Jordanian and Israeli farmers' hopes take wing


Sometimes there's good news:

Jordanian and Israeli farmers have begun working together to introduce barn owls to Jordanian farms to replace dangerous pesticides that were poisoning the Jordanian environment:

For years, Ibrahim Alayyan watched in frustration as rats ravaged the date crop at his lush family farm. Having no luck with pesticides, the retired Jordanian heart surgeon was only too eager to try a pest control agent widely used in fields just across the Jordan River in Israel -- owls.


In late 2002 Israeli farmers planned a regional conference on barn owls to explain their advantages to colleagues across the Jordan River. The response was discouraging. Many Arabs consider owls the same way others view black cats -- as bad luck.

Word came back to the Israelis that no Jordanians would attend. So the organizers changed the title of the conference to focus on organic farming, and two dozen Jordanians turned up. Midway through the gathering they were given a demonstration on owls...


In a project driven on both sides of the border by environmental concerns, the effort is providing the opportunity for a water table that has been contaminated since the 1970's to return to health. This was important to the environmentalists in Israel after birds began dying following ingestion of pesticide laden rodents on the Jordanian side of the border.

This began after the kibbutz at Sde Eliyahu introduced owls in their own environment at the urging of Israeli ornithologist Yossi Leshem, the director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration. After noticing the success of their efforts, the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, Ohio, gave the funds to provide tools, advice and owl nesting boxes to the farmers in Jordan.

Among the most eager participants was Alayyan, a former chief of cardiovascular surgery at a Jordanian hospital. He agreed to build a nesting box at his family's farm in the village of Sheik Hussein, six miles from Aviel's kibbutz.

"For me, it was a real pleasure to find a man like that on the other side of the border," said Aviel, as he and Alayyan surveyed a group of newborn owl nestlings. Unable to communicate in their own languages, the two men spoke to each other in English, but when it came to nature and conservation, "He spoke in my language," Aviel said.

This is but one of several initiatives on the environment across borders in the Middle East. As reported in my earlier story: The Gray Wolf and the Akbash Dog -- why can't we be like them and not trophy hunt?, Israeli and Syrian ranchers in the Golan Heights have also turned to a natural remedy to an environmental problem by introducing the use of Turkish Akbash dogs to protect their herds from the endangered Biblical wolf. The dogs, when raised with their herds, bond in a matriarchal way as pups and then grow up to be so large, they scare off wolves, bears, you name it, without killing them.

As a side note, the introduction of these same dogs could be an alternative to the killing spree of the wolves currently planned by the Bush Administration in Wyoming and Idaho (see this link for more details).

Another example of encouraging environmental cooperation in the Middle East concerns water and the decreasing level of the Dead Sea:

Saving the Dead Sea by using the Red Sea
Jordan, Israel, Palestinian Authority meet to save shrinking body of water

SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan - Officials from Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority met along the shores of the Dead Sea to settle details of a study to save the shrinking body of water, agreeing to proceed with plans to draw water from the Red Sea.


The Red-Dead Sea canal project, which is expected to cost more than $1 billion, would exploit the 1,320-foot difference in altitude between both areas. If implemented, the 248-mile desert area between the two seas would benefit from the fresh water to turn the region into an agricultural hub for the benefit of the three countries. A desalination project is also envisaged to provide drinking water for Amman. Israel and the Palestinian territories would also benefit from the drinking water.


Environmental research center planned for Israel-Jordan border

In an effort to encourage scientific collaboration between Arab and Israeli students, the governments of Jordan and Israel have agreed to set aside 150 acres along their border for the construction of a major environmental research center that will be operated in collaboration with Stanford University and Cornell University.


This environmental effort is further supported by the language of Article IV of the Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan:


Israel and Jordan acknowledge the importance of the ecology of the region, its high environmental sensitivity and the need to protect the environment and prevent danger and risks for the health and well-being of the region's population. They both recognise the need for conservation of natural resources, protection of biodiversity and the imperative of attaining economic growth based on sustainable development principles.

In light of the above, both Parties agree to co-operate in matters relating to environmental protection in general and to those that may mutually effect them.


This is not to say that these environmental initiatives will solve the complicated Middle East conflicts -- that is NOT what this diary is about.

What this diary does say: When environmentalists come together for a mutual cause, despite the conflicts around them, they not only find a way to cooperate, it invariably leads to the building of personal relationships across borders, as evidenced by the cooperation and growing friendships between the Israeli and Jordanian farmers via the use of owls and the Syrian and Israeli ranchers through the Akbash dog.

Here's the link to CNN/AP owl story.

A link to the MSNBC Dead Sea cooperation story.

And a link to my earlier story on the Akbash Dog.

And, tangentially related, a link to the urgent effort to stop the Bush Administration's plan to kill the wolves in Wyoming and Idaho.