Eco-Peace: Fostering Interdependence

Guest Post: Jessye Waxman

A muse for songwriters, a site of both pilgrimage and recreation, a border that at once marks a political and geographic divide and connects billions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims around the world. For thousands of years, the Lower Jordan River has played a significant role in the history of the Middle East, serving as a source of life-sustaining water and a site of deep spiritual significance.

You might, then, be surprised to come upon a calm, and occasionally muddy, stream, rather than the flow of a mighty river. Over the past few decades, the famed Jordan River has been in decline as a consequence of development in the region. The need for freshwater both to irrigate farmlands and to provide for increasing populations has led to the Jordan River becoming so diverted and overused and misused that the Lower Jordan River now runs with less than 5% of its natural flow and has become a dumping ground in many places, serving as an conduit for sewage, saline waters, and industrial run-off.

Sewage flows into the Jordan River

Sewage flows into the Jordan River

Looking at a map, it’s easy to see that the Lower Jordan River is a transboundary waterway, winding its way between Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. All three countries use the River in one way or another, contributing to the River’s problems of declining quality and quantity. Israel has the resources to lead the rehabilitation effort, as extensive investment in desalination has meant Israel is less dependent on natural water resources. However, by virtue of being a transboundary waterway, the health of the Lower Jordan River (like that of many other freshwater systems in this region of the world) is dependent on successful regional cooperation: in order to make any substantial progress, all users will need to pitch in.

It is from this notion of necessary interdependence that EcoPeace Middle East (or, EcoPeace, for short) builds its foundation. EcoPeace is a trilateral organization that brings together Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, to work together on improving the region’s water resources. In particular, our work builds off a mutual interest in improving the region’s water (and larger environmental) reality, working together to implement projects to treat waste water, reduce pollution, raise awareness about regional water scarcity, and improve supply and demand management. And, more than that, by bringing together people of different faiths and people of different nationalities who share a concern for their shared environment, we are helping to foster peacebuilding efforts in the region. In short, the work we do is environmental peacebuilding, using the environment as a medium over or through which to build trust and foster meaningful interdependent relationships with the goal that cooperation over shared environmental resources will build the trust necessary to take meaningful steps toward other peace-making endeavors.

Senior faith leaders from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities gather at an EcoPeace conference to endorse the “Covenant for the Jordan River,” calling on regional governments to work together toward rehabilitation.

Senior faith leaders from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities gather at an EcoPeace conference to endorse the “Covenant for the Jordan River,” calling on regional governments to work together toward rehabilitation.

The Lower Jordan River is not merely an important environmental resource, but an important religious resource, as well. But now, due to diversions and pollution, sites of monumental religious importance (including the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist) are being threatened. And the only hope for saving them comes from creating a network of people who care enough about the issue to do something about it. Therefore, EcoPeace has created a campaign to bring faith communities to learn more about and to tour the Lower Jordan River. The goal of this campaign is to bring the reality of the Lower Jordan River to the forefront of community discussion among Christians, Muslims, and Jews and to encourage action-based community responses to this important issue. More information about EcoPeace’s faith-based advocacy program can be found here.

This notion of necessary interdependence is a scalable ideology, with practical application at much larger and smaller scales, as well. The River also has huge importance outside of its religious context, namely as a major supply of water for Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. As such, it is important to involve decision-makers from Jordan, Palestine, and Israel in the campaign to rehabilitate the Jordan River, as well. In order to advance this goal, EcoPeace is working with the governments of Israel, Jordan, and Palestine in order to promote actions that will increase the flow and reduce pollution throughout the Lower Jordan River. More information about the Lower Jordan River Rehabilitation Plan can be found here.

Mayors from towns in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine gather together to make the “Big Jump” into the Jordan River to promote a region-wide call aimed at the governments of all three countries to step up efforts to rehabilitate the Lower Jordan River.

Mayors from towns in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine gather together to make the “Big Jump” into the Jordan River to promote a region-wide call aimed at the governments of all three countries to step up efforts to rehabilitate the Lower Jordan River.

By involving decision-makers and members of all faiths from a variety of national backgrounds we can work to bring together people from all sides of the river banks to solve this problem. But, this is not just a problem of regional consequence; failing to rehabilitate the Lower Jordan River would have a tremendous consequence for the millions of people around the world for whom the River has religious and historic importance.

And that’s where you come in! We need to push this issue up the political agenda – to raise our voices and let Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian decision-makers know that we care about this river and that we expect them to act. The Jordan River flows through the heart of the Christian tradition, and for that reason its revival is not simply a question of politics – it is also a moral and spiritual challenges for Christians everywhere. If we want the Jordan River to survive, we cannot – YOU cannot – remain silent.

How to join the campaign to rehabilitate the Jordan River!

  • Sign the Covenant for the Jordan River, a vision statement articulating the Jordan River’s value to humanity and the commitment to champion the rehabilitation of the Jordan River in your community.
  • Get together a circle of friends, classmates, or co-workers from your community and work together to let decision-makers know that you care about the Jordan River and want them to act! Write a letter or set up a meeting with your representative or leader; organize events to bring attention to the issues affecting the Jordan River; get creative!
  • Learn more about the Jordan River’s significance in the Christian tradition

To learn more about EcoPeace Middle East, please visit our website at www.foeme.org. To receive updates on EcoPeace Middle East’s activities, sign up for our Environmental Peacebuilding Newsletter (at the bottom of the page).


Jessye Waxman

Jessye Waxman is a Research Intern in the Tel Aviv office of EcoPeace Middle East. Her work focuses on energy and water resources in Israel, Jordan, and Palestine.

 


 

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