The Track II Environmental Forum, which seeks to advance cross-border agreements between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan, made progress on many of its cross-border initiatives in the West Bank and regionally. However much of this summer’s activity focused on Gaza. The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza made our attempts to provide bottom-up, high-impact solutions for water, wastewater treatment, and energy timely. An opportunity to engage with the private sector through a partnership with Gigawatt Global, headed by long-time friend of the Institute, Yossi Abramowitz, arose in the middle of the summer, offering us new funding opportunities. At the same time, the US Administration’s policy to cut funding to the Palestinians created new unforeseen obstacles to meeting the humanitarian challenges faced by the people of Gaza. Throughout the summer and up until this week, the violent conflict along the Gaza border, the protests, the military confrontations, and the fire balloons and kites which have destroyed agricultural land and forests in Israel, have made any attempt to provide much needed water, wastewater treatment, and electricity even more of a challenge.
Recently a supporter asked me to explain why, during this time of political turmoil and military conflict, the Arava Institute is actively engaging in trying to implement solutions to avert the humanitarian crisis in Gaza instead of condemning acts of terror? The following was my response:
We of course abhor all acts of terror. The Arava Institute is committed to a long-term strategy and bottom-up, high-impact sustainable solution for Gaza, not just declarations. We believe that the current violence which impacts our Israeli friends in the Gaza envelope and our Palestinian friends in Gaza, as well as our shared natural resources, will be mitigated by long-term solutions which make life in Gaza livable. It is the only win-win alternative.
With 3 to 4 hours a day of electricity; 95% of the water undrinkable according to WHO standards; raw sewage pouring into the streets from wastewater treatment plants that are not functioning; no hospital services or waste removal services; schools that barely function; and unemployment among young people in Gaza at 60%, hopelessness abounds and easily turns to violence.
The Arava Institute is working diligently and quietly to try to provide solutions to improve people’s lives and restore hope to the people of Gaza. We are currently working on projects to supply solar energy, drinking and agricultural water and wastewater treatment in Gaza. We are also working to build capacity that we believe will lead to jobs and new industries. We are working with the US, the European Union, the United Nations, the UK, the World Bank and others to find funding for these projects. We are working with a group of influential Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to implement these projects on the ground, and are in constant contact with the Israeli Ministry of Regional Cooperation to facilitate the cross-border cooperation and collaboration. Our most important partner, however, is the Israeli Defense Forces, which has been the most outspoken in the Israeli press in support of building infrastructure in Gaza to relieve the humanitarian crisis. We are working together with the IDF Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to facilitate permits for Palestinians from Gaza to enter and exit Israel, in order to prepare the plans for these projects, and to coordinate the transportation of the required materials for building the projects. It has been an intensive summer for the Arava Institute and our Palestinians partners in the Track II Environmental Forum.
It is true that we have been quieter than usual this summer but not because of a concern that we will alienate someone, but simply because we have been overwhelmed with meetings, writing up proposals, getting price quotes, creating budgets and building partnerships to make a real difference. It is very painful for me to see my Israeli friends on the border with Gaza suffering from bombings and fires, and to see young Palestinians being shot in protests. It is painful for me to hear the stories of my Palestinian colleagues who tell of the nightmarish life their friends and relatives live inside of Gaza. I believe that what we are doing will have a much bigger impact than an op-ed piece in a newspaper. I do hope that with this blog post letting our friends and supporters know that the organization which they support is making a real difference on the ground advancing cross-border cooperation, improving lives, and creating an atmosphere of hope and trust between Israelis and Palestinians. This, we believe, is the only path to peace.
David Lehrer, Executive Director