Category Archives: Jerusalem

Mapping Palestine’s Environmental Civil Society – The Good, the Bad and the Uncooperative


A study mapping the environmental actors in Palestine shows a desperate lack of co-operation between organisations and donors keen to play it safe with ‘practical projects’

The lovely people at Heinrich Böll Stiftung had done something that I have been procrastinating about for almost lifetime (well, not quite a lifetime but a good couple of years at least). They have mapped out the important actors and organisations on the environmental scene in Palestine. Exciting, right!? They have painstakingly gone through all those websites, NGOs and institutes with an environmental focus to bring us a clear image of the state of the environmental movement in Palestine. They found that out of 2,245 NGOs registered in the oPt only 104 were environmentally-focused and of these, just 56 were actually still active. More juicy details after the jump.

The Facts on Green Palestine

- 104 registered environmental civil society organisation in the West Bank and Gaza

56 civil society organisations are actually still active

- Over 70% of environmental civil society organisations feel that their relationship with other organisations is competitive rather than co-operative

Limited funding and efforts to raise their grassroots presence are two main reasons for the competitiveness between organisations

8 key organisations in Palestine based on their size, the variety of programmes implemented and geographic range:

Most organisations complained that international donors attempted to remain neutral by focusing in practical action and lacked the political will to enforce real changes by addressing Palestinians’ rights to natural resources. As such many organisations felt their projects were simply ‘coping mechanisms’. Even so, the relationship between NGOs and funders was generally described as co-operative if highly dependent.

: For the full article and to find out the top 9 key green organisations in Palestine go to

: Palestine (Photo credit: Squirmelia)

Green Prophet: The Place of Politics in the Middle East’s Environment

I write about  the never-ending battle I have with myself when I’m writing on environmental issues in the Middle East about whether politics should be at the centre of my reporting or not…

A couple of weeks ago, Green Prophet reported on the news that Israelis and Palestinians were working together to build a restorative eco-park. It was a relatively feel-good piece showing that despite the political conflict, joint projects could be useful in building bridges between the two nations. One commentator, however, felt that our coverage was politically naïve.

H.Shaka remarked: “I appreciate that GP is trying to report on ‘green’ in the whole Middle East, including both Israel and the Arab world, and I have come to see this as a step in the right direction. However, given the strong political drivers in the region, I think GP should aim to be much more politically informed and balanced if it wishes to gain the respect of its readers, at least in the Arab world.”

From me personally, the comment struck a chord. I can see why the commentator would prefer that politics play a bigger role in the way we see green initiatives in the region. I am the first to admit that green campaigners can be a little idealistic about joint Israeli and Palestinian projects, and tend to ignore their political downsides. Continue reading

Hush… Female Palestinian Artists Speak Up

Larissa Sansour's Nation Estate photography series depicts Palestine as skyscraper with cities built on various levels- a nation forced to build upwards due to political and geographical constraints

Hugely impressed with Palestinian filmmakers this week. Firstly, Larissa Sansour manages to get enough support to shut down the Lacoste film competition which kicked her off the shortlist for being, and I quote, “too pro-Palestinian”.

Second of all, I stumbled across a stunning short documentary by another talented artist from Bethlehem. Samar Habzoun’s documentary, which is titled ‘Hush’, looks at the issue of gender-based violence and life in a Palestinian women’s shelter. I am currently in the process of getting a full article commissioned so keep your eyes peeled….

Book Review- Shocked and Awed: How the War on Terror and Jihad have Changed the English Language

Fred Halliday, who died aged 64 in April 2010, wrote widely on many subjects related to the Middle East as well as the Muslim community in the UK, but Shocked and Awed is quite different to his other books. In fact, it’s not really a book but a political dictionary of words, turns of phrases and made up terminology which the general public were exposed to in the aftermath of 9/11 and the subsequent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Arranged into twelve chapters, the book studies words that have entered our vocabulary, their meaning, their origins but also- and this is the important bit- they way they influence the way we think and subsequently act. As Halliday reminds us “those who seek to control events, people and their minds also seek to control language.”

The one thing that surprised me about this book was that although the chapters were simply a collection of words which were examined in depth, it was still a really engaging read. As the chapters are short you don’t need to read every entry and you are given a lot more freedom as a reader to dip in and out of the book without losing your thread. Even more surprising was although the chapters didn’t have conclusions, after reading a collection of entries you are left with a clear impression of what words must have enabled (usually war and terror) and how words are so skilfully manipulated by politicians.

See full book review at the Friends of Al Aqsa website.

An Interview With Bashar Masri- The Man Behind Palestine’s Green City

Since announcing plans to build Palestine’s first planned and green city back in 2008, the Rawabi project has faced its fair share of criticism. From political complications over using Jewish National Fund trees, concerns by environmentalists over the lack of water and waste-water management plans to threats by Israel to shut down access roads and boycotts- the project really has seen it all.

Rawabi (which means hills in Arabic) is an ambitious $800 million USD project which aims to build houses for up to 25,000 people in a location between Jerusalem and Nablus whilst respecting the environment. Despite these good intentions the Rawabi project does seems to pose more questions then it answer.

For example, how does it plan to navigate the political conflict between Israel and Palestine during construction? Does the Rawabi project really live up to its green credentials? And what do Palestinians think of the project? In a bid to get to the bottom of these questions we caught up with Bashar Masri, the man behind the Rawabi project (who is also rumoured to be one of the richest men in the Middle East) to find out more. Continue reading

Electronic Intifada: The Holocaust, Palestine and the Arab world

Read my interview with Gilbert Achcar- a professor of Development Studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies-  on Arabs, the Holocaust and Palestine.

Gilbert Achcar: Most people in the Arab world would agree that the Holocaust was an awful crime perpetrated by the Nazis. The best illustration of this is the fact that Zionism is widely compared to Nazism — of course, this comparison is over the top but it shows that people see Nazism as an insult. People should also know other stories, like that of the West Bank villagers of Bilin who dressed in striped pajamas similar to those of concentration camp inmates in order to protest against the Israeli army in January 2009, during the onslaught on Gaza. Again, the comparison is certainly over-exaggerated but the demonstrators’ intent was clear. This was a way of identifying with the Jewish victims and saying: “We are the Jews of the Middle East who are oppressed by the Israeli state in the same way that European Jews were oppressed by the Nazis.”

Read the full article here.

Image via simone.onofri on Flickr.

Green Prophet: Covering Eco-Islam In the Middle East

Well, about a month ago I joined Green Prophet as their “Eco-Islam Affairs Editor” which is a very fancy title for saying someone who will cover Muslim related Environment news. So far, its been great!

I’ve always felt that the green message of Islam never gets enough coverage and now, hopefully I will be contributing to righting that wrong. I’ve been getting very nosy and asking people to tell me what fascinating things they are getting up to. And this is what I’ve found out so far!

There was a great campaign called ‘Inspired by Muhammed’ which was attempting to end the association of Islam with terrorism by highlighting the prophet’s love of the environment.

I also broke the story of Cambridge’s plans for a faulous Eco-Mosque with stunning skylights and renewable energy- this story got picked up far and wide and even got picked up by Treehugger! Woohoo!

I’ve had the opportunity to speak to two lovely eco-Muslimahs about how Islam inspires them and also their intiatives towards changing attitudes towards climate change in the environment. Rianne spoke to me about how to ‘Green’ a Muslim wedding and Kristiane about her journey from globetrotting MTV presenter to spreading the eco message of Islam.

I’ve pondered on the (very slowly) changing attitudes towards climate change in the Middle East and also reported on a young Muslimah in Jordan who wanted to promote vegetarianism- wearing a suit of lettuce.

It’s been fun and I have lots of ideas for future posts- I will be looking at organic hijabs and the rise in ethical Muslim fashion as well as sustainable Arab designers making waves in the design world. So I guess stay tuned in and check out my work at Green Prophet!

Reclaiming Palestinian Heritage

When we think of heritage and culture, we usually think of old buildings and silly things we put on display in dusty museums that have no relevance to our daily lives. But in Palestine it’s really a hot topic- I mean the news that Israel declared the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron and the Bilal mosque (Rachel’s tomb) in Bethlehem as ‘Jewish heritage sites’ actually sparked riots. This may be an extreme reaction but I do understand the Palestinian people’s apprehensions.

I remember when I met Daoud Hammoudi of Stop the Wall (I also happened to meet Mohammed Othman who was jailed for his work at the office which was later ransacked by Israeli soldiers), he said that in the Israeli-Palestine conflict everything was political. The roads, the signs, the walls- everything. Sadly, heritage and archaeology is included in that and I think it’s fair to say that both sides sometimes overstep the mark in the cultural grab-and-run.

Even so, it’s the Palestinians that are losing out and although some people state that heritage (like the environment) could be an area where the Israeli’s and Palestinians could find common ground, I am rather dubious about the whole concept. Last year I spoke to Raed al-Mickawi from Bustan, an environmental peacekeeping organisation which works with Bedouins in Beer Sheba, and he had this to say: “In terms of co-existence, it is problematic as there has to be two equal sides and at the moment they [Bedouins] are almost invisible and really discriminated against…”

I think that it works the same way with the issue of heritage. Palestinians see any small claim as a threat as Israel does has the power and ability to take it all- after the fact that these sites are both in the West Bank didn’t seem to faze Israel at all. So unless this changes I think its fair to say that there will be probably be a riot following any attempts by Israel to stake its claims over any site.

Anyway Here’s an piece I did on the two sites for IslamOnline which got me thinking about the whole issue. Enjoy

The Ibrahimi and Bilal Mosque

Reclaiming Palestinian Heritage

By  Arwa Aburawa

Freelance Journalist – UK

The Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron (also known as Al-Haram al-Ibrahimi)

Last week, Israel provoked anger and indignation by listing two important Muslim Palestinian sites- the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron and the Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem- as “Israeli archaeological sites.”

Not only are both of these holy sites within the Palestinian territories of the West Bank but they are also of significant religious and historic importance to Muslims.

Many commentators remarked that this decision was simply a means to dispossess Palestinians of their religious heritage whilst reinforcing Israeli claims to the sites. Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister is reported as saying: “Our existence here doesn’t just depend on the might of the military or our economic and technological strength. It is anchored first and foremost in our national and emotional legacy.” It seems clear, therefore, that this is nothing more than a cynical ploy to fortify Israeli claims to sites by dismissing their link to Muslim and Palestinian history.

Continue reading

War Crimes in Gaza Report

With December now under way, we are fast approaching the first anniversary of the war on Gaza during December 2008- January 2009. The 22-day Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip- which is most densely inhabited place in the world- wreaked havoc on the region and killed over 1,400 Palestinians.

I was commissioned by Friends of Al Aqsa to write a report on the war, which looks at the lead up to the conflict, international complicity, the full extent of the devastation to the civilian infrastructure, medical services and also the aftermath as Gaza remains under siege.

You can download the entire report for free or you can view it here. It’s a really useful primer with all the fact and figures you need to know about the conflict and its various dynamics.

Hope you find it useful.

Spending My Shekels on Palestine


Israeli products sold in UK supermarkets

Before setting off to Jerusalem, I sat down and thought very carefully about how I wanted to spend my money in the city.

A lot of people who support the Palestinian cause are careful to boycott Israeli products but a lot fewer have the chance to actively support the Palestinian economy. Visiting Jerusalem would be my chance to throw in my shekels for the Palestinian economy so I want to make sure I get it right. Basically I need to avoid propping up Israeli businesses while I am there and although I am not spending thousands, if you put together all the money tourist spend it really does start to add up.

Continue reading