By Andrew Cohen
Research fellow Miri Lavi-Neeman understands first-hand the challenges in developing Berkeley Law’s Israeli and Palestinian Waterways conference. “There are so many critically important and complex issues,” she said of the March 11 event. “You could easily have a week-long conference on this topic.”
Lavi-Neeman directs Israel studies research for the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies, which is hosting the one-day conference. Working with Executive Director Rebecca Golbert and Faculty Director Kenneth Bamberger, she assembled a diverse group of international and U.S. experts to tackle concerns relating to water and the environment in the Middle East.
The panelists include Israeli, Palestinian, and other international scholars, as well as leading experts from across the UC Berkeley campus. They will cover historical issues in water law and border formation, the social impact of water and the environment, trans-boundary peace and conflict questions, and the impacts of changing technology.
The senior director of the Milken Institute’s Israel Center, Glenn Yago, will deliver the keynote speech. Yago is a leading authority on financial innovations, capital and emerging markets, and environmental finance. He uses financial instruments to solve longstanding economic, social, and environmental development challenges in Israel.
“Water is a hugely relevant and meaningful topic within peace negotiations in the region,” Golbert said. “There has been a lot of collaborative work between Israeli and Palestinian scholars around water, how water affects people’s livelihood, and technological innovations. We’re eager to help build on that work.”
Israeli companies are at the forefront of technological advances—including waste-water treatment, drip-irrigation, and desalination—that have begun to improve aspects of water supply and access.
“As water becomes an increasingly hot-button issue around the world, more eyes are turning to Israel and its innovative technologies,” Golbert said. “Applying those technologies to resolve issues of water scarcity in Israel has real implications for California water policy,” she added, noting the state’s historic drought.
Meeting of the minds
A number of attending scholars, such as Tel Aviv University Professor David Schorr, have produced notable comparative work on water law and policy. Schorr, who will speak on the historical formation of water law in Israel, has also written about the Colorado Water Doctrine. While in Berkeley, he will meet with members of the law school’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) to discuss potential joint projects.
Lavi-Neeman sees the conference as a prime opportunity to launch ongoing collaborations between UC Berkeley and its growing network of international research partners.
“That’s what is so unique about this conference,” said Lavi-Neeman, who has worked at the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership in Israel and has studied Israel’s environmental politics for her dissertation. “By bringing together individuals with expertise and a real openness about how best to approach these problems, theoretically and practically, we can foster partnerships that help shape meaningful water law policy in the Middle East.”
Bamberger echoed that thought, noting that Berkeley provides a welcoming neutral environment for Israeli and Palestinian experts to discuss their findings and share their analyses. He said the conference “reflects the unique role that a globally-respected American law school at a great university can serve: as a neutral convener for academic engagement by scholars, policymakers, and practitioners who might not ordinarily have the possibility to come together in the context of their home institutions.”
In that multidisciplinary spirit, the institute worked with several campus partners to bring the conference to fruition. The list includes the College of Natural Resources, Goldman School of Public Policy, College of Environmental Design, Blum Center for Developing Economies, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Institute of International Studies, and CLEE.
In keeping with the mission of the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies, the conference will offer an empirical and theoretical look at critical issues in Israel and its surrounding area.
According to Lavi-Neeman, “Looking at natural resources—land, air, water—offers a unique perspective on the social and political landscape of Israel and the Middle East. It’s crucial for policymakers and the public to have a complete grasp of the issues and complexities involved.”
Acknowledging the prominence of natural resources in discussions about Israel and the Middle East, the conference sits at the critical juncture of environmental law, politics, and society—and provides a venue for all who are engaged in meaningful environmental work.