“The next war in the Middle East will be fought over water, not politics,” is an often-cited quote, attributed to the late Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a top Egyptian diplomat who later became U.N. secretary general.
“Everyone can find themselves behind this cause,” is a far-more optimistic quote on joining forces to preserve the world’s water supply.
It’s a quote employed by Noam Bedein, a photojournalist, environmental activist, and founder of the Dead Sea Revival Project, as he speaks about how the crisis posed by the disappearing Dead Sea can encourage cooperation between Israel and traditional enemies in the Middle East.
At a time when the United Arab Emirates and Israel are about to sign an agreement to normalize their bilateral relations, and Bahrain has followed, Bedein speaks of how the environmental issue has already brought together individuals from the Jewish State with people in Gulf countries.
Marking 50 years since the launching of the annual Earth Day in 1970, Bedein spearheaded an international Dead Sea photo competition.
With the assistance of the Earth Day Network NGO, the Arabic-language division of the Israel Defense Forces’ spokesperson’s unit, and tour guides in Jordan, a country with which Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994, Bedein says that he not only received more than 13,000 photos from around the world, but also corresponded with individuals from such Gulf states as the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
The photos from the participants in the competition from these Arab states were taken from the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, notes Bedein.
The top photos of the competition are to be announced at a later date to mark the opening of a first international Dead Sea photo-art exhibit.
Bedein says that there are 30 environmental groups in the Middle East.
”That’s a common ground that we actually have in the Middle East…We care about the environment,” he adds.
His message has also received a sympathetic ear in the United States. On a scientific level, says Bedein, he has received cooperation from NASA.
However, he has also been able to reach out to audiences on U.S. campuses, where many Israeli speakers have been known to have difficult experiences when talking about their country.
The activist says that he has been able to use a “liberal issue” of the environment to connect with groups “that are usually against Israel.”
He speaks with satisfaction about an appearance that he made at the University of Miami, for which he received the cooperation of eight environmental NGOs.
It is an issue “that an audience can reach out to,” says Bedein, and through the conduit of water and the environment, they can “understand more about Israel.”
Amid growing reports of a disconnect between U.S. Jewry and Israel, in particular among younger American Jews, Bedein says that he has taken upon himself to write a thesis on how the fight to save the Dead Sea can serve as “a model case” with which Americans can identify.
He makes the comparison with the Colorado River Storage Project to drive the point home.
Bedein is hopeful that he can galvanize the support of “the next generation of Jews behind these causes” and then “as a next stage, connect them to Israel.”
Before concentrating his efforts on raising awareness to the plight of the Dead Sea, Bedein founded and served as director of the Sderot Media Center, as a way to reach out to the foreign media to tell the story of what it is like to live in southern Israel within the range of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.
In that role, he says, he tried to show the “human side of the story” of an ongoing war of terror against the Israeli people. Now, he says, he hopes to promote Israel’s image by telling the “environmental side of the story.”