How can you recycle your paper and plastic when there’s nowhere to put it in your neighbourhood? It’s not just recycling facilities that are in short supply in East Jerusalem, but also environmental consciousness in general, as I found out recently whilst researching environmentalism among the 200,000+ Palestinian residents of the Holy City. My lack of Arabic notwithstanding, looking for environmental activists in East Jerusalem (short-hand for Arab neighbourhoods situated in the north, south and east of the city) was like searching for a needle in a haystack.
But hours of phonecalls and combing the internet eventually brought me face-to-face with a handful of dedicated Palestinian activists, educators and NGOs working to raise ecological awareness among their community in Jerusalem, as well as nearby Bethlehem, Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank.
Without getting too sidetracked with politics here, many of the Palestinians that Green Prophet spoke to felt they have other matters on their plate instead of bothering with flora, fauna and global warming. Even so, dedicated activists and educators are working hard to raising awareness in their communities. One of those people trying to fill the green gap is Sami Backleh (pictured), based near the Old City’s Damascus Gate, who explained why his passion is educating young people in his community about the environment:
“It’s not an easy task, but it’s important and I have to work at it,” says the freelance environmental consultant who also works as a Middle East co-ordinator for the Quebec-Labrador Foundation. “I hope it will benefit them in the long-run. It is initiating ideas in the minds of students, they are fast learners and it is creating a leadership of the future.”
Backleh as well as several schools in Jerusalem Arab’s neighbourhoods often works with Palestinian NGOs including the Palestine Wildlife Society (PWS) and the Environmental Education Center (EEC) in the Bethlehem area – look out for more on these organisations in future posts. Also in Bethlehem is the Palestinian branch of Friends of the Earth Middle East who also have offices in Tel Aviv and Amman (we’ve already written about FoEME’s excellent work on saving the Jordan River and the proposed Red-Dead Sea Canal). “The environment has no borders. “We’re better off working together. If the environment suffers, we all suffer,” believes Nader Khateb, FoEME’s Palestine director.
The A-Tur community centre, based near the Mount of Olives, has been running environmental projects in the local community for three years focusing on youth education and environmental quality in the neighbourhood. But manager of the centre, Nazeeh Ansari, laments the fact that their activities are largely theoretical, lacking the budget for practical exercises: “You need to take people into the field, otherwise it’s like learning swimming without going to the pool.”
More “green” Palestine-related stories on Green Prophet
Lifesource Working for Water Justice in Israel and Palestine
A Green Prophet Finds Water Crises in the West Bank Too
Palestinian Agro-Industrial Park A Sustainable Plan?