Panel Paper: Understanding Identity, Water & Conflict for Water Cooperation in the Israeli-Palestinian Case Study

Saturday, March 10, 2018
Room 24 (Burkle Family Building at Claremont Graduate University)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Amira Noeuv, American University

Discussions on the potential links between water and armed conflicts are often approached through socioeconomic, political, and environmental standpoints. However, it is also important to consider how identity is crucial to understanding the potential relationship. Rather than discrediting existing postulations on water and armed conflict, this paper examines how identity can supplement these existing discussions by focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian water issue.

Through a neuropsychology perspective, this paper discusses how identity can be viewed as having two characteristics. First, it provides an explanation for the different, and perhaps not always apparently rational perspectives people have about their relationship to water, especially when there is tension with other groups sharing the same resource. Thus, identity can also be thought of as a source that can be utilized as a tool in conflict. I demonstrate the importance of identity by discussing water’s symbolic and cultural values; adopting place attachment theory to the relationship people have with water; and conflicting identities over shared water resources.

Water’s historical importance and connection to Israelis and Palestinians’ ethno-political identities make water not just an issue of availability, but also about identity. The symbolic dimensions of water usually stems from national ethos, making water a significant value to their fragmented identities and desire for security. When water is symbolized as culturally and politically significant, competing identities can make it difficult to share the resource. These elements allow groups to utilize identity as a tool in conflicts because they help form motivations and influence behavior and actions. Simultaneously, water’s volatile characteristics can also indirectly shape or strengthen a group’s identity. This may even again alter the personal meanings of water resources from what was previously attributed. The fluidity of water means that uncertainty and ambiguity of water stress or its contamination can alter the cognitive processes and behaviors accordingly. Therefore, decisions regarding water policies and management carry significant legitimacy implications for both Israelis and Palestinians’ identities.

This paper adopts the “neuropsychology” domain to make analyses because it encompasses both abstract observational studies and empirical scientific understanding of human behavior, brain functions, and cognitive processes. Incorporating identity into the discussion on the relationship between water and armed conflict is important because it recognizes that people interact a particular way with the environment to justify the meanings attributed to their identities. Nonetheless, despite the propensity for water disputes to escalate into violent conflicts, there is growing evidence of water cooperation even between two opposing stakeholders. A neuropsychology approach to explaining identity in the context of Israeli-Palestinian water case study will assist in understanding the dynamics of these conflicts; informing peacebuilding processes; and supporting the transformation of water resource conflicts into cooperative initiatives.