I have been in the Middle East for the last week. On Monday I toured Jerusalem and on Tuesday I presented a paper on “Liability for Environmental Harm and Emerging Global Environmental Law” to the Buchmann Faculty of Law at the University of Tel Aviv. Dr. David Schorr, the chair of the Law and Environment Program at the Faculty of Law, served as my host. My presentation was followed by a lively discussion that included students and faculty from other parts of the university, including Prof. Yehuda Kahane, the director of the Alfred Akirov Institute for Business and the Environment. I really enjoyed the dialogue and I also appreciated receiving many written comments on my paper. After the presentation I had a really enjoyable dinner with several of the faculty in downtown Tel Aviv.
On Wednesday morning I traveled overland to Amman, entering Jordan from Israel at the northernmost border crossing near the Syrian border. I arrived in Amman in time to participate in the opening of the Fourth Jordanian National Moot Court Competition on Wednesday afternoon. For the first time ever the competition used an environmental law problem, one that had been designed by students in my Global Environmental Law seminar at Maryland. I spoke at the opening briefing for judges of the competition, who included 18 judges and 8 lawyers. The competition was held in actual courtrooms at the Palace of Justice in Amman. A total of 165 law students signed up for the competition, which ultimately featured 14 teams from seven Jordanian law schools. The competition was co-sponsored by the Jordanian Ministry of Justice and the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative.
After a preliminary round on Wednesday, eight teams advanced to the quarterfinals on Saturday. Teams from Al Al Bait University, Jordan University, Mutah University and Philadelphia University won the quarterfinal rounds and advanced to the semifinals. The teams from Al Al Bait and Jordan University then won the semifinal rounds and advanced to the championship round. After a terrific argument before five judges in the final round, Al Al Bait prevailed. Jordanian Minister of Justice Ayman Odeh presented cash prizes of 500 JDs ($700 USD) to the first place team, 350 JDs ($500 USD) to the second place team, 250 JDs ($350 USD) to the third place team and 150 JDs ($210 USD) to the fourth place team. US AID Mission Director Jay Knott awarded free English language courses at the American Language Center to the eight law students who made the semifinals. A gallery of photos of the competition can be viewed online at: http:/gallery.me.com/rperci/100676.
I was very impressed with how poised the students were and how aggressively they pressed their cases. It also was impressive to see the students and judges tackling an environmental law issue even though most of them had little previous experience with this area of law. I am hoping that a Jordanian law school will become the first in the Middle East to enter the International Environmental Law Moot Court Competition next year. While the legal profession in Jordan has been dominated by men and nearly all the judges and attorneys who judged the competition were male, seven of the eight law students who made the semifinals and all four of the students in the championship round were women. This week 18 of the 40 law graduates who were selected for Jordan’s judicial training institute to become future judges were women, so women are making inroads.
The problem used in the Jordanian moot court competition involved a conflict over water use between an environmental group seeking to restore a forest area and growers of date palms. Water is the premier environmental issue in the Middle East, as illustrated by a draft of a study released at a conference in Amman last week by Friends of the Earth Middle East. The study, Towards a Living River Jordan, warned that large stretches of this historic river could soon dry up unless steps are taken to reduce the diversion of 98% of its flow. Ironically, the study noted that efforts to clean up the river by requiring treatment of wastewater dumped into it actually have reduced the river’s flow because the treated wastewater is then used for irrigation rather than being pumped into the river. The study, written by Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian experts, proposes specific conservation strategies each government could take for restoring the river, which also could help halt the precipitous decline in the level of the Dead Sea. A copy of the study is available at: http://www.foeme.org/index_images/dinamicas/publications/publ117_1.pdf
Enforcement of the environmental laws remains a critical issue in the Middle East as in many developing countries. While visiting Tel Aviv University, I learned that Israel at times has used private groups to assist with criminal enforcement of its environmental laws, though the prosecutions fail sometimes because of evidentiary problems. A Tel Aviv newspaper reported that the Israeli Agriculture Ministry has drafted a regulation that will require herders, as a condition for receiving permits to graze livestock on designated pasture lands, to report illegal dumping or illegal construction on those lands. Samuel Friedman, the official responsible for regulating pasturelands, explained: “There is a mutual interest between the state on the one hand, and the shepherds and cowherds on the other. We don’t want intruders to put up illegal farms or others to dump their construction waste there. The herders want the area to be clear for the benefit of their sheep and cattle, and that’s why we’re asking every permit holder to immediately report any illegal activity they witness.” Yuval Azoulay, State Wants Herders to Police Grazing Lands Against Illegal Builders, Haaretz, May 5, 2010, p. 4.