The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Activists discuss environmental future of Middle East water resources

By Brian Martucci

The Dead Sea could be completely dried up within 45 years unless decisive action is taken by the governments of Israel, Palestine and others to correct the festering environmental ills of the greater Middle East, according to Maya Negev and Gonen Sagy, two students for Israel’s Arava Institute.”Our ultimate goal is to save the Dead Sea from depletion and de-pollute the Jordan and Hebron Rivers,” Sagy said.

The two representatives from the environmental-solutions think tank were the featured speakers of the Macalester Jewish Organization-sponsored talk “Finding Common Ground: Crossing Borders for a Peaceful and Greener Future in the Middle East” on Monday. A crowd of about 20 filled an Olin-Rice lecture hall to listen to the 45 minutes of combined lecture and question session.

Extensive farming by Israelis of “temperate” crops—corn, wheat, oranges—that use large amounts of water in an arid environment has dramatically lowered the levels of the Sea of Galilee, the principal source of water for irrigation in Israel and Palestine, and the Jordan River, which drains it.

“You simply can’t farm with any intensity in an arid climate like Israel’s,” Sagy said. “Traditional Muslim agriculture, which often entails growing small plots of vegetables with palm trees planted at regular intervals to provide shade and soak up any extra water, is far more sustainable in the desert.”

Since the Jordan River is the only source of water for the tourist-magnet Dead Sea, the levels of the body of water are dropping at an even more alarming rate, Sagy and Negev said.

Perhaps even more serious is the state of the Hebron River, which drains lands now under Palestinian control. Poor farming techniques and industrialization have drained and polluted the river, which flows through some of the most populated parts of Israel and is beginning to pollute the aquifers that provide the bulk of the country’s drinking water.

“We need to de-pollute the Hebron River quickly or else the people who live along it, both Israelis and Palestinians, are going to start to get very sick,” Negev said.

The Arava Institute is a non-traditional research and educational facility modeled after a kibbutz, a small-scale style of communal village common throughout Israel’s countryside. Located in a rural part of the country near the Jordanian border, the Institute currently accepts about 40 students per year—mostly Arab and Israeli, but European and American enrollment has increased in the last several years.

The Institute aims to “use the idea of improving the environment to bring people from different backgrounds together,” Negev said.

“We recognize that the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine is not the only problem in the region today by trying to work toward environmental solutions, but in the course of that work we’re also trying to improve the security situation as well,” Sagy said.

Students in attendance at the lecture were both surprised by the breadth of the environmental problems facing Israel and impressed with the sincerity of the Institute’s mission.

“Before hearing [Sagy and Negev] speak, I thought Israel’s only problem was the tensions between Jews and Muslims there,” Oscar Boyle-Mejia ’09 said.

In addition to speaking at Macalester, Sagy and Negev were in St. Paul this week to represent Arava at the 36th Annual Conference for the North American Association of Environmental Educators.

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