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In most museums, the name signifies the thrust. The recently opened Palestine Museum of Natural History, located within the Bethlehem university campus in Palestine, is more than its collections and its name; it is testimony to the spirit, vision, and courage of the Palestinian people, to their need for ontological security, a sense of order and continuity in their experiences, and hopes for their future. Their museum clarifies decades of struggle – it demonstrates who cherishes the land, who deserves the land, who owns the land.

The Zionists entered the Levant with the spurious and historically contradictory notion they were heirs to a land and heritage left by ancient ancestors. Posing as redeemers of the vanquished, they became destroyers of the survivors. Debased are the memories of the Naturfian culture (10,500-8500 BC), which established the first sedentary settlements, of their offshoots that pioneered the first permanent settlement on the site of Jericho developed near the Ein es-Sultan spring between 9,500 and 9000 B.C., of the Canaanites, most responsible for origins of the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, which led to development of the Greek, Roman and Latin languages, and of the Phoenicians who sailed the Mediterranean Sea and helped populate what eventually became Greece, Rome and Carthage. By wanton destruction of almost 500 Palestinian villages, and creation of hilltop communities that duplicate, in appearance, similar communities in Arizona and California, the Zionists transported modern foreign life to an ancient soil and destroyed the footprints of past life.

abu-ghniem-mountainThe accompanying figure is one of many examples of the deliberate destruction of an ancient landscape and its unnecessary transformation to an artificial suburban settlement. Originally a forest in the West bank (upper part), the Israel government followed Ariel Sharon’s dictate to seize the hills, designated this forest as parkland, later chartered it as residential (lower part), and then permitted settlers to build a settlement. By defiling the ground of their unproven ancestors, by destroying an estimated million of olive and fruit trees, which included hundreds of year old and precious olive trees, and by changing the character of an ancient land, the Zionists demonstrated lack of sincerity in their mission and lack of attachment to that land. Rather than exalting and maintaining the lands of the Bible, the Zionists inflicted environmental terrorism on a land where man first tamed nature.

Urban settlements, military encampments, and networks of roads have threatened the survival of wildlife – mountain goats, bats, hyrax, jackals, and endangered plant life. The Gazelle (Al-Ghazzal): The Palestinian Biological Bulletin, at http://www.gazelle.8m.net/ summarizes the threats to mammals in Palestine.

Critically Endangered:

Mediterranean Monk Seal
Endangered:

Arabian Oryx
Buxton’s Jird (Endemic to Palestine.)
Mt. Hermon Field Mouse (Endemic to Golan Heights.)
Nubian Ibex
Vulnerable:

Allenby’s Gerbil (Endemic to Palestine.)
Asiatic Wild Ass (Re-introduced populations.)
Barbary Sheep
Dorcas Gazelle
Dugong
Eurasian Otter
Geoffroy’s Bat
Lesser Horseshoe
Long-fingered Bat
Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat
Mehely’s Horseshoe Bat
An article, Plant Biodiversity in the Palestinian Territory by Mrs. Roubina Basous Ghattas, This Week in Palestine, February 2008 describes the decline of plant species.

… plant genetic resources of PT (Palestine Territories) have been declining constantly over the years. Habitat destruction comes from a broad range of sources that include unplanned urban expansion; overgrazing; over-exploitation; deforestation and unplanned forestry activities; desertification and drought; invasive alien species; and pollution and contaminants, in addition to the political status, which includes the division of Palestinian accessible areas, land confiscation, and fragmentation of habitats mainly as a result of the Segregation Wall. These factors all serve to affect genetic exchange and, as a result, will weaken species composition in the future, thus precipitating the loss of this valuable heritage.

Of the surveyed 2,076 plant species that grow in the West Bank and Gaza, 636 are listed as endangered, of which 90 species are very rare. In addition, such pressure on the integrity of ecosystems and stability of natural resources increases the risk of losing the livelihood as well as the historical, cultural, environmental, and economic value of Palestinian biodiversity, despite the fact that these costs are difficult to quantify, or may indeed be immeasurable and irreplaceable.

Israel boasts of greatly increasing the number of trees in the area but neglects to relate that the Jewish National Fund planted many trees in order to cover destroyed Palestinian villages and cemeteries. The Palestinians have shown strong attachment to their ancient lands, deep love for each leaf, each tree, each fruit, and each blossom. They have proven they deserve and must continue to own their land.

The efforts of the Palestine Institute of Biodiversity Research and its Palestine Museum of Natural History (PMNH) reflect the conclusion of Plant Biodiversity in the Palestinian Territory, by Mrs. Roubina Basous Ghattas, This Week in Palestine, February 2008

… continued pressures on the Palestinian indigenous plants will inevitably impair the rights of future generations if sustainable utilization measures are not implemented. As a long-term research endeavour, it is necessary to increase Palestinian knowledge concerning how human and natural systems interact; whereas in the short run, approaches for monitoring and forecasting human impacts on Palestinian ecosystems must be developed. Criteria and indicators for social, economic, and biological components of plant ecosystems are the core of current sustainability initiatives.

The museum’s charter states it “will work to research, educate about, and conserve our natural world, culture, and heritage and use knowledge to promote responsible human interactions with our environment,” Currently housing over 6000 specimens of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, thousands of photographs and other documentary material relating to fauna, flora, and humans in Palestine, a library (both physical and a much larger digital library) of thousands of books and papers relating to their work, the Palestine Museum of Natural History gives testimony to the Palestinian’s present attachment to the land and the vision they have for its future. View its inauguration at https://www.palestinenature.org/opening/

Just a baby, having been born in April 2007 after 3 years of gestation, the museum, similar to all museums, needs resources to continue its efforts and expand its reach. Contributions to enable these resources are not just for a museum, but for preservation of plant and animal life in Palestine and for giving life, cultural expression, and identity to the Palestinian community. Contributing to the success of the museum is one small step on a long and difficult road that enables the Palestinians to assert their heritage, re-gain total access to their surroundings, and recuperate their stolen lands. Donations can be made at http://bethlehem.edu/support/waystogive.

Please make sure the donation is designated for the Palestine Museum of Natural History.

Note: The existing Palestine Museum of Natural History should not be confused with the proposed DC based Museum of the Palestinian People.

Dan Lieberman is the editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly web based newsletter. He can be reached at alternativeinsight@earthlink.net

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Not much has been discussed on the environmental damage of Palestine as a result of the Israeli shelling of bombs and ammunition on the soil. Many ancient monuments, artifacts and rare life forms are being destroyed due to war. This preservation of it’s natural history is a commendable effort