Palestine: focus on PENGON
The Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON) is a network of 13 organisations dealing with issues such as agriculture, pollution, water and sustainable development. The network was founded in May 2000 and became a member of Friends of the Earth International in 2008.
Given the well documented struggles that Palestinians go through on a daily basis you might think that environmental issues would be quite far down the list of priorities for most people. However, many of the environmental issues that Palestinians face go hand in hand with the Israeli occupation.
Abeer gives an example of one of these issues:
"Many chemical factories that were based in Israel up until 1980 have now been transferred to Palestinian lands because they were no longer allowed to pollute in Israel. The places they were transferred to are now unsuitable for habitation."
It is issues such as industrial pollution that form a large part of PENGON's work. The organisation works on three major campaigns: Solid Waste, Water for life and Stop the Wall.
The Solid Waste campaign exposes the illegal dumping of waste and lobbies for it to be brought under control. The waste can come in the form of chemical, medical and construction materials and is often toxic and hazardous. Most of the waste is being transferred from factories in Israel. However, in some cases Palestinians are renting their land out for companies to dump waste on.
PENGON, in cooperation with one of the Universities in Palestine, recently produced a report exposing the practice of dumping and highlighting the environmental impacts such as air and water pollution.
Thanks to the cooperation of the authorities some of the dumping has now stopped and Palestinians are no longer renting their land to encourage the practice.
water for life
The aim of the Water for Life campaign is to document 'water violations' in Gaza and the West Bank.
Water sources in the region are controlled by the Israeli occupation forces and, according to a 2009 World Bank report, Israelis take four times more water than Palestinians from a vital aquifer in the region. In some cases Palestinians are surviving on as little as 10 to 15 litres per person per day, which is below the recommended level to avoid certain health epidemics.
By documenting these violations PENGON can lobby decision makers in the region and internationally, putting pressure on Israel to give the Palestinians access to their fair share of clean water.
Stop the Wall
The Stop the Wall campaign was initiated by PENGON in 2002. Its aim is to stop the construction of the wall that divides the West Bank and to dismantle the parts that are already built; to ensure the return of land confiscated through construction and to obtain compensation for all losses incurred.
The campaign received widespread media attention at the end of 2009 when Jamal Juma', the Campaign Coordinator, and Mohammad Othman, the Youth Coordinator, were arrested and detained without charge by the Israeli authorities.
People around the world sent messages of protest to Israel and took photos of themselves carrying messages reading 'Fee Jamal Juma'.
On his release Jamal said:
"The massive support and actions of international civil society clearly made my imprisonment too uncomfortable for the Israeli authorities. This international solidarity has given our popular struggle against the Wall further strength."
About Abeer Albutma
Abeer joined PENGON as the Coordinator is 2008. She has a degree in Water and Environmental engineering and is currently studying a masters in the subject.
"Working at PENGON gives me a great chance to communicate with decision makers who work in the Environmental sector in Palestine to create solutions to the problems we are facing" she says.
She values working with PENGON's member groups and finds such collaborations broaden her understanding of the environmental issues Palestine faces:
"Each group has a different field of expertise. One group focuses on agriculture, another in biodiversity and another in water so I am learning and experiencing new things all the time. I also get to share my experiences with the other members."
Finally, Abeer is proud of her work in PENGON and proud of the role that women play in the environmental field in Palestine and the society as a whole.
"Our organisation takes into account gender equity and I work with many women and men in other organisations. Women in Palestine have an effective role in work and decision making."