Environmental peace building in the Middle East

June 27, 2016 by James Larson, Earth Institute, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University
View of the proposed Jordan River Peace Park from Naharayim. Credit: Columbia University

This year's regional environmental sustainability course took us to a collection of sites and locations that brought up the environmental and political issues facing the Middle East. One major focus of our trip was on how collective environmental objectives can be used as tools and solutions for building a larger peace between Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

Throughout our time in Jordan, we visited (and were prohibited from visiting) several sites that had a profound impact on the way I see the environment and understand my impact on it. Our first stop was at the Sharhabil Bin Hasnah Eco Park, where Friends of the Earth Middle East–Eco Peace has established a nature reserve and tourist attraction to educate people about environmental sustainability and conservation in the Jordan valley.

The director of the park spoke about the importance of both environmental conservation and collaboration with other countries in the region. He spoke to us about collaboration on as a key component to building and fostering a stable and peaceful Middle East.

There was an interesting moment in which he described the fact that Jordanians and Israelis had to collaborate with one another as a reluctant obligation. It stood out to me because it revealed in a very plain sense the depth of the obstacles they face.

On one hand, he was speaking to how difficult collaboration is between the countries, given generations of mistrust and violence. On the other hand, he was speaking to how powerful the environment can be for creating a new regional identity that is based on collaboration and cooperation. In a region where these two words are hard to come by, it speaks volumes that dedicated individuals are biting their tongues for the sake of environmental protection and sustainability.

A painting at the Sharhabil Bin Hasnah Eco Park. Credit: Columbia University

The next part of our tour provided an excellent example of the challenges people working toward environmental peace-building in Israel, Jordan and Palestine face: a site that we were unable to visit. Al-Baqoura, the Jordanian side of a proposed peace park with Israel, was on our itinerary and a place that I was extremely excited to visit. The Jordan River Peace Park is a proposed park that would also be operated by Friends of the Earth Middle East–EcoPeace, and bring together Naharayim on the Israeli side and Al-Baqoura on the Jordanian side as a place for and ecotourism. It is perhaps the best example we had of what environmental peace building can and does look like in Jordan and Israel.

Unfortunately, at the last minute our permit to visit the site from the Jordanian side was pulled for reasons beyond our control. It was a frustrating moment. The fact that we were all there to learn about peace-building and the environment and yet were barred from entering one of the few sites that would incorporate both was another reminder of how difficult it can be to gain positive momentum for NGOs and civil service organizations.

Traveling throughout Jordan and Israel, it became clear to me how important the environment is to human sustainability, but also to making progress toward sustainable peace. Environmental issues can be seen as joint threats to any given number of actors in a region, and for this reason, managing these threats offers itself to collaboration. For sustainable between Israel, Jordan and Palestine, the environment and its protection must be used as a catalyst for .

Explore further: Crossing boundaries for the environment

Related Stories

Crossing boundaries for the environment

June 22, 2016

In the Gulf of Aqaba (Eilat), the waves are predictable. The prevailing winds are from the north and the water is calm and clear whether it laps at the shores of Jordan or Israel. This attribute, according to a marine scientist, ...

The Dead Sea—depletion of a shared natural resource

June 24, 2016

Travel to Jordan raised a lot of expectations, including that I would find a land somewhat familiar to my birthplace, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan—perhaps because of the Muslim majority of both places and the hot weather that ...

Bridging the political divide across the Gulf of Aqaba

August 25, 2009

Scientists from Stanford University have teamed up with Israeli and Jordanian researchers to protect the Gulf of Aqaba, a strategic waterway whose fragile marine ecosystem is vital to both Israel and Jordan. Participants ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.