From September 26-28 2016, a group of 35 experts from 10 Arab countries and from different land governance related disciplines and backgrounds met in Amman, Jordan, to attend the Expert Group Meeting on Fostering Good Land Governance in the Arab States.
Issa El Shatleh, of ILC member ACAD, recounts his experience.
There is an old, but simple Arab proverb which goes as follows: Unity is power. When we talk about land rights, the discourse often alludes to strong and unifying notions such as human rights, self-determination and civic empowerment. In practical terms, however, we are also discussing the parcels and plots upon which we collectively feed our families, the physical properties on which our homes and communities are built, and the grounds upon which we assemble. Access to a stable, flourishing piece of land, one that we can see and touch, and call our own, can have impactful benefits on how we feel and take in the world around us. It is a pillar of psychological stability, emotional security, a prerequisite for social cohesion. There is little that is more unifying, or powerful than this. Nowhere is this more apparent, felt more astutely, than in my home state of Palestine. According to the colleagues whom I meet in Amman, this strong sentiment is reverberated throughout the Arab region.
Despite popular conception and belief, the Arab region has been a historic pioneer in housing many well-established systems of sustainable land management. The pre-Islamic hema system of rangelands management was revolutionary in governing the timing, and intensity of grazing, and was instrumental in the maintenance of rangelands. The situation today, however, paints a starkly different picture. Strong colonialization throughout the region has led to the coexistence of juxtaposing religious, and civil legislation, causing divisive land disputes. The trend of land fragmentation is increasingly common, the result of continuous sub-division of land for inheritance. When our lands become fragmented in this way, when they get continually pulled away from us, whatever the political context or reason may be, the ground beneath us shakes and entire communities come undone.
This is why it is time that we call on land activists everywhere, from the Arab world, Middle East and far beyond, to unite in abundant numbers. Throughout our three day meeting, the need for coordinated efforts and regional unity is continually reinforced. We speak of concrete and measurable actions such as carrying out land policy assessments in selected countries, online solutions to sharing knowledge amongst land governance stakeholders , establishing a multi-partner task force to lead the first steps of an Arab Land Administration Initiative, as well as organizing an Arab Land Governance Conference. These are small, but actionable steps that we can take, to restore a sense of wholeness to our communities, to encourage their already incredible resilience.
This is not the type of collateral damage that makes newspaper headlines, or that appears on TV screens. Instead, it lives quietly in the conscience of mothers who want to give their children a place to call home. It sits heavily on the minds of fathers who long to provide safety and security for their families. Inevitably, we must muster up our collective strength, rally our troops, and find the courage to rebuild from the rubble.
(Photo by GLTN)