Marda Permaculture Farm in the West Bank. Photo from mardafarm.com.
Ownership of the land of Palestine is hotly contested, so it is little surprise that the Earth itself is often the first casualty of Israel’s occupation.
Israel uses a variety of tactics to try and drive Palestinians from their traditional lands and claim the spoils. This can mean direct violence against people, which includes settlers destroying the olive groves that Palestinian farmers have maintained for thousands of years.
But Israel also uses a scorched earth approach: contaminating arable land with garbage, draining aquifers of water and denying Palestinians the ability to develop sustainably.
The apartheid practices of the state of Israel restrict day-to-day access to water for Palestinians. A 2013 report by Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq shows that water consumption by Israelis is around three to four times higher than that of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
Palestinian water consumption in the West Bank averages 73 litres per person per day, well below the World Health Organisation minimum of 100 litres, while Israelis use 300 litres on average. Israeli settlers consume even more — averaging 373 litres for personal use — while agricultural settlements in the Jordan Valley draw a whopping 1312 litres per capita.
“The level of unrestricted access to water enjoyed by those residing in Israel and Israeli settlers demonstrates that resources are plentiful and that the lack of sufficient water for Palestinians is a direct result of Israel’s discriminatory policies in water management,” the report states.
The way Israel achieves this plentiful supply of water is through over-extraction from the Jordan River and the aquifers that lie underneath Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai. Al-Haq reports that 38 Israeli wells are located in the West Bank, and Palestinians are denied access to waters of the Jordan River, despite it forming the eastern boundary of the West Bank under international law.
Friends of the Earth Middle East, a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian organisation, reports that, “Diversion of 96% of its fresh water, in addition to discharge of large quantities of untreated sewage, threatens to irreversibly damage the River Valley.”
Sewage dumping is not just a problem for the Jordan River Valley. Israeli settlements routinely release their waste water so as to contaminate Palestinian agricultural land, while landfill is often routinely dumped by Israeli companies on Palestinian land.
“Israel has been dumping waste, including hazardous and toxic waste, into the West Bank for years as a cheaper and easier alternative to processing it properly in Israel at appropriate hazardous waste management sites,”Palestinian Environmental Authority (PEA) deputy director Jamil Mtoor told Inter Press Service in 2009.
Attempts by Palestinians to establish any kind of waste recycling are routinely frustrated by Israel. Restrictions on construction outside of the densely populated Zones A & B of the West Bank — under full or partial control of the Palestinian Authority, respectively — are almost total.
Industries which are able to recycle waste have even been actively targeted by Israel. In 2005, Israel banned sulphuric acid from entering the West Bank due to “security concerns”. This has meant a recycling plant used by the tanning industry in Hebron for removal of chromium has been unable to function and Palestinian tanneries have been at risk of closure since, Middle East Monitor reported in February.
There are a variety of ways in which Palestinians resist Israel’s environmental degradation of their country. Permaculture offers a way to bring together issues of environmental degradation, food security and maintaining traditional culture.
“Permaculture as a technique is not a new thing for us as Palestinians,” Palestinian farmer Murad al-Khufash toldGreen Left Weekly. “Before the occupation, before the new technologies, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, etc, we used to live in the permacultural way. As a word it is new, but the lifestyle is old.”
Permaculture is an agricultural philosophy based on three principles: care for the Earth — allowing all life forms in the ecosystem to flourish; care for people — farming to provide for people’s needs; and, taking a fair share — reinvesting the surplus back into the ecosystem, rather than the agribusiness logic of extracting as much value from the soil as possible.
Al-Khufash owns a permaculture farm in the village of Marda, nestled beneath the Israeli settlement of Ariel. Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem reported in 2010 that “prolonged neglect of treatment of Ariel’s waste water” had already resulted in damage to the surrounding environment.
“We want to show people you can resist the occupation by having your own security, your own food,” al-Khufash told GLW. “One day I’ll have everything set up in the farm: milk, eggs, meats, vegetables, electricity, water — you don’t need anything from outside. With the checkpoints closing the streets and cities isolated from each other, it’s not easy to get from place to place, so that is a kind of resistance.”
Murad al-Khufash addresses the 10th international Permaculture convergence 2011.