Two Peoples in a Shared Ecology: Framing Strategies and Outcomes of a Middle East Environmentalist Initiative
Sociology, Glendon College York University (Toronto) Toronto, Canada
Business Administration Trent University Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is not limited to issues of legitimacy, national rights and borders. An additional fundamental factor in the conflict is control over scarce resources, particularly land and water. Disputes over water and land have extended to disputes over effluents, toxic waste and contaminated water, ground and air. In the dominant nationalist discourses in the region, environmental issues are framed as injustices - irresponsible acts and crimes perpetrated by one side against another. Several transboundary environmental civil society initiatives since the 1990s have framed the regional environment in the opposite way as a potential tragedy of the commons unless the peoples in the region develop joint robust environmental management institutions based on the recognition that they share one ecological system. The paper describes the structure, outlook, achievements and challenges of one such initiative: the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Since 1996, the institute has conducted a small university level residential program in which over 500 Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and others have studied together over four or eight months. In addition, the institute has a research division that has participated in or initiated joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian projects and conferences. Broader issues of Israeli-Palestinian relations and visions for the future are necessarily raised in both the academic and research work of the institute, making the institute a setting where environment and peace-building intersect. The institute sees itself as reframing regional identity by adding a layer of common regional identity to existing national identities, reconfiguring national identities to allow for regional pluralism, and fostering a network of mutually supportive regional environmental professionals. This is not in itself a solution to the regional conflict, but it is seen as an important contribution to a solution. Based on interviews with former students, the paper examines the experience of being in the program and its meaning to alumni. These interviews help us to probe to what extent creating contacts and a common culture around a shared ecology makes a contribution to a permanent and genuine resolution to the longstanding regional conflict.