Gidon Bromberg has been working with Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), an environmental organisation which focuses on trans-boundary issues, since it was established seventeen years ago. As the first regional organisation involving Jordan, Israel and Palestine the environmental NGO has seen it’s fair share of troubles such as criticism for encouraging countries to work together and ignore political tensions.
“We face condemnation from people in Jordan, Palestine and Israel for the work we do,” explains Bromberg. “We call them the ‘spoilers’ as they don’t want to see any co-operation whether there is benefit for the communities for not… They state that any co-operation should come after a final peace agreement but we don’t believe that.”
Rather than waiting for peace, Bromberg states that action is needed now to influence governments to make the right decision and also to halt the ongoing environmental destruction that is occurring every day in the region.
Working To Influence & Improve Government Policy
The organisation works in two broad ways to encourage action on trans-boundary environmental issues such as water shortages: top-down advocacy to influence changes in government policy and grassroots community projects. FoEME produces policy papers written by experts from all the three countries advocating improvements and suggesting changes in government policy which would benefit the environment.
For example, Bromberg is critical of the current sharing water agreement between Israel and Palestine. “We think that these agreements [under Oslo] are shooting both people in the feet. It’s not serving the Palestinian public because they are not getting enough water to serve their basic needs and it’s not serving the Israeli public because sewerage is not being dealt with properly which is contaminating people’s drinking water.”
Consequently, FoEME suggested a fairer working relationship where Palestinians were able to control their water resources and develop water infrastructure so that water is extracted at a level to meet the needs of both people whilst the needs of nature are also considered.
Bring Communities Together For Mutual Benefit
The other strand of FoEME’s work is bringing communities together on a grassroots level. One of their key projects is the Good Water Neighbours initiative which over the last ten years has worked with 29 communities across the borders of Palestine, Israel and Jordan. “What we did was ask each community to highlight and map the water issues they were both facing and then share them together to show that they are interdependent,” says Bromberg.
“The project also helped show the disparities such as the lack of water in most of Palestinian and Jordanian communities compared to the Israeli communities who have a sophisticated water system which means that anytime they open a tap water will come out (which is not always the case in Jordan and Palestine).”
Due to these programmes, the locals managed to build the political momentum to encourage their mayors to meet with the mayor of the other community and discuss the water issues. Many of the paired mayors then went on to sign memorandums of understanding – not because they want to become best friends, as Bromberg explains – but to identify the shared water problems that can be resolved.
As he adds, “We believe that there can be sincere and mutual benefits for the communities involved and we need to working towards those benefits because that’s what’s going to help create the conditions for lasting peace in the region.”
For more on the work of Friends of the Earth Middle East see: