David Lehrer

Putting out fires

Smoke from Fire in Gaza Municipal Land Fill

Do you ever have one of those days where you spend half of it, not getting any work done because you are just putting out fires? On Thursday, last week, in the middle of the day, I got an urgent call from my colleague in Gaza asking me to drop everything and help her find a D9 bulldozer in Israel, which could go into Gaza and put out a fire in a municipal land fill that had been burning for days. The Gazan municipality had permission from the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) of the IDF to bring in the bulldozer, however the municipality had no money to buy one and need to rent or borrow from someone in Israel. I immediately dropped everything and began to call my contacts in the neighboring Israeli municipalities (in the Gaza envelope), the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Civil Administration.  The toxic smoke filling the air from the fire was as much a threat to the Israeli population in the Gaza envelope as it was to the residents of Gaza, after all, smoke knows no borders.  Every Israeli I talked to understood the seriousness of the situation, and offered help or contacts who they thought could help.  In the end I reached the right address in the Civil Administration, who promised to take care of the problem. Within a few minutes he called back with the welcome news that the CLA had already dealt with it and the fire was out.  I then confirmed this with my colleague in Gaza.

I am writing about this simple act of humanity, not because I think that this makes up for the daily humiliation, injustice and suffering that is caused by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank or the siege on Gaza. I am writing about this example of cross-border cooperation because it is only one of countless examples of daily cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians which go unreported in the media.  The fact that every day, we are exposed to media stories of violence and hatred between Jews and Arabs in our region, hides the fact that most people in Palestine and Israel, just want to get on with their lives and that most of our interactions take place without violence (though often without dignity).  Tens of thousands of Palestinians crossing into Israel to build Israeli homes, Palestinian businesswomen and businessmen, buying, and selling goods and services from and to Israelis, coordination between government officials around the supply of water, electricity, and other basic services, happens every day without fanfare. These non-violent acts of cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis take place not due to altruism but due to self-interest.

I have just come back from Jordan, where I spent 3 days meeting with Palestinian, Israeli, and Jordanian colleagues who are partnered on a European funded grant. The goal of the research program is to develop a climate-change adaptation plan oriented towards improving the socio-economic welfare for people in the Mediterranean region based on Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem (WEFE) nexus methodologies.  During the three-day workshop, Palestinian, Jordanian, Israeli and Greek researchers shared ideas, knowledge, data, laughter, and good food. Some of us, having worked together for years, have developed warm, and trusting relationships, and believe that it is in each country’s self-interest to cooperate on mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.

The Israeli left spawned the myth, “there is no partner” on the Palestinian side and the Israeli right has nurtured this false belief so that it dominates Israeli public opinion, even among progressives. Most Israelis do not believe that Palestinians and Israelis can live together peacefully and that a peace process must wait for many generations. In three years or less, Israelis will have an opportunity to vote out the current right-wing coalition and elect a new government which among other things, could launch a political process with our neighbors. We do not have to wait generations for the start of a political process and the prospect of peace. We have a maximum of three years for the next opportunity however, in order realize that opportunity, we must dispose of the myth of “no partner” and internalize the reality that none of us are going anywhere and that we are all in this together.

About the Author
Dr. Lehrer holds a PhD from the Geography and Environmental Development Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a joint Masters Degree in Management Science from Boston University and Ben-Gurion University. Dr. Lehrer was the Executive Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies from 2001 until August 2021 and has now become Director of the Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy. Dr. Lehrer has been a member of Kibbutz Ketura since 1981.
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