First we identified communities that were willing to work with the other side... a community group, a school, a mayor [willing to lead the community]. We have 11 communities involved in the program. We identified a person from each community that was willing to work on a part time basis for the project, sometimes it's a school principal. It is very important for us to work with someone from the community who demonstrates knowledge and commands trust in that community. In each case we identified a school that is willing to work with the project. We created a group of what we call "Water Trustees" that volunteer at least once a week to do something on water issues in their community.
For the first year everything was done separately. Basically, getting to know your own water reality: Where is your water coming from? How is it being allocated, what's happening to your sewage and your solid wastes, how is water being priced? Testing: what quality is your water? For the first year, we really had each community get to know their own water reality, and in the second year we started asking the questions, "What's the water reality of my neighbor? What did I imagine my neighbors' water reality to be and what is it actually in reality?" We did this by exchanges, first and foremost by the staff, because we have a staff person in each community, so the staff would exchange the information.
The staff members would present the Water Reality of the other side to the Water Trustees, who had been asked beforehand, for example, "What do you think the water reality is?" They often got very different responses. For the most part Israeli kids were quite ignorant of the lack, of the extent of the water scarcity that exists in Palestine and in Jordan. In fact, it's probably more severe in Jordan than in Palestine, which I think shocked everyone, even the Palestinian kids. There is a sense in Palestine that every Israeli has a swimming pool in his backyard and has so much water that they don't know what to do with it. That was also sort of put back into proportion. Towards the end of the first year and for most of the second year we were working on a common petition identifying an issue that both partner communities are concerned about, generally protecting the river or stream they share, or the water shortages the communities face. They put that into a common petition, and then got the kids out to get adults from their respective communities to sign on to the petition. It helped bring the sense of common interdependence to a much broader community. That was very successful. We collected some 13,000 signatures, and we held another event in Jerusalem, with officials from the three governments involved in a joint event. We got to present these petitions to the respective government officials.
We had a kid from Beit Shean
stand up and say, "I'm from Beit Shean. My community is worried about the River Jordan, which is polluted by Israel, Jordan, and Palestine, and we want this change to happen." Then he hands the petition-we had collected 3,000 signatures-to the Israeli Water Commissioner's office. The Palestinian kid from the neighboring community of Bardala
stands up and says, "We're worried about the future of our common water. We collected so many signatures," he hands it to the Palestinian Water Authority. The Jordanian kid from Sheikh Hussein
(all three kids are neighbors), hands it to the representative from the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation. It was a very powerful event.
Are those three officials able to meet together to cooperate on policy?
They do meet; it was actually unusual to have the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian [officials] meet together. The Israeli and Palestinian officials and the Israeli and Jordanian officials do meet, but they meet together in a secretive way. The public is not aware of when they meet, what they talk about, what they're actually doing. Still, until today. It's very secretive. It's very much out of the public eye, partly because of the politics, because they're concerned that people will try to stop them from meeting-people and groups who are against cooperation-but also partly because water somehow is seen as a national security issue.