The growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza is finally being registered in Israel as an urgent problem requiring “clear and immediate” action. However, it is not the impact of the crisis on the people of Gaza that is ringing alarm bells in Tel Aviv, but the potential environmental damage that Gaza’s continued misery may cause Israel.
On June 3, researchers from the Israeli universities of Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion presented a report, commissioned by the environmental organization EcoPeace Middle East, in which they warned that “the collapse of water, sewage and electricity infrastructure in the Gaza Strip poses a material danger to Israel’s groundwater, seawater, beaches and desalination plants”.
We would expect everything report on the environmental situation in Gaza to focus on the fact that nearly two million Palestinians in the Strip live in inhumane conditions due to an unrelenting 12-year Israeli blockade and repeated devastating military assaults, which are tearing the region apart »uninhabitable by 2020“.
Instead, the report suggests that local residents are solely responsible for the impending environmental catastrophe in Gaza that threatens the safety and well-being of Israeli citizens. Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which published a detailed report on the presentation, also turned the matter into a matter of national security.
But what Israel has now identified as a “national security problem” is actually a disaster of its own making. The occupation, colonization, dispossession and aggression against Palestine and the Palestinians have caused so much environmental damage that even now the Israeli occupier is suffering.
The environmental situation in Gaza is indeed dire at the moment, but it is not the Palestinians who are responsible for it. Neither the “rapid growth of the population”, nor the negligence or ignorance of local residents, which are the root causes. Countless reports by the United Nations and other organizations have documented in detail how and why the main culprit is Israel, its violent aggression against Gaza and its ruthless siege.
Take the problem of untreated sewage ending up in the sea, causing problems for Israeli bathers and water desalination plants. The reason why Gaza’s sewage is disposed of in this “irresponsible” way is that the water treatment plants are not operational; they were targeted during the 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip and have never been rebuilt because the Israeli siege does not allow the delivery of building materials and spare parts.
Untreated sewage is part of Gaza’s biggest water crisis. As the report rightly points out, the people of Gaza are over-exploiting the aquifer under the strip, which is increasingly contaminated with seawater and chemicals and is the only source of fresh water for local residents due to the involuntary separation between the West Bank.
The reason Palestinians in Gaza are unable to establish an adequate water management system is again not their fault. Israel has repeatedly bombed its water infrastructure, including water pipes, wells and other facilities, and the debilitating Israeli siege has prevented local authorities from repairing them and building a water desalination plant .
The water problem in Gaza is not only an inconvenience for Israelis, but a potential source of an epidemic for Palestinians. Already diarrheal diseases have doubledreaching epidemic levels, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, while salmonella and typhoid fever are also on the rise.
Then there is the problem of garbage, which the Palestinians burn and therefore “pollute Israeli air. As Cambridge University scholar Ramy Salemdeeb has pointed out, Gaza has not been able to develop a proper waste management system due to economic restrictions due to the Israeli siege and “limited availability of land” because of its isolation from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories.
What the Israeli report does not mention is that beyond sewage and waste problems, Gaza also suffers from a variety of other environmental disasters, which are again linked to the Israeli occupation and aggression against the Palestinians.
The Israeli army spray regularly herbicide on Palestinian farmland near the fence separating the besieged territory from Israel. The chemical he uses most often is glyphosate, which has been proven to cause cancer. According to the Red Cross, these activities not only damage Palestinian crops, but also contaminate soil and water.
Israel’s repeated heavy shelling of the Gaza Strip has also contributed to the pollution. There is evidence that the Israeli army used depleted uranium and white phosphorus in its attacks on Gaza, which not only cause immediate harm to civilian populations, but also remain a source of health risks long after the attack. stop the bombardments.
Similarly, weapons used in Israeli military operations have contaminated the environment in Gaza with heavy metals like tungsten, mercury, cobalt, barium and cadmium, which are known to cause cancer, birth defects, infertility, etc.
Colonialism and environmental destruction
That Israel, which prides itself on supposedly “making the desert bloom”, is responsible for a major environmental disaster in that same “desert”, is hardly surprising. Being a colonizing project, the (over)exploitation of colonized lands to the detriment of the environment and the local population is a natural part of its modus operandi.
Indeed, all of the land that Israel has taken and occupied has suffered in one way or another from environmental degradation, its adverse effects being conveniently out of place. towards the land, the villages and the cities of the Palestinians.
Israel’s aggressive settlement building practices have not only uprooted, segregated and dispossessed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, but have also harmed the environment. They have led to excessive water consumption, which has not only drastically reduced access to water for Palestinians – leading some to speak of “water apartheid”, but has also depleted the water resources in general. Aggressive water use for agriculture – much of it managed by illegal settlers in the West Bank – has led to the depletion of aquifers and a sharp drop in water levels in the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River .
Israel also pollutes Palestinian land by literally using it as a dumping ground. It is estimated that around 80% of the waste generated by Israeli settlements is dumped in the West Bank. Various Israeli industries and the military are also known to dump toxic waste on Palestinian lands.
Moreover, in recent years, Israel has systematically moved polluting factories to the West Bank. He did this by building so-called “industrial zones” that not only use cheap Palestinian labor, but also release their toxic by-products into the environment with no regard for the well-being of Palestinians. living nearby.
Israel also continued its decade-long practice of uprooting Palestinian olive groves and orchards. This strategy, intended to sever the connection Palestinians have with their land, has not only led to the loss of livelihoods for thousands of Palestinian farmers, but has also soil erosion and the accelerated desertification of parts of occupied Palestine.
All these activities that harm the environment in which the Palestinian people live accumulate over time. Today they endanger Palestinian lives, but tomorrow they will also threaten Israeli lives.
If Israel continues to treat the issue as a “security issue”, it will never be resolved because at the heart of it is the destructive logic of a colonial enterprise that seeks to exploit both the land and the people without caring about nature and human well-being.
In other words, Israel will never achieve security – environmental or otherwise – as long as it continues to oppress Palestinians, occupy their lands and ravage the environment. Israeli air, water and environment will never be safe from Israeli-caused disasters in occupied Palestine.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.