By Erica Sultan
Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs
In a time of regional strife in the Middle East, there is a small organization, the only one of its kind, making huge strides in peace building. EcoPeace Middle East is an organization run by Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian environmentalists to show the world that climate resilience can only be made through cooperation of all parties.
On Wednesday, February 9, 2022, The Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs, along with the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies, the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College and the Yeshiva University Political Action Club (YUPAC), held their first-ever hybrid event, “Climate Resilience in The Middle East,” with Gidon Bromberg, the Israel Director of EcoPeace Middle East, as guest speaker. The 25 years-plus director and co-founder of the organization Zoomed from Israel while students on both undergraduate campuses met in person for food (for body and thought).
Bromberg gave a presentation highlighting the region’s climate crisis, specifically the issue of water scarcity. Beginning with the statement that the Middle East and North Africa region is the most water scarce in the world, he shared shocking graphs and facts. Describing the rainfall period in Israel, he stated that by 2050, there will be no rain showers in the autumn months, which is currently the norm, and only in the winter months. Even more surprising, by the end of this century, there will be a 40% reduction in rainfall.
He then discussed water pollution in the region. Raw sewage leaves Gaza and swims to the coasts of Israel, forcing the closure of desalination plants in the north of the country. Desalination plants in Israel, which is one of only two countries in the Middle East to give 24/7 access to water, is responsible for 70% of Israel’s drinking water. Another staggering fact he shared was that due to the conflict in Israel, 95% of the Jordan River’s flow has ceased since it is full of sewage and pollution from Israel, Jordan and Syria.
But not all hope is lost, as Bromberg went into specific details of what EcoPeace Middle East is doing to help the problem, from taking water from the Mediterranean and transferring it to Jordan to Jordan sharing their energy for electricity.
One of the most important initiatives that EcoPeace Middle East has taken on is educating the children of the region that water resilience for everyone is imperative for peace in the region. Working with Israel’s Ministry of Education, they offer students diplomas in environmental studies.
Dr. Ronnie Perelis, director of the Schneier Program, was happy to see students on both campuses engaging with these global issues. “It is so refreshing to hear real-world solutions to fundamental challenges and for our students to see how they can be part of the solution.”
An interesting question asked by Alex Friedman, a Yeshiva College student, was if Bromberg found that the Abraham Accords helped EcoPeace Middle East, and if so, how? Bromberg explained that the agreement of cooperation between Israel and specifically the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was critical in the fight for environmental peace. For example, a UAE government-run energy company is funding Jordan’s solar energy, which will eventually be traded with Israel, and the promise for cooperation placed confidence in all acting parties for a better future.
One question in particular, asked by Dr. Ed Berliner, the dean of science management at Yeshiva University, stood out. He mentioned that many North American Jews may be skeptical of this sort of cooperative project between Israel and its Arab neighbors. To which Bromberg responded that when it comes to the security paradigm, there is an increasing understanding that the army is not the only entity that matters; public health, economy and the ecological environment matter, too. Bromberg ended the event by reminding us all that there are always sparks of hope.
Watch a recording of the event.