As the Palestinian director of the institute, Issac works for a sustainable Palestine. He sees the E1 land at the heart of such sustainability because of its potentially high level of connectivity, development, tourism, and natural resources. But the Israeli government is seeking to advance an E1 settlement project that would bisect Palestinian contiguity in the West Bank. It will also take up Khan Al Ahmar Bedouin area and large chunks of the Jordan Valley. In late February, the Israeli government approved plans for more than 7,000 new settlement homes in E1—the largest number ever authorized in one sitting.
What this mean? “This latest direction they took means that Israelis are totally going ahead with an annexation of the Jordan Valley,” said Isaac. “They are denying rights to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, where we were focused on health tourism.”
Health tourism does more than promote wellness—it’s an income generator for Palestinian entrepreneurs and businesses. Current E1 settlement plans would bisect the land as well as cut off access for Palestinians in virtually all directions.
“Since it’s the lowest place on earth, it attracts a lot of tourists,” explained Issac, who has calculated how much money this could feed into Palestinian economy. “Tourism alone will provide an additional $500 million a year,” he said, “with an additional $1.5 million a year from the Dead Sea minerals.”
In a report, he has used these calculations to lay out the stark path ahead if the E1 settlement is allowed to move forward. "Losing that piece of land would make the Palestinians lose $2 billion a year,” he said. “We want Palestinians to become viable and sustainable—but this is not what the Israeli government wants.”
“Candles in the darkness of occupation”
If this direction continues, Isaac believes Palestinians will simply be driven from the land—and that his children and grandchildren will have no future.
That’s why he’s determined to keep working for a sustainable Palestine. “It’s my vision, and I will insist we inherited this land from our forefathers, and we have to give it to our children and grandchildren so they can have a future,” he said. “I am adamant to continue our work.”
In simple terms, Isaac wants a free country. “I want to be like everybody else, to be able to move around, and to build and plant trees anywhere we want be in E1 or elsewhere,” he said.
“We are working with the marginalized and vulnerable communities,” he said. “We are making a difference.”
Assisting institutions, cooperatives, Individual famers, and families, the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem helps people consider sustainable practices such as hydroponics and solar energy, to name just two of many.
"We are making change in the livelihoods of people despite the shrinking space,” he said. “For example, we fight climate change through planting of trees then using systems of water harvesting.”
He reflects: “For me it’s like lighting candles in the darkness of the occupation.” It the course of his work in the field, it gives him great pain to see olive trees destroyed by Israeli settlers. . “You know, for us, an olive tree is like a baby,” he said. “I have 16 olive trees in my garden.”
He has personally planted every single one—and worries that someday the trees will be destroyed. “For me, it’s not a question of money, but an organic relation between me and these trees,” he said. “I don’t want to lose them.”
When he sees farmers losing their olive trees—some are torched by settlers—he immediately starts thinking of where he will get money to replant the trees.
“Some in Israel are taking our world,” he said. “What do you do?”
Right now Issac does what he can with the land he has left for the Palestinians. “Any piece of land that is viable, even in urban areas, we can now use smart agriculture,” he said. “Even in 15 square meters, you can plant your own peas, radishes, spinach, all these things.”
More numbers of hope: in one square meter, Isaac has taught people to produce about 50 lettuce plants. “That’s self-reliance,” he said. “This is holy.” He is hoping to take his vision to E1 and make it a development and income generating area for Palestinians.