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Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.

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Nader Khatib

Nader Khatib's work focuses on the protection of natural resources as a basis for prosperity and stability in the Middle East. An emphasis of his work is the scarce resource of clean water, the preservation of which requires the cooperation of Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian authorities.

  • Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got involved in your work with the Water and Environmental Development Organization (WEDO).

    My name is Nader Khatib. I was born in Bethlehem and am a refugee of 1948. I have a degree in engineering and a Masters in Water and Environmental Studies. I was Chief Water and Sewage Engineer in the Bethlehem province from 1984 to 1993 and in 1993 I started working as a consultant - through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) - to the Palestinian Water Authority. After the Israeli re-deployment in Gaza, I moved from Bethlehem to Gaza and divided my work between there and Jerusalem. During that period I was a member of the technical staff working alongside the multi-party committee on the Palestinian water project. I continued doing this until the establishment of the Palestinian Water Authority in 1997. During that period of hope for peace and development we nevertheless felt that there was a vacuum in the environmental field. There was much talk of development, industrialization and prosperity and not enough attention was given to the environment. It was then that we began thinking of a non-governmental organization (NGO) that would focus on environmental issues. Later we agreed upon establishing the Water and Environmental Development Organization (WEDO). I decided to stop working for UNDP and the Palestinian Water Authority and focus on this. We officially registered the organization in 1998 and in 2001 we became the Palestinian branch of Friends of the Earth, an environmental organization whose goals and project correspond to ours. Since then all our activities in Palestine take place under the rubric of WEDO and in association with Friends of the Earth Middle East. The main focus of our work is water and environmental issues that can only be addressed through regional cooperation.

  • Tell us more about Friends of the Earth and the activities you do with them.

    Friends of the Earth is a non-governmental organization that was originally created by a joint effort of Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian NGOs in 1994. Their goal at the time was focusing on environmental peace. Through my work in the water sector I followed their work and was in frequent contact with them, especially with my former Palestinian professional colleagues who were among the founders of the organization. They used to focus on regional issues such as the Dead Sea and Jordan River.These were environmental issues that aren't confined to the borders of a single state. In the year 2001 we joined them. We focused on regional environmental issues such as the Dead Sea and Red Sea canals and attempted to convince UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to declare the Dead Sea a World Heritage Site, thus protecting it from the danger it faces through the diversion of the Jordan River's sources. Israel has diverted 60% of the water of the Jordan River since the early 1960s, in addition to the accumulating effect of the dams in Jordan and Syria. These projects are built far upstream, greatly reducing the amount of water that reaches the Dead Sea. The result is that the Dead Sea has lost 30% of its original surface area and its water level descends by an average of one meter a year. We request returning part of the Jordan River waters to the Dead Sea in order to preserve it. We believe the water that was invested in agriculture wasn't beneficial and an alternative should be found. We should find a way to maintain national production levels while preserving the environment and preventing the recession of the Dead Sea. This has immense environmental effects, such as the sinkholes on the eastern and western sides of the threatened sea.1 These dangers are an obstacle to future development in the region. In addition, Palestinians possess rights over water that they haven't yet received.2 Palestine should have a basic role in regional development programs and receive its lawful share of the Jordan River water. In addition to the Dead Sea, we are focusing our efforts on the Jordan Valleybetween the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. We seek to draw attention to this area and to its historic and cultural richness. We are trying to win it the title of World Heritage Site as well. This area is important for us, Jordanand Israel, but the Jordan River is important for all the Christians in the world, partly due to the Baptism sites located on it. The Dead Sea is a unique area worldwide; it is the lowest point on earth and the saltiest sea, therefore the loss of the Dead Sea will be a loss for everyone. This is why we focus on this region and try to convince organizations such as UNESCO to adopt it and invest in it. We also try to draw governmental attention to the area, because in the end they have the final say. We can draw attention and highlight problems, but there is a need for decisions at the governmental level.

    • 1Since the 1990s, sinkholes are becoming more frequent on the shores of the Dead Sea. These funnel-shaped depressions, often tens of meters deep, are believed to be the result of environmental changes that have seen the recession of water levels in the region, and can appear often without warning.
    • 2Palestinian water rights were recognized by Israel in the September 1995 Taba Agreement, or Oslo II. The details of this agreement were to be addressed in final status negotiations which have yet to be concluded. Water distribution remains one of the more contentious issues in final status negotiations, as much of Israel's current water supply is drawn from the Golan Heights and the West Bank in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

  • Is your work restricted to research?

    Despite the importance of research, it doesn't provide anything concrete for ordinary people, which we try to do. Through our projects we try to provide concrete results to ordinary citizens. We carry out our projects under the label of WEDO, while the main theme is usually infrastructure, water policies and consumption patterns that have a direct effect on people's daily life. We have a joint project with Friends of the Earth organization called Good Water Neighbors. The project involves seventeen border communities, six Palestinian, seven Israeli and four Jordanian. The common denominator for all these communities is water and the environmental difficulties they face. This creates common motivation for joint work, because the environment doesn't know political borders. Environmental problems cross borders and go under the wall, therefore addressing them is very hard without joint efforts. How does the political situation affect your work? We try to keep our work detached from political factors. Our work isn't tied to the political situation. We work whenever possible. Environmental issues can't be put off until a regional understanding and a peace agreement is reached. Many areas are still being heavily polluted, and in a few years the land we have been fighting over for hundreds of years will become inhospitable. Pollution is also likely to reach our water sources, and when this happens, it will be a great catastrophe for all of us, because the lack of water will stop development and increase conflicts in the region. Water preservation is necessary for solving the current crisis and the prevention of future conflicts over water. We don't need any more reasons for conflict, we have enough already. At WEDO and Friends of the Earth we are against all forms of violence and primarily oppose the Occupation; we believe that it is the main obstacle to peace. It is a simple equation: end the Occupation and there will be peace and security for everyone. We hope politicians, especially in the successive Israeli governments, will view the situation from this perspective. In Lebanon it was proven that military cannot provide peace and security for Israeli citizens or others.1 The only way to provide security is through peace. Military machines are a heavy burden for everyone that will never lead us to peace. I hope the Israeli side learned its lesson after the last invasion and destruction of Lebanon, and the destruction this act caused on the Israeli side. If the billions of dollars that were invested in killing humans and destroying the environment were invested in peace attempts, we would be living in a completely different Middle East today. It would be the new Middle East we want, not the one some people with a certain agenda are trying to impose upon us. If these funds were truly put to use to serve the citizens of the Middle East and their environment, I think we would have already reached a real and true peace. This peace would have been a source of development for everyone and helped us overcome the current state of poverty.

  • Could you please give us an example of some difficulties facing the communities that take part in you project?

    Tulkarm on the Palestinian side and Emek Hefer on the Israeli side are two examples of such communities. The environmental issue in their case is sewage water from Nablus and Tulkarm that flows down the West Bank high terrain, underneath the wall, and down towards Emek Hefer inside the Green Line. The Emek Hefer and Tulkarm local councils attempted to establish a sewage treatment facility. The project received German funding and its first stage was completed, although there were many Israeli restrictions imposed, especially during the intifada. It was difficult to get workers and materials to the site. It is a sad fact that it is the security mentality that guides and controls the thinking of the Israeli political and military leadership. They are single minded and view things in one dimension, instead of three. This has an effect on the ground. Here at Friends of the Earth, we on the Palestinian side met with our government and our Israeli colleagues in Tel Aviv met with theirs and with the German government, until we reached an understanding and an agreement and the contractor was able to complete the first stage, but there are still many more projects to complete. These are issues the Israelis can't solve alone, because the source of the problem is in Palestine. On the other hand, Palestinians can't solve them either because they don't have the land in which to build a treatment plant. As a result of the attention of the local councils and the pressure they put on the governments, we reached an agreement. This project was initiated even before the intifada started, but on an individual basis. When the project became a public issue, we achieved success. Another area of attention is Baka Al Sharkiyah and Baka El Gharbiyah. There we have a fundamental problem in one of the valleys. During the winter the valley flooded, causing the death of a number of children. This valley is also used as a solid waste and sewage disposal point. Currently there are talks between the two local councils regarding how to work together in order to rehabilitate the valley and possibly turn it into a park for the nearby towns and villages. There is also talk of development and water treatment projects in the area. Much of our work is with small and marginalized communities that don't have access to decision-makers in the Palestinian Authority or funders. Through our work together we become their representative, presenting their case to donors who may invest in the area, and we have had some success. Until recently, Baka Al Sharkiyah didn't have a water system. Now they have a water system and a new local council building. In all the schools in which we've worked, we've created nature gardens, water consumption guidance activities, and installed water saving devices on taps. We demonstrate recycling drinking water in gardens and bathrooms. In many cases we succeeded in recycling large amounts of clean drinking water.

  • How do you work with your Israeli counterparts?

    Although we are all part of one organization, when it comes to local activities, it is the local organization that has the final say. There are three main directors of the organization, one Israeli, one Palestinian and one Jordanian. We meet and determine joint goals we are interested in working towards, but the local implementation decisions are made by the local staff. The three branches work independently, but our goals are common, and there is continuous coordination through meetings between field researchers, coordinators and the staff. We discuss our progress and the problems and difficulties we are facing, as well as joint future activities such as staff training programs or project follow up. We also discuss activities we hold for different groups that don't necessarily work with us directly, such as school children, headmasters and heads of local councils. We discuss how to get together and under which circumstances. All our activities are environmental projects that serve everyone. Communities are motivated to work with us when they realize that our activities are to their benefit. At the time when the environment affects civilians' daily life, there is a constant incentive for our work. What obstacles do you face in your work? Politics and the current political situation are obstacles. An example is the issue of permits. Our crews can't freely meet. If our Jordanian colleagues want to come here, they need visas, and this is a very complicated process. In order for us to meet our Israeli colleagues in Jerusalem we must obtain permits, and during closures this is nearly impossible. Our Israeli colleagues are very devoted to the work and are keen on visiting the Palestinian Territories, but the same Israeli restrictions that prevent Palestinians from entering Israel or Jerusalem prevent Israelis from entering the Palestinian Territories. These obstacles greatly affect our activities and make them harder and more challenging. If we were to work in a less complicated environment, we could maneuver a greater number of people and perform activities on a wider scale. Currently even moving within the West Bank is difficult. We eventually reach our destination, but we are forced to waste a lot of time on the road. For this reason, for every activity I choose the most local staff possible, in order to avoid the difficulties and restrictions imposed by checkpoints. We still need to occasionally meet with all the staff, and this is really difficult. We have a colleague who lives in Gaza. To this day we haven't been able to bring him to the West Bank. It is ironic that I am forced to meet my employee in a third country. This irony is the political situation we live in.

  • How do the differences in political opinion affect the work within your organization?

    Within the organization we all agree about the main issues. We have no relations or dealings whatsoever with settlements or settlers. This is a clear red line; we will never work with them or perform work that has anything to do with them. There is some kind of political agreement within our organization, because it is impossible for me to work with someone who supports the Occupation. How can I speak to a person if he doesn't recognize my right to live peacefully, securely and independently like he does? There is a general consensus within the organization about the main issues. There may still be one or two who deep inside disagree, but during our activities we suggest ideas for shared living and joint work. We are all against the wall, Israeli incursions and checkpoints and all the Israeli oppression that goes on in the area.

  • How do Palestinian politics affect your work?

    Recently, even the donor countries view the different Palestinian factions separately and donations have become conditional. Even before Hamas's rise to power, the US issued anti-terrorism criteria that they impose on every funding project they consider. After Hamas's rise to power we were even embargoed. We expected funding for civil society to continue, but even that stopped. The new political agenda maybe distinguished between factions in theory, but in reality there was no distinction; we were all subjected to an embargo and pressure. This wasn't the case with American funding only, even other sources of funds changed in one way or another. There is a form of political oppression taking place. A decision was made by the one man who rules the world. This is unjust and unfair. We support democracy, and through democracy the Palestinian people have had their say and have chose a certain course, so let them try it. We have chosen democracy; therefore we should live with the results, whatever they are. But we should remember, no part stays in power forever. People should be allowed to try different approaches. This is a healthy process that creates competition between different parties over the best way to serve their people. The political agendas I talked about were beyond our influence as Palestinians, and surely as an organization. We don't distinguish between people with different skin color or political orientation; we deal with everyone as Palestinian citizens. As an NGO we can't distinguish between people based on their political affiliation. If we did, it would be a disaster for us that could cause the loss of our legitimacy and work. We try to avoid some situations in our workshops and meetings by limiting the number attending from certain factions, but we will not allow politics to control our work. We are not a governmental organization that filters out people based on their political affiliation. A specialist in a certain environmental field who comes from a specific background can, in many cases, convey a certain message. We can't work in a city and ignore the city council. The city council is the main address in every city, so either you cooperate with it or you don't work there at all. The current Palestinian ministries were created by a certain political reality through a transparent political process; therefore I can't deny their existence, especially as a Palestinian. They are our representatives, whether we like it or not. The will of the majority of the people placed them in that position. Others may have other approaches, but in Palestine I can't deny the legitimacy of an authority I am part of. It is more difficult for us Palestinians.

  • What is the effect of your work on the reality on the ground?

    Our efforts are part of the political effort to receive our lawful rights as Palestinians. These rights are recognized be international law, therefore there is no option of giving them up. On the one hand, our work helps raise regular civilians' awareness. In our work we help civilians face challenges and try to improve their living standard while still living on their land. We raise awareness around environmental issues and the dangers they pose, and guide people in how to deal with these issues. The other side of our work is with the PA and donors. We try to convince the donor countries that we don't have the financial capacity to carry out infrastructure development projects, therefore we need their support. These nations are free to channel the funds as they see fit, either through UN agencies, local councils or NGOs. The main objective is to devote sufficient funds to the targeted communities. This will in turn improve the daily lives of citizens who are currently severely marginalized. Many farmers and residents of rural areas suffer from a severe shortage in drinking water and lack waste disposal abilities, problems that affect their daily life. The effects of the Occupation, from 1967 to this day have been accumulating over the past 30 or 40 years, and the effects are evident in many places, including schools which are extremely overcrowded and under-supplied. We face major problems, and civilians view us as their saviors, so it bothers us that we can't provide them with their most basic needs. At the moment we are able to provide only a drop in an ocean. The needs are more than we can cope with, but I believe that if we were to receive more funding, we would be met with even further faith and cooperation on the behalf of the Palestinian population, who need to see some improvement in their daily lives. When we work in certain communities, we try to focus our efforts on the schools. Our resources are extremely limited, so we believe that by focusing on schools we serve the whole community, because schools belong to everyone. The same is true when it comes to water sources. We try to make our work as collective as possible.

  • How do people in Palestinian society react when they learn of your joint work with Israelis?

    It is fine with most people. Ordinary people queue up for a work permit in Israel or a Jewish settlement, although our work is different and we oppose all forms of Israeli occupation and settlements. Some people oppose our work with Israelis. Some of these people may have ideological reasons for their opposition, which is quite rare, while for others it is more out of personal interests. In general, when I work towards preserving the Palestinian environment, I am primarily serving the Palestinian people. It is natural that the other side may indirectly benefit from our work. Any improvement in the environment on either side will have a positive effect on both sides, while deterioration in environmental conditions will harm us both as well. Air pollution in Israel eventually reaches the Palestinian Territories, and cleaning up the air in Tel Aviv and Hadera will let us breathe clean air in the West Bank. We work according to a Palestinian agenda. My priority is to serve my people and environment. Our programs are designed to create a common clean environment while we work on this side and our Israeli counterparts supplement our work on the Israeli side. This is how we all work towards creating a healthy and balanced eco-system. At the time of Israeli incursions we find it difficult to talk about such issues. We do carry on with some projects, but you really can't talk about peace at the same time the Israeli military machine is destroying everything. After 1996 and the rise to power of Benjamin Netanyahu, we have witnessed the death of the peace process. The Oslo project is over, even the chairman of the Arab League says so, and so do many, many others. In reality the Oslo agreement has brought the Palestinian people nothing but destruction and the worst kind of occupation and oppression. The Palestinian people were better off before Oslo, and many people would now agree that the PA is actively taking part in the occupation. We are still an occupied people, members of our parliament and some of our ministers are behind bars, and our elected authorities are severely restricted and threatened. In reality the occupation hasn't changed, on the contrary, it has worsened. Any Palestinian will tell you that life after Oslo has become much harder than it was before. At the moment the PA carries many of the responsibilities that were previously in the hands of the occupation, such as healthcare and education.1 These are large burdens, financially and otherwise. Before Oslo, Israel was obliged to provide work, healthcare etc., because these are the responsibilities of the occupation, but now the PA bares these responsibilities. We have recently begun hearing people dismissing the PA altogether, because in reality it is restricted and does nothing. This isn't a recent development since Hamas won the elections, but was the case before. The reason Oslo failed was because it didn't bring any change to the lives of Palestinians. Palestinians didn't get to enjoy the fruits of peace they were expecting, and this is the result. If there had been an improvement in Palestinians' daily life and had we felt the benefits of peace, freedom and financial development, the situation today may have been different. Oslo produced a different outcome than what Palestinians expected and hoped for. This is the reason for the continuation of the conflict and the general deterioration we see all around us. We have found ourselves in dire straits.

    • 1Between 1967-1993, the Israeli government shared social and financial responsibilities for the Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the United Nations. Pursuant to the May 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement and the creation of the Palestinian Authority, many of these responsibilities were transferred from Israeli authorities to the PA.

  • What is your vision for the future?

    The Palestinians have proven to be a model for democracy. Our democratic process was extremely transparent, and we had a higher turnout percentage than most traditional democratic countries, but the result of our democratic election didn't appeal to some countries, which had a negative effect on us. Nevertheless, we still support democracy and freedom of speech, regardless of the outcome. Elections are part of a democratic process that are repeated every 4 years, and it is the people's right to try different leadership. We are opposed to single party rule; we support political diversity, but a single authority. We support different proposals for change, but at the same time demand law and order on the ground and the insurance of citizens' dignity, regardless of their political stand. We, as Palestinians, aim to work under one single national umbrella where political pluralism is a healthy process that will ensure the best for the Palestinian people, and not the oppression of one faction by another. We want to live like all other people of the world, and like the Israelis, enjoy our freedom within our borders. Despite the problems and difficulties, the minimum we demand is to enjoy the same liberties Israelis do. We want to feel safe in our homes and during our daily life. We want to be sure that when our children leave their home they will return safely. We don't ask for more than what all civilized democratic nations have. There should be justice in which everyone receives his lawful rights and which guarantees a better environment for everyone. When one has something to lose, he keeps hold of it, but during the last few years most Palestinians feel that their lives are meaningless. Even at home they may be the victim of an air strike or a shelling. We demand to live like all other people of the world, no more than that.

  • What is in your opinion the source of the conflict?

    Peace and security should be common and shared by the two sides. It is impossible for one side to live in peace and security while the other is denied it. The equation is very simple: the Occupation is the reason for the conflict and its continuation. The end of the Occupation will be the end of the conflict and instability.

  • What are your expectations for the future?

    We work in order to protect birds and animals, therefore it should be taken for granted that human lives are of the highest value and importance for us. We try to be optimistic about the future, but there will be no peace in the shadow of occupation. Peace is achieved by returning rights to their lawful owners in the area, primarily the Palestinians. The Palestinian problem is the main issue in the region, if not in the world, and solving it will in turn solve a large portion of global issues and certainly most Middle Eastern ones. If the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and the Israeli occupation are put to an end, this will end a great deal of the volatility in the region.

  • What is required in order to reach a stage of ending the Occupation?

    At one stage President Arafat, may he rest in peace, and Yitzhak Rabin, who was a military general, realized that military might would not bring peace to their people. Both sides had to give up something. The current situation requires a brave leader that is aware of these issues and is prepared to honestly face his people and truly believe in what he is doing. If the political leadership clearly supports and adopts the peace process and implements it in stages that will make people feel real improvement in their daily life, people will support the leadership. The situation requires brave decisions, especially on the Israeli side. The key to the solution is in the hands of the Israelis, as are the keys to the continuation of conflict, because it is the Israelis who are occupying Arab land, not the opposite. These decisions primarily depend on the Israeli government, but also on the Israeli people.

  • Is there any thing you would like to add?

    If all the resources we devote to killing each other and destroying the environment were channeled to development we would have a thriving state by now. Let's follow the example of the European states, who after World War Two worked together to build a common economy, as if they were one state. Let's all work and open our borders, turn borders into imaginary boundaries only found on maps. Let there be freedom of movement, cooperation and consensus to serve the region as a whole, to transcend the boundaries of Palestine, Jordan, Israel and look at the region pragmatically for a better future. Let's think of our children - Palestinian and Israeli - so that we can provide them with a bright and peaceful future instead wars and conflict. Let's look optimistically to the future and be pragmatic, let's be courageous and speak truthfully and demand a future that will benefit us all. End.