By Muna Dajani and Sami Backleh
Sumud, steadfastness and rootedness on the land, has characterised the Palestinian identity for generations. Today, as we pause and witness the state of our homeland, it is clear that the attack on the epitome of our identity has wreaked havoc and destruction on the land. Furthermore it is clear that we are not completely helpless in stopping this attack but in fact are, in many ways, becoming complicit in it.

Today we are as distant as ever from our natural resources and their ever-sufficient yield. We gladly buy our stolen water, eat Israeli vegetables overdosed with chemicals, and watch as illegal settlement sewage flows into the remaining agricultural land that our farmers struggle to maintain. We continue to live in an on-going Nakba, being dispossessed of our right to access, control, and develop our natural resources. Little by little, what we consume – from food for our bodies to food for our minds – is being driven by an individualistic rush for material satisfaction that alienates us from the natural boundaries of our ecosystem. We see piles of garbage being burnt at the entrance of our towns, wastewater leaking into nearby springs and waterways, the continuous disfiguring of our hills for stone-cutting and the uprooting of ancient trees that date to Roman times. How many times do we stop and say, “I must do something about this”? Or “How can I prevent these atrocities from happening?” Where do all these colonial practices, coupled with governmental impotency and neoliberal greed leave the concerned collective to act? How can we mobilise and fight against the current environmental catastrophes?

Historically, the Palestinian national consciousness, heavily shaped and transformed throughout various rules and dynasties in the last centuries, has been further fortified by a sense of nationalism and agency to protect natural resources and protest against their control by foreign forces and external agents. The link that connects water, land, and identity is undeniable in the history of the Palestinian people. In addition, Palestinians have been leading campaigns, protests, direct confrontation, and acts of dissidence against the deprivation of their natural resources and land. So why do we see this rapid deterioration of our quality of life, our tendency to initiate and create positive social change, and our rejection of internal and external forces that erode our identity?

This Week in Palestine dedicated its October 2012 issue to highlighting the environmental situation in Palestine and, indeed, our environmental problems and catastrophes require much attention from us as concerned individuals living on a land that we have tended for centuries with love, sweat, and blood. Palestinian environmental problems are well documented, due to the fervent work of many local and international environmental organisations (and individuals) working in Palestine. Land expropriation, water resources theft, soil contamination, and pollution are all directly documented, and caused by the illegal occupation and colonisation of Palestine. Recently emerging and equally terrifying are the neoliberal agendas of economic development that view natural resources as profit to be accumulated by corporations, dispossessing communities of their lands and causing irreversible damage to the environment and health of our ecosystem. We see an ever-waning interest in environmental issues. Beyond awareness campaigns and short-term projects, how can work be done collectively to boost interest and innovation, and alter our destructive apathetic behaviour when it comes to our environment?

Eco-innovation: greening our minds and hearts
We live in the age of innovation, and brilliant Palestinian minds are taking centre stage and attracting leading agencies and corporations with their great skills and inspiring potential. How can we join our efforts as activists, community organisers, educators, and innovators and use the unlimited data and knowledge to better our societies and achieve the paradigm shift that promotes equity, justice, and stewardship, favouring community aspirations over donor conditions, favouring environment-friendly practices and balanced livelihoods over nature destruction and overexploitation? How can we also work towards a more environmentally friendly mind-set and conviction?

How can we turn Jericho into an ecological destination for local and international tourism? Or preserve the centuries-old traditional farming of Battir Village? How can we design tools and devices to help our farmers cope and adapt to climate change? Who can visually document ecological projects to visit and volunteer at in Palestine? Can we create an application that locates our environmental treasures and helps us navigate and visit them? Can our universities provide green transport around campus? Can we develop our curriculum to incorporate environmental protection, traditional knowledge, and our “natural” identity of belonging to the land, and expand our high-school certificate to include internships in local advocacy in communities and centres and to reawaken volunteerism, community action, and social change?

Palestine is abundant in energy, skills, passion, and determination. Only when our belief in citizen solutions is reignited and our respect for one another is re-established can we officially witness the transformation we want as a society. Community-based activism and community-led resource management should be reinforced and recreated to actively involve people in the definition of their problems and the design of the solutions they need. Small steps are the key, and our role as inhabitants of this land must be proactive, no longer reactive. The Israeli occupation aims to deny our right to use space and slowly destroy our sense of belonging to the land. The time has come for each concerned soul to proactively engage – whether in direct action, policy, science, theatre and arts, social media, or other venues. Waiting for top-down change to occur will never bring about our social and ecological awakening, not here in Palestine or anywhere else around the world.

We are a group of five enthusiastic environmentalists and friends who have ventured on a path to raise our voices and be part of creating positive change in society’s perception of the environment. Our work includes designing educational activities, eco-field trips, volunteer days, and visits to ecological and cultural gems in Palestine in order to introduce concepts such as ecotourism, advocacy, campaigning, use of social media, and promotion of sustainable community models. We want to encourage the public to speak truth to power and challenge the status quo by being proactive and vocal and by engaging local and international support to build a case in global conferences to protect our environment. Today we are in the process of setting up a volunteer base for a Palestinian arm of Greenpeace, a global campaigning organisation that is renowned for its confrontational, direct action to expose environmental wrongdoings and hold the perpetrators responsible.

Innovate, the baladi way
Our movement’s core focus is to educate, alert, and inspire, and eventually involve the majority of the public. This is where innovation lies, in enlightening our masterminds and entrepreneurs to venture into the unlimited abundance of our local traditional knowledge, popular resistance, and environmental identity, and “digitalise” our legacy of abundance and our role as guardians and stewards of our environment. In Palestine, now more than ever, we are held responsible for unearthing our environmental and social activism and popular struggle and quenching the thirst of our younger generations with our legacy of sumud, conservation, and autonomy. We have a right to be engaged in decision making concerning our energy future, resource management, urban and rural planning, and public-space design. We owe it to our future generations to allow them to inherit a Palestine of abundance and self-sufficiency with vibrant and sustainable innovation. We as activists should not be the ones who see only the dirty river. We must be the ones who stand up and clean the river. Through our active volunteer-based activities, we aim to work with local and international independent organisations to protect, preserve, and lead ecological justice and equality in Palestine and beyond. Nadia Al Butmeh, a folklore researcher and activist has enlightened us on investing today in literacy programmes that focus on Palestinian identity for our current and future generations. It is our role to decolonise our natural resources, our urban and rural space, and our environment, and return power to where it rightfully belongs: to the people.

Muna Dajani is an environmental researcher and activist based in Jerusalem. Sami Backleh is an environmental educator and consultant who works at Al Quds University and Dar Al Kalima College. You can reach them at

Article photos by Muna Dajani.