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Between Bombs and Rebuilding in Gaza, Palestinian Activists are Fighting for the Environment

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Tweeted by @BoothWilliam, Washington Post correspondent close to the Israeli border in Gaza on August 10.

This interview with Muna Dajani, a Palestinian environmental activist in the West Bank was conducted by Sarah Rifaat for 350.organ organization building a global climate movement, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement.

This week Israel ended a 7 week-long military operation in Gaza, one of two Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. Some estimates say 40 percent of Gaza's urban area has been reduced to rubble. This was Israel's third military operation in the area in six years.

While Gazans’ rebuild their war-battered homes, for most Palestinians it is difficult to think beyond physical and economic survival. But there is a growing climate movement in Palestine that understands so much about the occupation of 4.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza has to do with resources and environment.

To find out more about climate activism in an occupied territory that is frequently in conflict, 350.org‘s Sarah Rifaat spoke to Muna Dajani a Palestinian environmental activist in the West Bank.

Palestinian environmental activist, Muna Dajani, during the Global Power Shift march held in Istanbul, June 2013. Photo credit: 350.org

Palestinian environmental activist Muna Dajani, at the Global Power Shift march in Istanbul, June 2013. Photo credit: 350.org

Sarah Rifaat (SR): What was the idea behind the Palestine Climate Camp you were organising and had to postpone following the recent assault on Gaza?

Muna Dajani (MD): After attending the Global Power Shift Phase I held last year in Istanbul, many groups started organizing around how to tackle climate change issues in their country. With Europe and the US taking the challenge of confronting big issues such as fracking, coal industry, and oil drilling, my challenge as a Palestinian participant was different.

The climate movement in Palestine is almost non-existent, the activism around environmental issues is limited and always confined to certain individuals and organizations. Under decades of Israeli occupation, that has forcibly controlled land, water and natural resources, it was difficult to see an environmental movement evolving. Most Palestinians’ priorities are economic stability and survival against a brutal occupation, leaving little room for activism and advocacy on environmental issues. Politics still plays a very big role in shaping the actions of individuals and groups but not environment.

Nevertheless, there has been a growing awareness amongst Palestinians to the interconnections between environment, politics and occupation. This is what we aim to build on with our proposed activity of carrying out a climate camp; to connect people who are active politically, socially and build a network of political activism that includes and builds upon environmental justice principles. Our aim is to focus on energy independence, as we are fully dependent on Israel, the occupying power, for our energy use and this has to change if we are seeking to establish a sustainable and viable community.

The camp will tackle the energy issue in Palestine and through interactive facilitation will provide a comprehensive campaign that deals with strategic campaigning, creative activism, policy, and popular resistance. Bringing activists from the Arab World is seen as a great opportunity to also network on a regional level and start building collaborations on bigger regional environmental issues such as food sovereignty and water rights.

SR: How has the situation in Gaza affected you and your work?

MD: Our most active environmental activists are Gazans, who have been vocal in local and international conferences. Today, they are witnessing brutal assaults and have had their lives threatened by missiles and air strikes that have left more than 2000 dead, most of them women and children. The activists in Gaza have been an integral part of the climate camp, and have organized many events such as Earth Hour, despite the fact that Gaza suffers from a severe electricity shortage caused by the seven-years siege on the strip.

We have been working hard to advertise for the camp, but with the possibility of our Arab activist friends reaching Palestine declining and the high security and emergency alert we are going through, our event has been postponed to quieter and more just times. All the advocacy work, whether environmental or political, has shifted and intensified to focus on Gaza, where the un-livable conditions before the assault have worsened, leaving more than 1.8 million people without access to clean water, sanitary services, and electricity.

SR: What do you want people to know about climate activists in Palestine and the work they do?

MD: Palestinian climate activists, although occupied with local environmental justice issues, share a passion and determination to stand with international campaigners and movements. It’s a daily struggle to include environmental activism in the overimposing political mobilization, but it’s a struggle worth taking. Activists are becoming aware of how our struggle for freedom and justice is very much linked to our natural resources and rights to these resources as indigenous people. We are building alliances with indigenous communities worldwide as the struggles are identical in their core and require global networking and advocacy. Our contribution to the climate change movement worldwide only empowers us to learn, evolve and link our local struggles to global ones worldwide.

Washington Post's @BoothWilliam  tweets, “Whole blocks of apartment houses destroyed in Shijaiyah. Scale is far far greater than previous Gaza wars.”

On July 26, Reporter with the Washington Post @BoothWilliam tweets, “Whole blocks of apartment houses destroyed in Shijaiyah. Scale is far far greater than previous Gaza wars.”

SR: What kind of support can people offer to you, to the people of Gaza and to Palestinian climate activists?

MD: To empower the grassroots environmental justice movement growing in Palestine. To not separate politics from the environment, as they are interlinked and dependent. Support in spreading the message that Palestine is abundant with stories of resilience and steadfastness, and can set an example for successful popular struggle to safeguard land, water and livelihood. We need to build alliances, networks and collaborations with coalitions and groups that share the values of justice, equity and resilience. Help raise advocacy efforts to expose environmental rights violations. Empower local communities to advocate and raise their voices together with international organizations and individuals. Educate, advocate and mobilize.

If you’d like to support humanitarian efforts in Gaza, you can support organisations through these links, shared by Muna: Project to Rebuild Gaza SustainablyMedical Aid to PalestineEmergency Water and Sanitation Hygiene in the Occupied Palestinian TerritoriesThe Arab Youth Climate Movement’s chapter in Palestine, also shared a donation link for a local organisation called Natuf, that is working on rebuilding destroyed infrastructure in Gaza. 

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