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Guns In My Backyard

The other night while having dinner on our deck on a warm summer evening we heard automatic weapons fire.  We live in the suburbs of Denver, about a mile as the crow flies from the Family Shooting Center in Cherry Creek State Park.  We often hear the peppering of gunfire as people shoot and train with handguns and rifles.  It is background noise for us, just like the planes flying over our house as they line up to land at nearby Centennial Airport.  But this night was different.  It sounded like we were on the front lines in Syria or Afghanistan.  The shooting went on forever.  Non-stop uninterrupted automatic weapons fire.  I called the Sheriff’s office and they said they were getting numerous complaints.  Then I called and left a message at the range, saying they were being insensitive and not being good neighbors, especially in light of the recent Aurora shooting which left so many people dead, injured and on edge.

Much to my surprise, the next evening, the proprietor of Family Shooting Center, Doug Hamilton, called me.  He was very earnest and apologetic that we were disturbed.  He was certain it was an unusual confluence of atmospheric conditions that carried the sound all the way to us.  He told me they were having a special demonstration event for the staff that they do once a year.  He said he was calling back everyone who left a number and wanted to assure me that they were good neighbors.  He even told me about sound buffers they were installing.  We had a good dialogue, but when I suggested to him that perhaps they do not need to fire off automatic weapons at the range, or if it was essential to have this event annually, perhaps his staff could take a field trip to the country, he went silent.  He listened politely to my feelings but when we hung up I wasn’t sure he really heard them.

And therein lies the disconnect.  I will be candid.  I am not a gun person but in recent years my stance has softened dramatically.  My car dealer has his concealed carry permit.  My son’s best friend hunts.  I visited the Tanner Gun Show and understood why some women felt they needed to have a handgun.  I get that people want guns for recreation and protection.  I have learned to respect their rights.  I believe I am being very reasonable.  But I cannot understand why we need to have automatic weapons in my neighborhood or in any neighborhood for that matter.  When I posted my story on Facebook the jaws of my friends in Canada and Australia dropped.  They couldn’t get their heads around an evening in the suburbs listening to automatic weapons fire or even the irony of a place called Family Shooting Center.  They have such a different world view from ours.

Not long ago in another direction a mile away from my house a new business opened.  It is a gun store, with a built in range, and the owners intend to turn the empty lot across the way into a gun club.  Right across the street from my Starbucks and Einstein’s in an upscale suburb of Denver there is now a gun store.  I must confess when I first saw it I had a visceral reaction.  Not in my back yard.  But I’ve accepted it.  The only thing I wish is that since we are sharing common ground, perhaps we can reach some common ground.  Can’t we all at least agree that there is no reason to have automatic weapons around here?  What good comes from them except to kill people?  Can’t we just leave them to those who fight wars?  It seems like such an easy compromise to make and one that many reasonable people are calling for.  It seems like our country and our communities would be so much safer.  It would certainly keep me from losing my appetite during warm summer evening barbeques on my deck in Colorado.

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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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