Nowadays, many threats are endangering the environmental heritage of the Middle East, and especially in Palestine. With many projects focusing on protection of the Palestinian environment made impossible by the occupation, the present situation is very grave. There are water disparities and restrictions in accessing natural resources or pollution sources, in addition to air, water and solid wastes that are greatly threatening landscapes, human health, economic prosperity and ecosystems.
Nevertheless, many governmental, religious and non-governmental organisations, scholars and activists are facing the challenges of these issues. From December 17- 19, the 3rd Palestinian Environmental Awareness and Education Conference (EEC), entitled “Eco Justice of Palestine”, organized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) was held in Bethlehem.
Aiming to increase cooperation between Friends of the Earth Middle East and faith based communities – for example through our Good Water Neighbors program or the Jordan River’s faith based advocacy outreach campaign, it was interesting for all interns and employees to attend. Listening to debates and interventions of different environmental specialists on current environmental problems faced in Palestine was educational. In addition to hearing about proposed solutions, to be applied at the local level by organisations and individuals involved in these issues.
The first day provided an interesting and complete overview of the status of Palestine’s environment. The second day aimed at finding and providing, by participants as well as lecturers, more practical solutions that decision-makers and diverse NGOs could implement for sustainable development in Palestine. Topics such as environmental education within schools and youth camps, food sovereignty and fighting climate change were put on the table and discussed among the participants.
On the third day, an optional field trip was organized, and the participants – many international workers and volunteers, but also field specialists and engineers from Palestine- had an opportunity to visit some interesting places with regards to environmental issues in Palestine. They visited the unique environmental site of Battir, before heading to Wadi Fukin to learn about traditional agriculture and the dangers of waste disposal and ground pollution. Then the participants were brought to El-Hul, in the periphery of Hebron, where they had the opportunity to exchange with locals on metal wastes treatment and the threats of this industry on human and children’s health. In Hebron a delicious traditional meal was served to end the successful conference. Finally, the President of the ELCJHL held a Press Conference, accompanied by a representative from Friends of the Earth International, Mr. Eurig Scandret, amongst others.
One interesting question, which was unfortunately left unanswered due to the absence of Israeli actors in the field of environment, is “What can Palestinian organizations actually do for its environment in the context of the occupation?” In such a context, the role of FoEME as a regional NGO is of great importance. Environmental threats in the region are not concerning one side rather than another, and are not stopped by any wall or border. Additionally, if it hasn’t already done so it may endanger ecosystems, human health and development for the whole region.
This blog was written by FoEME intern Marie Pochon, who is based in the Bethlehem office.