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The power of environmentalism – Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians unite in campaign for the environment

EcoPeace Middle East and the power of environmentalism, Independent Australia, Sophia McNamara 

EcoPeace Middle East teach environmental issues to Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian children in the hopes they’ll bring awareness back to their communities (screen shot via YouTube).

Sophia McNamara introduces Gidon Bromberg and EcoPeace Middle East — an organisation brokering peaceful cooperation with environmentalism.

ECOPEACE MIDDLE EAST is a unique regional organisation that brings together Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmentalists.

It is the only regional non-government organisation (NGO) that exists in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Among its many battles, Ecopeace Middle East recently helped increase the supply of clean water and energy to Gaza. This is particularly critical considering the United Nations has predicted that Gaza will become uninhabitable by 2020.

I interviewed Israeli co-director and co-founder of EcoPeace Middle East Gidon Bromberg and he told me:

“Just a one hour drive from here in Tel Aviv, there is a water and sanitation crisis in Gaza … Two million people have run out of water. And today, about 97% of the groundwater is undrinkable.”

Bromberg came up with the idea to start EcoPeace when he realised the environment was being completely left out of the peace agenda of the early 1990s.

Originally from Elsternwick in Melbourne, Bromberg attended Elwood High School (formerly Elwood College) and graduated with degrees in Law and Economics from Monash University. Since age 11, Bromberg had known he wanted to return to his family’s hometown of Tel Aviv, Israel.

Straight after university, he made “aliyah — a term that describes the process of a Jewish person returning to Israel.

Bromberg came across an advert saying that a newly established non-profit called the Israel Union for Environmental Defence wanted their first lawyer. He volunteered there one day a week for four years, while still working four days a week in private practice, taking a pay cut in the process.

He was then offered a scholarship to study his Masters of Law at the American University in Washington DC, where he ended up being right on the doorstep of negotiations for the Oslo Accords and the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty. Bromberg’s Masters thesis posed the question: will peace be environmentally sustainable? He concluded that peace could, in fact, be truly harmful to the environment and sustainability unless it was put on the political track.

Bromberg had the idea to create a regional environmental organisation that would address this exact issue. He wanted to hold a meeting with Israeli, Egyptian, Palestinian and Jordanian environmentalists to discuss the possibility of this organisation. He spoke with potential investors in Washington DC — they all told him it was a great idea, but he needed to come back to them when he was older.

In 1994, he went back to Israel and, as part of his scholarship, he worked for a year at the Israel Union of Environmental Defence as a full-time lawyer.

Bromberg immediately wrote to all the potential investors in the United States again, this time from Israel. One of them called him and said he had thought about it and that if he could make the meeting happen, he would fund it. As these were the days before the internet, Bromberg had never met a Palestinian, Jordanian or Egyptian environmentalist.

The World Wildlife Fund had a guide on environmentalist organisations in the region — so he contacted all of them. Bromberg had a meeting in East Jerusalem with a Palestinian environmentalist, who responded to the enquiry, and spoke over the phone to an Egyptian and Jordanian. …..

Today, EcoPeace has adapted to a changed political climate, increased water scarcity and urgency required by climate change. They focus heavily on shared natural resources, regional water security and sustainable development.

A particularly successful initiative by EcoPeace is the Good Water Neighbours Program. This is where youth and adult activists, as well as mayors and municipal staff from Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian communities all work together across the borders to advance shared solutions for the rehabilitation of natural watersheds.

The Jordan River, possibly the holiest river in the world, with large religious significance in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, “has been turned into little more than an open sewer now,” says Bromberg.

Bromberg says the issue is about more than the river itself:

“The largest number of volunteers from Jordan who have joined ISIS are from Jordan Valley communities. There is a link between ecological demise, poverty, underdevelopment… and then radical, dangerous ideologies. Water security, ours and our neighbours, are national security concerns.”

This is the case EcoPeace make when they lobby Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian governments into committing themselves to cross-border water and sanitation projects……….,11470


May 9, 2018 - Posted by | environment, MIDDLE EAST

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