It does note that the decimation of the Jordan, "is helping decimate Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank--home to some of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities--which are slowly dying of thirst without access to the river or the authority to dig their own wells."

However, the fact that they don't have access to the river or the authority to dig their wells is due to Israeli control of the region is not explicitly mentioned. Neither is it noted that Israeli national agricultural policies that subsidize water usage to grow tropical fruits for export in the desert are often subsidizing Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine with plenty of water while their Palestinian neighbors have no running water at all.

--Rebecca Vilkomerson

Postcard From Jordan Valley
By Andrew Lee Butters, Time Magazine,9171,1837222,00.html

For centuries, the children of Abraham--Jews, Christians and Muslims
alike--have venerated the Jordan River. So much so that "crossing over
Jordan" has become a mystical metaphor for liberation and resurrection. These days, it's the river itself that could use some resurrecting. Instead of a mighty torrent "deep and wide," as the
gospel songs proclaim, much of the river is a thin rivulet of brown slime largely obscured by reeds. Most of what now flows in between the Jordan's banks is human sewage, almost all of it untreated. The river where John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, a river so
sacred it doesn't need a priest's blessing to be considered holy
water, is today, for all intents and purposes, full of crap.

Almost all the water that used to flow into the river is now diverted for human use, and in past decades, both the Israeli and Jordanian governments have blocked off the Jordan's sources. The relative trickle is so shocking that American pilgrims are often heard
exclaiming "That's it?" when crossing the river at Allenby Bridge, the
checkpoint separating the Kingdom of Jordan on the river's east bank
from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories on the west.

The decline of the river has had profound social and environmental consequences for the Jordan Valley. It has reduced habitats for the 500 million birds migrating each year from Europe to Africa. It is killing the Dead Sea, which, without replenishment from the Jordan, is being reduced in depth about a meter a year. And it is helping
decimate Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank--home to some of
the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities--which are slowly
dying of thirst without access to the river or the authority to dig
their own wells.

But the plight of the Jordan Valley is also galvanizing a new generation of environmental activists in the region. For Palestinians, reviving the river is a necessary part of establishing a national
water system, vital for a future Palestinian state. For Israelis--with
environmentalism replacing Zionism as a motivating ideology among idealistic secular Jews--learning to live with their dry country's fragile ecosystem is giving new meaning to the old imperative to "make
the deserts bloom." And for all the communities that live along the Jordan, sharing its blessings is an opportunity to nurture the region's fragile peace.

The trick is to convince the national governments that use the Jordan's water that they would be better off returning the river to its natural course. For Gidon Bromberg, founder of Friends of the
Earth Middle East (FOEME), a joint Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian
environmental organization that is leading the effort to revive the
Jordan, the future of water conservation in the Middle East lies in
transforming rural economies. Right now the Israeli and Jordanian governments provide precious water at subsidized prices to their agricultural industries. Farming consumes the majority of the water
supply but contributes little to national economies. Because they don't pay full price for their resources, farmers grow water-hungry crops such as garden vegetables, fruits and flowers, most of which are shipped to Europe. "We are exporting our water," says Bromberg.
"Bananas are a tropical fruit. Why are we growing them in the desert?"

Rural communities in the valley would be better off if they developed themselves as destination spots. In particular, a healthy and accessible Jordan River (much of its banks on the Israeli side are in
a restricted military zone) could be a much bigger draw for pilgrims
visiting holy sites. FOEME and Yale University architects have developed a showcase ecotourism project: a Peace Park on an island in the middle of the river, where Jordanians and Israelis may one day
meet without passports or visas. The Peace Park would also be a concrete way of fighting the mistrust that pushes countries to grab and hoard as much water as they can. "War will not generate water," says Nader Al-Khateeb, the Palestinian director of FOEME. "But peace

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

No comments: