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Middle Eastern sustainability nonprofit founders receive 2018 Stanford Bright Award

MELISSA SANTOS/The Stanford Daily

On Thursday night, Gidon Bromberg and Munqeth Mehyar received the 2018 Bright Award for co-founding EcoPeace Middle East, a nonprofit organization using environmental sustainability as a means to promote regional peace. The Bright Award, conferred annually by the Stanford Law School (SLS), recognizes outstanding work in promoting global sustainability. Each winner is granted $100,000 and the opportunity to deliver a public lecture at the University.

Each year, the award’s nomination committee selects potential candidates from one of 10 rotating regions. Since the award’s inaugural year in 2013, winners have been chosen from West Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America and now the Middle East.

Bromberg’s and Mehyar’s work in the Middle East has been called “foundational” in the field of environmental peacebuilding. According to the SLS website, EcoPeace Middle East is the first transnational environmental group in the Middle East and the only collaborative organization of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians “not only in the environmental field, but in any field.”

Upon presenting this year’s Bright Award, SLS Dean M. Elizabeth Magill explained the rationale behind the award, which was established by Raymond E. Bright, Jr. J.D. ’59 in 2007 in memory of his late wife Marcelle.

“In establishing the Bright Award, Ray sought to recognize people from all over the world who were engaged in conservation and other efforts that would achieve sustainability,” Magill said. “Gidon Bromberg and Munqeth Mehyar are unparalleled environmental leaders and visionaries … at the forefront of environmental peace-building for over 25 years.”

“We stand humble, but feeling huge power knowing that people like you are seeing our work as important,” said Mehyar, the program’s president and Jordanian co-director. “When we started EcoPeace, we never imagined that we would be standing here at Stanford, talking about it 25 years later.”

Bromberg, who serves as EcoPeace’s Israeli co-director, echoed Mehyar’s sentiments.

“The fact that this university is thinking about our organization and what we’re doing is something that empowers us,” Bromberg said. “In our world of conflict, we’re hated. We’re traitors … sadly seen by extremist groups on both sides as working for the other side. If you’re working together, you must be working for the other.”

The awards ceremony, held in Paul Brest Hall, was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Climate One Founder Greg Dalton and Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, director of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Program at the United States Institute of Peace. The panelists discussed how EcoPeace Middle East navigates the intersection of politics and sustainability.

Since its founding more than three decades ago, EcoPeace Middle East has led the way in resolving conflicts regarding water conservation and sanitation on the Jordan River, the Dead Sea and Gaza.

For example, Bromberg facilitated cooperation between Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli stakeholders – who otherwise face conflicts – to rehabilitate the Jordan River. Due to EcoPeace Middle East’s efforts, water from the Jordan River reached the sea of Galilee in 2013 – the first time fresh water has been allowed to flow between the two bodies in over a decade.

“Water is a common denominator; water is life,” Mehyar said.

Bromberg added that from the organization’s outset, he and Mehyar focused on water-based projects to make sure water access in the Middle East becomes a right, rather than a luxury.

“People need to understand that the water crisis that the region suffers is a national security crisis,” Bromberg said. “It’s way beyond the environment; it goes to the heart of survival in the region.”

EcoPeace Middle East, which operates out of offices in Amman, Bethlehem and Tel-Aviv, has also enabled the creation of a regional management plan for sustainably developing the Jordan Valley. The organization’s most ambitious endeavor is the Water-Energy Nexus Project, which aims to promote transboundary exchanges of desalinated water and solar energy between Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.

“We’re all in the same boat,” Bromberg said. “Either we’re gonna learn how to sail that boat together or we’re gonna sink. At the moment, we’re sinking more and more … perhaps water can be that external wake up call.”

 

Contact Melissa Santos at melissasantos ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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