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Responding to Gaza’s Tragedy and the Power of Networks – Rebuilding Gaza Sustainably

I couldn’t watch. I couldn’t look away. Another Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza — the fourth such event since I moved to Palestine eight years ago. The mounting death toll, the blood-drenched images, the shattered buildings, the raids on UN shelters where people sought shelter, the bombing of hospitals and other vital infrastructure such as the power station. Water shortage, death, destruction. Again.

It’s enough to make you want to scream and bang your head on the floor. Gaza is bad enough already, even without the bombing.

I learned today, speaking to an earth-building architect who was part of a delegation to Gaza in 2010 following operation Cast Lead (which killed 1500 Gazans over the Christmas and New Year of 2008/2009) that if you took the entire population of the world and put us all in Mexico, we would still have more space per capita than people in Gaza have.

It is a population of 1.8 million people, 75% of whom are UN registered refugees, driven from their land (now inside Israel) in 1948, crammed into 360 square kilometers, over 25% of which is ‘off-limits’ due to restrictions on approaching the border with Israel. There is not enough water for everyone — the groundwater aquifer is irreparably degraded and 95% of the water that comes from it is not fit to drink. There is inadequate sewage works so that the land in the north of the Strip is saturated with untreated sewage and the groundwater is further contaminated. The power station just got totalled (it was attacked in 2006 and 2008 as well), so now there is barely any electricity and all the hospitals are reliant on back-up generators. Fuel is running out.

A water engineer who worked in Gaza told me in 2006 (during Operation Summer Rain, when Gaza was being bombed again) that the worst damage being done, beyond the obvious fireworks, death toll and shattered infrastructure, was the derailing of vital development projects that were needed to sort out the water and sanitation situation and prevent the further degradation of the aquifer. That was before the siege started in 2007, closing down the borders, preventing imports and exports, crippling development of any kind, preventing rebuilding after bombings.

Now another 2100 people are dead, thousands more are injured, some maimed for life, 110 000 are displaced (at the height of the bombing that was 500 000), just about everybody is traumatized and the horrific manmade humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that is Gaza persists.

I should have been teaching permaculture in Gaza this summer, working with partners from agricultural colleges and schools to adapt the PDC syllabus so that it can be incorporated into their courses. I had rather regarded this as the pinnacle of 8 years work in Palestine – finally, to go to Gaza which had long been the inspiration for my permaculture practice: the ultimate design challenge, with the greatest need for resilience work and sustainable solutions. I doubt there are many scenarios in the world that are more challenging. But the project got derailed and the funders pulled out.

Interestingly this happened before the bombs started falling, as the Palestinian unity government formed. We were at the point of exchanging MoUs when the project coordinator called me to explain that "the development landscape [was] shifting". Israel didn’t like the unity government (a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, the two leading Palestinian political parties that have been at odds since 2007), all previous bets were off, there was no saying if any project in Gaza would be possible anymore and they were freezing all new initiatives. Two weeks later the bombing started. All bets off indeed.

So I went to Ireland instead, to connect with the great and good people at Cloughjordan Ecovillage, participate in a climate justice youth camp and assist in a PDC course. But I couldn’t let go of Gaza… all the time more bombs falling, all the time more destruction, more and more reasons to go and try to help… and Project Rebuild Gaza Sustainably was born (this is what you get for drinking with the Irish – be warned).

The idea is a simple one: to try as hard as possible to gather as much expertise as possible from the global sustainable building community and focus it on Gaza and its design challenges; to team up with Gazan architects and engineers and generate some designs for low-cost sustainable housing units that can be constructed from materials that are available and incorporate ecological design principles to harvest resources and process wastes; to bring an international volunteer team together to help build several such structures; to forge long-term links between sustainable communities around the world and try to promote exchanges and open up opportunities for young people from Gaza to travel, share their experiences and learn new skills and to campaign together for long term change.

I floated the idea to some friends first — they liked it. So we launched a crowd-funding campaign and started trying to get more people on board. Interestingly, the response of many people who have become involved was ‘thank you’ – thank you for giving us somewhere to put all our frustration and misery over this situation, for giving us a constructive way to vent what we feel.

To be honest, that is what permaculture has always been to me – a constructive way to channel pure rage and frustration at a global system that tramples all over the human rights of the global majority and destroys the environment while it does so. A way of saying "no!", refusing to participate, and starting to fight back by living the alternative. What else is there? And if there was ever a situation we should say no to it is the systematic and brutal violation of Gaza by Israel and its allies via the ongoing siege and the perpetual bombings.

It is also clear that in refusing to bow to this system and by creating our own alternatives according to the principles that we believe in; in challenging the ‘them’ and ‘us’ rhetoric of the warmongers; in sharing the surpluses of our privileged societies with the dispossessed and above all in sharing skills and knowledge for building community resilience in the face of oppression, we are working as much for our own betterment and benefit as for that of the target communities. We must challenge this system, we must stand firm as a global community, or who are we?

Since the project was launched, the response has been stupendous, with experts and volunteers from every continent coming forward and offering to participate – an incredibly strong network is coming together to address the ultimate design challenge that is Gaza. If you added up the time and expertise that people are offering to commit, its monetary value would be into 6 figures. We have some real money too… although the total is still in four figures until now (2763 in the crowdfunding campaign at time of writing, and as much banked via fundraising events). I’m not worried. The project is gathering momentum. I know we are going to do something good here and I’m on my way to Gaza this winter to make sure it happens and consolidate partnerships there.

Convinced? There is still time to get involved! Our crowdfunding campaign is in its final hours, but even after that you can still send us all your money if you want — just drop us an email to find out how:

  • greanpalestine (at) outlook.com

If you think you have skills to contribute, you can join the international panel of experts (email us), or fundraise for us. If you want to become a supporting community or organization and send volunteers or organize exchanges with Gazan students to give them the opportunity of participating in your courses, interning with you or attending your meetings, again – email us!

We have the opportunity to make a difference in this situation – we have to at least try! If you do nothing else, please stay tuned as the project unfolds. Find us on facebook for updates, information and coverage of project activities.

A person of courage today is a person of peace. The courage we need is to refuse authority and to accept personal responsibility. — Bill Mollison

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11 Comments

  1. The plight of the people of Gaza is truly horrendous. But it is wrong to condemn the Israelis as the sole perpetrators of this situation.

    Historically, both Jews and Palestinians lived in that area, for the most part quite peaceably. So they both have legitimate claims on that territory. Please remember that the population then was much less than at present, and that is a big factor. Please also read the entry in Wikipedia about the history of Israel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Israel

    The years since the declaration of the Israeli state saw many attacks by people from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and their allies. I happened to be living in Israel in 1973, and experienced the war called “the Yom Kippur” war. This was a surprise attack by Syria and Egypt both striking at Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

    Before this war began, there had been a rising sentiment among the Israelis that they should strive to help the Palestinians, improve conditions for them and treat them better. But the war ended all that.

    Ever since, there have been constant attacks on Israeli citizens: suicide bombers, snipers, rocket attacks, you name it. Most of these attacks are carried out by hot-headed young men. Even when truces were declared, they were inevitably broken by the hot-heads. Can you truthfully blame the Israelis for trying to defend themselves? I believe the Israelis could become cooperative about helping Palestine, but they would have to be pretty sure the violence from Palestine will cease.

    The truth is, no one except the Palestinians themselves will be able to get the hot-heads under control. Until that happens, everything is just going to get worse. (And the excessive population needs to be remedied. Some of the most brutal and persistent conflicts and full-out wars of the past decades include the stresses of overpopulation and conflict over resources. See Wikipedia on “overpopulation”)

    1. Land access for the people of true heritage to the land would be a great start.
      Equality in funding by the western countries would also be a good thing, just imagine if the Palestinians were funded the same amount as the Israeli regime is by the USA.
      That would just be wonderful and very fair.

    2. If the Israelis were engaged in positive action prior to 1973 then the only way to respond to any hot headed action was to continue to be positive. I would argue that the best way to respond to ‘terrorism’ is to give the gift of a garden and a garden that is designed using the whole range of permaculture techniques that we see people like Geoff demonstrating, would be a gift that would melt the hearts of the most ardent of hot heads. To persist with violence is NEVER going to solve anything. Or we can just keep offering reasons and excuses and just keep on getting nowhere. The quote from Bill, above, says it all. Positive persistence needs courage, a greater courage than it takes to point a gun at someone.

  2. The popular idea that Israel is ‘only defending itself against persistent and unreasonable attacks by Palestinians (terrorism)’ is a construct of propagandists (Israeli, American and other), that completely glosses over the ongoing reality of occupation and colonisation that reflects the racist and religiously fundamentalist agenda of hard-line Zionists.

    I would recommend reading Noam Chomsky, Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris, Robert Fisk and Edward Said in order to get your head around the intricacies of Middle East politics and its relationship with American imperialism and the industrial, consumer societies of the West. Particularly now, in this time of war mongering and Western propaganda around a new/old war in Iraq and Syria, it is worth informing oneself!

  3. I don’t want to go into ‘who did what and who’s to blame’. It doesn’t solve anything, but that the Palestinians a suffering severely is absolutely true. No single person should suffer this way on an earth that can be bountiful. That’s why i’m so happy with the possibliltiesPermaculture is offering. Deserts abound in the Middle East. If the whole world wants it, we can green those deserts and offer lives of peace, water and food and happiness. Thanks for pointing the right direction, Alice!

  4. there is no more a justification of what israel (and its allies) did, and have been doing to the palestinians than what nazi germany did to the jews this past century. the facts are there for anyone that has the heart to see the truth.

  5. If you all want permaculture to gain wide acceptance it would be to your benefit to stick to permaculture and out of politics. I think permaculture is a absolutely fantastic practice with incredible potential for the world. Yet, the movement is tainted by the seeming hatred it has for capitalism, western civilization, Israel, to name a few. Pretty much every permaculture site I look at, and I look at a lot, has the same biases. Same with the books.

    You won’t win over many people by alienating a huge percentage of the population.

    1. Indeed! May all the world be happy! And I wouldn’t mind at all if permaculture would intensively be used as one of the major tools for that.

    2. Yes jjo that is right permaculture is an ethical design science, and it fits into many other systems but many system do not fit into permaculture as they are neither ethical or proven science and cannot be included in our taught design system.
      We just keep working where we are invited and we know our design system can help.

  6. Isn’t it a bit hypocritical of us in Australia to condemn the Israelis when we’re doing the exact same thing by occupying native Australian land?

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