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Palestine Museum of Natural History

The recently opened Palestine Museum of Natural History  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.

Palestine Museum of Natural History

by Dan Lieberman

In most museums, the name identifies 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, which deserves the land, who owns the land.

The 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 a 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 forests and trees in the area but neglects to relate that the Jewish National Fund planted many trees in order to cover destroyed Palestinian villages, cemeteries, and culture. 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 them. 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; an important endeavor for those who recognize the oppression and social injustice inflicted upon the Palestinians. 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 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  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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