Israeli Environmental Terrorism in the Holy Land

By Tammy Obeidallah

Israelis have duped much of the Jewish and Christian religious communities into accepting their claim to Palestine is based on a belief that the land is holy—that their spiritual and emotional connection to this land reaches across millennia. Yet through the willful decimation of natural resources along with its native inhabitants, the Zionist establishment has proven that in the Holy Land, nothing is sacred.

With respect to the nearly 800,000 Palestinians that were forced to flee their homes upon the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Jewish State’s wanton destruction of the environment in their absence merits condemnation as well. The land once known as Palestine began suffering detrimental and irrevocable changes in the early 1950s when Israel’s fledgling government drained the wetlands surrounding Lake Huleh, north of the Sea of Galilee, for a housing project. Once the lake was dry, the Palestinian Painted Frog that inhabited the wetlands became extinct. The last reported sighting of the small amphibian was in 1955. Today, many other species are facing extinction due to Israel’s gross disregard for the environment.

Israeli fish farming is killing off coral reefs in the Red Sea, threatening unique species of fish and other marine life. According to coral ecologist Dr. Yossi Loya, five million fish are bred in cages each year without permits, a $20 million per year industry protected by the Israeli agriculture lobby. Coral reefs in Aqaba and along the Sinai Peninsula continue to thrive, as Jordan and Egypt do not permit large scale fishing off the Red Sea coast.

Meanwhile, Israeli corporate greed is threatening another natural wonder, the Dead Sea. At a 2009 regional conference to address the dramatic decrease in Dead Sea water levels, it was determined that industrial development would need to be abated. Israeli company ICL Fertilizers/Dead Sea Works responded by increasing potash production in their Dead Sea facility by 30 percent.
 
Zalul, an Israeli watchdog organization monitoring the effects of industrial dumping reported that 500 million tons of raw sewage are discharged into the Mediterranean Sea annually. Israel’s Ministry of the Environment issues licenses to the culpable corporations, effectively granting permission to dispose of waste in such a manner.

In addition to industrial waste, the municipalities of Acre and Ashdod have no properly built sewage treatment facilities, contributing to Mediterranean Sea pollution. In the Tiberias municipality, seven beaches along the Sea of Galilee were closed in 2007 after Israeli Health Ministry officials found double the allotted amounts of fecal bacteria in the water.

While Israeli citizens have been adversely affected by the government’s failure to adopt responsible policies, Israel’s inherent environmental racism and wholesale environmental terrorism against Palestinians and neighboring countries are far more sinister. In the West Bank, illegal outposts and unauthorized settlements pump sewage into rudimentary pits. The village of Deir Sharaf served as a dump for Israeli settlers until 2005, despite its close proximity to underground wells on which tens of thousands of Palestinians depend for drinking and sanitation.
 
Wood-coal factories in the town of Ya’abad emit rank smoke, choking residents. The same industry exists in Egypt where workshops were moved out of town. Such a solution is an impossibility in occupied Palestine, as the area outside city limits is under full Israeli control.

In a 2009 report, Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din cited 69 complaints of olive groves being damaged or destroyed during the past four years. Twenty-seven such incidents involving the destruction of hundreds of trees occurred between January and October 2009, despite a statement from the Israel Defense Forces that the olive harvest had passed “quietly.” Not only are the centuries-old olive trees vital to the livelihood of Palestinian villagers, they possess an almost spiritual quality so the loss to farmers is tantamount to losing members of their immediate families.

It is worse still in Gaza. Even before the Israeli blockade, Palestinian fishermen were prohibited from sailing more than five kilometers out to sea, rendering the immediate coastal area devoid of fish. The Israeli military routinely destroyed wells serving refugee camps. International Solidarity Movement member Rachel Corrie wrote of sleeping in front of the wells with fellow activists to prevent their destruction before she was murdered by an Israeli bulldozer driver in March 2003.

Israel’s 2006 bombardment of Lebanon damaged the Jiyeh power plant serving southern Lebanon, resulting in a 15,000 ton oil spill that devastated local fishermen along with the ecosystem. During that same time, millions of dollars of infrastructure was destroyed in Gaza, exacerbating problems with water supply and sanitation.  Due to the Israeli siege, international agencies were prevented from entering Gaza to repair the damaged wastewater treatment facilities, resulting in the March 2007 disaster in the village of Umm Naser when a sewage reservoir burst its banks, destroying 200 homes. Two elderly women and three children were killed. 

Along with the human toll, farmers suffered massive losses to their livestock during Israel’s assault on Gaza from December 2008-January 2009. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that 35,000 cattle, sheep and goats, as well as one million birds and chickens were killed. Animal carcasses, along with chemical agents used by the Israeli army, contaminated the water. Farmers report that the chemical-laden water now dehydrates crops.

Israel continues to raze farmland, irrigation piping, homes, greenhouses and wells along a buffer zone along the Gaza side of the internationally recognized “Green Line.” Anyone found within this Israeli-imposed no-man’s land risks being shot. At least 13 Palestinian civilians have been killed and 39 injured in border regions in and outside of the buffer zone last year, including women and children.
 
The true stewards of Palestine cultivated their land from ancient times until it was stripped away from them when Israel was established. Since then, Zionist immigrants have raped the land, poisoned the waters, polluted villages and decimated the native population. Determining who has the real spiritual and emotional connection to the Holy Land is as simple as comparing the landscape of Palestine prior to 1948 to the ever-expanding wasteland of today, yet another casualty of Zionist aggression and greed.

– Tammy Obeidallah contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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