Thursday, April 14, 2016

Report from Palestine: Environment and ornithology

Environment and ornithology
Mazin Qumsiyeh

Last week’s water workshop at the Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability (part of Bethlehem University) emphasized that no development or even life can be sustained here long term without ending the system of colonialism and oppression of native Palestinians (hence the importance of resistance including BDS). Later in the week, there was a conference in the Palestine Polytechnic University ­­dealing with energy and the environment. There were a variety of topics ranging from waste management to alternative energy. I gave a talk (abstract below) titled “Environmental justice and sustainability in Palestine: Challenges and opportunities under colonization.” I also attended and gave a talk at the 10th anniversary conference of the Freedom Theater in Jenin.

My contribution was on cultural and other forms of resistance. Palestinian resistance was and is a natural phenomenon in an anti- colonial struggle. It takes hundreds of forms and has been vibrant and a source of hope and empowerment for the millions of native Palestinians (see my book "Popular Resistance in Palestine"). Resistance is also dynamic and is evolving depending on external and internal changes (see Qumsiyeh, Mazin. Chapter 4. Evolution of armed to unarmed resistance in Palestine.

In Nonviolent resistance and conflict transformation. Edited by Véronique Dudouet, Routlegde, 2014). In this presentation we examined the trends vis a vis resistance (especially cultural resistance) looking to the future. The conclusion is that while Oslo process was a key suppressor of all forms of resistance, there are factors that lead us to hope of a resurrection that could be the last major uprising and leading to the end of this colonial

We also took several field trips mostly focused on birds because the Palestine Museum of Natural History ( now has an ornithologist on board. Dr. Anton Khalileih and other museum staff now look to see our research expand significantly in the area of ornithology as it did in other areas like mammalogy, entomology, herpetology and arachnology.

Having the first integrated biodiversity scientific research center is a big boost to environmental conservation even under occupation.  I continue to teach biodiversity at Birzeit University and the students are great. I now started teaching a course on anthropology with focus on Palestine (that includes biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics). Today we covered archaeology and how Palestine’s history was pillaged and forged by Christian and Jewish politicians (from George Gawler to Moshe Dayan). But also how the narrative has been changing since the late 20th century (see my book on Sharing the Land of Canaan, ).

Next week I participate in an exchange program (Erasmus) with Siena, Italy which should prove mutually beneficial. We got visits from schools this week (one 50 student group from Jericho was particularly energetic group). We have new research data on some animals and plants and we built new partnerships this week with several visiting delegations of key people locally and globally (e.g. Dr. Walid AlBasha from Jenin). We do have new volunteers but we do need much more support and cooperation (and of course donations in cash or in kind). Should you wish to help in one of the many ways available, please email museum staff and volunteers at

Abstract of talk presented in Hebron

Palestine historically had a high biodiversity index relative to its size and latitude due to geographic and geological circumstances. It is also critical as the major passageway for migration of hundreds of millions of birds between Europe and Africa.  Accelerating environmental destruction in Palestine started in the late 19th century constituting today what many call an environmental Nakba (catastrophe).

In this paper, I highlight the impact of colonization and demographic changes focusing on the lack of environmental justice. Data are presented on genotoxic effects of Israeli industrial colonies; on impact of economic changes that resulted on Palestinians of Idhna recycling electronic waste and having direct genotoxic effects; on significant decline of vertebrate biodiversity in Bethlehem area; and on studies on amphibians as barometers of water decline. The data presented on these issues and other data all highlight the need for much more research efforts not only to measure impact but to come-up with specific tangible solutions. Retrospective studies can also be done for example on such areas as the destruction of over 500 villages and their fields and replacing them with European pine trees and urban development.

Further studies are also needed on impacts of draining the Hula wetlands,  of diverting headwaters of the Jordan River, of the Red Sea-Dead-Sea canal, and of climate change (expected rise in temperature by 2-4 C and decline in average rainfall by 20-25% by 2050), and selected other human activities. We highlight some successes both unintended (such as protected wildlife in no man’s land and mine fields) and intended (such as efforts at creating protected areas, development of permaculture, increasing awareness, growing institutions such as our Museum of Natural History and Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability). We conclude that we have to have drastic changes in human behavior both locally and globally to preserve our fragile ecosystems and we make concrete recommendations going forward towards sustainable development.

Stay human

Mazin Qumsiyeh
Professor and Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History
Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability
Bethlehem University
Occupied Palestine

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