Droplets of Hope: Searching for Sustainability and Common Ground through Traditional Water Attitudes and Knowledge in the Arab/Israeli Conflict Rosina Hassoun, PhD Michigan State University Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Scholars like Thomas Homer-Dixon and others have long predicted the potential for water to spark future conflict in the Middle East, especially between Israel and her neighbors. In a situation with suchpotential for violence
Searching for Sustainability and Common Ground • Israeli water discussion is increasingly couched in the language of the “securitization of water” (as Barry Buzan of the London School of Economics uses the term). • Buzan says it calls for increased understanding of how societies conceptualize threats- which includes factors such as beliefs and cultural perspectives- which also allows for deconstruction of threats. Can the cultural dimensions of the water conflict offer a way forward?
Cultural Dimensions of Water Sharing: The cultural policy dimensions include: the cultural and religious altitudes toward water and land use of both sides traditional practices and water usages that enabled sustainable water usage changing current government water policies finding case studies of water cooperation and the potential for charting a future based on a common shared water culture and appropriate technologies
Water Crisis: Israel • Until 10 days ago: according to an Israeli national news article written by AvrahamZuroff in February of 2009, entitled “Farmers Face Grim Future as Water and Workers Wither”, Israel faced its worse drought since the inception of the state in 1948.
Water Crisis: Palestinians • In the West Bank, Palestinians face harsh conditions living under crippling water shortages. Much of the Palestinian population lives on less than half of the amount the WHO sets as the minimal to maintain human health. • Some 13% of West Bank villages have no access to water and are supplied by water tankers for very high prices • Bethlehem’s Al Azzeh refugee camp has water only on alternating weeks. • The wall built by the Israeli government isolated 23 groundwater wells and over 200 cisterns from their communities and demolished at least 14 wells in the Wall's "buffer zone".
Water Crisis: Palestinians Gaza • In Gaza, the most recent Operation Spread Lead started in Dec 2008, damaged water infrastructure throughout the strip. • The coastal aquifer is collapsing with salt water intrusion and sodium levels already above recommended human drinking levels, plus it is badly contaminated by sewage and chemicals due to lack of wastewater treatment. Sewage flood Gaza 2007
Flood or Famine • Ten days ago the rain and sudden snow melt created a sudden torrent of water. • Israel shunted water into Lebanon, flooding fields and sparking an international incident with UNFIL troops asked to stop the water. • This pattern of long intervals of drought followed by torrential rain or snow is predicted to result from climate change. • Rapid rainfall is difficult to capture- most is lost as runoff.
The Aquifers and Watershed: Unequal Access • Sinceat least 1967, Israel has dominated the surface and underground aquifers of the West Bank. The Israeli Jewish population uses 83% of the water supplies.
Similarity in Religious Concepts of Water From the Jewish ritual baths, to the practice of Muslim ablutions to Christian baptism, water is purifying. wudu Baptism in Jordan River Miqveh and priestly purification
Israeli Water Conveyance: Cultural Narrative Operationaized • So strong was the national narrative about “making the desert bloom” that Israeli built one of the largest water conveyance systems in the world, carrying water from the Sea of Galilee to the Negev (Neqab) desert. • It is one of the largest water conveyance systems- and very costly.
Despite the development of new drip irrigation methods, monocropping and dairy and flower farming in the Negev and Galilee is water intensive. Israel’s agriculture uses 55% of its water and only produces 2% of Israel’s GDP.
The Palestinian agricultural practices today show continuities with ancient Canaanite and Nabatean water practices in the usages of cisterns and rock terracing, with improvements made by the later Ottoman period. It produced 45% of Jordan’s GDP 1948-1967. Palestinian cultural concept is of the land as Um, mother.
Ecocide Modern modifications to the agricultural practices have been heavily influenced by severe Israeli water restrictions (especially 1967 to 1993). Israeli land use laws that require continuous use of the land by Palestinian farmers to avoid land confiscation, thereby curtaining traditional fallow and crop rotation practices and requiring more chemicals and fertilizers, amounting to a kind of long-term ecocide . (Hassoun 1998)
Historical Water Usage Canaanite, Nabatean, and ancient Hebrew water cisterns, conveyance systems , and wells demonstrate historical sustainable water use. Palestinian agricultural practices showed some continuity, with ancient systems, with Ottoman and modern modifications. Perhaps studying and adapting ancient practices hold out hope for both peoples.
Cooperation is Critical Despite the enormity of the Arab/Israeli conflict, the water situation, given global warming requires cooperation and recognition of traditional attitudes and practices of both peoples in working towards a sustainable future.
Governmental Deadlock However: After the recent Gaza war, the will to cooperate in water appears to be deadlocked for the time being. Even during the Oslo Peace process, Israeli government favored asking the US to pay for water desalination plant for West Bank Arabs and piping water up 1000km, making water costs prohibitive for most Palestinians, rather than share surface and aquifer water.
Water Sharing Cases: • In spite of the conflict and inequalities in access to water and power , Palestinians and Israelis already have some water sharing in place on a daily basis. Example: Some water flows from Israeli main water carrier system into Gaza (4 MCM annually). • Since 1999, Israel and Jordan have had a water sharing agreement for some 20 - 50 MCM of water annually piped to Jordan. This relationship has been tested several times.
Droplets of Hope: Israeli Environmentalism • There was only one Israeli (Jewish) environmental NGO 19 years- The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. • There has been a recent proliferation including: Israel Union for Environmental Defense, an environmental advocacy group, the Heschel Center ( focusing on environmental education leadership-building), Green Course (focusing on justice issues), and many other smaller groups. Israeli Youth Beach Cleanup
Droplets of Hope: Palestinian Environmentalism • Palestinians have a wide range of environmental organizations from bird watching clubs to hydrology groups, to women’s and agricultural unions. • Some environmental concepts have long been a component of Palestinian nationalism. Since the first Land Day in 1976, protesting land confiscation in the Galilee, this annual commemoration has also been associated with clean up days and tree plantings.
Droplets of Hope for the Future The potential for the growing environmental movement holds out droplets of hope for changing future governmental and societal changes in the usage and allocation of water between Palestinians and Israelis and between Israel and neighboring states. A major change in Israeli lifestyle, as well as cooperation in water usage, may be necessary with climate change. Water sharing and coordinated conservation is a realistic way of addressing climate change for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Coordination Both the Palestinians and Israeli environmental movements regularly cooperate with each other and many are also engaged in the peace movement. For example, PRIME a joint Palestinian and Israeli environmental organization has encouraged the cooperation of groups holding joint meetings with 40 different Palestinian and Israeli NGOs as reported on their website by Professors Dan Bar-On and Sami Adwan. Many internationally sponsored organizations and events facilitate joint environmentalism by Palestinians and Israelis. This is a growing trend.
Conclusion Cooperation and an ultimate “water for peace “ solution is inevitably part of a holistic peace approach. Techno-fixes or political accommodation cannot be made without consideration of the cultural dimensions of the conflict. Culture change through environmentalism may bring about cultural and societal change favoring water sharing and accommodation- if not ultimately peace.
Recommendations • Global pressure must be placed on Israelis, Palestinians, and the region to restart peace negotiations, including water issues. • Global, institutional , and individual support for both Palestinian and Israeli environmental movements is critical. 3. Tying the environmental movement to the peace movement is essential to changing long-term governmental policies.
Selected References Chaitin, Julia, FidaObeidi, Sami Adwan, and Dan Bar-On. Palestinian and Israeli Cooperation in Environmental Work during the Peace era. http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:dvOWJkDJBP0J:www.bgu.ac.il/~danbaron/Docs_Dan/environmental%2520paper%2520-%2520final%2520version%2520nov%25203.doc+Palestinian+environmental+movement&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us&client=firefox-a Homer-Dixon., Thomas F. 1994. “Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict: Evidence from Cases Part 1”. International Security, Vol. 19, No. I (Summer 1994), pp. 5-40. Hassoun, R.2001. “Palestinians and Israelis: Two Cultures, One Environment” International Peace Update. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. http://www.wilpf.int.ch/publications/2001ipuMarch.htm March 2008.
Selected References Hassoun, R. 1998. "Water between Arabs and Israelis: Researching Twice Promised Resources." Chapter In: Water, Culture, and Power: Local Struggles in a Global Context. John M. Donahue and Barbara Johnston Eds. Washington D.C.: Island Press. Hassoun, R. 1998b"Water, Culture, and Participatory Action Research: Solving Water Problems One Community at a Time.” In: South Perspectives on Water: Dispute Prevention & Development . V. Conference : Center for the Global South. American University. Washington D.C. Oct. 12-13. http://guruku/.ucc.american.edu/maksoud/water98/present2.htm Hassoun, R.1992. "Save the Musht." The Link. Vol. 19. Nov. New York: Americans for Middle East Understanding. pp.1-12. ShaukatFarooq and Zafar I. Ansari. “Wastewater reuse in Muslim countries: An Islamic perspective”. In Environmental Management. Vol 7 Number 2 March 1983. WasserfallRahel R. editor.1999. Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law. Hanover and London: Brandeis University Press 1999. Pp. 280.