NEW DELHI: Recently, Palestine in its endeavor to gain global recognition became a member of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Palestinians believe that being part of this international platform will endow them the power to reveal how Israel has been hurting their environment through illegal settlements and also how, their own natural resources have been jeopardized over the past decades. Definitely, there’s a sense of victory, even if little, in Palestine but does it really mean anything substantial for the nation?

As of now, there are 1,066 non governmental as well as 217 governmental organizations in the IUCN. Palestine also has the observer status in United Nations, which is essential for joining the IUCN. Recently, IUCN held an international meeting to discuss the strategic policies meant for 2017. The Director of the Palestine Wildlife Society (in West Bank), Imad Atrash, stated that it was essential to be acknowledged by the UN as a non-member state to gain further entry into the IUCN and other international bodies of the UN. He strongly believes that getting recognition at IUCN is incremental for Palestine. Now the Palestinian researchers will be able to participate at global platforms at reveal how Israel is illegally hurting their environment. Media has hardly covered the destruction of nature reserves near the military settlements of Israel, that have caused heavy destruction for Palestine.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there is one nature reserve in Gaza while there are 47 such reserves in West Bank. The ‘reserve’ status of some sites had been done during the time of the British mandate itself while others were listed by the Jordanian administration, especially those falling in the West Bank region. Wadi Qelt, located in east Jerusalem is one of the most recent reserve that has been listed and it includes water resources, forests as well as archaeological sites. Wadi Gaza, located in Gaza itself has been listed by the Palestinian Environmental Authority and it falls in the wetlands category. In totality, these reserves, adding both in Gaza and West Bank cover 198 square miles.

The executive director of the Palestinian Hydrology Group, Ayman al-Rabi stated that the main reason for joining IUCN was to tell the world about the Israeli practices and ask for protection, so that the risks that Palestine is suffering could be lessened. As IUCN sets policies for four consecutive years, Palestine hopes to get some leverage from 2017-2020. For the first time in the history, the term ‘occupation’ has been listed in the lexicon of IUCN which will thus, give them the legal right to question Israel in terms of climate, bio-diversity and nature conservation of the Palestinian lands.

Few other areas that Palestinians hope that they will be able to get some importance include the impact on the environment in the conflicts that take place in West Asia, how the information is disseminated from the respective conflict zones, capacity building for civil societies as well as conservation activities, development of necessary protection programmes as well as the restoration of the destructed biodiversity.

The Palestinian proposals in the IUCN will be developed mainly by the Palestinian Hydrology Group, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Environmental Education Centre, Land Research Centre as well as the Palestinian Livestock Development Center. It will be the first time that these organizations will have some international recognition for their work and existence through these precarious times.

Roubina Ghattas, who heads the biodiversity and food security department at Applied Research Institute stated that IUCN will help in recognizing, in detail, how much harm has been done by Israel in Palestine, especially to the environment. Certainly, if Palestine is able to count and reveal the statistics properly, it will be a major setback for Israel, which till now has never been questioned by any international body in terms of the environment destruction done by it. Also, it will engage the international community on how more attention should be paid towards conservation, especially of the occupied territories.

According to Director of the Palestinian Livestock Development Center, Merhi Shawahneh, the highest beneficiaries of the IUCN membership will be the Palestinians in Area C, the marginalized areas of West Bank, as referred in the Oslo Accords. For the first time, their trials and tribulations will be recognized.

More than 1500 trees were uprooted by Israel from the Tubas province in 2015. Similarly, the agricultural lands in Salfit were also seized and thus, the farmers had to face severe consequences. In the past five areas, Israel has been illegally seizing large areas from the nature reserves in West Bank to make military zones, an action that has never been questioned so far. Thus, Palestinians strongly believe that changes will soon be visible after joining the IUCN and for once, their voice will be heard.