By Amy Lipman Avizohar, Israeli Education Coordinator, Friends of the Earth Middle East
International Water Day occurs every year on March 22nd. At Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), leading up to this important day, we were working hard on planning youth camps for 130 “Water Trustees” from Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian Communities who share cross-border water resources. The camps were planned at three cross-border water locations in Israel – the Lower Jordan River in the north, the Alexander River in the center and the Besor River in the south. All basins suffer from dire pollution and degradation.
However, as often happens in the Middle East, the unexpected is expected and crisis is a routine. A week before the youth camps were supposed to take place, the South of Israel was under rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and tensions ran high. Emails were circulated sending support to the staff that live in the Eshkol Region in southern Israel and in Gaza. You may ask yourself, like I did, how can you actually work together in these conditions? Is it possible to meet and continue business as usual?
The answer is yes. Just as water is stronger than political borders, the personal connections and the trust between FoEME’s staff overcame the fear. The Palestinian and Israeli Community Coordinators met to prepare the camps and make contingency plans for every scenario. A week later, youth were breaking barriers and stereotypes, hiking, biking, and learning about seasonal wetlands, polluted rivers, and grey water!
The youth camps are a highlight of the “Good Water Neighbors” educational program, which is taught throughout the year in 28 Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian communities. Our mission as educators is to instill a regional vision, based on the principle of sustainability, while meeting the shared interests of all sides and also considering the needs of nature. Deepening the connection and exposure to the complex environmental reality in the drainage basins encourages inquiry and critical thinking about what is typically taken for granted and perceived to be inevitable. An important component present throughout the educational journey is presenting the greatest challenges not as being potentially irreversible and discouraging, but as opportunities for improvement and change, openings for constructive dialogue and cooperation with the neighboring community on the other side of the border that is dealing with the same problem. While the process is not simple and involves both cultural and political obstacles, increased knowledge and awareness are integrated into personal and practical experience, developing the need and ability for activism.
Amy Lipman is the Education and GIS Project Manager at Friends of the Earth Middle East, a regional NGO jointly run by Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians, working together on cross border environmental issues. She has a B.A. in Education and Geography and M.A. in Healthy Urban Planning and believes that working for a healthier environment is a key for linking communities and empowering them. Amy loves to draw, paint, and hike in nature. She sings in the TLV student choir and plays the flute.