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Earlier this week, on Tuesday, I got to go to the first Honor’s lecture while here at the Rothberg International School. Not a very big or old program, we number five this semester; Micah, Soly, Keenan, Angela, and myself. We also represent a huge amount of backgrounds; respectively, we include liberal reconstructionist Jewish, modern Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, raised Catholic, and Lutheran. We make up the fairly uncommon abroad student honor’s program (I had never heard of such a thing before I got here and applied for it), and as such we have been asked to attend as many of their events as possible.

In any event, our small group was brought to the huge lecture room 300 in the Boyar building for an hour long lecture and discussion of the water issues facing Israelis and Palestinians. The professor, whose name escapes me, teaches geology here at Hebrew University, with his specialty being in water issues (of particular importance here in mostly arid Israel). He explained a lot of the issues at hand, and I thought I would try and relay this fascinating information here. Obviously, there are a lot of facets to the problems facing the Israelis and Palestinians, namely that they aren’t willing or able to get along. Well, allow me to spread a few more rays of sunshine for you: the water issues here are extremely complicated, and haven’t been solved even though they were a clear portion of the Oslo accords.

First of all, the aquifer (underground natural reservoir where water naturally percolates after rain) for Israel is predominantly under the territory of the West Bank, so all of the water which gets into the aquifer is affected by whatever chemicals and waste-water exists on the lands of the West Bank. This is compounded by a few factors: 1) the Oslo accords hold that all changes to water infrastructure in the West Bank have to be unanimously agreed upon by Israel and Palestine (so basically can never happen); 2) the Palestinians are unable to afford proper waste-treatment facilities and therefore are forced to let the waste-water contaminate the aquifer of the rest of Israel; and 3) their agriculture-based economy is dependent upon water, so Palestine can always claim to need more water that is rightfully theirs as it is under their lands and Israel can always claim it needs additional water because [as the professor relayed the argument to us] “Palestine should develop a ‘real’ economy which isn’t so dependent on water.

Leaving that series of issues where they lay, without any extra contemplation on my part, I relay the other side of this: beyond simply a huge need for water by all people here, the aforementioned waste-water has become a huge issue, beyond how it is described above. So the Palestinian waste-water isn’t treated and simply flows either into 1) the aquifer (as previously explained) or 2) towards Israel, and infects the ground water there. Therefore, Israel has engaged in something I hadn’t heard of before, “unilateral environmentalism.” Specifically, they have constructed waste treatment plants near the borders of the Palestinian lands, and treat their waste-water at Israel’s cost. Then, the lovely issue of where to redirect that contested- but now-clean water arises: to the nearby Palestinian communities who need it for agricultural uses, or to nearby Israelis, who paid for the process and the processing plants? I have no easy answer to this, to be sure.

And then comes a facet of this issue that I am personally involved in, as it turns out (had no idea of this before Tuesday, actually). The city of Jerusalem, beyond being visibly walled off between the east [Arabic] and west [Israeli] portions, apparently also segregates simply infrastructure that all of economics has deemed best should be run by one company (a natural monopoly): there exists what one might call two separate water infrastructures, at first glance. Then, upon closer inspection, the truth comes out quite a bit differently. West Jerusalem has the normal Israeli waste-water treatment facilities and pipelines to reach them. The east part of Jerusalem has a “system” for dealing with waste water too… it flows into the ground, outside the city wherever it can. And, due to the fact that Mount Scopus/Hebrew University is a veritable outpost of the Israeli part of Jerusalem within the eastern partition, it turns out that our waste-water also simply flows out of the city, without ever being treated at all. And, following this line of reasoning, it turns out that the watershed that Jerusalem naturally falls within drains into… the Dead Sea!! Hooray, its just like Lake Eire at home, with waste getting dumped into it… except the Dead Sea is actually a popular tourist location for people to go… swim and float around…. Yuck.

In any event, I am no expert about all of this, but finding out the level of complexity to this problem as only one component of the lovely cornucopia of issues here in Israel/Palestine certainly served to make my day brighter… 😦

That said, I do have to commend Israel’s environmental mindset in one way. For the past few decades, Israel has been the only country in the world to annually (and actively) increase the number of trees within the nation. Keeping in mind that water is so expensive here and that trees need quite a bit of water, that is quite a commitment (although, Israel did pioneer the extremely resource-efficient drip method of irrigation years ago, which assists in keeping resource usage down). Here’s hoping that they can make some more breakthroughs in this regard in the very near future… it seems as though a lot of places in the world would benefit.


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