MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
SA Jews for a Free Palestine uses Jewish environmental holiday to raise alarm over Israel’s ‘ecocide’ in Gaza
While many civil society organisations and several governments have accused Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza, one group – South African Jews for a Free Palestine – has levelled a new accusation; one of widespread ecocide.
‘Ecocide can only be stopped when acts of genocide are stopped. They go hand in hand. Restoration of human rights means restoration of the land and the rights to the land for Palestine’s future survival.”
These were the words of political economist and environmental sociologist David Fig as South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP) gathered at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg to honour Tu B’Shvat, Jewish New Year of the Trees.
Usually celebrated as a day of ecological awareness, SAJFP and a handful of the organisation’s supporters and members descended on the Nakba Memorial Forest at Constitution Hill on Wednesday to not only participate in community gardening in the forest planted by SAJFP, but also to reflect on “Israeli war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity as they relate to crimes against the environment”.
Fig said that while celebrating the New Year of the Trees is usually a rededication to an appreciation of nature, the day was celebrated this year with heavy hearts.
“The conflict in occupied Palestine has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, massive destruction of infrastructure, and war crimes including the deprivation of the civilian community of basic food, water, power, medical attention and shelter,” Fig said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
Fig said that while the global community calling for a ceasefire in the conflict has understandably focused on the harm that has been visited on Palestinians living in Gaza, there is a neglected part of the conflict that needs to be addressed: the continued destruction of the natural habitat on which the future survival of citizens of Gaza, and Palestinians in general, depend.
Allegations of ecocide
While Israel has been accused of genocide for its relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip, a new accusation has been levelled — one of ecocide.
Genocide is defined as the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group. On the other hand, ecocide is the destruction of the natural environment by deliberate or negligent human action.
“The crime of genocide is well recognised, and South Africa has been praised for raising this as a legal question before the International Court of Justice. What is not yet enshrined formally in international law is the destruction of the living environment, part of which we can’t survive without,” Fig said.
The environmental sociologist accused Israel of using greenwashing and its ecological expertise to legitimise its war on Gaza and normalise oppression and environmental injustice.
Fig was referring to Israel’s claim that it is “making the desert bloom” through a reforestation campaign and initiatives such as Project Green with neighbouring Arab countries, which has been lauded as the saving grace of a region battling with the effects of climate change.
According to Al Jazeera, in November 2021, Jordan, Israel and the UAE signed a declaration of intent for Project Green and Project Blue, jointly known as Project Prosperity.
It envisioned the construction of a 600MW solar power plant by Masdar – a UAE state-owned renewable energy company – on Jordanian territory to sell electricity to Israel and expand an Israeli water desalination programme to export 200 million cubic metres of water to Jordan.
“The Gaza Strip was barely habitable before Israel’s latest assault due to a years-long, relentless blockade. Now, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment and total siege – its ongoing genocide – has also triggered an ecocide in Gaza,” the report read.
Despite its participation in water projects with Arab countries, Israel has been accused of exacerbating the water crisis in Gaza, including blocking water supply to the stricken region.
According to Fig, this is not the only form of ecocide happening in Gaza.
“The deliberate invasion of Palestinian territory by settlers, sanctioned by successive Israeli governments, has resulted in land grabs, illegal displacement of people, and confiscation of precious water, arable land and other key agricultural resources.
“The occupation also limits Palestinians from harvesting traditional olive and other local crops on which they’ve depended for centuries,” Fig said.
SAJFP has called for an immediate end to the illegal settlements and restoration of the land in occupied Palestine to the former owners.
“We say that Israel must stop weaponising environmental resources and put an end to the deprivation of food and water in Gaza. Israel must clean up land, water and soil contaminated by its use of military hardware, including white phosphorus.
“On this day of Tu B’Shvat in the year 5784, we are mindful that the ecological destruction of historical Palestine is indivisible from the destruction of its people,” Fig said.
While Israel has not responded directly to the accusations of ecocide from activists and environmental groups, the nation has made it clear that its top priority is the safety and security of Israeli citizens.
According to PBS, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s top diplomat for the Middle East, Oded Joseph, said the nation’s priority was fighting for and protecting Israeli nationals. Joseph added that climate and environmental crises would be dealt with if the country meets that objective.
Israel has framed itself as an eco-friendly pioneer in agriculture technologies, dairy farming, desert ecology, water management and solar energy. However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) gave the country a low score in its environmental performance review.
The OECD’s 2023 report finds that Israel is behind on its targets to reduce global warming emissions, has increased subsidies for fossil fuels over the past decade, is failing to provide financial incentives to encourage waste recycling rather than burial, and still exposes its citizens to levels of pollution from particulate matter that are among the highest in the developed world. DM