By the Waterways Team
Our initiative was born out of a 3-year project called “Water Matters” which took place between 2016-2019, supported by USAID and led by the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, Israel Holy Land Trust, Palestine and Integrated Green Solutions, Jordan. This transboundary framework included Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian; youth, tourism entrepreneurs and community leaders.
As participants in the project we learned about the environmental needs of our region, namely water. We then mapped the local and transboundary needs, challenges and wishes of our communities. We proposed ideas and strategies to meet the needs we agreed on. Then we each choose the topic closest to our heart and formed work groups. Some of our participants knew about “Walking Water” and shared it as a source of inspiration and potential project in our region. A work group formed around this topic and we explored it deeply and created our local version.
We learned project planning and management skills, networking and communication tools in this process. At the same time, relationships of mutual trust were established by planning and realizing transboundary projects.
WaterWays and another 13 local and transboundary sustainability projects were created in this method, aiming to support the social-environmental and political well-being of our Dead Sea-Red Sea basin.
Inequality in water resources and its distribution are a problem in Israel and Palestine. All populations in the Middle East suffer from water scarcity, most of them from extreme scarcity. Israel has overcome this problem technologically by building desalination plants that supply enough water for the country. However, the Palestinians living in the territories run by the Palestinian Authority struggle with having enough water and the water supply is not regular. There are still many days without water being supplied regularly.
In our group meetings we realized the lack of awareness in our communities and that we lack information regarding water resources and regional water basins. Water is used as a political tool in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Understanding the processes of its distribution is crucial in order to demand fair and sustainable distribution and to ensure that future generations will have water and a basis for livelihood.
Our project addresses the main issues of water scarcity and the political implications of the current water management of the transboundary waters from Jericho to the southern Arava. Our idea was to do this by walking and experiencing together the path of the transboundary waters from Jericho to the southern Arava. While doing this and while planning our ways, we studied together the technical, social, political and spiritual impacts of transboundary water cycles. We wanted to encourage participants in the planned WaterWays to take a political stance and then action towards a regional solution regarding water.
Half of our WaterWays group includes participants from the southern Arava in Israel, “a community of communities”, and most of us live in the kibbutzim (egalitarian communities) of the region. We enjoy a seemingly unlimited water supply and in general a high standard of living. Date plantations are spread throughout the southern Arava Valley and the profits are a central source of income for the kibbutzim. Dates grow in oases; they love heat and need plenty of water. The southern Arava is one of the most arid regions in the world and the date plantations depend on irrigation with enormous amounts of water.
The other half of our group, lives in Jericho, and come from different backgrounds. Some participants work in tourism and education while some try to make a living by working in two jobs. Jericho is an oasis and has much larger water resources than the southern Arava, but our friends from Jericho deal with daily challenges of getting enough water to their houses – let alone agriculture which is a major source of income and livelihood in this underdeveloped area.
Jericho is believed to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Water, and the abundance of it, as well as good alluvial soil, were the main factors for people settling here. Jericho itself does not receive much rainfall. The water sources are the springs of Ein el-Sultan and Wadi Qelt that have water throughout the year fed by rainfall on the hills north of Jerusalem and Ramallah.
However; much of the water of these springs don’t reach Jericho and its citizens. Instead it is pumped on the way by the national water company “Mekorot”. While the inhabitants of the settlements in the hills of the Judea Desert enjoy swimming in pools, the citizens of Jericho and its inhabitants don’t have access to a 24/7 supply. On average they have water once every three days running in their pipes, and then typically for a full day. Water is regulated and provided by the municipality but the municipality depends on the water provisions by the Israeli water company “Mekorot”.
In order to plan our Jericho part of the WaterWays, we initiated a visit by our Arava members there. Jericho is located almost on the way to Jerusalem where many of us travel many times, some on a regular basis, but hardly any of us had visited Jericho in the recent years. Israeli citizens are still not allowed to enter sites in Area A, the Palestinian territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority and we obtained special permits for our visit.
In Jericho: after happily uniting with our Jericho friends we started with the visit of the Auja Wadi, a major Wadi that in the lower areas near Jericho has no water in summer (due to pumping). In winter it is packed with Palestinian families enjoying the nature near the stream. The lower part of the Auja, as well as Wadi Qelt that we would visit the next day, are Nature Reserves and as such under complete Israeli control. From Wadi Auja, we continued to Dyook spring, a beautiful spring that is a water source for irrigation and drinking water in the neighborhoods there. The water is still running in its ancient (and wasteful) distribution channels and according to the traditional supply schedule. Five tribes own the water and other consumers have to buy the water from them.
After an overview from a viewpoint over the city down into the Jordan Valley and to the Dead Sea, a visit to the market, shopping and a delicious joint dinner, we settled for the night. Avital and I spent our night in Jericho with the family of Nuha, a participant of the project living in a refugee camp in Jericho. She shares the house with her two sisters and her mum. Her brother, the male head of family, lives next door. This situation, a house basically run independently only by women, is definitely a rarity in the versatile Palestinian society.
Avital and I were offered to stay inside the sparsely decorated house in the only air-conditioned room. Instead, we followed Nuha’s invitation and joined Nuha, her sisters and her mum: we all moved our mattresses outdoors and placed them on the bare concrete floor under the sky, next to the goat stable. The intimacy and the warmth of the four women of the house was wonderful. We could hardly communicate in words with Nuha’s mum and her sisters, who spoke very little English while we hardly spoke Arabic, but we understood each other well. Their apparently self-evident invitation to join them outdoors, instead of leaving us as “guests” in the air conditioned room, felt a bit like being invited to share a wonderful secret circle of women. After us two said goodnight, their whispers and laughter accompanied us into our sleep.
Both Avital and I gave up on taking a shower in the evening and the next morning, and this after much walking behind us and with a day hiking the Wadi Qelt ahead of us. We didn’t talk about it, but it was kind of obvious for both of us that we would not follow our regular habits of using water like at home. The water distribution in Jericho varies a bit in the different neighborhoods. They all have in common that they don’t have a regular or reliable water supply. In the ‘nicer’ neighborhoods the houses receive water for one day and are then for the next two days without. Every house, in all of the neighborhoods, has a large water cistern on the roof that is being filled when water is supplied. Some days without the main water supply are overcome this way. In addition, people purchase water and fill their tanks this way. However, one cannot rely on the regularity of the water supply. In the morning, when Nuha, Avital and I joined our other friends of the project who shared a house in one of the nicer neighborhoods, we found out that they were without water – although this should have been the day it was supposed to fill the water tank on the roof. Luckily Alex didn’t hesitate and he placed buckets under all the water outlets of the air conditioning. When we returned from hours of hiking in the amazing Wadi Qelt there was still no water. Thanks to Alex and his water collection, at the end of the day before we left home, we had enough water to flush the toilets and to do our dishes. No shower after the hours of hiking in one of the hottest areas on the globe in the beginning of September. We didn’t care, we were full of impressions from the hike in the Wadi, which was pleasant in spite of the season, because of the abundant water, especially at the springs. Abu Akram, our guide, explained about the issues of the present and the past in and around Wadi Qelt.
We planned to engage three different stakeholder groups with our WaterWays project. Our plan was to start with a first WaterWays journey for about 20 participants as a pilot and then create a second journey for tourism agents and leaders. We planned a third one with policy and decision makers. For now, we have realized the first step and had a great experience with our WaterWays that took place in the beginning of 2019. Unfortunately the USAID supported project ended earlier than planned due to US policies of stopping all foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority and we did not get to realize our next project phases, yet. However, another group, developed through “Water Matters” framework developed a transboundary eco-tourism platform through which we can continue our work and most of all, continue our connection with our friends in Jericho. Desert Matters creates human encounters and inviting, high quality, and environmentally friendly tourism in the heart of what is known as a conflict zone. https://desert-matters.com/. They offer ways to visit Jericho, a great way of supporting the people there and helping them make a living.
During our first WaterWays journey, we collected water from the different places we visited into one bottle. During our closing circle, by the lake of Neot Semadar (a community in the southern Arava) we put that water in a bowl and shared a water prayer. We each held the water and shared blessings and intentions for the well-being of the water and our relationship with it in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
We released those waters into the lake and realized we joined and shared our waters.