This past weekend, Ramallah celebrated what is believed to be Palestine’s first dedicated environment festival. Large-scale ‘green’ development has been making big news in Palestine recently. But this event was on a much more personal scale. According to organisers from community support organisation Juhoud, the Basateen (‘groves’ or ‘orchards’) festival attracted between 1,500 and 2,000 visitors, many of them schoolchildren and young people getting their first taste of environmental activities.
Stands, films and displays informed visitors to the festival about types of indigenous plants and their traditional uses, whilst agricultural and environmental experts gave children and their families and teachers first-hand information about Palestinian nature. If this sounds rather like a day at school, there were also theatrical performances on environmental themes, as well as music and dance. Like many other Palestinian takes on environmental education, the festival also engaged with wider issues in Palestinian society by basing itself at Star Mountain, a rehabilitation centre for disabled children. Star Mountain’s extensive woodlands just outside Ramallah provided the perfect setting for a celebration of the natural world.
According to Juhoud’s Diana Makhlouf, the festival was aimed at “raising awareness of environmental issues in the Palestinian community”. Looking particularly at the issue of biodiversity, Makhlouf says that “Palestine is distinguished by its plant diversity, which is related to its climatic diversity”, with hundreds of native species which often go unrecognised by urban children. Farmers and plant nursery owners were also encouraged to visit the festival to learn more about preserving and encouraging the natural environment in their everyday work.
The festival was also used to launch a seed bank project, helping to preserve Palestine’s native plant species for the future, and to provide a resource for farmers, environmental groups and other organisations wanting to grow indigenous varieties. Many Palestinian sustainability projects recognise the key role of farmers in creating a green Palestinian economy.
The festival attracted plenty of press attention, says Diana Makhlouf, with local and international Arabic TV and news organisations picking up on the story. But a major measure of success, says Makhlouf, is the amount of co-operation and involvement which Juhoud received from local children, organisations and the agricultural community. “We are planning to execute the festival in the coming years in different Palestinian governorates, so that the awareness would revolve around the whole motherland,” Makhlouf concluded.
Read more about the fight to protect biodiversity across the Middle East:
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Jordan Reconsiders Deforestation Plans
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