Making Peace One River At A Time


(image of the Alexander River feeding into the Med Sea

About 10 years ago, Australian athletes died from pollution when they fell into the Yarkon - one of Israel’s largest rivers, which feeds into the Mediterranean Sea. It was a shock and a huge embarrassment for Israelis. Well, it has been a slow process, rehabilitating the river, but thanks to help from a Jewish non-profit organization in Australia and other rehab work, experts estimate about one-third of the length of the river, near where it begins, has been cleaned. I wouldn’t send my dog Tasha to go swim in it, but the Yarkon River gives an enormous amount of pleasure to people on the weekends, especially in the area of Tel Aviv where it joins a large park.In the past few years, environmental awareness has been gaining speed in Israel and true to the nature of the region, everything including the environment (and cleaning up rivers) is a political issue. That’s because people are understanding that there is no use in rehabilitating rivers and parks if there isn’t cooperation from all the people who share Israel’s borders. A concept that gets good PR for the environment is the partnering of Palestinians and Israelis on different local issues. The most recent incarnation is the joint Palestinian-Israeli cleanup of the Alexander River that runs through the center of Israel.

"The river was so unclean, there were dead fish, plastic bottles and other garbage floating downstream and it was a disgusting brown colour," says the director of special projects at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies on Kibbutz Ketura in a recent interview for Israel21c.

"The tide was out, so the filthy river just stopped five feet from the Mediterranean. The sea looked so pristine and clear, but at high tide, all the filth from the river washes straight into the sea polluting it for miles around," he added.


(bottles and other crap in the river)

According to 21c the miserable state of the Alexander, which runs through both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is one of the reasons why researchers have joined to restore the quality of not only the Alexander, but the 15 rivers that flow through both Israeli and Palestinian areas.

Rivers, as everyone knows, are not confined by borders. Cleaning a river in one location, will not stop it becoming polluted elsewhere, if people continue to dump sewage or industrial waste along the route.

The cleanup is monitored by 14 researchers from the Arava Institute on the Israeli side, and the Water and Environment Development Organization (WEDO) in Bethlehem on the Palestinian side. It is being funded with a $1 million grant from the Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) Program of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). 


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