In an office just a few minutes away from the city centre in Ramallah, Dr. Ayman Rabi scurries to submit a report on the latest efforts of the Palestine Hydrology Organization. As acting executive director and co-founder of the organization, Dr. Rabi reflects on the founding days and the current efforts and accomplishments of the group. In a low voice and with a slight smile he remembers: “We’d drink and eat and live in the office for 22 days. We kept going as a hydrology group and contacting the outside world through this work.”
The Hydrology Group was founded in 1987 at the peak of the first Palestinian uprising in light of increasing Israeli violations against Palestinian water resources. Presently, a humanitarian crisis engulfs regions across Palestine. In Gaza, 1.3 million out of the 1.9 million people living there require some form of humanitarian assistance. According to the UN, more than 55% have unmet energy needs, 47% have food insecurities and only a small group have access to water. Zena Agha, a policy fellow with the U.S think tank al-Shabak said that this resembles eco-apartheid whereby “while Palestinians and Israeli inhabit the same physical terrain, vulnerable Palestinians – those under occupation and siege – will suffer the effects of climate change more severely purely as a consequence of their ethno-religious identities.”
Perpetual electricity cuts have further exacerbated the already volatile conditions of living in Gaza where 90-95% of water is contaminated. In the West Bank, demolitions by Israeli forces of Palestinian structures have further impeded access to natural resources such as water and agriculture. Palestinians have resorted to creative solutions for survival, and the Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network- Friends of Earth Palestine (PENGON-FoE) has become a leading organization in bridging together these endeavours.
Up until 1996, organizations working within the environmental sphere were largely divorced from one another. PENGON-FoE in Palestine was established as an umbrella organization to coordinate among various Palestinian non-governmental organizations tackling issues of environmental sustainability in Palestine. It remains the only Palestinian environmental organization’s network that works in both the West Bank and Gaza, with fourteen organizational members within it. Given the geographical division of the West Bank from Gaza in light of Israel’s 13 year siege on the strip, and control of Palestinian movement within and from the West Bank, and the obstacles enforced by Israel to building sustainable agricultural and clean energy technologies, the coordinated efforts of PENGON are becoming increasingly pivotal. PENGON and its members have already brought people-powered electricity to 650 households in the Jordan Valley and 270 in the Gaza Strip.
In a cafe in downtown Ramallah, Abeer Al-Butmeh marshals her two children while carrying her infant child. Al-Butmeh has been with PENGON-FoE for 11 years and is the current campaign coordinator of the organization. Having witnessed both the challenges and the wins the organization, Al-Butmeh emphasizes “remaining steadfast, seeing the changes, it keeps us going and re-affirms our rights to our lands.” PENGON-FoE and affiliates have four major concerns. They focus on water rights, preservation of biodiversity, justice in accessibility to energy, and confronting the various forms of pollution in Palestine.
More recently, however, PENGON-FoE is foregrounding the role of women in environmental sustainability. “The women are involved in all aspects of life” explains Al-Butmeh, “and the woman is most harmed in environmental pollution as she also plays an important role in raising awareness and giving guidance to the younger generation.” By focusing on the role of women and empowering leaders in environmental sustainability and clean energy, PENGON-FoE is also moving towards changing legislative and policy structures to emphasize the gender dynamics in Palestine.