One man’s struggle for sustainable farming on his land in the occupied West Bank is not only a fight against occupation. It suggests that international environmental law provides a legal avenue for Palestinians to sue for their rights.
Fayez al-Taneeb is an energetic man with a vision – of community resilience and sustainability. He is an organic farmer, a union member and an activist with the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, who has steadfastly resisted displacement from his farm for several decades. He believes that Permaculture, a comprehensive design strategy for sustainable living and farming that originated in Australia in the 1970s and has a growing global following, forms an important component of any Palestinian non-violent resistance strategy
A long journey
Hakuretna Farm (which loosely translates to ‘Garden Farm’) is located in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarm and is bisected by Israel’s Separation Barrier – the complex of concrete walls, barbed wire, military roads and ditches that runs up and down occupied Palestinian territory often separating Palestinian communities and families from each other, or, as in this case, farmers from their land.
Today, Fayez is developing it as an experimentation and demonstration site for techniques in organic farming and sustainable technologies that he believes are important for Palestinian farmers.
He also hosts international gatherings of permaculture practitioners and Palestinian youth, providing a forum for information exchange and learning – a project called ‘Global Campus’.
Fayez’s story illustrates the role of farming in Palestinian resistance culture, as well as highlighting the struggles that Palestinian farmers face on a daily basis.
Sabotage and Occupation
“For the first six months, the army sabotaged my equipment every day. But I persisted, and at the end of this time, when I brought in my first harvest, I realised the power of planting. I fell in love with farming!”
But Fayez’s problems were not over. During the same period, Israeli bulldozers worked beside his land every day to build a factory for the Geshuri Advanced Technologies company manufacturing agrochemicals.
The practice of locating polluting industries on Palestinian land is a common one. Permits are easier to come by and the Israeli government is keen to promote business on the other side of the Green Line, which demarcates the 1948 ceasefire line. Local Palestinian labour is also cheaper.
There are currently 12 Israeli industrial zones and hundreds of factories located inside the West Bank. This is because the majority of Israeli Environmental Law either does not apply or is not enforced in the occupied territories, making it “a paradise for environmental crime that affects life on both sides of the Green Line,” according to Gidon Bromberg, the executive director of EcoPeace Middle East.
After this, Fayez started working with his neighbours on both sides of the Green Line to sue the chemical factories. The action was unsuccessful, but he realised something important:
But then the second intifada started, and a whole new set of problems began to plague the Taneebs and their farming enterprise.
The case of the Taneebs is not unique. The barrier, 85 percent of which is constructed on Palestinian land rather than following the Green Line, isolates thousands of Palestinian farmers from their land. Stop the Wall estimate that, when the Wall is completed, 78 Palestinian villages and communities will be isolated in various ways, affecting over 266 000 people.
The Permaculture of Resistance
But the battle is far from over as far as Fayez is concerned. In 2005, he became active with the local Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements and ended up working with a number of partners to coordinate a ‘Walk Along the Wall’ for international peace activists. Many of those who attended came from the ‘peace village’ of Tamera, a sustainable community based in Portugal.
Fayez, inspired by the ideas he was hearing, embarked on an international odyssey to learn more about sustainable technologies. He visited Japan and the USA as well as 15 European countries.
As well as becoming a permaculture activist, Fayez continues to be active in the legal struggle against Israel’s violations. He was part of the Palestinian delegation to the Hague in 2004, helping to obtain the ruling on the illegality of the Wall.
He also successfully brought a case against the chemical factories to a London court, which ruled that they are illegal and should pay compensation. But the factories did not accept the ruling.
On that front, it seems there may be some cause for cautious optimism. According to legal experts participating in a study on environmental injustice in Palestine organized by al-Haq (a legal NGO) and the Heinrich Boell Foundation, international environmental law may provide a potential avenue for successful prosecution of Israel through international channels.
According to Benjamin Pontin of the Bristol Law School, recent Palestinian moves to gain membership of UN institutions such as UNESCO, and their recognition as a non-member state by the General Assembly, provide a legal basis for prosecuting Israel that has previously been lacking.
“Israel is a signatory to many environmental treaties that they are not upholding,” he told a conference in Ramallah on December 1st of this year. “They have become used to being prosecuted for infractions of Human Rights Law, but they are not ready to defend themselves against prosecution under environmental law. That provides a possible vehicle for obtaining Palestinian rights.”
Whether or not that is true, Fayez remains optimistic that his resistance strategy will triumph in the long run.
“Israel are killing themselves by their own hands,” he said with conviction. “We Palestinians are many – too many to drive us away. When they are violent towards us they perpetuate a culture of violence; and when they attack our connection to our land, they destroy the environment along with the culture that they are smashing. It’s just a matter of time.”
Originally Published here. Reproduced with permission of the author – Alice Gray.