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Palestine, Land and Life

Webinar: The environmental and humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank

Amid bombings, war crimes, mass killings of civilians, most of whom are women and children, missing persons, famine and the devastation of entire cities, environmental justice seems like a minor issue. But it is not. The link between the environmental destruction of a territory and that of its original people is inseparable.

Chemical residues in the soil, water and air, lack of electricity to make and access safe drinking water, constant thick, black smoke, and decomposing bodies everywhere you look. It is not only bombs and bullets that kill. It is also starvation and dehydration, disease and despair.  To destroy land is to destroy life and today, the environmental destruction of a territory is being used as a weapon with intent to kill.

This piece gathers the exchanges made in the webinar: The environmental and humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank, organised by Friends of the Earth International and PENGON – Friends of the Earth Palestine. Legal expert Dr. Nasser Al Rayes, Rasha Abu Dayyeh from PENGON, Yasmeen El-Hasan from the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Palestine (UAWC, part of La Vía Campesina), and Dr. Abdelrahman Al Tamimi from the Palestinian Hydrology Group participated. French MEP Elsa Faucillon of the Democratic and Republican Left also shared her perspectives, and MEP Mounir Satouri of the Greens/EFA facilitated the webinar.

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Satouri opened the webinar by making reference to the historical appropriation of water resources in Palestine: ‘It is not a recent phenomenon, water is a vital and geostrategic element.’ To support this, he recalled that the Palestinian population does not have access to the resources of the Jordan River and must ask for authorisation to use it. In addition, he gave the following data: ‘Palestinian families can only dig wells up to 140 metres, while Israeli families can dig wells up to 800 metres. In addition, Israeli settlers in the West Bank are allowed to consume 300 litres of water per person, per day, while Palestinians are only entitled to 68 litres.’ He also highlighted the Israeli apartheid wall and how its route was designed to monopolise Palestinian water resources, and more than 100,000 olive trees were uprooted for its construction.

Dr. Nasser Al Rayes, an expert in International and Humanitarian Law, began his presentation by making it clear that, according to the Geneva Convention and its associated protocols, Palestine is an occupied land. Among other things, the expert spoke about the destruction of infrastructure in Gaza and its effects on the Palestinian population. ‘The network of solid waste treatment plants has been destroyed, and it is decomposing waste, so diseases are spreading.’ Linked to this, the specialist mentioned that ‘destroying hospitals is part of Israel’s systematic policy to deprive the Palestinian population of the right to medical attention and health.’

Nasser Al Rayes closed his participation by stating that Israel is violating international conventions, that it is committing war crimes and therefore crimes against humanity. ‘Israel must be held accountable for the execution of these plans,’ he said, and gave way to Engineer and water and environmental specialist Rasha Abu Dayyeh of PENGON.

‘The use of various types of missiles, explosives and weapons containing white phosphorus, gases, and other environmentally harmful substances by the Israeli occupation have rendered vast areas of the occupied Gaza Strip into unsuitable lands for agriculture. Additionally, the remnants of these weapons have not been properly disposed of or treated through sanitary methods, leading to their decomposition and deposition of the components in the soil and water resources. This is also a war crime,’ Abu Dayyeh said. She also pointed out that there are problems with the treatment of medical waste and with the purification of water because of planned power cuts. ‘Israel deliberately denies essential elements of human life as a collective punishment,’ the engineer and activist concluded.

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Dr. Abdelrahman Al Tamimi, from the Palestinian Hydrology Group, gave a brief historical overview of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, in order to make clear that the siege and dispossession of the Palestinian people did not begin in October 2023, but has been going on for more than 76 years. It is the continuation of the Israeli colonisation project that began with the Nakba in 1947, the apartheid system imposed on the original Palestinian population and its subsequent territorial advances.

Environmental damage is not collateral, it is part of the plan. ‘On 9 October, the Israeli defence minister ordered a total siege on electricity, water and fuel in Gaza, a siege that continues to this day,’ said al-Tamimi. He also mentioned that 93% of the groundwater wells are not working. In other words, hundreds of Palestinian families are left without clean water for cooking, drinking and bathing. All this leads to starvation, dehydration and disease because of the use of contaminated water.

Elsa Faucillon, a French MP for the Democratic and Republican Left, spoke about the importance of the international community’s support for Palestine. Making reference to land issues, she said: ‘when there is a colonisation project, land is dispossessed and there is a desire to grab this land in order to put their most polluting projects there, projects that they do not want to put on the land where the settlers live (…). What is happening in Gaza today is a genocidal and ecocidal project.’

Near the end of the webinar, Yasmeen El Hasan, from the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Palestine, pointed out: ‘Israel is a settler colony. Settler colonialism entails the elimination, forced displacement, of the Indigenous population off the land and replacing them with a settler population. The basis of settler colonialism is land theft. It’s all about the land. A settler colony will do whatever it takes to forcefully steal that land, including destroying and exploiting it and genociding its people’.

One of the goals of the Israeli state, according to El Hasan, is to sever the Indigenous relationship with the land, which is one of interdependence, regardless of the humanitarian consequences. She also spoke of the restriction of mobility for the Palestinian population and how this prevents them from obtaining basic elements critical for their livelihood. She concluded by reaffirming: ‘there is no environmental justice without Palestinian justice, and there is no Palestinian justice without Palestinian sovereignty.’

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For more information, we invite you to watch this webinar hosted by Friends of the Earth Australia: Environmental Nakba – a First Nations forum on the effects of colonisation on Indigenous Lands

If you wish to make a donation in solidarity with Friends of the Earth Palestine – PENGON, please click here.

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