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Menopausal Mother Nature

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Climate Change Will Destroy Arabs and Israelis Before They Destroy Each Other

Second, the bend in the Jordan River where we were standing — the spot where tradition says John the Baptist baptized Jesus — used to be roughly 100 meters wide, with rushing rapids. Today it’s only five to 10 meters wide, with no rapids, which was why we could watch Christian pilgrims comfortably standing in the middle of the Jordan being baptized by their priest.

The connection? It is now so hot down here for so much longer each year (almost 115 degrees last August) that essentially the only crop that can be reliably grown anymore is dates. But that’s possible only if the palms have a lot of water, and that is now in danger.

Without a healthy Jordan River, even date palms won’t be able to survive here. Middle East Eye recently quoted a Jordanian farmer about how haywire his planting season has become: “We used to start planting in July, but now we start in September or even October” because the summer months are too hot. “But then it gets cold very quickly” — too quickly sometimes for vegetables to survive.

How to get more water? The old method was resistance, zero-sum thinking — “everyone just grabbing water for what they thought were their legitimate security needs,” explained Bromberg. Back in the 1960s, Israel constricted the flow of the Jordan from the Sea of Galilee so it could divert more water through a national water carrier to thirsty Tel Aviv and down to the Negev to make the desert bloom. Syria choked its Jordan River tributary the Yarmouk River, and Jordan limited what was left of its portion of the Yarmouk and other tributaries feeding the river from its territory.

The once mighty Jordan turned into a freshwater trickle, which episodic droughts only exacerbated, leading to a large swath of the Dead Sea drying up. Worse, they used the Jordan as a dumping ground for human waste.

The good news is that Israel and Jordan recognized that this was self-defeating and as part of their 1994 peace accord agreed that Israel would turn the tap back on from the Sea of Galilee and give Jordan a bigger allotment of water from the river. But the Jordan River could not keep up. With the climate getting hotter and drier in the valley — and 700,000 Jordanians, 30,000 Israelis and 60,000 Palestinians trying to make a living from agriculture there — a more sustainable solution was needed.

In October 2021, I wrote about the outlines of what I hoped could become a new kind of peace treaty between Arabs and Israelis — a treaty fostering resilience among the parties rather than just ending resistance between the parties.

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