Exclusive: Palestinian, Israeli mayors battle pollution

Leaders sign memorandum of understanding to protect the hazardous Wadi Abu Nar.

sea pollution 88 (photo credit: )
sea pollution 88
(photo credit: )
The mayors of Palestinian Baka a-Sharkiya (East Baka) and Israeli Baka al-Gharbiya (West Baka)-Jat signed a memorandum of understanding on Thursday to protect Wadi Abu Nar, a stream that runs through both municipalities. Friends of the Earth Middle East, the local chapter of Friends of the Earth International, organized the memorandum and the signing between Baka a-Sharkiya Mayor Moayad Hussein and Baka al-Gharbiya-Jat Mayor Yitzhak Wald at the European Commission Building in Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood. The municipalities are situated east of Hadera and north of Tulkarm, and are separated by the Green Line and the security barrier. Wadi Abu Nar is polluted and a health hazard. The memorandum of understanding includes a pledge to stop all dumping of solid waste into the stream and to work to beautify the Wadi in the hope that it will eventually become a recreational area. The agreement also acknowledged the mayors' commitment to protect the Mountain Aquifer - the most important underground water source for both Israelis and Palestinians, endangered by sewage and waste dumping - by establishing an authorized sewage grid-system. Baka al-Gharbiya-Jat agreed to connect its sewage-treatment plant, currently under construction, with a proposed waste-disposal network in Baka a-Sharkiya to the mutual benefit of both towns. "The towns were once united... [but] then a new era of social suffering began," Hussein said of the security barrier, which has isolated his town from both Israel and the West Bank, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. The barrier hit Baka a-Sharkiya hard: separating students from schools, medical professionals from hospitals, and artisans from workshops and stores. The environmental ramifications were major as well: 500 dunams, or 124 acres, were destroyed by the bulldozers and thousands of olive trees were uprooted, he said. "It's precisely this type of project, bringing two communities across a border together for a common endeavor that reminds us that hope is possible," said Roy Dickenson, director of operations for the European Commission Technical Assistance Office. "It's the concrete, practical projects that make people work together... that bring peace." Friends of the Earth Middle East sponsored the event as part of its Good Water Neighbors project, which operates under the "basic understanding among all people that water is the source of life," said Gidon Bromberg, the Friends' Israel director. "Therefore we have a mutual dependence on managing those shared water resources. Whether in times of conflict or... in times of peace." "The environment knows no borders," said Friends of the Earth Middle East Palestinian director Nadr el-Khatib. Wald said that when he was born during WWII, no one thought anything like the European Union could ever be a reality. "I believe that something like that could happen here," he said, "I'm looking forward with optimistic eyes." Friends of the Earth Middle East was established in 1994, and unites Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians around environmental causes.