Good Water Neighbors (GWN) Project


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Focus Areas

Water Cooperation Initiative: Education, awareness and dialogue

Transboundary Waters

Geographic Scope


EcoPeace/ Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME)

The first 7 years of this project were supported by the EU SMAP program and the US Government Wye River Program, the British Government's Global Opportunities Fund, the EU Partnerships For Peace program, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, and is presently being supported by USAID's Conflict Management and Mitigation program - "from the American People", the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and from Belgium's Peace Building Desk, Federal Public Service of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation.



Background and Significance

The "Good Water Neighbors" (GWN) project was established by EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East (EcoPeace/ FoEME) in 2001 to raise awareness of the shared water problems of Palestinians, Jordanians, and Israelis. The GWN methodology is an original idea that is based on identifying cross border communities and utilizing their mutual dependence on shared water resources as a basis for developing dialogue and cooperation on sustainable water management. GWN has created real improvement within the water sector by building trust and understanding that has led to common problem solving and peace building among communities even in the midst of conflict.

Despite limited cooperation between the region’s governments on some aspects of water allocation, sustainable management of water resources has not been achieved in the Middle East peace process. Lack of [Glossary/Sewage| sewage]] treatment, over-pumping of aquifers, excessive diversion of surface water flows, and difficulty in implementing critical water-demand management policies threaten scarce water resources. These circumstances pose environmental and health hazards to communities, and can be a significant source of cross-border tension and pollution. Initiators of this project took the lead in localizing these water issues by focusing the GWN work on the community level, and fostering the cross-border relationships that are necessary to solve common water problems.

Eleven Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian communities were selected to participate in the first phase (2001 to 2005), of the project. In its second phase (2005–2008), the project was expanded to include seventeen communities.

Each community is partnered with a neighbouring community on the other side of the border/political divide with which it shares a common water source. GWN works at the local level with community members through education and awareness activities on the regional water situation, by implementing ecological projects. Through dialogue and cooperative ventures across borders, GWN works to encourage sustainable water management at the regional level. Programme participants include youth, adults, environmental professionals and municipal leaders.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

Based on GWN publications and interviews with FoEME staff, GWN’s theory of change towards peace could be outlined as follows:

  • Hiring local staff and implementing projects on the ground in the communities creates trust between the community and the FoEME country staff and office.
  • Educating people on the interdependence of environmental issues and the fact that solutions to environmental problems often concern neighbouring communities, will increase people’s willingness to cooperate.
  • Providing people from all sides with the opportunity to meet face-to-face, in order to discuss and work on joint water problems, aims to change peoples’ attitude towards their perceived enemy.
  • Partnering the communities around a shared ecosystem helps create or reinforce a sense of good neighbours and promotes a joint vision for the shared ecosystem and a peaceful future.
  • Creating a local constituency with residents that seek environmental solutions and recognise the need for cross-border cooperation, helps create political will with the municipal leadership in order to implement joint solutions.
  • Once communities – residents and mayors – see the potential benefits for cooperation on environment and water issues they will be open to cooperation on a much broader scale.
  • FoEME’s advocacy work, comprising of research, educating decision-makers and using the media as a means of creating political pressure, will complement the work in the communities.


  • Identifying shared interests and aligning different needs

The GWN project aims to build on existing shared water sources and identify common problems in order to move from mere dialogue to joint action. It is important to identify a topic of authentic interest for all participants, as experience has shown that it can be extremely hard to mobilise people for a long-term collaborative effort when they are concerned about basic needs.[1] When asked for their needs related to environmental peacebuilding efforts, participants and staff of the GWN in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories indicated very different priorities, which included the following: the Jordanians focused on economic development and free movement of people and goods; Israel concentrated on reconciliation and improved environmental management; and the Palestinians stressed the importance of access to water and land rights, as well as the ending of occupation. Considering the diverse needs, identifying a topic that equally benefits all, or even two neighbouring communities, poses a major challenge. Here, the idea of a Peace Park between the Israeli and Jordanian communities in the Lower Jordan Valley provides some advantage, as it links issues of economic development and environmental conservation. Major importance needs to be given to ensure that projects provide shared benefits and respond to the different needs of communities. Moreover, managing high expectations presents a major challenge. The goals and possibilities of initiatives need to be transparent and clear in order to prevent frustrations of communities that desire better access to water and improved wastewater treatment.

  • Increasing ownership

Peace initiatives can increase their effectiveness if, as a result, ‘people undertake independent initiatives, working in creative ways within their own communities to cross lines of division or to influence outside constituencies’.[2] A major challenge in this regard is to empower participants and to encourage them to become actors and activists, undertaking personal efforts to bring about peace. With respect to environmental peacebuilding, this empowerment should not only cover aspects of environmental knowledge, but also ownership of the process of dialogue and cooperation. Experience shows that the more responsibility participants acquire in the dialogue process, the more likely they are to follow through afterwards.[3] According to interviews with GWN field staff, many of the activities are carried out according to a work plan that is proposed by the FoEME. Similar activities are put forward in all communities. Ownership could be increased, for example by involving communities and field staff in identifying and designing activities. This would also support the effect that activities respond to needs. Funding requirements of donor organisations can pose a major challenge here if they require pre-set action plans and only allow limited room for flexibility.

  • Establishing lasting relationships

Participants in GWN’s cross-border meetings report positive changes in their attitude towards the other side, loss of fear and discovery of commonalities. With regard to peacebuilding, this personal change offers opportunities to transform relationships between adversaries, which can translate into societal change. Building trust between adverse societies and establishing sustainable relationships requires years of work. Only lasting working relationships will allow participants to reciprocally observe changes in the beliefs, attitudes and behavioural intention of the “other side” to work for the joint vision – a pre-condition for the establishment of mutual trust.[4] However, most of the cross-border events involving youth and adults are one-time events with limited communication between participants before or after the meeting. Continuous participation with the same participants, recurring meetings and maintained communication would bring about positive impacts at the individual level that do not remain a one-time experience, but transform attitudes and behaviours that can be channelled into societal change. Language barriers, travel restrictions and limited budgets constrain the establishment of sustained relationships and maintaining communication. The internet provides an economical and efficient way to communicate and maintain relationships, but it is not available to many of the GWN participants. In order to build on the existing achievements within the GWN, the use of capacities and means should be intensified within the existing GWN communities for now, rather than including more communities in the programme.

  • Mainstreaming confidence-building and peacebuilding

Cross-border collaboration needs careful introduction, especially in areas where deep hostility exists between groups and where little contact has previously existed. Therefore, initial activities are vital to focus on gaining trust from the communities and preparing them for dialogue. In addition to technical activities, such as building rain water harvesting systems or constructing wetlands, more importance should be given to the psychological aspects and confidence building. Moreover, if the aim is to contribute to peacebuilding, this phase should not take too long, and the goal of promoting dialogue and building of relationships should not get lost in environmental activism.

  • Promoting spillover and societal changes

Individual changes of perception and personal relationships do not add up to societal change. For this to happen, change at the individual level needs to be sustained over time, in order to have an impact on the individuals’ behaviour and to gradually extend to other people. Sustained changes that have a potential to promote change on the socio-political level can become visible, especially in the actions of participants that show increased responsiveness to the concerns of the other side, or in the large number of people voicing demands for peace.[5] In some of the GWN communities, such actions have happened (see above) and were supported through joining forces with other peace initiatives. The potentials of cooperation with other initiatives should be made use of as much as possible. Furthermore, fostering lasting relations and promoting participants’ ownership of the process, as mentioned above, can contribute to people taking action.

A shared interest, supported through collaboration during the environmental projects, offers opportunities to demonstrate the humanity of the “other” and increase project participants’ awareness of the other’s needs and concerns (such as limited access to freshwater and sanitation). Transformation on the socio-political level not only requires reaching a critical mass, but also key decision-makers. If participants in environmental projects are opinion leaders, their personal transformation can have an impact on their community/society. The GWN approach to work with mayors offers a lot of opportunity in this regard. Mayors represent the midlevel authority and therefore play an important role in promoting peace, as they are connected to both the higher political levels and the local constituency.[6] Thus, their clout should be used as much as possible by involving them actively in project development and encouraging them to take actions to affect the larger society and higher political levels.

Results and Impact

Activities in the Lower Jordan Valley

FoEME have developed a multi-level approach in their community work, targeting youth, adults and mayors. The community work is implemented by local field staff and based on an action plan suggested by FoEME. Field staff are chosen from the community by the national FoEME coordinator according to the following criteria: ability to work with the community; position and acceptance in the community; and capability to develop relations with the local authority.[7] Though most activities are implemented similarly in all participating communities, each area has a particular focus depending on local conditions and the main shared water source. FoEME’s advocacy work on environmental justice issues with national governments complements GWN work at the community level.

This case study focuses on four GWN communities located in the northern region of the lower Jordan Valley, two of which are located on both the Israeli and Jordanian side of the river: Tabkat Fahal and Muaz bin Jabal in Jordan, as well as the Jordan Valley Regional Council and Beit Shean in Israel.[8] While Tabkat Fahal and Beit Shean have already been involved in the first phase of the GWN project, the other two communities joined in 2005. FoEME’s overall vision in this area is the rehabilitation of the Jordan River.

As an important entry point for community work, FoEME sees the implementation of projects on the ground as a way of generating support among the community and serving as an example for wise water use. Therefore, in each community, a rainwater harvesting system was built in a school and an ecological garden was planted using local plants that grow in the dry climate.

A major focus in all four communities is working with the youth. The main youth activities include education on water issues in their own and neighbouring communities through lectures and field trips. Student groups called ‘Water Trustees’, are set up with new participants each year. They work closely with field staff on GWN activities, such as the building of ecological gardens and rainwater harvesting systems. Furthermore, they carry out water consumption surveys, and manage river clean-up and awareness campaigns in their communities. In the current phase, adults were involved in a series of workshops, focusing on environmental problems and discussing potential solutions for priority problems. These workshops have been facilitated by a local planner with the results published in a report.[9] Moreover, residents and representatives of the municipalities and local tourism businesses have been involved in preparing ‘Neighbour Paths’, trails that shows the natural and cultural heritage of each one of the GWN communities. The paths aim to promote rural and eco-tourism as a means of diversifying incomes, as well as raising public awareness about their shared environment and water concerns. The third target group within the communities are the local mayors. Through the local field staff and support of the local constituency, GWN aims to ensure the mayors’ support for the project and regional cooperation on water/environmental issues.

Building on activities within the communities, GWN organises regional meetings in which participants from several or all GWN communities take part. Youth, adults and mayors from the four Lower Jordan Valley communities participated in the following regional activities:

  • Joint ceremony in which Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian children presented petitions calling on their respective authorities to promote the treatment of sewage impacting their communities;
  • Summer camps where children discussed joint environmental problems, carried out joint clean-up efforts or gained skills that can later be applied in the GWN community work;
  • Events of biannual common awareness campaigns that dealt with the shared ecosystem;
  • An annual GWN conference that brought together mayors and residents from all 17 GWN communities on topics ranging from low-cost water-saving technologies and potential methods of cooperation, to the Red Sea-Dead Sea conveyor. These conferences were often flanked by public launch events for the main GWN publications and initiatives with participation from representatives of funding agencies and national ministries;
  • Tours of the neighbour path of partnering communities; and
  • Farmers’ workshops on water saving and organic agriculture.

Following the regional GWN conference in March 2005, mayors from the Jordan Valley communities stayed longer to discuss cooperative efforts to rehabilitate the Jordan River, in order to improve the livelihoods of local residents. A follow-up meeting discussed potentials of eco-tourism and the importance of the historical and cultural assets of the area, as well as a five-day tour of the Lower Jordan Valley with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian mayors and municipal representatives. Two meetings between the mayors of Beit Shean and Tabkat Fahal led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, in which the mayors committed to ‘the rehabilitation of the Ziglab-Harod streams as a cooperative effort and as a centerpiece of peacebuilding activities between the neighbouring communities’.[10]

Peacebuilding Impacts

The GWN project successfully recruited enthusiastic field staff that are well connected to their communities, thereby empowering them to implement environmental community projects and raise awareness on water issues. Based on interviews, the GWN cross-border meetings have contributed to reducing fears and stereotypes of the “other”. After the field staff carefully prepared the Water Trustees for the cross-border encounter, youths were reported to have had no problems of mixing with children from the “other side” in order to work on a given task. Adults appreciated the opportunities provided for mutual learning on water-saving techniques and learning different perspectives on environmental issues in the meetings.

Mayors, especially from Jordan and the Palestinian territories, appreciated the work that was accomplished for the communities, such as the ecological gardens and the rain water harvesting systems for schools. They also embraced the opportunity to raise awareness on the water situation in the Palestinian territories. Israeli mayors focussed on FoEME’s work to facilitate contact between the mayors, which could open the door for further cooperation. FoEME managed to identify initiatives that Jordanian and Israeli mayors agree could benefit all, such as the restoration of the Jordan River and the Peace Park. The mayors, in two Memorandums of Understandings, committed themselves to promoting these initiatives and accomplished this at national and international events. different perspectives on environmental issues in the meetings.

In other GWN communities, participants have been reported to advocate for their neighbouring community on other issues. Such activities did often take place in cooperation with other civil society initiatives. For example, residents from the Israeli community of Tzur Hadassah organised a petition drive opposing the building of the separation barrier between their own and the Palestinian GWN partner community of Wadi Fukin. As of yet, no strong relationships have been established between the neighbouring communities in the northern part of the Lower Jordan Valley. Field staff members and mayors rarely communicate directly with each other, but do so mainly through the FoEME head offices because, among other things, language barriers still exist.[11]

The work of GWN is also curbed by some frustrations, even if their reasons lie beyond FoEME’s power. Participants from the Jordanian side, for instance, mentioned that the experience of travelling across the border made them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome, as they had to endure long visa procedures. In one case, an elected Jordanian mayor was not given an entry visa to Spain for a joint presentation on the GWN project with the mayor from Israel. Further frustrations come from the lack of improvement of the water situation. Some Jordanian representatives expressed their frustration about the fact that they could not see any improvement in the Jordan water quality, and therefore questioned whether their Israeli counterparts were effectively working towards the same goal.

Lessons for Replication

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

Project ID


Lead Organization(s)

Project Partners




Project website(s)


Expected Outcomes

Achievements: Results and Impact


  1. T. Paffenholz and C. Spurk (2006). Civil society, civic engagement and peacebuilding. Social Development Papers: Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction, Paper No. 36. Available at
  2. M.B. Anderson and L. Olson (2003). Op. cit.
  3. Ibid.
  4. D. Bar-Tal and Y. Teichman (2005). Stereotypes and prejudice in conflict. Representations of Arabs in Israeli Jewish Society. Cambridge:University Press.
  5. M.B. Anderson and L. Olson (2003). Op. cit.
  6. J.P. Lederach (1997). Building peace: Sustainable reconciliation in divided societies. Herndon, VA: USIP Press.
  7. N. Harari (2007). Environmental peacebuilding in the Middle East – Analysis of different efforts to foster peace in the region through environmental cooperation. Diploma Thesis. Berne/Switzerland: Center for Development and Environment, University of Berne.
  8. Due to time constraints, not all GWN communities could be included in the field research. Those partnering Israeli and Jordanian communities have been selected due to their involvement in the Peace Park project that is described later in this study. To complement the interviews and information gathered, the Palestinian GWN community of Auja was also visited during field research.
  9. Friends of the Earth Middle East (2007). Good water neighbors: Identifying common environmental problems and shared solutions. Amman, Bethlehem and Tel Aviv: EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East. Available at publications/publ69_1.pdf.
  10. Cited from the Memorandum of Understanding, Protection and Rehabilitation of the Ziglab-Harod Streams, Pella, Jordan – Beit Shean, Israel.
  11. Personal interviews with GWN field staff and mayors in Tabkat Fahal and Muaz bin Jabal, Jordan, as well as the Jordan Valley Regional Council and Beit Shean, Israel (July 2008).

See also

This article is based on Regional Water Cooperation and Peacebuilding in the Middle East, by Annika Kramer, as part of a Initiative for Peacebuilding (Ifp) Series Publication (2008).

External Resources


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