Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Friends of the Earth Middle East

I somehow stumbled into a nice internship with Friends of the Earth Middle East, a wonderful group which brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists. The group focuses on water conservation, environmental protection and restoration, international water relationships, and peace building through shared environmental goals.

A lot of shared water
The idea is that these three groups of people--Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians--share many of the same environmental challenges. All three live in water-scarce environments, for instance, and must innovate to conserve water. And if a solution works for one place, it'll likely work for another.

Friends of the Earth Middle East doesn't directly tackle the conflict, but, by bringing people together and not talking about the conflict, they do a great deal to advance peace.

I'm responsible for social media: Facebookblogstweets, etc. (Yes, those links are meant to be clicked.) I was initially less than enthused, because my job seemed like the typical young person without skills internship: do internet things! But by the end of my first day, I was ecstatic. My job has a real challenge (marketing a sensitive issue to sensitive parties) with a real reward (forging more cooperative relationships between Jordanians, Israelis, and Palestinians).

Friends of the Earth Middle East may sound innocuous to Americans, but it's doing some pretty radical things for the region. I was shocked, for example, that the entire Amman office uses the word "Israel" and (even more radical!) officially supports a two-state solution. When walking around Jordan, I always use the Arabic "Falastine" to describe the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It's just too sensitive of a subject for people here. A friend and Fulbright English instructor mentioned that one of her students once called the land "Israel" and provoked an lot of yelling and tears.

Similarly, Palestinian leaders promoting the organization face backlash from people who claim that they're normalizing an intolerable situation by working with Israel. For many, amicable cooperation with Israelis signals a surrender to the status quo.

Friends of the Earth Middle East faces criticism in Israel, too. Some Israelis fear close ties with Palestinian groups. The (right-wing) Israeli foreign ministry actually trails one of the Israeli leaders of the Friends of the Earth Middle East.

But Friends of the Earth Middle East and its proponents counter that communication is imperative. Regardless of people's feelings towards the governing entities of Palestine, Jordan, and Israel, these entities exist, people live under them them, and these people struggle because there's not enough water. Any honest assessment of the conflict has to acknowledge these things.

By collaborating with each other on the level of civil society, moreover, the three offices of Friends of the Earth Middle East manage to accomplish things that their governments have little flexibility or inclination to achieve. The Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians of Friends of the Earth Middle East share knowledge, meet with each other, and achieve tangible results. Plus, the very act of collaborating promotes goodwill. Conflict resolution becomes achievable when people get together and speak about non-conflict-related things, instead focusing on taking the time to acknowledge each other's common humanity. What better way to recognize each other as members of the same species than to talk about one of humanity's key common denominators: water.

Tara + River Jordan = Love 

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