State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Natural Parks as a Form of Oppression?


In August 2017, nine Columbia University students traveled to Jordan and Israel to learn about how the two countries are cooperating on environmental issues and managing shared natural resources. This is one in a series of posts about the trip.

When one thinks of natural parks, images of tranquility and nature come to mind. Walking on trails and breathing in the fresh air is very calming and great for the human body. It’s important to have areas reserved for natural parks as they are good for the environment as well. However, what if these natural parks came at a cost such as taking someone’s land without permission?  Would it be worth it?

While I was in Israel, Aviv Tatarsky of Ir Amim, an NGO that works on equitability and sustainability of Jerusalem for both Israelis and Palestinians, gave a tour of different parts of Jerusalem. He not only explained the  daily lives and challenges of people in the city, but described the different separation barriers

As a result of these separation barriers, many farmers and owners living in the Western Bank lost access to lands that were on the other side of the wall. Tatarksky says Israel is claiming these lands to create natural parks near and inside the Western Bank. These natural reserves in the Western Bank are preventing Palestinians from expanding their neighborhoods.

While standing on top of a hill in Gilo, one sees part of the divided city of Jerusalem with its many different walls. The site alone can be very overwhelming and confusing to understand the many different walls, the purpose of the walls and what they are surrounding.

Glio, Israel


This is a picture looking at Jerusalem on top of a hill in Gilo. The road is only accessible to Israelis and makes traveling easier for Israelis living in settlements in the Western Bank. The road is covered by two walls. The wall on the left is Jerusalem. The wall on the right is where a proposal for a new natural park is in the works, on land that used to belong to a Palestinian land owner in the Western Bank.

While on this trip, we had an ongoing theme of finding the hope in this very complicated and sensitive situation. One way we found hope was through NGOs. Over the course of two weeks, we met many different NGOs that brought Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian people together to cooperate on environmental issues. These natural parks might have been created with ill intent, but the hope in this situation is that NGOs and civil society will continue to work together despite these original intentions.

Meredith Carbonell is a student at Columbia University studying Negotiation and Conflict ResolutionShe participated in the Regional Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East course in Jordan and Israel in August 2017. The course is a collaborative effort of Columbia’s School of Professional Studies and the Earth Institute, and the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University.  

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