|Palestinian mayor, Muayed Hussein, left, and Israeli mayor, Yitzhak Wald, right [FoE]|
A lack of solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, brought on by 40 years of occupation of Palestinian land by Israel, has meant years of failed attempts at co-operation between the two sides.
But two mayors – one Israeli and one Palestinian – signed a joint cross-border agreement in July for the benefit of the people in both of their two towns.
Yitzhak Wald, mayor of Baqa al-Gharbiya (West Baqa) on the Israeli side of the border, and Muayed Hussein, mayor of Baqa al-Sharqiya (East Baqa), on the Palestinian side, have agreed to co-operate over matters of health and the environment.
The declaration was brought about by Friends of the Earth (FOE) Middle East, to promote co-operation over water, waste management and conservation on both sides of the Green Line – established between Israel and Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, at the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War – between East and West Baqa.
|The Wadi Abu Naar [FoE]|
Mira Edelstein, resource developer at FOE Middle East, said: “The idea was to look for a joint problem, to look for a joint solution.”
The joint problem of which Edelstein speaks is the Wadi Abu Naar, a heavily polluted river that runs through the two towns. The solution, as Wald said, is to “clean the river on both sides of border”.
The drinking water in Palestinian Baqa al-Sharqiya, home to 4,500 people, has become severely polluted due to the dumping of solid waste in the river as well as the lack of a sewage system and treatment plant from both sides of the border.
Yousef Sadeq, an environmental health expert with FOE, said: “The first and main health hazard the villagers face is pollution in their drinking water.
“Children get sick from the water. Diarrhoea, vomiting and other symptoms sometimes appear,” he said.
Instead of the Palestinian town spending the little money it has on building its own treatment plant, the Israeli mayor has agreed to allow his Palestinian neighbours to connect what is essentially a pipe to his town’s plant when it is completed in the middle of 2008.
Edelstein said that when it comes to the health and well-being of the people of Wald and Hussein’s municipalities, logic has prevailed over politics, even across such a traditionally impermeable border.
“When you’re working in two communities for a while, with the youth, adults and municipalities, and you’ve built up trust with the community, and you have a logical solution to a problem, you just have to be persistent, even with all the politics around, and it works.”
Simply put, Hussein said issues of health and the environment are borderless problems that require a borderless solution. “The sharing of air and water requires co-operation between the two sides.” Wald agreed. “It is for the people … without any political circumstances.”
Good water neighbours
|The two mayors signed the
declaration on July 19 [FoE]
The Good Water Neighbours project, funded by the European Commission and run by FOE Middle East, has brought together 17 municipalities from Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.
Edelstein said that a project between Jordan and Israel to combat an infestation of flies across the border was currently being drawn up, and Wald said that another example was an agreement between Israel and the West Bank town of Nablus, taking sewage from Palestinian land and using it on Israeli agriculture.
Hussein’s and Wald’s villages still need more funding to fully connect their systems. Hussein said he would like to pay for the connection, but his village has suffered economic loss since the outbreak of violence within the Palestinian territories and under Israeli occupation particularly since 2000.
Edelstein, however, said that money in a region such as this, is less difficult to overcome than the politics. “We need funding, but it’s harder in this region to get an agreement.
“It’s mostly the politics you have to get through. When you get through that, we feel that now the matter of money is easier.”
Once the environmental project is completed, Edelstein said the cross-border partnership will have a series of positive knock-on effects. “The environment is a lot of things. It’s health, it’s sustainability. It’s not just making your town green, it’s co-operating on very real issues.”
Wald said: “The idea is that such projects can push politicians to understand that co-operation gives you the opportunity to go further toward peace here in the Middle East.
“We start with small steps and these small steps can lead us to much wider and longer steps later on.”
|Cleaning up the Wadi Abu Naar can lead to greater co-operation
agreements between Israel and the Palestinian territories [FoE]