Questions for Hillel Shuval, MPH ’52, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences,
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Head, Department of Environmental Health Sciences,
The Hadassah Academic College, Jerusalem
A resident of Israel since 1948, U.S.–born Hillel Shuval, MPH ’52, HSCD ’03, is best known—and internationally celebrated—for his efforts to promote water quality, health, and peace in the Middle East. Shuval, 85, has done much of this work with his friend and colleague Khalil Hosny Mancy, an emeritus professor of environmental health sciences at SPH. The two began collaborating in 1962, when Shuval spent a year at SPH as a visiting professor. “He, an Egyptian, and I, an Israeli, became fast friends, despite the fact that our two countries were still formally at war,” Shuval says of his collaboration with Mancy. In 2003, the University of Michigan awarded Shuval an honorary doctor of science degree in recognition of his achievements in environmental science and his work to promote peace in the Middle East. In 2008, the Geneva Initiative-Model Peace Project appointed him a member of an Israeli-Palestinian team charged with drafting a model water agreement for peace. That agreement was later presented to Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as proof that peace is possible between the two nations. Last fall, Shuval talked to Findings about his work with water and his hopes for peace.
How did you get interested in water?
My first degree was in water and environmental engineering, so I was already interested in water engineering. When I moved to Israel in 1948, I was aware of the fact that the there would be shortages of water in the area, and I initiated major research projects on water recycling and reuse for water conservation. Partially as a result of my initiatives, Israel is today one of the world leaders in that field. I became aware of the Palestinian water problem much later on.
What’s the nature of that problem?
In general, Palestinians historically have been underdeveloped in their water resources and suffer from severe shortages of water—not only since the Israeli occupation in 1967, but also under the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank in 1948 and under British rule between 1918 and 1947. Per capita water consumption is low. Many villages still don’t have central water supplies.
Is there a solution?
It is my goal to increase the Palestinian share of water in the region, not because it’s an obligation under international law, but because it’s the spirit of international law to work towards an equitable distribution. It will happen through peace between the two nations. There must be a peace agreementbetween Israel and the Palestinians. One of the important sections of that agreement must be about water—a just reallocation of resources so that under the peace agreement, the Palestinian share will increase. I see water as a basic human right, and I believe it is in Israel’s interest to see to it that the Palestinians get more water—because they should have enough water not only to survive but to thrive economically and socially and politically.
Two years ago you helped draft a model water agreement for peace. What’s the significance of that document?
It’s very important that peace-oriented Israelis and peace-oriented Palestinians —many of them leading personalities—have reached among themselves a formulation for peace. This is not governments, not members of Parliament and ministers—it’s leading water personalities and political personalities who have drafted a proposed water agreement for peace. It’s a fine demonstration that Israelis and Palestinians are talking together. At a lower level called “second-track diplomacy,” academics and experts and peace-oriented leaders are talking. This is very important. It’s important to me personally to know that I sat for hours and hours with Palestinian colleagues who are interested in addressing these issues, and we reached an agreement. The very process shows that peace is possible.
Are you hopeful about the prospects for overall peace in the region?
All of the surveys show that the vast majority of people here want peace. A recent survey showed that 65 to 75 percent of Israelis and 65 to 75 percent of Palestinians accept the concept of a peace agreement based on a two-state solution. We need political leaders on both sides who will consummate the dreams of both nations. It’s not as if peace would have to be forced down the throats of Israelis and Palestinians—they want it. They say to our leaders, “Enough fighting and war—please make peace.”