University of Calgary

EVDS' Newest PhD sheds light on urban expansion in Tulkarem, Palestine

PhD graduate Maha AbuHafeetha celebrated her graduation at the November convocation ceremony. This past July, Maha successfully defended her dissertation, The Impacts of Urbanization on Agricultural Sustainability in Palestine after the Construction of the Separation Wall, under the supervision of Dr. Noel Keough.

Maha's accomplishments during her combined years of study at the University of Calgary include 17 local and international awards, 17 months of international experience, five presentations at local and international conferences, three peer reviewed publications, and two conference proceedings.

With a Bachelor's Degree in Architectural Engineering from Palestine's An-Najah National University, and a Master's Degree in Engineering Project Management from the University of Calgary, Maha joined EVDS' PhD program in 2009.

To complete her field work, she traveled to Palestine in very difficult circumstances, investigating and identifying the main factors leading to the loss of agricultural land in the Palestinian urban environment after the construction of the Separation Wall in the West Bank and Israel.

Maha's research focused on the city of Tulkarem in Palestine's West Bank. Palestinian cities, and Tulkarem in particular, have gone through a period of rapid urbanization that have led to lost agricultural areas and an increased demand for land. In Tulkarem's case, the expansion of the city is restricted by political considerations and the existence of the Separation Wall along the city's west side. Maha's study documented the impacts that urbanization, the Separation Wall, and unstable political conditions had on agricultural land use, and brought together the views of urban planners, decision makers and farmers.

Political instability, the poor economic situation of farmers, lack of support and guidance, land fragmentation, lack of laws and bylaws and interest in protecting agricultural lands were found to be the main factors that lead to agricultural land loss for urban uses in Tulkarem. Further, Maha's study found that most of the land owners who sell for urban uses are expatriates, who live outside the country, and cannot come back or stay in Palestine due to the political and economic situation. Based on these findings, Maha provided several practical actions and strategies that will be implemented to prevent the loss of agricultural lands and sustain their uses in Palestinian cities.

While being officially conferred her PhD at the November 10 convocation ceremony (and being mentioned in Dr. Cannon's remarks as an example of a remarkable graduand) is a significant milestone, Maha cites her greatest achievement during her years at the University of Calgary as becoming a mother to her two lovely girls, five year old Aya, and two year old Raya.

Now that her studies are complete, Maha, her husband Dr. Nashaat Nassar, a professor in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department, and their daughters have decided to stay in Canada. "I will seek out an academic or professional career in Calgary," Maha says. "I love working in architectural and urban planning areas."

Family photo courtesy Maha AbuHafeetha. From right to left, first row; Raya and Aya, second row, Maha and Nashaat.