Israeli nature advocates are proud of their efforts at both nature conservation and cultivating a love of hiking among the people. However, an article this week in the Boston Globe points out that creating nature preserves often means expelling the indigenous people who once lived in them. Author Mark Dowie writes that the practice began in the American parks of Yosemite and Yellowstone, but spread worldwide to places as diverse as Kenya, Botswana, Thailand, Peru and Panama. Conservation groups as a result must grapple with this unflattering picture:
“Not only has it dispossessed millions of people who might very well have been excellent stewards of the land, but it has engendered a worldwide hostility toward the whole idea of wildland conservation – damaging the cause in many countries whose crucial wildland is most in need of protection.”
Reading about this global phenomenon made me think about the Israeli case. I have heard that human rights organizations and Palestinians take a skeptical eye to Israeli tree planting efforts. Nature preserves here also have a political cast, according to a report on planning in the West Bank issued by the organization Bimkom: Planners for Building Rights (The report, called The Prohibited Zone, is here).
According to Bimkom, the northern West Bank village of Umm al-Rihan has suffered greatly because it is in what Israel has declared to be a forest preserve (map from report, p.70). As a result, the dozens of residential buildings, the mosque, the local clinic and part of the school have been built without permits. This makes them illegal and subject to demolition orders from the army (see pages 92-95).
Bimkom adds that while Israel enforces the forest preserve rules against the Palestinians, Jewish settlements of Reihan, Shaked and Hinanit have grown unhindered.
“Thus, the Civil Administration’s planning police in the Umm ar-Rihan area exhibits flexible use of various definitions of the boundaries of the forest reserve, according to political needs and according to the ethno-national identity of the people for whom the construction is intended” (p. 94).
One bright light for indigenous people in Middle Eastern conservation efforts may be the Dana Natural Reserve, located in western Jordan (photo courtesy of Wild Jordan). Although I have not been there, tourbooks and the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature claim that this national site was built around the people already living there. The government built water lines to provide the people with a drinking supply, and helped craft a business scheme for the locals to market the jam they made from the fruit trees of the preserve. When visitors go through the park, they see the natural beauty of both the plants and views, as well as the people who grew up in the surroundings and tailored their lives to the unique environment.
(Top picture taken from BostonGlobe.com. Full Globe article here)