Saturday, April 17, 2021

Permaculture in Palestine: Living sustainably while under occupation

By Naomi Kundera - June 18, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [agriculture] [sustainability] [ecology]

Permaculture will trigger a revolution that no one will sense is happening.
- Bill Mollison, “Father of Permaculture”
Permaculture is a global movement, raised out of the 1970s, promoting self-sufficiency and sustainability, in regards to agriculture and social structures alike. The word itself derives from “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture,” so for these things to be permanent they have to be sustainable.
The movement has reached deep within Palestine, creating a vast network of ecological projects across the West Bank, from protective seed libraries and individual recycling initiatives to large-scale organic farms and even a Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability.
More and more Palestinians, working together with scores of international volunteers, are embracing the possibility of a sustainable future - in spite of being under the clutches of an occupation.
Although “permaculture” is a relatively new term, the basic elements of organic farming have always been in Palestine.
“If you go deep, the Palestinians themselves, they are farmers,” Murad al-Kufash, owner of the first modernly-defined permaculture project in Palestine, told Palestine Monitor. “They never used chemicals before the occupation or before new technology. People used organic [farming] ... Now, people are coming back to the old way of farming or gardening.”
Al-Kufash started his first permaculture project in 1993 in his village of Marda (Salfeet Governorate), under the auspice of Ma’an Development Center. His initial project had a nursery and seed bank, and was dedicated to providing local farmers with the tools and knowledge to farm sustainably.
Seven years later, this trend-setting project was completely destroyed by the Israeli army in just a couple of hours.
Al-Kufash was able to restart his venture in 2006, after traveling to the US and working on a permaculture project for a few years. It is running successfully until today.
Land destruction is not the only challenge facing ecological entrepreneurs in Palestine.
Industrialized agriculture, desertification from climate change, and the uniquely Palestinian context of complete Israeli control of water and land resources, have all resulted in a less biodiverse, unsustainable ecosystem.
Writing on development under occupation, Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh of Bethlehem University argued in a 2017 publication that, “Organic agriculture [permaculture] has the potential to improve soil fertility, biodiversity and sustainability of agricultural production; to conserve natural resources; to improve agronomic and economic performance; to make yields more stable … [and] to achieve better food quality and food security.”
Dr. Qumsiyeh also noted in his work that a cycle of dependency on the occupier is created through foreign aid and the shift of agriculture to cash crop export rather than Palestinians fulfilling their own consumption needs.
The proliferation of sustainable farming and gardening in Palestine is thus a necessary element of an ecologically sustainable future as well as a form of resistance to the ongoing occupation.
“Self-sufficiency is really needed in Palestine for solving many issues,” Mohammed Saleh, founder of Mostadam EcoDesign, told Palestine Monitor, “many problems, like the garbage, the dependency on the occupation, the lack of resources, the consumption of foreign resources and all that.”
Mostadam, meaning “sustainable” in Arabic, is a workshop in Bethlehem that engages permaculture in more aspects of life than just agriculture or gardening.
Saleh designs “green schools” and nurseries, builds large-scale, educational aquaponic systems, creates adobe “geo-domes,” teaches permaculture through open source videos, and helps anyone who wishes to build something ecologically.
Mostadam was created in 2016 after Saleh spent a few years living “off-the-grid” in Turkey advancing his knowledge on permaculture and sustainable living.
For Saleh, Permaculture isn’t just an agricultural revolution, its a social revolution.
“[That is] what is important in me being a service provider,” Saleh explained to Palestine Monitor, “and somebody else being a recycler and somebody else being a seed protector and another is a farmer and another is just an [advocate]…. all of us, even if we don’t know each other or don’t work with each other … we are doing some work and changing society.”
And there are ample opportunities for engagement. Green Map Palestine*, an interactive mapping website created by Mohammed Saleh, has found over 100 projects in Palestine, clearlying showing the growing strength of this movement.
Green Map Palestine shows each permaculture or eco-project throughout the West Bank. Ranging from small, grassroots initiatives to large “official” permaculture adventures, Green Map Palestine offers a chance for Palestinians and internationals to engage with these projects.
“It’s not just about planting and changing the world,” says Saleh, “it [brings] a lot of different social structures among peoples that stay on that land. You know in the city we always look towards the other side [as] a stranger. In the farm on the first day, in the first hour, you are talking to everybody. This is also sustainability. This is social sustainability.”
Through the existing permaculture network in Palestine, a real social change is occuring. People from different sects of the community, and even around the world, are coming together with the common goal of creating a cleaner, more sustainable future.
Self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyles are crucial goals for the survival of humans and the Earth in general, but for Palestinians it’s a much more immediate necessity.
With a cultural heritage intrinsically tied to the land, reclaiming the land and natural agricultural practices is a way to reclaim the Palestinian identity.
Gaining the knowledge and tools to be self-sufficient through permaculture is also a way of resisting the occupation.
Permaculture is a global movement of like-minded individuals and communities working toward a better future. The existing permaculture network in Palestine is fighting for a free and secure today.
*Green Map Palestine is undergoing construction during the time this article is written, and the website ( will be up and running again in the near future.

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