Prof. Yossi Leshem always says that birds know no boundaries.
This is true also of environmental problems. In a conflict area like ours, where any kind of cross border cooperation is a complicated political issue with danger attached, even a small step is a long journey.
With naturalists in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, we have very little contact. We do follow each other's Facebook pages and press the "like" button occasionally, and sometimes we meet in international forums, but we cannot do much above ground with them. They are too scared of the "anti-normalization" movements that threaten to boycott any person or organization that will work with Israel in the Arab world.
With Jordanians and Palestinians on the other hand, we do have some cooperation, but it is always under the shade of the political events and "the problem". Nevertheless, nature conservationists always have the tendency to ignore politics. Although political conflicts are certainly large obstacles, not even they can stop us. Even in the days of war and bloodshed we always keep in contact.
One of spark of hope is a project run by the German Hanns Seidel Foundation and funded by the Partnership for Peace program of the European Union, with partnership from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Palestinian Wildlife Society.
The project deals with building Palestinian capabilities for nature conservation and aims to develop a network of Israeli and Palestinian experts that will work together. Unfortunately the Palestinians have been busy with other kind of problems and therefore do not possess many experts that can systematically survey nature. This project's aim is to improve the capabilities of Palestinian wildlife experts, train them with an understanding of the concept of nature parks, create 2-3 of these parks in Palestine, and show the local population that nature conservation creates opportunities for eco-tourism and other kinds of income.
Last week we had a workshop together down here in the Arava valley. The course was on taxonomy for and was guided by the best Israeli experts we have down here. It was a great opportunity to meet fellow researchers from Palestine who perhaps know less, but share our enthusiasm for nature and for learning.
During the days we had lectures and guided field trips, and in the evenings we enjoyed activities designed to help us get to know each other. Zeiss also donated to the project 20 great binoculars and 2 telescopes that will serve the experts for the next 3 years.
It was exciting to see the same passion on display that we ourselves had many years ago, when we started discovering the diversity of nature for the first time, filling us with a feeling of doing something really important.
Fruitful cooperation was also achieved during the birders competition held in Eilat last year, the Champions of the Flyway, in which a joint Israeli Palestinian team - The Palestinian Sunbirders won the race with the amazing score of 169 species observed in 24 hours.
This year we are running together for the race again and you can see our team and support us.
The future of cross border cooperation is mainly up to us. We have learned to "use" the conflict to raise money for our mutual cause and spend it wisely on things that promote nature conservation and build real capabilities.
We have been wise enough not to let politics stop us from doing this and we have sealed it with personal friendship and by working together daily. We are lucky to have practical and wise partners whom with we can promote wildlife conservation with even in this turmoil we live in.