Palestinian Rights are Environmental Rights
22 April, 2022
As the recent catastrophic floods in KwaZulu Natal have demonstrated, climate change is upon us. Its effects are brutal and deadly. Our hearts go out to all those who have lost lives, homes, and livelihoods in the wake of this natural disaster. Just as with war, banking crises, and other man-made calamities, climate change disproportionately hurts those who are already systemically oppressed. In South Africa, the poor are the most vulnerable to damage caused by floods, droughts, and disease. In Palestine, it is the Palestinians.
Part of the Israeli project of ethnic cleansing is to make life unliveable for the indigenous population of Palestine. Since 1948, Israel has systematically deprived Palestinians of access to water, agriculture, and other natural resources. Today, 97 percent of Gaza’s water is undrinkable and 85 percent of West Bank water resources are controlled by Israel. A third of Palestinians in the West Bank, and over two-thirds of those in Gaza, are food insecure. This dire humanitarian situation leaves Palestinians most vulnerable to the harmful effects of climate change.
The temperature in Palestine is predicted to increase by 4.8 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. On top of the harsh conditions they already face, Palestinians must contend with increased risks of soil degradation, food insecurity, and destruction from floods and droughts. These risks have been cruelly exacerbated by Israel, who have uprooted ancient sustainable agricultural communities, flooded the occupied territories with waste and mined its non-renewable resources to near-depletion.
Israel often sells itself as an environmentally friendly state to deflect attention from its human rights violations. In actual fact, Israel is a significant contributor to climate change and environmental degradation. Its per capita ecological footprint ranks in the top ten percent globally, and it is nearly seven times larger than that of the Palestinian territories. As part of the ongoing Nakba, Israel has uprooted hundreds of thousands of indigenous trees, razed farmlands, and bulldozed agricultural villages. Through the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Israel attempts to cover-up their wholesale violence by building parks over destroyed Palestinian villages. Israel’s environmental impact is deeply intertwined in the fabric of the state. It is deeply intertwined in colonial dispossession, apartheid, and its military industrial complex.
According to Friends of the Earth Palestine, war causes up to 30 percent of the total environmental damage worldwide. The role of the Israeli war machine in this cannot be understated. Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza’s infrastructure illustrates this severe impact. Last year’s attacks severely impacted the three main desalination plants in Gaza city. In 2014, Israel set fire to two million litres of diesel when it shelled Gaza’s only power plant. Israel’s hand in the destruction of people and the environment is multiplied when you consider that it is one of the largest weapons traders in the world. There is scarcely a war on this planet that does not have Israel’s fingerprints on it.
This is even more concerning when considering Israel’s stockpile of nuclear warheads. At a time when war in Ukraine garners lots of attention because of Russia’s status as a nuclear powerhouse, we forget that for Israel, such wars of aggression are routine. As a country that has developed the capacity to vaporise swathes of the Middle East in an instant, there can be little doubt that its tree-planting antics are meaningless. Israel’s refusal to sign any nuclear non-proliferation treaty makes mockery of any claims it has to be concerned about the environment, let alone peace.
As we commemorate Earth Day this year, it is vital that we remember the millions of Palestinians who have had their land stolen and destroyed by Apartheid Israel. Humans’ degradation of the planet has put us at the precipice of doom. Paradoxically, it is those who have contributed the least to this crisis are those who are most vulnerable to its effects. As we mourn close to 450 victims of the KZN floods, we fear for the millions of Palestinians who Israel has placed at risk. We condemn the blatant hypocrisy of the Israeli regime, which portends to care for a land it has so violently desecrated. We note that the struggle for Palestinian rights and environmental rights are entwined. There can be no climate justice while Israel remains a nuclear power. There can be no climate justice under land dispossession, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid.
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