From January 18th to 22nd, , over 30 organizations from throughout the Middle East and North Africa region gathered for four days in Casablanca upon invitation of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Recent events of the Arab spring were at the heart of many presentations, raising the question of new objects of history and memory such as digital media (mainly facebook and twitter posts), and the process and challenge of memoralization of unfinished revolutions. FoEME was also invited to share its experience. Indeed, the Coalition defines itself as a network of museums, memorials, historic sites, and memory initiatives dedicated to “transforming places that remember the past into places promoting civic action”, and referring to an existing historical site to promote constructive present common work is key to FoEME’s Jordan River Peace Park vision.
Historical sites, through the authority of their mere presence and anchor in reality, impose awareness a textbook’s characters cannot compete with. FoEME’s proposed Peace Park, closely related to its Good Water Neighbors Project, is located downstream of the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers’ merging. Among the many remnants of history located on the site, the Three Bridges and the Naharayim Power Plant are of particular symbolic value, emphasizing the river’s historical role not as divider, but as a crossing, and thus meeting point.
First, the three bridges of Al-Majami’ site (Old Gesher) invite the visitor to dive into the history of one of the region’s main overland routes. The oldest bridge was built during the Roman period and connected the only Decapolis city on the Jordan’s west shore (Scythopolis, now Beit Shean) to its eastern counterparts. During the Ottoman rule, a railway bridge destined to transport pilgrims to the holy cities of the Arab peninsula was added. Finally, during the British mandate, a third bridge was built to facilitate the transportation of goods and persons.
The second historical landmark of cooperation on the site is the Naharayim Hydroelectric Power Plant, which provided electricity to both shores of the river for 15 years until 1948 Israeli-Arab hostilities. In the control room, indications of names on both sides of the river can still be read. Under FoEME’s plan for a peace park, the plant would be transformed into a visitor’s and educational center.
The combination of an environmental conservation goal and a transboundary site made FoEME’s presentation unique. It was received with great interest. To questions concerning the equity of current equal efforts in the face of differentiated historical responsibility for the river’s degraded condition, FoEME Amman staff answered that the focus is on empowering all players to become an equal part of the solution rather than place blame on differentiated impact.
Please visit FoEME’s website for more information about the Jordan River Peace Park Project and for more information about the First Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Sites of Conscience Meeting click here.