Conference brings Together Palestinian, Jordanian, Israeli and French scientists explore how to best use scarce water resources
Some of the top scientists from Israel, France, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan gathered in the Southern Israeli town of Sde Boker to take the first steps toward life-giving water collaboration. The First French-Israeli Scientific Colloquium on Water Production and Waste-Water Treatment, hosted by Ben-Gurion University, was sponsored by the French Embassy in Israel and included Palestinian scientists from Judea and Samaria as well as Gaza.
The colloquium had a specific agenda: to “illuminate the state of the art for current technologies associated with water treatment and identify existing technological barriers in order to improve current water treatment technologies,” according to a release from the university. The hoped-for outcome: identifying the possibilities for collaboration related to such key functions as industrial waste water, domestic waste water, subsurface water, and sea water.
“Of course water is very scarce, very rare in this region, and of course water has to be shared by all the people,” says French Ambassador to Israel Christophe Bigot. “They may either fight to get it or they may cooperate.” It was clear to those in attendance that cooperation is the only way to approach this hotly contested issue. What’s more, adds Bigot. history bears out that water issues must be resolved before lasting peace can be achieved. “So working on water can also be a way to promote peace.”
Indeed former UN Secretary General Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali maintains that water is a key to mideast peace. “The next war in the Middle East will be over water, not politics,” he predicts. “Since the Holy Land has not been blessed with an abundance of water, conflict over the usage of water resources has added fuel to already existing hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis.” Talks include proposed co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority concerning a mountain aquifer which provides for 20 percent of Israeli water consumption.
In the past, tensions have arisen from Palestinian Authority threats to critical fresh water sources by pollution and unauthorized drilling as well as denying Israel’s right to use the mountain aquifer. Such an impasse, observers maintain, can only be resolved by sincere dialogue and collaboration.
“No one can have his own water,” says Prof. Yusuf Abu Mayla of Gaza. “We have shared water with the Israelis. We have the shared water with the Egyptians. We have shared water between the Israelis and the Jordanians. I think it is important to sit, to talk, to meet each other and then have some new issues, new techniques.”
Conference organizer Prof. Elion Adar of Ben-Gurion University agrees. “We are partners, real scientific partners, practical partners for many years, in spite of what’s going on. In spite of the political difficulties, we keep working together. Unfortunately not very close recently but we still work together.” To accomplish his, there must be a shared scientific and a shared vision, he adds. “For that you have to keep working together. I hope that sometimes in the future, very near, some agreement will be reached.”
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By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United with Israel