From March 19th-24th, Their Excellencies Ghazi Musharbash, Ali Malkawi, and Bassam Al Omari joined FoEME staff on a tour of sites along the Lower Jordan River Basin in Israel and Palestine. This visit was a follow-up to the Feb 2nd-4th Transboundary Advocacy of Parliamentarians (TAP) Regional Meeting, where the Jordanian Parliamentarians requested a cross-border visit to better understand the demise and rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River.
In Israel, the parliamentarians visited dams and tourism sites along the Jordan River Valley. They were particularly struck by the challenges and successes at the Alamot Dam and wastewater treatment plant. Here, the parliamentarians witnessed the complete blockage of the river and raw sewage dumping from nearby communities. Due to FoEME’s lobbying efforts and local residents’ engagement, however, the municipality has constructed an onsite waste water treatment plant to replace sewage with fresh water. The Jordanian parliamentarians were encouraged by FoEME’s regional coordination, which has led to similar river restoration efforts in Palestine and Jordan. As champions of the Jordan River, the parliamentarians stressed the need to discuss these efforts in the Jordanian national government.
Visits to the Israeli Baptism Site, the Jordan River Peace Park, and a kayaking camp provided snapshots of Israel’s tourism industry and offered inspiration for tourism in Jordan. The Baptism Site in Israel, for example, attracts 800,000 visitors annually, but charges no entrance fee. Instead, the site makes money by selling gowns for baptism, offering photography for a fee, and maintaining a full gift shop. Parliamentarians suggested that similar steps could be taken in Jordan to boost the Jordan Valley’s tourism economy.
H. E. Ghazi Musharbash accompanied FoEME directors Munqeth Mehyar and Gidon Bromberg to Tel Aviv to attend a roundtable discussion with a Knesset member, a representative from the Ministry of Water, and other decision makers. Musharbash’s presence in Tel Aviv proved to Israeli decision makers the Jordanian government’s willingness to work together to solve water issues. Musharbash commented, “We are here as Jordanians, and I hope that next year I will have a Palestinian colleague with me.”
In the West Bank, a delegation of parliamentarians and FoEME staff visited the Jordanian Embassy, the Palestinian Legislative Council, and President Mahmoud Abbas. The Legislative Council meeting began on a skeptical note; Palestinian representatives challenged the goal of rehabilitating a river primarily used by Israel. H. E. Ghazi Musharbash, however, praised FoEME’s Israeli office’s work to secure Palestinian water rights explained the need to continue pressuring Israeli decision makers. By the end of the meeting, Palestinian representatives understood FoEME’s vision of regional cooperation, including the creation of conditions for lasting peace via the provision of Palestinian water rights. In a meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordanian parliamentarians, and FoEME directors, Jordanian Director Munqeth Mehyar encouraged the president to fight for Palestinian riparian rights by, in particular, insisting upon the rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River. The president responded favorably and gave his support to FoEME.
The Palestine tour also included the Auja Eco Center, the Auja springs, and sinkholes near the Dead Sea.
The cross-border visit gave Jordanian Parliamentarians the opportunity to see firsthand the Jordan River’s demise and its potential for rehabilitation. Moreover, the visit gave parliamentarians the opportunity to become advocates to their Israeli and Palestinian colleagues for better water management in the region. As one parliamentarian said while meeting with the Palestinian Legislative Council, “We are not coming to you today as government, we are coming as Friends of the Earth Middle East.” This comment shows full buy-in for the project and trust in the work of FoEME—indeed a key success for the TAP project.
FoEME intern Emily Hylton is based in the Amman office.