Summary: Evidence indicates that Palestinian NGOs are using ecological issues primarily as a pretext for anti-Israel political and ideological objectives while making little substantive effort to carry out policies to improve the region´s environment.

(Corrected September 19, 2004)

Images of an ecological catastrophe in the Palestinian territories as a result of Israeli "occupation" and "the enormous environmental impact of the Apartheid Wall and Segregation Zone plan on the West Bank and Palestinian agriculture" are frequently used by NGOs in criticizing Israel. [1] However, the evidence from events such as the 2002 World Environmental Summit in Johannesburg indicates that ecological issues are used primarily as a pretext for political and ideological objectives. [2]

Indeed, in the late 1980s pro-Palestinian groups had begun to link ‘ecology’ to human rights as part of their political strategy against Israel. Resolutions in international bodies often made reference to alleged ecological damage in the "occupied territories" as an aspect of the abuse of "Palestinian national rights". In 1989, 1990 and 1991, the UN General Assembly adopted resolutions that "expressed its concern over the impact of the military rule on the management of the environment and its natural resources in a way that hinders the pursuit of environmentally sound management." [3]

During the Oslo period, many Palestinian and pro-Palestinian NGOs began to receive funding that was tenuously linked to environmental concerns.

For example, the Ma-an Center, whose link to environmental issues is through organic agriculture courses, grew from a $17,000 budget in 1989 to $584,000 in 1996 and to 30 members of staff in three offices.

The Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ), situated in Bethlehem, established in 1990 with a budget of about $70,000 grew steadily to about $620,000 in 2002 and $626,000 in 2003, and from few staff members to 45 researchers and assistants.

Recently an internet network PENGON (Palestinian Environmental NGOs) listed 21 Palestinian environmental NGOs. [4] According to Palestinian sources there are about 110 active NGO’s. [5] Such a grouping would make the environmentalists among the strongest subgroups in the Palestinian NGO network and very influential within Palestinian society. However an examination of the evidence shows that only two of the 21 NGOs listed by PENGON are actually involved with environmental matters. [Wildlife Palestine Society – WLPS, and The Roads and Environmental Safety Centre.]

About ten of the 21 mentioned have no website or physical address, office or activity. Their titles, however, with a specific field of activity such as agriculture or public health, appear in various statements about Israel’s "crimes against the human environment", in order to accentuate the image of a professional approach, an "expert opinion" given before each such publication.

Some members of this group are not NGOs, but university divisions or labs, related to public health or maternity, and others are located within or identical to groups such as the highly politicized Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Al-Mezan Center or Baladna cultural center that deals with refugee rights. The Development and Environment Association, linked to Baladna, carries out "tree planting" in its program. However, there is no available data on forestation projects in the Palestinian areas. But several NGOs claim that Israel cut down about 700 thousand trees a year between 2001 and 2003 (figures of 200,000 and 271,000 were reported by the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture) which were cut in order "to protect the settlers". [6]

There are also many unverified and unsupported claims regarding the number of trees uprooted to build the security barrier (usually referred to as the "apartheid wall" to magnify the propaganda impact and erase the anti-terror aspect). The Palestinian sources fail to provide data related to a specific section of the barrier, even though it would be the easiest way of influencing public opinion. (It would also be easier to confirm or refute, since the Israel Ministry of Defense pays constructors for each uprooted tree and compensates the owners.)

Calling themselves "ecological," many Palestinian NGOs do not employ experts to monitor water pollution, eco degradation and similar problems. Despite this, many of their press releases consist of popular ecological terms and show basic knowledge of the issue, usually supplied by the Jerusalem Institute for Applied Research (ARIJ), which is affiliated with the Palestinian Authority, and funded by the European Union. [7]

For about ten years, the ARIJ has specialized in geographical and hydrological surveys tailored for the Palestinian leadership, which has used its own interpretations as an aid in official discussions with international bodies. NGOs have also made demands on Israel based on the same ARIJ data.

Even the few NGOs that appear authentic go beyond their claimed mandates to indulge heavily in anti-Israel invective. Only Israel’s name does not appear on a regional map on the site of the Wildlife Palestine Society, established by the Lutheran and other private schools with the participation of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan. [8]

The Roads and Environmental Safety Centre established by the Ramallah municipality, highlights the ecological impact of bypass roads leading to Jewish settlements, while ignoring all other roads crossing Palestinian territory. [9]

Other NGOs with questionable ecological backgrounds engage further in a political agenda. In a press release, the Palestine Agricultural Relief Committees glorifies several young "Shahid" who, as it became known after their suicide terror acts, were active members of ecological grassroots groups. [10]

PENGON sites do not produce substantive information but do contain links to highly politicized Palestinian websites unrelated to ecological issues. [11]

In summary, this evidence demonstrates how many Palestinian NGOs claiming to be concerned with the environment have adopted the rhetoric of ecology as part of their political agenda. In contrast, there is very little substantive effort to implement policies and cooperative approaches designed to improve the environment for all residents of the region.

Ze’ev Wolfson and Roma Tzvang


  1. "PENGON/Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign."
  2. Michael Belling, Reminders of Durban, Jewish World of Greater Los Angeles, August 30-September 05 2002,
  3. UNEP, 8th meeting, 31 May 1991
  6. Alan Philps, Palestinian olive trees sold to rich Israelis, 28 November 2002. (
    ) Also Jad Isaac and Mohammad Chanyem, Environmental Degradation and the Israeli Palestinian Conflict, The Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem,2003, Section 4.0, Deforestation. (
  8. WLPS –
  11. The PENGON website ( redirects visitors to such sites as: