I run to the fields, walk amidst mountains, and breathe in the smell of leaves to escape the chaos, pollution, and claustrophobia of Ramallah. The lack of open space and adequate urban parks in the city leaves me constantly hungry for green fields and crisp fresh air. Green makes me happy, as it does many people. Nothing else alleviates the deep sadness that overcomes me with the awareness that we live in a large caged urban space, controlled on the outside by a ruthless occupier, and run on the inside by self interest and greed. My planning and architectural senses are constantly agitated by the lack of zoning laws, absence of mindful designs, and complete disregard for the landscape. As one hideous commercial building after another goes up, I yearn for a place that is in harmony with the land.
I embarked on a quest to discover new areas of nature every weekend to rejuvenate my senses and breathe, even if momentarily. Yet, while I found pristine landscapes within the West Bank in areas not far from Ramallah, it soon became clear to me that these green spaces, water springs, and parks have been grabbed and are controlled by Israel in the name of “nature preservation.” Water springs are linked to illegal Israeli settlements, parks are erected on stolen old Palestinian villages, and hiking trails are used to link Israeli settlement blocs. At the same time, private developers who have the means to buy zoning changes continuously disturb smaller nature reserves under the Palestinian Authority, such as the areas around Ein Qinia. Builders use beautiful untouched land as dumping sites for their construction waste and metal scraps. The Palestinian Authority stands idle, with no enforced accountability measures in place. A couple of signs here and there warn against dumping waste, but no penalties are ever levied. Ironically, the signs themselves are surrounded with the concrete and rubble waste they forbid.
I found myself caught between Israel’s political grabbing of our land and the Palestinian Authority’s disregard for its protection. While resisting the Israeli theft of the land is an ongoing and difficult process, accountability measures by the Palestinian Authority would help protect what is left. Palestinian architects and planners also have the social responsibility to expose and fight the destruction of the landscape. As a Palestinian architect and planner, and as a nature lover, I decided to take matters into my own hands and “instagrab the landscape,” hoping to shed some light on the matter.
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