By: George Kurzom
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
We have already mentioned in this website that the Palestinian press does not in any way reflect environmental concerns. Through our recent follow-up, we unfortunately found that, except for the magazine of Environment and Development Horizons, which has been professionally and scientifically specialized in environmental media for many years, there is no environmental journalism worthy of this name at the Palestinian level. In general, the Palestinian environmental media work (and the Arab in general) is seasonal and its interest in ecology matters is momentary, usually in the form of covering some conferences or annual environmental occasions, such as the World Environment Day.
Simply put, many journalists are interested in running coverage of the final statements of some activities related to environment where a minister or other high-level persona is participating. Or, in other cases, the press would broadcast or run reports on a specific environmental disaster or catastrophe that has occurred. Such reports are usually gloomy, such as damaging earthquakes and devastating floods, drowning of people and properties due to drainage floods, drought, waste accumulation, and the sort. One can conclude, in general, that there is no Palestinian and Arab environmental journalism concerned methodologically with environmental issues. The Arab journalist, or rather in general the Arab citizen, unlike the westerners, deals with the issues of environment as accessories.
The local press does not make environmental news, but often copies its news and reports on environmental issues from foreign and global agencies or from the internet. Some local journalists (in the Palestinian media) who might start to write about environmental issues edit their texts in the same manner as in the editing of political news. Environmental journalism has its own editorial style, and the art of editing its subjects needs special expertise.
Working as an environmental journalist is not easy, as one should possess far more abilities than what is required from a journalist working in the field of politics. Coverage of ecological and natural phenomena, events, and issues requires academic knowledge and special editorial experience.
What has been said about environmental journalism applies also to the environmental rights, meaning the fourth generation of human rights. But we, in the Palestinian society and the wider Arab world in general, continue to suffer serious and fundamental crises in the basic and core rights, such as the right to life, and many other social and economic and political rights. The Arab countries are afflicted with bloody wars, Salafi obscurantist terrorism, and insecurity, in addition to the existential struggle against the Zionist occupation, just as the case with the Palestinians, where the political event dominates the public opinion.
Therefore, many Arab citizens consider the environment as beyond their interest or scope of priorities, even though environmental issues are considered absolute necessity of life. Palestinian and Arab media professionals are supposed to address such issues, because we do not “breathe” politics and economy (per se), but we certainly breathe oxygen. Environmental issues are the core of life, as most political issues revolve around them.
Our responsibilities as environmental journalism is to convey to the citizen the message that environmental matters are not detached from the other details of their daily life. As a matter of fact, the environmental matters constitute an all-inclusive basket of rights, such as the right to food which, in its essence, is an environmental issue. The right to health and the right to education are also environmental. The success of the environmental journalism is measured by its ability to transform environmental matters from the specialized domain that occupies little space in some specialized pages only, to becoming a matter that touches upon the aspects and concerns of daily life of citizens. This is the great challenge of environmental journalism, and in its absence, our writings will have no real impact on public opinion.
In the Arab and Palestinian geographical context in general, we must not lose sight of the political environment in which we live. The Ministry of the Environment (at the Palestinian and Arab levels) is a secondary ministry, even a marginal one, in the sense that it’s not one of the major or main ministries, despite that any decision pertaining to environment is in fact a political decision par excellence. For example, decisions related to water sources are essential because what is known as water security is actually "food security", and "food security" is "energy security"; the relationship between food, water, and energy is integral. This vision, particularly in Palestinian society, is weak.
The priorities of the Palestinian and Arab society in general are not presented as political demands; the popular demand for potable water, for example, is a political demand related to a local development decision. The same is with the peoples’ demand to subsidize environment-friendly houses (green) that contribute to global warming mitigation. The point: the different aspects of life are dialectically connected.
Environmental journalism, then, must explain these dimensions and show the organic relationship between them. Here is where we find the importance and strength of the written environmental journalism works on the Palestinian level, be it digital, audio, or visual. Such works are the ones that aim at establishing analytical scientific environmental-political thought. On top of this, such works are to positively encourage the citizens and the governmental components, to actively encourage change.
Random and Arbitrary Decisions
Our long work and experience in the field of environmental journalism has proven that dealing with an ecological aspect of any major matter requires familiarity in other disciplines; as environmental issues have interrelated dimensions with economics, development, sociology and politics. This is not to forget that preparing environmental press reports takes longer than that required for the preparation of regular news reports, since the environmental press reports require review of some scientific, technical, and statistical material.
In addition, environmental journalism needs specialization and perseverance, because work in this type of journalism is often characterized as investigative, and far from traditional journalism where the relying on evidence-free government information is usually the case.
Unfortunately, environmental issues are not news stories for the mainstream press, unless they are linked to an environmental disaster, or to serious destruction caused by, for example, air or water pollution. There are currently no encouraging incentives for press and media organizations to pay attention to the environmental field. Often, we do not find pages in local newspapers and websites, or programs on television and radio, dedicated to issues and environmental awareness, neither in a systematic nor a continuous way. Let alone the total absence of a specialized environmental archive, and television library.
The importance and sensitivity of the environmental journalism becomes clear if we recall that the watchful eyes of the PA and its security apparatus in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—just as is the case with the other Arab societies—are directly and indirectly monitoring the local press. Many Palestinians believe that the local press publishes only what local authorities allow. If at times the press publishes reports on sensitive matters, that is only to camouflage the freedom to publish and other media freedoms. It’s worth noting that such reports avoid going into details and are keen to blur the facts.
In general, most Palestinian media are careful not to go beyond the so-called official "red lines" to avoid problems with government agencies or security apparatuses. Many environmental-political or environmental-economic issues may irritate official "decision makers" or the other "decision makers" in the private capitalist sector, whose interests may conflict with environmental protection, public health, and sustainable productive development.
Therefore, in our opinion, the local press did not contribute to the process of raising, in particular, the environmental-political awareness; let alone establishing one. Many of the arbitrary governmental security decisions and presidential decrees of randomness, such as the so-called the Electronic Crimes Law, made many journalists and social media bloggers work in a culture of fear and self-censorship, fearing action against them by government agencies or security apparatuses.
"Security" is more important than environment
While environmental journalism has gained widespread attention in many countries, it remains marginal in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, primarily because of the political-security landscape that prevails over other events and concerns. Marginal attention to the environment is reflected in the scarcity of government funds allocated to the environmental sector and scientific research, which is only 0.4% of the total government budgets in recent years, while the share of security has exceeded 37%.
The questions are: Why do the Palestinian security apparatuses get the lion's share of direct and indirect government budgets, at the expense of strategic sectors of life such as agriculture, the environment, health and education, and for whom? Do these security apparatuses have, for example, heavy weapons, tanks, submarines and modern fighter aircraft?
Also, is not the PA merely a very limited self-governing authority, lacking a minimum of political, security, and economic sovereignty? Does the self-governing authority not derive its "legal legitimacy" from the colonial agreements that have created it, and which are signed specifically with the occupation authorities (being the stronger party) that dictate the tasks and jobs of the PA’s security apparatus and authorize the types of guns and light weapons in its possession (according to the same Accords)?
Moreover, isn’t most of the government funds spent on "security" collected from citizens' pockets? Nonetheless, they are often used to carry out "security" and intelligence activities unrelated to the security of the Palestinian individual citizen. All the Palestinian towns, villages, and camps are completely profaned by the occupation and its security services that kill and detain our people and harass them as they please, as well as their continued looting of our lands and our water and natural sources. Where is the legal transparency and the popular and parliamentary monitoring? Why was the Palestinian “Legislative Council” assassinated, although, according to colonial agreements, it is the most important official Palestinian institution?
Translated by: Carol Khoury