Hassan Muamer: Environmental Advocate and Engineer

February 01, 2013 IMEU

Architect and civil engineer, Hassan Muamer, is one of Palestine's leading environmental advocates. Born in 1985 in the village of Battir, Hassan believes that "personal attitude is the key to success." With perseverance and optimism, he has dedicated the last few years to the fight to save his village from the Israeli separation wall that is set to cut right through Battir's ancient terraces ending a centuries-old agricultural tradition. 

With a degree in Civil Engineering from October 6 University in Cairo, Hassan says his interest has always been planning. "When UNESCO started a landscape conservation and management planning project in Battir I immediately got involved." Hassan started as a volunteer and quickly caught on to the vision and goal of the project. "Since my formal education was not in environmental architecture I had to teach myself a lot of new things. I would work during the day and volunteer with the project and then read as much as I could about issues relating to landscape conservation. I was mentored by great people and eventually I became the project coordinator." 

Pointing to the old location of the historic train station in the Battir valley, Hassan says, "We have so many elements to preserve in our village. The old station was valuable not just because it was a place where people had access to transportation but also because it was a cultural landmark. There was a permanent farmers market in the station that provided produce for cities all over Palestine straight out of these same terraces that we are standing on today. Since I was a child I have walked by this old train station that was shut down after 1948 but I never realized what a treasured architectural and cultural site it was." 

A walk with Hassan in Battir — "one of the world's major heritage sites" — would be the education of a lifetime. From information about the flora of the area to detailed explanation of historical events, to demonstrations of how an irrigation system from Roman times still works today, Hassan's knowledge of and passion for his village abounds. This may be why the village council has designated him as their representative in the struggle to gain emergency UNESCO World Heritage Site status for Battir to help them win their case against the construction of the separation wall in the Israeli high court. "I work closely with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, conducting research and preparing documents that prove the enormous cultural and historical significance of the living agricultural traditions in Battir." 

Trained by UNESCO himself as a terrace conservation specialist, Hassan seems to always hold on to what he knows is "the real thing". One would seldom find him hidden away in an office. He is always in the fields with farmers rebuilding terraces hand in hand. "Even when I worked as the program coordinator for UNESCO in the village I always had the trust of the people because I respect them. I am one of them." 

A man who does not shy away from responsibility, Hassan does not seem to mind that the future of his village may largely depend on documents he is preparing on behalf of his community. With an uplifting tone he says, "This work is not just important for my village. It is also important to me because in this process I started to learn things about my own country that I didn't know before. Everything from our water resources to the geological make up, to the flora and fauna, I am discovering that in Palestine we have a unique and diverse terrain that is worth preserving." 

While the geopolitical situation has a great impact on the landscape, Hassan remains faithful that raising people's awareness and investing in educating the youth will bear fruit. "Battir is a microcosm. It is a model site for the many cultural landscapes in Palestine. It is a place where we can still see the living culture of our ancestors and how political realities are forcing this to change."

The case of Battir is still in court and the future of his village is still uncertain but despite his young age Hassan describes his personal dreams as communal aspirations. "My personal dream is not my dream. It is the dream of everyone in my village. We pray that the building of the wall will stop so that our village will survive and so that we can continue to create projects that contribute not just for the conservation and preservation of Battir's natural resources but also to the preservation of our global environment. I hope that when all this is said and done that I would have achieved something for my people and that my name will be remembered as someone who made a contribution to something good in this world."