The Palestinian-Israeli conflict represents a prototype of a conflict in the phase of peace consolidation. Joint work on joint projects has proved a promising means of peace consolidation in other processes of post-conflict peace-building. In an attempt to contribute to the strengthening of a basis for peace within society, the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME) carried out a study on "The role of Israeli and Palestinian environmental non-governmental organizations in the Middle East: peace-building specificity between Israelis and Palestinians." The study aimed at developing civil society peace consolidation through exploring the special possibilities of strengthening a culture of peace through joint work on projects which are perceived positively (as regards both interest and value orientation) by both sides. In addition, the project examines the role of the Palestinian and Israeli environmental, non-governmental organizations in the sector of peace/environment. The project integrates the effort to develop methods to overcome obstacles to cooperation between the Palestinian and Israeli environmental NGOs which are willing to maintain peace in ethno-political conflicts with the specifics of the constellation prevailing in the Middle East.
Analyses of the selected Palestinian environmental NGOs (non-governmental organizations) were based on the following criteria:
Our research strategy involved three complexes:
Date of foundation
All of the organizations that were interviewed were established within the last fifteen years, except for two organizations: The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, which was founded in 1952, first as a volunteer organization for the awareness and the guidance of farmers and the Arab Development Society, which was founded in 1945 with the mission of serving rural Palestinian communities. Collected data about the organizations' work and activities have shown a direct relationship between the age of the organization and the scale of its activities. The older the organization, the wider the projects' scale.
Purpose of organizations
Palestinian environmental NGOs in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, were mainly established to preserve the nature and environment in Palestine, to protect the water and environmental resources, and to build a Palestinian capacity for environmental resources and agriculture. Fifty-five percent of the 44 surveyed environmental NGOs were founded after the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These organizations aimed at protecting the Palestinian environment and minimizing the environmental problems that were aggravated during the long years of Israeli occupation. Examples of these organizations include:
The environment in this region plays an important role in the political sector. According to out interviewees, none of the surveyed organizations was established by any political groups or based on political basis. Agricultural organizations, which are part of the environmental organizations, are dedicated to protecting the agricultural land, developing and optimizing the utilization of the available water resources for better agricultural services, supporting farmers and encouraging them to exploit their lands through certain agricultural services. Examples of the agricultural organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip include The Center for Agricultural Services, Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Center.
Most of the staff running the environmental organizations is educated personnel, with degrees in environmental sciences or related fields. Those organizations were found to conduct projects on a large scale and to apply scientific research in the environmental or agricultural areas. However, a few organizations were found to be directed by people with degrees that have nothing to do with the environment. Those organizations are considered to be weak with small-scale activities that are limited to environmental awareness programs, environmental summer camps and tree planting and clean-up campaigns. The organizational structure that prevailed in all of the organizations includes:
The organizations' staff range between 7 and 130 members. Women consist a fair percentage of the staff. However, not many women are found in managerial positions.
Scope of activities
It is worth mentioning that the organizations' activities did not cover all the environmental elements in the area. The Palestinians live under conditions of significant water stress. Water shortage is a serious problem facing most districts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, not only due to the arid and semi-arid climatic conditions and rainfall variability in the area, but also due to the Israelis' strict control over the Palestinian water resources. Most people in rural areas depend on rainwater harvesting as their source for freshwater. These people suffer from a shortage in water supply during winter months and almost have no water supply during summer months. Most of research applied in the water sector is related to the treatment of wastewater for reuse in agriculture and in rehabilitation of wells. A few organizations have widened their activities to include energy management and conservation. These include The Palestinian Energy and Environment Research Center and Renewable Energy Research Center. Out of all of the organizations, one organization has been creative in its areas of specialization and has included wildlife and birds migration. This organization is Wildlife Palestine Society.
Groundwater and surface freshwater studies are very limited. The main reasons, according to our interviewees, are the full Israeli control and the prohibition of the Palestinian access to these resources. No real research has been applied on the air the Palestinians breathe. Atmospheric science is one of the fields that none of the organizations have looked at yet. The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem has recently implemented instrumentation for the measurement of some of the atmospheric indicators, including the temperature, humidity, pressure, and concentration of a few gases in the atmosphere, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Marine ecology, soil ecology and solid waste management are other examples of areas that lack research. In conclusion, the activities of the surveyed NGOs center on:
The above activities are conducted on a local scale, that is, within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The main problem that faces all the organizations is the lack of funding. Large organizations depend on international funding for the projects they conduct. Some funders require the project to be bilateral (composed of a Palestinian and an Israeli partner), something that not all the organizations prefer. Small organizations secure their funds through donations and membership fees, that are minimal.
Seventy percent of the surveyed organizations were found to apply evaluation on their projects. Evaluation of the projects that provided services to the community mainly depend on questionnaires. This methodology of evaluation is considered to be time consuming and is susceptible to many systematic errors. Other applied studies that are conducted by the organizations are often evaluated by either the organization's staff, or the funders, or by both of them. External evaluation is done by the funders and the donors. This kind of evaluation is generally done at the end of the project and checks the compliance of the organizations with the proposed work plan for which they received funding. Internal evaluation is also conducted to insure the sustainability of the project. The project manager or the organization director generally conducts the evaluations.
It was found that very few organizations employed specialized persons to evaluate the projects they implement. Among these organizations is PARC. Meetings throughout the period of the project are always held to review the progress of the project. Site visits are a part of the project evaluation methodology. At the end of the projects, the people who benefited from the project are interviewed to confirm the effectiveness of the project. As far as the summer camps, evaluation is done by distributing questionnaires that will be analyzed afterwards. It should be noted here that not all the organizations perform evaluation on their projects.
In this complex, the feelings and attitudes toward cooperation are identified. Obstacles that prevent the success of cooperation are also recognized.
Experience of cooperation with Israeli environmental NGOs
The surveyed organization can be classified into three main categories in regard to cooperation with Israeli environmental NGOs:
Organizations that are already cooperating with the Israeli side
Examples of organizations that are working with the Israeli organizations and institutions on environmental projects are:
The shared ecosystems between Israel and Palestine favored the joint action of the above mentioned NGOs with Israeli environmental NGOs. However, stipulations have been always imposed on such joint projects:
Obstacles to Cooperation
The organizations' leaderships summed up the cooperation to be positive, overall. They saw that both the Palestinian and Israeli organizations benefited from this cooperation. Cooperation encountered a number of obstacles that disturbed the dynamic of the joint projects. These include:
Freedom of movement/accessability
Restrictions over the Palestinians' travelling to the Israeli areas have very often been applied. The Israeli government has rejected permits of some workers in joint projects to enter areas that are considered to be under Israeli control. As a result, many joint projects have been stopped. Many Palestinian NGOs have suffered this problem. Some examples of these NGOs include the following:
The dynamics of cooperation or the lack of a dialogue between the two sides
In most cases, each side has its own agenda. This happens in most applied joint projects. Each side works according to its own agenda and plans, and at the end of the project, the sides meet to combine the data. This thing has resulted in an imbalance in the work patterns, and in turn, in project results.
This difficulty is generally noticed during summer camps especially those that deal with teenagers. While the Palestinian community is characterized as conservative, this is not always the case with the Israeli community. The relationship between he male and the female participants in the Israeli community is more open than that in the Palestinian community. The personnel interviewed from organizations that conducted such kinds of summer camps talked about instances where some of the Israeli scouts practiced things that are considered to be shameful/prohibited/unacceptable in the Palestinian community. The director of children for the Protection of Nature in Palestine had to deal with this kind of problem in some of the summer camps that he organized.
Political disturbances, closure of the PNA areas, and break-out of the conflict
As in cases of the opening the tunnel beneath the Al-Aqsa mosque and the last visit of Sharon to the Moslems' Holy site in Jerusalem that resulted in the killing of 403 civilian Palestinians and the wounding of more than ten thousand in the period between September 28th, 2000 and April 25th, 2001 (Source - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and Environment-LAW). Joint projects are affected with the ups and downs of the peace process. According to this situation, there is no clear statement from the Palestinian Authority regarding joint projects with the Israeli side. The Palestinian Energy and Environment Research Center had to stop a joint project that it started in 1996.
Lack of information
No information is supplied by the Israelis about the environmental facts within the Israeli lands. The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem faced this obstacle in a joint project about management of the Jordan River as international river basin. According to our interviewee, the Israelis refused to supply the Palestinians with any information about the Israeli activities in the Jordan River basin.
Different interests in the same project
Our interviewees talked about the different Palestinian and Israeli interests in the same joint project. Most of them mentioned that they saw the Israelis as being interested in publicizing joint project to show other countries that things are going well between both sides and there is always cooperation, regardless of the political situation. In doing so, the interviewed Palestinian NGOs think that the Israelis are trying to influence international general opinion.
Time is needed in order for the Palestinian NGOs to deal with the Israelis as non-occupiers, and as a people who do not confiscate land or demolish houses.
The role of a third Party in joint projects
All the organizations agreed that a third party can play an important role in joint projects and help in dealing with some of the difficulties mentioned above. For instance, third parties can help:
Create a balance between the Israeli and Palestinian sides in terms of professional and experience level.
The core of the problems is that the Palestinian NGOs that we interviewed believed that Israelis always think that they are professionally and technically more advanced than the Palestinians. The Palestinian directors claimed that the Israeli side can be technically more advanced than they are, and the reasons given for this by the directors is that the political situation in Israel is more stable than in Palestine, which is under occupation. A third party can unite the methodologies used by both sides and link the agendas each party uses for optimum benefit.
Implement some technical solutions for some environmental problems that are related to the current political situation.
There are some sources of pollution in Areas C, where the Israelis have full control. A third party can play the mediator role between both sides in order to solve environmental problems in these areas without conflicting with the current political situation or putting the Palestinians in a weak spot that the Israelis can exploit in the future.
Provide financial support and instruments.
Combine the data collected by each side in a joint project and come up with a neutral report that will be satisfactory to both sides.
Arrange contacts, especially when it is difficult for the Palestinians to go to Israel or vice versa.
Some organizations' directors talked about instances where a third party failed in solving problems that are politically sensitive. These problems are mainly located near the green line - a politically sensitive area. As mentioned above, the Applied Research Institute said that the Israelis refused to supply them with information about the Israeli activities in the Jordan River basin regarding the project "Management of the Jordan River as international river basin" on which they were working together. The third party that funded the project tried to solve the problem, however, the Israeli side neglected giving such information.
It was noticed that in most joint projects, each side has its own agenda. Little work has been done jointly where the Palestinians and the Israelis work together side by side.
Organizations that are willing to cooperate
Palestinian organizations that have readiness for cooperation, but have not yet undertaken joint projects include:
Cooperation has not yet been accomplished due to the lack of contacts, lack of financial resources, and the lack of clear statement from the Palestinian Authority regarding working on joint projects with the Israeli side.
Organizations that are not willing to cooperate
Palestinian organizations that have a firm stand in refusing any contact with Israeli organizations include:
The refusal is continual as long as the occupation forces deny the Palestinian their rights, and first of all, the right to return and self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital. The organizations' leaderships believe that joint projects with the Israeli side do not serve the Palestinians especially in the midst of the current political situation. Furthermore, cooperation does not promise tangible benefits and any cooperative work with the Israeli side will have a negative impact on the Palestinians, i.e., joint projects will dim the Israeli violations against the Palestinian environment and their non-commitment with the peace process agreements.
This complex examines the relations of casual relationships which determine the action of organizations in the sector of conflict/environment and peace/environment.
The effect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the environment
All interviewed leaderships identified the organic relationship between the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the environmental degradation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some Israeli practices that represent environmental human rights violations are:
Confiscation of Palestinian land for Jewish colonies
This is a common problem that 10 NGOs talked about. Following 1967, Israel has pursued a policy of settling Jewish immigrants in the Palestinian territories it occupied in an attempt to change its demographic character. Since that time, Israel has either confiscated or declared as closed areas over 55% of the West Bank and 22% of the Gaza Strip, thereby placing it out of Palestinian ownership. Palestinians are allowed to use less than 15% of their water resources. Presently, there are 18 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip housing an estimated 5,000 Israeli settlers, and another 150 in the West Bank with a population of more than 318,000 settlers; 165,000 of whom reside in East Jerusalem. Both Labor and Likud Israeli governments have maintained progressive expansions of these settlements. To achieve this goal, they have confiscated Palestinian land, demolished their houses, and uprooted thousands of trees. Since 1993, there was a 52.49% growth in housing. In September 1993, there were 32,750 family housing units in Israeli settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Between September 1993 and July 2000 construction was begun on 17,190 housing units, 2,830 of these were begun during the Barak administration. Building settlements is usually compounded by construction of a series of by-pass roads. These are built for the use of Israeli settlers, to link Israeli settlements to each other and with Israel, and to avoid contact with the Palestinians. The construction of by-pass roads commonly occurs along the perimeter of Palestinian built-up areas. A 75-meter "safety zone" on either side of these roads restricts Palestinians from any type of construction activity. These practices have fragmented both Palestinian land and people, leading to overcrowding of towns and cities and loss of open space. Between 1994 and 1997, paving was begun on 139.6 km of Israeli by-pass roads in the West Bank and Gaza. During the same period, road paving was completed on 159.2 km. Al-Majnoonah area /Dora in Hebron were confiscated for establishing an army encampment. Al-Jamrorah area in Tarqumia was closed to be military area for practicing purposes.
Depletion of water resources
6 NGOs talked about depletion of water resources. The Gaza Coastal aquifer was one example (2 NGOs talked about this). The Gaza Coastal Aquifer had been over-pumped by the Israelis at the rate of 110 MCM, which has resulted in a lowering of the groundwater table below sea level and saline water intrusion in many areas. The main sources of salinity are deep saline water intrusion from deeper saline strata, seawater intrusion, and return flows from very intensive usage activities. One NGO talked about the redirection of the Jordan River, and the transportation of water from one water basin to another, i.e. The Jordan River water to the Negev desert. Other examples include the extensive utilization of natural resources to serve the settlements and Israelis on occupied land while the Palestinians are being denied the access to their resources. While the Israelis are digging wells in search of more water, Palestinians are blocked from using already dug-up wells. Running water resources, such as Ein El-Oja, have been drying up lately due to the extensive pumping and drainage of water and overuse of natural resources (1 NGO talked about this problem).
Pollution caused by Jewish settlers
11 NGOs mentioned this environmental problem. The Israeli settlements common location on top of hills, overlooking Palestinian communities, allows them to easily pollute Palestinian land. The wastewater from many settlements is collected and discharged to the nearby valleys without treatment. Many cases of pollution have affected the adjacent Palestinian communities. Some examples of affected localities:
The Kfar Darom Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip releases its sewage and chemical waste left from the industrial plants into the Palestinian Al-Saqa Valley, located in the central part of the Gaza Strip (1 NGO). Similarly, solid waste from Israelis is dumped without restriction on Palestinian land, fields, and side roads. The solid waste generated in West Jerusalem, for example, is transferred to the unsanitary dumping site of Abu Dies in the West Bank, which overlays the infiltration area of the eastern sector of the aquifer. The settlements of Ariel (1 NGO), Innab (1 NGO), Homesh Alon Morieh (1 NGO), Karne Shomron (1 NGO), Kadumim (1 NGO), Kiriyat Arba (1 NGO), Ma'ali Adumim (1 NGO), Tal Byoot (1 NGO), Atnael (1 NGO) and many others dispose their solid waste at different locations in the West Bank. Moreover, many military camps and settlements inside the green line dispose their solid waste in Palestinian areas. Furthermore, the Israeli government constructed at least seven industrial zones in the West Bank. These occupy a total area of approximately 302 hectares, located mainly on hilltops, which often result in the flow of industrial wastewater into adjacent Palestinian lands.
Information about industries in the Israeli industrial zones is not accessible to the Palestinians. The indicators for these industries can be guessed from the wastewater flowing from the industrial area and from the solid waste found in nearby areas. It is estimated that at least 200 factories are located in the West Bank. Some of the products are identifiable, but detailed information on quantities produced, labor, and waste generated is not available. Aluminum, leather tanning, textile dyeing, batteries, fiberglass, plastics, and other chemicals are among the major industries within these Jewish settlements. Evidence shows that pollution prevention measures are not followed inside the Israeli factories (Fida - there must be a reliable source stated for such a claim - otherwise it's unsubstantiated and negatively labels all "Israeli factories" ). The industrial solid waste generated by these factories is often collected and dumped in areas near Palestinian villages as well. According to Isaac J., An Environmental Human Rights Action Plan for Palestine, 2000), the Barqan industrial zone is a clear example of polluting the environment. Aluminum, fiberglass, plastic, electroplating, and military industries are found here. The industrial wastewater flows untreated to the nearby valley, damaging agricultural land, which belongs to the three Palestinian villages of Sarta (1 NGO), Kufr A-Deek (3 NGOs), and Burqin (1 NGO), and polluting the groundwater with heavy metals. Other examples are the Ariel Plastic factory and Atarot (1 NGO).
Deforestation and uprooting of trees
According to a recent study by the Ministry of Agriculture, the total forest area within the officially designated areas decreased from 300,736 dunums in 1971 to 231,586 dunums in 1999. More than half of the decreased area was in the Gaza Strip, where 95% of the forests disappeared (from 42,000 dunum in 1971 to 2,000 dunum in 1999). Approximately 80% of destroyed areas of official forest are attributed to the Israeli occupation as a result of establishment of military bases (2%) settlements (78%) and by-pass roads (less than 1%). Only 14% of forests were cut down by local people and 6% of the forest has changed to private ownership. Only 35 % (80,101 du) of the current 231,686 dunums of official forest area is accessible to the Palestinians. The Israeli army and the Jewish settlers have uprooted more than half a million fruit trees mainly olive trees. Ten NGOs, out of the 20 ones that were interviewed, mentioned this environmental problem.
Israel declared 48 nature reserves in the West Bank that have a total area of 330,700 dunums or 5.68% of the West Bank. These nature reserves are mostly distributed over the Eastern Slopes and the Jordan Valley and Abu Ghaim area (5 NGOs) and in Bethlehem. Palestinians question the ecological value of these nature reserves, which they see as another way in which Israel denies Palestinians their rights to their land.
In the current Al-Aqsa Intifada, Israel has adopted a new strategy of intimidation through uprooting trees and destruction of fertile Palestinian agriculture lands. The Palesitnian Ministry of Agriculture reported on December 31, 2000 that the Israeli army and the settlers, under the protection of Israeli soldiers, uprooted 124,239 trees in the period between September 29, 2000 and the date of their report. The total damage that the agricultural sector suffered is estimated to be $129,318,010 in the period between September 29, 2000 and December 31, 2000.
Approximately 2,180,000 dunams (35% of the total area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip) are considered to be natural grazing areas. The Eastern Slopes region makes up most of the Palestinian Territories range land. It represents approximately 1,500,000 dunams or 69% of the range area. Of the total grazing area, only 700,000 dunums are accessible to Palestinian livestock owners, while the remaining 1,480,000 are currently inaccessible, as a result of land confiscation for the Israeli settlements, nature reserves or closed military areas. This has led to overgrazing and progressive desertification in these areas (4 NGOs talked about this problem).
Relocation of Israeli Industries into the West Bank
Israel has moved a number of its polluting industries from places inside Israel to areas near the 1967 border or inside settlements. For example, Geshuri Industries, a manufacturer of pesticides and fertilizers, in Kfar Saba, was moved to an area adjacent to Tulkarm, inside the West Bank (6 NGOs). It is worth mentioning that the reason behind the move is the plant's closure by an Israeli court order in 1982 because of its environmental effects on land, public health and agriculture (according to Isaac J., An Environmental Human Right Action Plan for Palestine, 2000). The waste from the factory has damaged the citrus trees and polluted the soil in the area, in addition to the potential damage to groundwater . As a further example, the Dixon gas industrial factory, which was located in Netanya, has been moved into the same area of Tulkarm (3 NGOs).
Illegal movement of hazardous waste from Israel to Palestine
7 NGOs mentioned this example of Israeli violation against the Palestinian environment. Israel illegally transfers hazardous and toxic wastes generated inside Israel into the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has discovered several cases. In 1998, Israel illegally transferred two to three trucks filled with toxic and hazardous waste to two locations in the northern area of the West Bank (The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and Environment-LAW). The first location is near the eastern border of the Tulkarm municipality. The second dumping site is located in close proximity to the residential area of A'zoun municipality and 50 meters from their groundwater well used for drinking purpose (2 NGOs). The Israeli Company Telbar moved its medical waste disposal site from Afulla to a site close to the colony of Yafit in the Jordan valley. The Palestinian Environmental Authority has also discovered the transfer of hazardous and toxic wastes generated from a paint factory located in the Israeli settlement "Ganim" into Umm Al Tut village (1 NGO). Illegal movement of hazardous waste is banned by international conventions (Basel Convention), to which Israel is a signatory.
Military practices in the agricultural areas inside Palestine and the destruction of the agricultural lands, especially during the crop and harvesting seasons (4 NGOs).
The authorization of some polluting industries (e.g. stone cutting industries and stone quarries) in habitant areas. 3 NGOs mentioned this environmental problem.
The lack of an environmental infrastructure in the Palestinian lands during years of occupation.
No sanitary systems, wastewater treatment systems, or sewage systems were built during the 30 years of occupation. Three NGOs talked about this problem.
The electrical fences around Gaza Strip, built around three sides, have restricted the movement of wild animals in and out that area (1 NGO).
The Peace Process and the Environment
Palestinian environmental NGOs agreed in their orientations regarding the environment and peace process. These NGOs believe that a comprehensive peace process would help in resolving the Israeli violations against the Palestinian environment. The current peace process was not seen as helping the environment. Since Oslo, three new settleemnts were officially established by Israel: Lapid, Kiryat and Menora. At the end of 1998 these had a combined population of 12,212. In addition, between 1996 and 1999, the settlers established over 42 unofficial settlements, less then 10 of these were subsequently dismanted. There are 145 official settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but about 200 independent localities. Unfortunately, the Israeli practices against the Palestinian environment still exist. The Palestinian NGOs that were interviewed believe that the main reasons for this are the negative stance of the Israeli government toward the Palestinian Authority and toward the peace process. They see the Israelis as not committing themselves to the peace agreements. However, the Palestinian Authority has attempted to enhance the environmental situation since its emerging in the West Bank and Gaza strip through:
Regarding joint projects as an instrument for enhancing peace between both sides, all of the NGOs agreed that a real and a comprehensive peace would create trust for joint projects and not the opposite.
Palestinian-Israeli Environmental NGOs
Palestinian-Israeli environmental non-governmental organizations have played an important role in the environmental sector. Examples of these are presented in Appendix IV. Palestinian-Israeli environmental organizations in this region are founded to promote the integration of environmental considerations into the regional development agenda.
The organizations' areas of activities are not defined by political boundaries, but by environmental considerations and shared ecosystems. The Palestinian-Israeli organizations have played an important role in some of the joint projects. They initiate the contacts between the Palestinian and Israeli organizations and arrange for meetings. Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) is an umbrella organization, representing a number of environmental non-governmental organizations in Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Israel. FoEME's major goals are the protection of our environmental heritage, the promotion of durable development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace. FoEME meets its goals through inatiating and managing projects focusing on transboundary ecosystems, strengthening and unifying its member organizations and increasing public awareness and concern about environmental problems.
The Peace Research Institute in the Middle East is another example of Israeli-Palestinian non-governmental, non-profit organization that aims to pursue coexistence and peace-building through joint research and out reach activities. Environmental joint projects have been an area that this NGO has touched. In this project, PRIME is studying the effect of the conflict on the environment and the role of the environmental NGOs in building peace between the Israeli and the Palesitnain nations. The main objectives of the study as mentioned above is building an intellectual infrastructure of peace. The Palestinian-Israeli organizations are composed of Palestinian and Israeli partners on equal partnership basis.
The directors of these organizations have agreed with the directors of the Palestinian organizations in blaming the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for most of the damage that has been done to the environment in the region.
A number of international organizations have been documented as playing an important role in the environmental sector in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, through their offices that are located in these areas. Examples of these are shown in Appendix II. Part of these organizations' missions in the environmental community can be summarized as formulating and implementing environmental development projects, assisting environmental organizations to provide their communities with crucial services in the field of environment, and supporting local institutions through supplying them with financial aids.
In conclusion, Palestinian environmental NGOs located in Gaza strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, differ in their size, scope, focus, sophistication and flexibility toward cooperation with the Israeli side. There are a few organizations that are committed to a specific area of specialization; others are trying to cover as many areas as they can. Therefore, it is hard to characterize the Palestinian environmental organizations according to their scope and focus. A few NGOs are quite sizable and employ large staff, but most are small, new, still in the first stages of defining their missions and are run by volunteers who are struggling to find funding. Funding is the major problem that both large and small organizations face.
Dividing the organizations according to their willingness to cooperate with the Israeli side did not give a clear idea about the function of the organization. Many of the organizations that have a firm stand against cooperation with the Israeli side, in the meantime, due to the political situation, are successful and have large-scale projects. It was not always easy for the organizations that are already cooperating with the Israeli side to talk freely about their joint projects or about the identity of their partners. Their talks about joint projects could be described as being conservative. Time was always needed to answer questions about joint projects and their collaboration and coordination with the Israeli NGOs. Freedom of movement and restriction over the transportation of the Palestinians, not only to other countries but also to Israel and between different locations in Gaza and the West Bank, or even between different districts within the West Bank and Jerusalem, are the major problems that faced the Palestinians during joint project. Asymmetric relations between the two sides, different project priorities, different interests in the project, and cultural difference are examples of some of other problems that were experienced during joint projects. It is worth mentioning here that the Palestinians always considered these problems to be technical ones and never took a stand against the Israelis, in general. This is evident by their readiness to still cooperate with the Israeli NGOs.
It is not always possible for the third party to solve problems related to the political situation. A third party can sometimes arrange meetings outside of the countries where the parties can meet and talk away from the political disturbances. Mediation assistance that a third party can provide is very helpful in joint projects. Palestine is a growing country that has suffered from long years of Israeli occupation with no environmental infrastructure and minimal funds for environmental research. On the other hand, Israel is a stabilized country with long years of experience in the environmental sector and with large financial resources. A third party should pay attention to this imbalance in any joint project composed of Palestinian and Israeli partners.
The Palestinians live under a severe environmental situation. Weak environmental infrastructure resulting from the long years of the Israeli occupation, lack of financial resources, the continuous Israeli violations against the Palestinian environment, and the non-commitment of the Israeli government with the peace process agreements regarding water resources and other environmental elements, all participated in deteriorating the Palestinian environment. As could be concluded most of the environmental problems in the areas are politically sensitive and could never be solved without aid from external actors. The continual confiscation of Palestinian agricultural lands for the construction of Jewish settlements/ colonies and by-pass roads, the intentional disposal of Israeli waste and hazardous materials in Palestinian lands and the exploitation of water resources that has resulted in severe water stress for most of the Palestinians are example of environmental problems that are difficult to solve without the interposition of a third party. Much attention should be paid to projects concentrating on the above subjects.
A few NGOs were found to evaluate their projects. The methods of evaluation are not clear for all of them. Questionnaires used at the end of the projects are time- consuming and suffer from shortcomings. Workshops about realistic and simple methods of evaluation will be invaluable to most of the organizations.
1: Organizations already cooperating with the Israeli NGOs.
2: Organizations not-yet cooperating with the Israeli environmental NGOs but are willing to cooperate.
3: Organizations that are not willing to cooperate with the Israeli side in the meantime or the near future.