Despite the pandemic’s crippling and devastating effects, there are those whose work has not waned even during these trying times.
The year 2020 has highlighted – and exacerbated – extreme disparities across and within countries and the environmental degradation we humans have caused the planet. Despite the pandemic’s crippling and devastating effects, there are those whose work has not waned even during these trying times.
These include organizations whose focus in on building sustainable communities across the Middle East and North Africa.
True peace – whether between or within countries – requires more than formal agreements or top-level policies. It entails the safety, security, and wellbeing of the societies involved.
Among hundreds of civil society organizations working on a wide range of issues throughout the MENA, EcoPeace Middle East and the High Atlas Foundation are noteworthy; their work spans political, national, cultural, and other identity boundaries, focusing on “bottom-up” sustainable development – which includes environmental, economic, social, political, and cultural dimensions – while simultaneously working on policy change at the national and international levels. Both organizations constitute a model for – and a building block of – holistic, sustainable peace.
EcoPeace Middle East, with offices in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and Amman, brings together Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian environmentalists.
Established in 1994, it aims to strengthen cooperation on the conservation of the three peoples’ environmental heritage, with a special focus on water resources.
The dire water shortage in the region, in addition to global climate changes, creates an existential threat to many; it is both a source and a result of ongoing conflicts. However, water – the source of life – can also be a resource for cooperation and peacebuilding.
Sustainable environmental peacebuilding rests on the premise that the environment knows no political boundaries, and that cooperation between societies and nations in conflict zones offers a platform for ongoing intercultural dialogue, enabling trust-building and fostering the establishment of cross-border societal linkages, thereby advancing peace.
Projects also empower women and girls – as well as other marginalized groups and whole communities – to be involved in decision making processes concerning water management. EcoPeace’s work has resonated internationally and received worldwide acknowledgement and numerous awards.
Currently, EcoPeace, through its Green Blue Deal for the Middle East, works to improve adaptive capacities on water and energy security; advance Israeli-Palestinian natural water reallocations; sustainably develop the Jordan Valley; and promote public awareness and education programs on water and climate diplomacy as a peacebuilding tool.
The High Atlas Foundation, founded in 2000 and based in Marrakech, promotes sustainable development through organic agriculture, women’s empowerment, youth development, education, and health. Its work fits well within the framework of Morocco’s overall prioritization of environmental reform and sustainable development and reverberates nationally and internationally. Since 2011, HAF has held Consultancy Status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Read also: High Atlas Foundation, Morocco participate in World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought
In 2014, HAF launched a campaign to plant one billion fruit trees and medicinal plants, all indigenous to Morocco and chosen by farming communities according to their needs. Fruit tree production enhances rural communities’ livelihood and environments, while helping them build partnerships with their government and with other communities. The HAF currently manages 12 organic fruit nurseries across Morocco where saplings are grown for their first two years.
House of Life – which denotes a Jewish cemetery or burial site – is also the name of a unique project that forges partnerships between Jewish and Muslim communities. For two thousand years, throughout Morocco, Jews have lived amongst Amazigh and later Arab communities.
Most Jews had emigrated from Morocco – especially from its most remote rural areas – by the 1950s. Nevertheless, the Jewish community still owns land, especially the hundreds of Jewish cemeteries and burial sites scattered throughout the country and the adjoining arable lands, which have been preserved and watched over in recent decades by local Moroccans.
As part of the House of Life project, the Jewish communities loan the land – at no charge – to establish nurseries in which to grow the saplings for their first two years, until they can be distributed to the farmers.
The House of Life project embodies many elements necessary for peacebuilding: sustainable development which, by definition, includes human and environmental factors; the empowerment of women, youth, and other marginalized groups; and the building of relationships within and between communities.
In a country where the Jewish community (now numbering approximately 2500) is continuously dwindling, the project offers an excellent way of building, or strengthening, Jewish-Muslim relations despite the physical absence of most of the Jews.
The “House of Life” is true to its name: by creatively utilizing places of eternal resting, it gives sources of livelihood and life to many Muslim – Amazigh and Arab – communities. At the same time, it allows for the virtual presence of Jewish communities and their memories, thus giving them renewed life.
Holistic and just peace in the MENA seems to many unattainable, yet projects like those of EcoPeace, the High Atlas Foundation, and others exemplify the inextricable relationship between sustainable development and sustainable peace, and the achievable, tangible results of such work.
In addition to principles such as inclusiveness, representation, empowerment, capacity building, and environmental preservation, at its core sustainable peacebuilding values life and aims to enhance the quality of life. If we adopt these principles and replicate them in a broader context, we will ensure both prosperity and peace for present and future generations.
Marking the Jewish festival of Tu Bishvat (which in 2021 falls in late January) – the “New Year of the Trees” – which is commonly celebrated by promoting environmental awareness and tree planting, EcoPeace’s Israeli Director, Gidon Bromberg, will be promoting the organization’s work. January 18th, which coincides with Martin Luther King Day of Service, marks HAF’s Annual National Planting Day.
This year, volunteers will help sow 1.6 million new seeds in HAF’s 12 nurseries, and transplant young trees from these nurseries to farming communities around Morocco. In so doing, they will continue planting hope and growing peace, one tree at a time.