Friday, December 04, 2020

Palestine Aquarium is about more than just fish

By Marc Henry - August 02, 2018
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [Occupation] [Education] [eco tourism]

In the middle of Al Bireh, just outside Ramallah, you will find Al Safeeneh building, designed as a massive ship paving its way through the sea of taxis and vans. Inside this monstrous architectural wonder the Palestine Aquarium, on July 22, opened the doors to a world of colourful fish, dangerous crocodiles and beautiful tropical plants. 

Sufian Al-Quawasmeeh, project engineer and partner in the Palestine Aquarium, is a proud man these days. The Palestine Aquarium is the first of its kind in Palestine, and it has been quite a struggle to make it a reality.
“It started with an idea from my partner Dr Amjad Omar who wanted to make an aquarium for culture and education, and not only for play and fun for children and people, Al-Quawasmeeh told the Palestine Monitor.
“It has taken about a year and three months to open this aquarium. We started in April 2017 and rented this location. We began to make meetings with engineers and people who knew about aquatics. We made a contract with a Palestinian Company with more than 25 years experience in the area, so we began importing over basins and motors from China,” Al-Quawasmeeh continued.
However, one thing is to order the animals, basins and motors. Another is to get it into Palestine. While it was only supposed to be a matter of weeks, it took months just to get the equipment into the country. Even worse, a new Israeli law to stop the import of fish for Israeli companies gave the aquarium a hard time.
“It was supposed to take between one and three weeks, but it took six months. It was a hard time, and we lost a lot of money, and many of the fish died because we couldn’t get them here,” Al-Quawasmeeh said.
However, after the opening of the aquarium, Al-Quawasmeeh and his partners have a plan for importing new fish without any problems with the Israeli law.
“Now we are an aquarium. It is respectable. It is not about politics but life. We will make partnerships with other aquariums, and get fish that can live here. This means that Israel won’t be able to stop us. They cannot say no, because we are a true aquarium now. We are just like any other aquarium in the world.”
The Palestine Aquarium offers not less than 250 unique and rare underwater species. Photo: Myriam Purtscher.
Finding a water source under occupation
The 820-meter Palestine Aquarium with its dimmed lights, silent classical music and glassed basins displaying 250 unique and rare underwater species is breathtaking. Especially when taken into consideration that the aquarium has no direct access to neither seawater nor lake water. Instead, the aquarium produces the water on a water farm outside Ramallah.
“We can make seawater and lake water like in the Amazon River. It takes about six months, and then we transfer the water to the aquarium. It is a lot of hard work, but we have no choice. We can’t bring water from the sea to here, Al-Quawasmeeh told Palestine Monitor.
Project engineer and partner Sufian Al-Quawasmeeh with biologist Juliana Daibes. Photo: Myriam Purtscher.
For biologist Juliana Daibes, 24, the water farm and the aquarium is the gift that keeps giving. As a part of her job at the Palestine Aquarium, she helps in training the staff and takes care of the animals.
“As a biologist in Palestine you can work as a scientist or a teacher, so the options are limited. Here I can test the water and see the marine life that I have studied. I can see how fish act in different conditions and be specific about the marine life,” Daibes told Palestine Monitor.
Along with the more than 20 employees, she has experienced how the aquarium has been welcomed with more than 300 visitors a day for the first week.
“It seems to mean a lot for people. Our clownfish are the most popular, but our crocodiles and anaconda are quite popular as well,” Daibes said.
More than just an aquarium
While the aquarium has had a successful start, the people behind are not stopping here. The aquarium will get bigger and better, and maybe within a couple of years, Al-Quawasmeeh is hoping to leave the current location to build a new aquarium in Jericho.
“We will expand within four or five years,” Al-Quawasmeeh said, and stressed that money isn’t a problem.
“Many countries love Palestine and want to help us. We don’t need funding, but people with experience who can train our people and help us become better. There are countries that can bring us fish, and I hope many countries will. We need the experience from other countries, not their financial help.”
However, it is not only the experts’ experiences that are appreciated. Al-Quawasmeed is also hoping to get feedback through other channels.
“We are making it [the aquarium] for Palestinian people, but of course it is open for foreign people. I am just glad to get feedback from people from outside because they are used to attend these kinds of aquariums.”
The Palestine Aquarium is located in Al Safeeneh building, designed as a ship, in Al Bireh. Photo: Myriam Purtscher.
However, for the people behind the first aquarium in Palestine, it is about more than just animals and exotic plants. It’s a matter of the right to live in the same way that people outside occupied Palestine live.
“We are Palestinians, and we need to live. We need to live as people outside the [separation] wall and see what they see. We have our rights to do so. We are humans like anyone else. We don’t think about the wall, but we think about getting rights, and we have the rights to get this aquarium and to see what people outside see,” Al-Qawasmeed said.
“We are challenging the rights and showing that we exist just like everyone else,” Daibes agreed.

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