EcoPeace Middle East uses environmental protection as a means of peacebuilding and peacebuilding as a means of environmental protection.
In 1993, the Oslo Peace Accord was signed by the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It attempted to create a framework that would eventually lead to the resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. At the time, it appeared that a permanent peace in the Middle East was imminent.
In light of the coming peace, developers rushed in. “There were 50,000 new hotel rooms being proposed around the Dead Sea,” says Gidon Bromberg of EcoPeace Middle East. At the time, Gidon was a student at American University in Washington, D.C. As part of his Master’s thesis, he proposed an important question. “I asked the question…is peace going to be good for the environment?” He did not like the answer.
Gidon recognizes how interconnected the ecosystem of the Middle East is. Water, pollution and environmental degradation do not respect national boundaries. Tens of millions of people live in close proximity across the Middle East. The Jordan River Basin, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea are eco-systems shared across borders, cultures and religions. Therefore, despite traditional enmity, regional cooperation on environmental issues is required.
Gidon proposed a first-of-its-kind gathering of environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from across the Middle East. Because of his youth and inexperience, his idea was met with cynicism. Gidon told me, “I met with about a dozen people who said to me, ‘Nice idea. Come back to us when you’re older.’”
Gidon was not willing to take no for an answer. After his initial meetings, he followed up with a letter. One of the people that received his letter called him and offered to fund the meeting. In December, 1994, Egyptian, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists met at Taba, Egypt with the shared goal of sustainable development and peace across the region. This meeting was the origin of the organization known today as EcoPeace Middle East.
EcoPeace uses both a “top-down” (advocacy) approach and with a “bottom-up” (community) approach.
They maintain independent offices with a Director in each office: Munqeth Mehyar (Amman), Nader el Khateeb (Bethlehem), Gidon Bromberg (Tel Aviv). And yet, they operate as one unit. This allows for a cultural-specific approach with one shared objective: to protect their shared environmental heritage. In this way, they are able to advance both sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in the Middle East.
Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Gidon Bromberg
“The reason we, as entrepreneurs, have been able to succeed is, we’re constantly trying to learn.”
“We are making a new path on what environmental peace building is all about.”
“The streams cross the borders. The groundwater doesn’t stop at any political barrier.”
“You can only create a constituency in support of working cross-border when you speak to the self-interest of your own community.”
“We have staff working in a parallel manner if each country.”
“The textbooks are co-authored by Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians together.”
“For the first time in close to 50 years, fresh water is flowing from the Sea of Galilee, to the lower Jordan River.”
“Take risks. If we continue to play by the existing games, we’re not going to see real change.”
Social Entrepreneurship Resources:
- EcoPeace Middle East: http://foeme.org
- EcoPeace Middle East on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EcoPeaceMiddleEast
- EcoPeace Middle East on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EcoPeaceME
- Resource: Water Ecology and the Jordan River in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions: http://savethejordan.com/join-the-campaign/resources/