Vicky Collins Online

A Blog With Superpowers

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“This Is What Freedom Looks Like”

Correspondent Ron Allen of NBC News was standing in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt when the news broke that Hosni Mubarak had stepped down. He was in the thick of it and handed the microphone to men standing near him in the crowd for their reactions. They shouted and screamed in triumph. When he retrieved the mic he said “this is what freedom looks like.” How amazing for him to bear witness to such a historic day. And how exciting for the world to see a revolution like this. A regime brought down without guns, without violence, simply with the power of people who are fed up and want the better life that they see in other parts of the world.

Yesterday I was discouraged and even fearful about the cascade of events that seemed inevitable in the Middle East. Would the army crack down on its demonstrators? Would one autocratic leader after another dig his heels in the sand and make life even more hopeless for the people? Would Islamic extremists rush in and fill the vacuum during the transition of power? Would dire predictions about 2012 get their spark in the Middle East? Now there has been a shift and the Egyptians can envision the yoke of oppression off their backs. I wish I could have been in Cairo when Ron Allen heard the news, the joyful noise, and witnessed the birth of a democracy.

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Young, Jewish, Proud

An amazing statement of intention and possibly, hopefully, finally, the generation that will lead us to a lasting peace in the Middle East alongside young Palestinians just like them.

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The Camel and the Cell Phone

Andres from Switzerland, his girlfriend, Paola from Brazil and I were riding on camels in the Thar Desert outside of the western Indian town of Jaisalmer. We were in a spot as remote as I’ve ever been, 21 hours by train from Delhi, just 60 kilometers from the border with Pakistan. It’s a flat, arid locale, punctuated by sand dunes and populated by only villagers, camel wallas and shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats. To me it was a place that time forgot, more like the Middle East than India. It probably hasn’t changed much at all in a thousand years. I felt like a silk or spice trader heading west into the desert. I was deep into my reverie on a camel named Michael when suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by the Nokia ringtone. Dadadadadadadadadadadadada. It seemed our guide, Ali, was a very popular man. For the entire camel safari his cell phone rang. It rang on the sand dunes, it rang under the tree where we stopped to have our vegetables and chapati lunch, it rang at sundown while we were drinking our beer. It rang after we went to bed under the stars and it was the first sound I heard at sunrise. The Nokia ringtone, piercing the tranquility of the desert.


Ali and his cell phone


The Lonely Planet guide book said the power generating wind turbines that have sprouted around Jaisalmer were altering the historic and mystical qualities of the area, that they made it harder to transport yourself to another time and place. But I barely noticed them. I found it was Ali’s cell phone that kept me coming back to now. I had a similar experience while working at the Olympics in Beijing. Dean, Jim and I took a day trip to hike the Great Wall of China. We climbed in Hebei Province, in Inner Mongolia, about two and a half hours outside of Beijing. We took a 10 kilometer trek from Jinshanling to Sumatai. Up and down stairsteps in a place far out of the way. Yet there was cell service. No place this remote would be served by AT&T in the U.S.A. My colleague, Jim, who probably shouldn’t have been on the adventure because he was so busy with his Olympic assignment as the head technical supervisor of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, spent the entire trip talking on his cell phone. I have no idea how he managed to catch his breath as he scrambled up and down the mountainside. It was truly the most difficult physical challenge of my life, yet he yakked the whole way on his mobile.

We have gotten to a place where we are so interconnected that you can no longer escape, even in some of the most remote spots on earth. While in India I have stayed in touch with friends by Skype, email and Facebook. I tuned in to an computer chat on that my friend, Kerry Sanders, a correspondent for NBC News, was holding as he covered the rescue of the miners from Chile. There was really no update from family, friends and colleagues that was inaccessible to me from a half a world away. And even though I am grateful for all the technology and connectedness at my fingertips, and understand the need of the camel walla to stay in touch with his people when he travels through the desert too, I still wish the only sounds that day were my thoughts, the wind and the camels, and not Ali’s incessant Nokia ringtone.

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River Jordan Redux

In June 2009 I posted a blog about the dire condition of the River Jordan and how a unique collaboration of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians are cooperating to save it and care for the needs of a parched region.  National Geographic Magazine has done the story “Parting the Waters” for its April edition on Water.  It showcases the environmental dilemma, the political issues that have led to it, and how Friends of the Earth Middle East is committed to solving the crisis.  What’s striking about the story is that, despite the lack of cooperation in the Mideast, people are managing to collaborate over water.  They are fighting together for a resource they can’t live without.

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River Jordan: Conflict and Cooperation

In the Middle East, water is a source of conflict and an opportunity for peace. From the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea and all along the River Jordan there is a need for cooperation over water. In the mountain aquifer under West Bank settlements there is conflict over its allocation. In fact, the World Bank just issued a report finding huge disparities in water use between Israelis and Palestinians.

Weeam Iriqat, a Palestinian woman who lives in Jericho, used to cross the River Jordan as a small girl. “The quantity of water was really high when you passed over the bridge. Now when we go to Jordan we don’t feel there is a river. The future of our entire region concerns water. The next war will be about water.” Water straddles political boundaries in the region and over the years there have been clashes. In fact, water was a factor in the Six Day War in 1967. The River Jordan is a vital lifeline to Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. People depend on it for health, industrial productivity and agriculture.

No where is the crisis more apparent than on the River Jordan, the waterway that is a holy spot for Christians, Muslims and Jews. Ninety percent of the water in the river has been diverted, half of it to Israel for agriculture.  What has complicated the scenario is that farming accounts for only 2% of Israel’s GNP.  Israel’s settlements are green and flourishing and growing Palestinian villages are drying up even though there are more people desperate for water. The Dead Sea has also shrunk by 30% in the last 50 years.  Jordan and Syria are still fuming because Israel transferred water from the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan a generation ago to make the Negev desert bloom and turn Israel into the dynamic country that it is.  Yet in the Palestinian village of Auja, 10 kilometers north of Jericho, local farmers are watching their corn crops and livelihood dry up because of the unequal distribution of water complicated by a drought in the region.  They are unable to make ends meet and take care of their families. 

Many have played a part in the river’s decline and the deepening water crisis.  Jordan and Syria diverted water from key tributaries leading into the River Jordan, further depleting the river and its abilities to be sustainable for the future.  Political divisiveness is making it difficult to maintain and construct sewage and water projects.  Israelis say they have boosted the fresh water supply to the Palestinians by three times the amount used there in 1967.  The total consumption of fresh natural water in Israel rose from 1967 to 2006 by nearly 700%.  Water consumption in the West Bank rose during the same period by 2300% for the growing population. 

“The bottom line is there is a severe water crisis out there, predominantly on the Palestinian side, and it will be felt even worse during this coming summer,” says Gidon Bromberg who heads Friends of the Earth Middle East, ( which is a unique collaboration of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians cooperating on solving the water issues in the region. Gidon Bromberg, an Israeli, Nadeer Khateeb, a Palestinian, and Munqeth Mehyar, a Jordanian are working together as the leaders from each nation to solve the region’s water issues while creating the necessary conditions for lasting peace in the region. There is a peace island on the river and Friends of the Earth Middle East is trying to expand the zone’s special status. Mayors from Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian communities along the river are joining together to honor peace agreements calling for protection from pollution and recognition of the disparity in standards of living on each side of the river.

One specific example of cooperation is along the Green Line between the West Bank and Israel. Israelis built a water treatment plant while Palestinians a stones throw away had waste running into their water. With one pipe they are connecting their sewage systems together and both will see the benefits. The Palestinian mayor will buy back treated water for agriculture and the Israelis will make money selling the water. They don’t love each other but they are cooperating. Where political solutions are difficult, grassroots solutions for the mutual benefit of communities are leading to co-existence and cooperation.

Of course it is not simple. Everything is political in the region and all attempts at peace are exacerbated by the ongoing conflict, walls, checkpoints, settlements, the very existence of Israel, etc. The development of water-sucking West Bank settlements like Ma’aleh Adumim and the proposed expansion into another called Mevesseret Adumim, threatens to blow attempts at peace between Israelis and Palestinians out of the water. On a clear day you can see the mountains beyond the Jordan river from there. You can also see the contrast between the lushness of Ma’aleh Adumim and its Palestinian neighbor, Azariyah, which both get their water from an underground aquifer. Even so, those who are working to make the allocation of water more equitable, say the River Jordan has historically been the site for exchange between peoples, cultures and ideas and the interaction must continue between Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, all who have a stake in water and peace.

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Pathway to Peace?

As the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians rages on, a small company is presenting a model for peace and productivity. Global Hosted Operating System or is one of the few companies that is a partnership between Israelis and Palestinians. But running the West Bank company is tricky. Imagine being the CEO of a successful company and not being able to visit the headquarters even though its just 10 miles away. That’s the story for CEO Zvi Schreiber who lives on the Israeli side of the West Bank in Modiin but is prohibited by his country from crossing over into Palestine. The 35 software developers who work in Ramallah can enter Israel only if they can get permits from the army and cross through the wall and numerous checkpoints. When they need to meet they video conference or rendezvous in a forest near Jerusalem or in a rundown coffee shop on a desert road frequented by camels and Bedouin shepherds near Jericho, which is open to both. It is a determined workforce.

The founders of, Israeli Zvi Schrieber and Palestinian Murad Tahboub, are creating a free, web-based virtual computer that lets people access their desktop and files from any computer with an internet connection. The software is getting lots of attention in the computer world. Along the way they have carved out a model of cooperation that is combining business with peacemaking and is also helping boost the job picture for Palestinians. It’s good for business. Salaries for Palestinian engineers are about a third the prevailing rate that they are in Israel and Palestinian unemployment is 21%. It’s a win-win for everyone. But the cross border company with a headquarters in Palestine and an office in Israel is unprecedented. The scenario has been working for two and a half years although it was difficult to work together during the recent fighting in Gaza. Everyone had to struggle hard to stay on task while they scrambled about worried for family and friends and even attending funerals for the fallen.

Now the would be adversaries are suiting up for a conflict with an enemy far from the Middle East. The scrappy little is fighting a trademark fight over it’s phrase “no walls” with software giant, Microsoft. But Israelis and Palestinians are on the same side in the upcoming battle. Besides merging technological and commercial ambitions with social ones, also has a philanthropic foundation that is establishing community computer centers in Ramallah and mixed Jewish-Arab towns in Israel. The foundation is headed by Yitzhak Rabin’s daughter, Noa Rothman, who hails for getting things done on a people to people level and is impressed by how easily folks get along. Israelis and Palestinians are on the same team with equity and a stake in the company. Politics is taking a back seat to business and the employees have found a solution across cultures and two sides of a tough conflict. A few other high tech companies are starting to follow the example. Ghosts go through walls. Could this be a pathway to peace?

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