The double injustice of climate change in Occupied Palestine

The double injustice of climate change in Occupied Palestine
6 min read

Emad Moussa

02 September, 2021
Opinion: While Palestine and Israel face similar risks when it comes to climate change, the Israeli occupation means that Palestinians will suffer much more severely, writes Emad Moussa.
Gaza already faces frequent and severe water shortages [Getty]

Labelled a "code red for humanity", the recent UN climate report warned that many of the severe unprecedented weather patterns witnessed in recent years are irreversible and likely to worsen.

By calling upon nations to act immediately to reduce CO2 emissions, the report also revealed the socio-economic discrepancies between the haves and have-nots. Climate injustice affects the world both in terms of the disproportionate effects of climate change on different groups of people and the ability of those people to fight them.

Palestine, a party to the Paris Climate Treaty since 2016, is one of the most socio-economically and institutionally fragile nations, and as such, it falls well behind in adaptive and procedural readiness to combat the effects of climate change.

Unlike other nations, however, Palestine's fragility is not merely a product of poor management or limited resources. It is largely the result of seven decades of Zionist settler-colonialism. This makes Palestinian climate vulnerability an intrinsic part of the overall political struggle with Israel.

The Middle East is expected to be especially impacted by the effects of climate change. In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that temperatures in the southern and eastern Mediterranean are expected to rise higher and 1.5 - 2 times faster than the global average, between 2.2 - 5.1°C according to a realistic emissions scenario. Annual precipitation rates will also fall by 20 percent by 2050.

While the future appears bleak for all the region's populations, it is especially grim for Palestinians.

Even though Israel and Palestine technically share the same geographic area and are likely to face the same ecological fate, the two nations drastically differ in their level of readiness to adapt to climate change.

As an adaptive measure and in line with the Paris agreement on climate, Israel is set to cut its carbon emissions 85 percent by mid-century, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared.

But even though this is a positive approach, theoretically, for the geographically adjacent Palestinians, there are sections, if not most, of the Israeli official bodies who view climate change purely as a national security dilemma, much like Israel's recent handling of Covid-19.

To them, mitigating climate change all boils down to dwindling resources that may give rise to failing states and, according to the Times of Israel, "Islamic extremists" and "criminal groups" who would use food and water as weapons of control. 

The ready and often tried answer would be additionally barricading and walling off the Israeli collective.

But the securitisation of climate change - although understandable within reasonable boundaries - will likely happen at the Palestinians' expense.

To maintain political stability and alleviate the effect of dwindling natural resources, Israel will resort to further deepening its control of Palestinian land and populations, accelerating its theft of their natural resources, especially water and agricultural lands. 

In this case, climate injustice for Palestinians becomes climate oppression. The word "injustice" indicates a spontaneous result of unbalanced socio-economics, while "oppression" denotes a premeditated act of deprivation.

As it stands today, Israel is reliant on a system of segregation that grants privileges to its citizens and excludes Palestinians, yet simultaneously gives the Israeli state the "right" to use Palestinian resources for the well-being and luxury of its citizens.

For example, as Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank enjoy plentiful quantities of water for drinking and swimming pools, Palestinians continue to be controlled by Israel's 1967 Military Order 158, forbidding the construction of any water installations/developments without a permit from Israeli authorities, which is almost impossible to obtain.

Part of the water that Israel steals from Palestinians is sold back to the Palestinian Authority, an ironic fact that perfectly fits the defining reality of the Zionist colonialist rule.

This backwards water economy causes severe water shortages and devastating effects on crops, which represent not only the backbone of the Palestinian economy but also the primary source of food security that could help alleviate the impact of climate change.

Furthermore, Israel is continuously destroying trees crops throughout the West Bank, as well as confiscating fertile lands under security pretexts or as punitive measures, especially in the Jordan Valley, Palestine's breadbasket.

This all happens against the backdrop of Israel's continuous usage of West Bank regions to treat Israeli waste, including hazardous waste.

In Gaza, the situation is more extreme. Ninety-seven percent of Gaza's water is not fit for human consumption and the majority of Gazans are forced to buy mineral water to survive.

The green cover that once existed in the Strip has now significantly diminished, thanks to rapid population growth and Israel's destruction of dozens of hectares of crops and citrus trees by bulldozing them to create security buffers - mostly in the fertile areas near the border - or by blocking agricultural exports.

Israel's security doctrine in Gaza ensures that Palestinians teeter on the edge of a severe humanitarian crisis, yet never quite cross the line. Yet, almost no-one in the Israeli official institutions seems very concerned about the ramifications when Gaza, which has exhausted nearly all of its resources, including landmass, reaches the point of full ecological collapse.

A Palestinian man uses a plastic bottle to wash his horse during a heatwave at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza on 2 July, 2017. [Getty]

Indeed, Palestinian geographical fragmentation and fragile socio-economics weaken the Palestinian ability to fight climate change. However, it's imperative to remember that fundamental to the Zionist settler-colonialism is the transformation of Palestinians into fully dependent subjects, stripped of the means to function on their own or establish an independent state.

As Israel manufactures and perpetuates this collective deprivation, not only does it emphasise a racist, colonial hierarchy, but - worse - it takes away Palestinians' basic means to fend for themselves against climate change.

Stripping a group of the means of self-defence against climate change may be equal to committing climate genocide.

Dr Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer who specialises in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.

Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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