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EcoPeace Middle East has a plan for resolving water issues, which represent a security threat to Israelis, Palestinians and everybody in the region

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East, an environmental group with sections in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan, visited the Twin Cities in September. He spoke at Saturday morning services at Temple Israel, and led a Shabbat study group on “Jewish faith responsibility when it comes to water issues.”

Following the study group, which took place at Common Roots Café in South Minneapolis, Bromberg, who lives in Tel Aviv, talked with the Jewish World.

State Rep. Frank Hornstein (left), DFL-Minneapolis, helped organize activities for Gidon Bromberg, during his mid-September visit to the Twin Cities. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor).

State Rep. Frank Hornstein facilitated the interview with Bromberg, which focused on his group’s efforts to arrive at an equitable resolution of regional water issues, which according to EcoPeace, “can help rebuild public trust that peace and end of hostilities are possible.” And at the center of the water crisis affecting Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan is the lower Jordan River, which has been neglected and degraded over the years.

Prior to his Twin Cities visit, Bromberg attended a conference at Glacier National Park, which focused on “trans-boundary protected areas and peace parks… I spoke about our efforts to create a peace park on the Jordan River, between Israel and Jordan, as a means to help rehabilitate that river and to bring more prosperity to the inhabitants along the Jordan Valley.”

Following his visit here, Bromberg was a featured speaker at the 2016 Concordia Summit, a gathering of global leaders that took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Getting back to the Temple Israel study group session, which wrapped up prior to his chat with the AJW, Bromberg said, vis-à-vis the Jewish role in water issues, “I used the example of what’s happened to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The Jordan River in Jewish tradition [is] seen as part of the freedom story, at the end of Exodus. Joshua leads the Jewish people across the River Jordan to the Promised Land. According to Jewish tradition, the Jordan River represents freedom, and the Jordan River represents miracles: the miracle of the parting of the Jordan for the Israelites to cross; and the miracle of Elijah, who rises to heaven on the banks of the River Jordan; and the miracle of the healing of lepers by cleansing them with Jordan River water.”

Bromberg continues, “That’s part of our heritage; and yet despite the river being significant to the Jewish faith, and equally significant, perhaps even more so, to the Christian faith, because of the site of the baptism of Jesus, where… it’s seen as purity, that this is holy water, the water of the River Jordan. And for Islam, where four of the companions of the prophet Muhammad are buried along its banks. So despite its significance to all three of the Abrahamic faiths, the Jordan has been turned into little more than a sewage canal.”

The EcoPeace Middle East website notes that diversion of 96 percent of the Jordan River’s fresh water, “in addition to discharge of large quantities of untreated sewage, threatens to irreversibly damage the [Jordan] River Valley. Israel, Jordan and Syria have all diverted its upstream waters for domestic and agricultural uses, leaving precious little fresh water for the river and its once thriving ecosystem.”

In fact, the fabled Jordan River’s southern course resembles Minnehaha Creek at low ebb.

Bromberg recounted what he told the Temple Israel group: “When it comes to the water situation for the Jordan Valley and for the Dead Sea, actually we are responsible for mismanagement. It’s not climate change that’s led to a complete collapse of the ecosystem of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, it’s our own actions — in this case… Israelis, Jordanians, Syrians and Palestinians who have either taken the water or are dumping sewage into the river.”

The good news, however, is that the dismal state of the river has been reversed somewhat in recent years. Through the efforts of EcoPeace, mayors and other government officials in the region and grassroots activists, environmental remediation projects are underway.

On Aug. 15, 2010, under the auspices of EcoPeace Middle East, Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian mayors, municipal representatives and young activists “jumped” into the Jordan River. The action, which took place at the Yardenit baptism site near the Sea of Galilee, called on governments to rehabilitate the polluted waterway. (Photo: Courtesy of EcoPeace Middle East).

On Aug. 15, 2010, under the auspices of EcoPeace Middle East, Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian mayors, municipal representatives and young activists “jumped” into the Jordan River. The action, which took place at the Yardenit baptism site near the Sea of Galilee, called on governments to rehabilitate the polluted waterway. (Photo: Courtesy of EcoPeace Middle East).

“Israel has built sewage treatment plants that weren’t there before… the last one started to operate just two years ago,” noted Bromberg. “On the Jordanian side, USAID built a sewage treatment plant,” and Japan built a similar facility on the Palestinian area. These efforts have allowed Israel to recently release fresh water from the Jordan River for the first time in 49 years.

Israel is a technological leader in desalination and water reuse technology. “We treat and reuse 85 percent of our sewage water for agriculture, that releases fresh water for other purposes,” Bromberg explained. “We have the capacity to desalinate 600 million cubic meters of water annually — that’s much more water than we ever took from the Sea of Galilee.”

Desalination has become the major source of drinking water for Israelis. This is water from the Mediterranean Sea.

On the geopolitical front, Bromberg handed out an EcoPeace briefing paper, from August of this year, that discussed how “Israeli leadership in desalination and wastewater treatment/reuse can be a political game changer not only in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but for the whole region.”

Another complicated aspect of the water situation — a story that cannot be adequately dealt with in this article — is that “water is very unfairly shared,” in Bromberg’s words, between Israel and the Palestinians, in both the West Bank and Gaza. “Israel takes the lion’s share” of fresh water, and “there’s real crisis” in Palestinian communities.

“What we need to stop happening is holding water hostage to the other final status issues; water is a final status issue of the Oslo Accords, together with borders and settlements and refugees,” Bromberg argued. “But our governments and the international community have generally led an all or nothing approach, a paradigm which has been, either we agree on all five final status issues or we don’t agree on anything. And because we haven’t been able to agree on all five, for the last 22 years, we haven’t advanced on any issue; and therefore, it’s no wonder that the public has no faith in peace, because that’s been their experience — a total failure.”

Bromberg said that holding water hostage to a resolution of other Oslo final status issues becomes a “human security threat to Israelis and Palestinians, and to the broader region.” And he noted that American leadership is needed to resolve the water crisis in the Middle East.

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For information on EcoPeace Middle East, go to: bit.ly/eco-peace.

(American Jewish World, 10.7.16)

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