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The politics of climate change: A Palestinian environmentalist’s decision to boycott

Jerusalem24 – When Mariam Al-Jaajaa, the Director General of the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN), found out at the very last minute that an Israeli delegation was participating in a conference concerning irrigation methods in the Mediterranean region held by the Europe-based Water and Environment Support in Italy last month, she made the decision on the spot to withdraw her organization from the event.

The APN also registered a direct objection, in rejection of what it calls “environmental normalization” and “greenwashing”.

Mariam Al-Jaajaa tells Jerusalem24 about the APN’s decision to withdraw.


Could you define “environmental normalization” and “greenwashing” for us?

It’s a general concept of using environmental issues, with environmental events, environmental projects, in concealing the violations committed by an apartheid government or company or any other organization.

This is something that we as an independent civil society organization oppose – whether it is relevant to corporations violating environmental standards, or governments such as the colonial state of Israel.

How did you come to the decision to withdraw the APN from the conference?

We were surprised to find out that there was an Israeli delegation. I withdrew from the conference, and then I contacted the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature and the Arab Network for Food Poverty and consulted with both organizations. We decided that we needed to give a withdrawal statement.

What was the reaction of the organizers?

First, they said that this was a technical meeting, not a political meeting. I responded that this is a meeting about water management, environmental rights and water rights, and turning a blind eye towards what is happening in Palestine and the violations committed by the occupation is political in itself.

They also said, “We just wanted to put you together in the same room.”

I responded that if you want to solve the occupation you need to address the root causes, which are the occupation and human rights violations. That was my response. And then I left the room.

What does it mean for you as a Palestinian to boycott an event attended by Israelis?

We wanted to raise awareness, and that’s why we made a public statement: to raise awareness of the violations that are happening – and also to reflect the popular position. It is true that I was the only participant who opposed the Israeli presence in that training; but, if you reflect on the popular opinion of the Arab Nation, there is an overwhelming sentiment that they do not want to normalize relations with a criminal government.

Also, by withdrawing, we are actually encouraging other groups to do the same. There are many groups and – if I may say so – everybody who participated in that training session was against the Israeli participation.

Do you feel that you missed out on training and resources valuable for the APN?

Of course not, we would never sell ourselves or any of our values.

The entire mission of our organization is to enhance equal sovereignty over resources, and lives, and futures, and political decisions including in areas of conflict and occupation. Selling ourselves for a training session is selling my entire mission and forgetting why we are working for the group we are working for.

Do you personally believe boycotts to be effective?

For sure they are. As I said before, the general sentiment among the Arab population is opposed to normalization, because we are fully aware of the violations and crimes committed by Israel.

All of the delegations have come up to me and communicated how this withdrawal had inspired them to also register their objections, and they were all very clear about not holding any dialog with the Israelis during the meeting.

The argument has been made by officials in the region that climate change is so important and urgent, that so-called “politics” – meaning, the Israeli occupation of Palestine – should not be a priority when dealing with the environment and resources in the region. What are your thoughts on this?

This is a very shallow interpretation of how to deal with climate change.

If you want to really address the implications of climate change, whether it’s mitigation or adaptation, you need to look at the power relation within an area. The power relation determines who gets the resources (or the limited resources) and also who is able or not to adapt to climate change.

The Palestinians only get a small portion of their rights to land and water because they have been stolen. They also cannot adapt to climate change because Israel keeps on confiscating solar panels and destroying water harvesting systems and irrigation systems.

You cannot separate climate change from politics.


(This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.)

To find out more about the APN’s latest projects, click here. Listen to the full interview on Vibes below.

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