Human beings are endowed with essential basic rights. These include the right to freedom, equality and prosperous natural living conditions. As such, every individual has a public duty to safeguard and improve the environment for the benefit of present and future generations.
The Draft International Treaty on Third-Generation Rights, which deals with environmental, cultural and developmental rights, devotes two of its articles to the environment:
1. Article 14 confirms that all persons have the right to a clean environment suitable for their economic, social, cultural and legal growth.
2. Article 15 demands that Member States commit themselves not to negatively alter normal living conditions in a way which may damage the health of individuals and future generations. Since its inception, the International Labour Organisation has been concerned with working environments, and in 1976 it adopted the international programme to improve working condition in order to make labour more humane.
Israel‘s abuse of the Palestinian environment
Due to the continuous and permanent depletion of its natural resources alongside incessant pollution by the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian environment and Palestinian environmental rights are under pressure and in rapid decline. Moreover, the scarcity of resources, closures and restrictions on mobility, and high unemployment rates pose an additional impediment to meeting the needs of a rapidly expanding population, and the growing requirements of economic conditions.
Following Israel’s occupation of the territory that remained to Palestinians in the wake of the 1967 war, it has continued to pursue a systematic policy for the destruction of the Palestinian environment. The methods adopted, which include the destruction of the cultural heritage of the Palestinian people, are the same as those adopted in gaining control of Palestine following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
The impact of illegal Israeli settlements
Illegal Israeli settlements confer control over Palestinian land and its resources and are, as a result, the heart of the expansionist philosophy upon which the state of Israel has been built.
According to Palestine’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2010 there were 144 officially recognised (by Israel) settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, alongside 221 outposts and 85 other sites bringing the total number of illegal Israeli settlements to 450. The numerous settlements established strategically across the Occupied Palestinian Territories and concentrated in particular areas, aim at facilitating the fragmentation and eventually annexation of Palestinian areas. They have also become one of the most prominent and serious manifestations of Israel’s degradation and destruction of the Palestinian environment.
Settlements have proliferated around Palestinian towns and cities in such a way as to form settlement axes which, while fragmenting the occupied territories, have also isolated Palestinian areas from their environmental surroundings. The settlement axis in the Jordan Valley separates the Valley from the rest of the West Bank in one direction, and separates the West Bank from its natural environment east of the Jordan River in the other. The settlement axis that stretches along the 1948 armistice line again separates the West Bank from the rest of Palestine, and similarly the Ariel axis of ‘Trans-Samaria’ divides the West Bank into two halves – the northern part incorporates the governorates of Jenin, Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Nablus and Tubas, while the southern part incorporates the provinces of Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron.
Settlement blocs around Palestinian cities have had a significant impact on local biodiversity, which in many cases has been altered as wild flora and fauna are unable to reproduce naturally. This is in part the result of building practices adopted during construction of these settlements which include land levelling and excavation, the uprooting of trees, the establishment of military checkpoints and the construction of bypass roads. These practices deprive the Palestinian population of their rights to the use of their land, which has led to the depletion of groundwater reserves and loss of control over its resources.
The impact of Israeli settlements on the environment of the Occupied Territories falls under the following headings:
- The impact of settlements on Palestinian groundwater supplies
- Contamination by settlement waste water
- The impact of settlements on Palestinian flora and fauna
- Settlement air pollution
- Alteration of the natural Palestinian environment caused by settlements
- The destruction of Palestinian cultural heritage by settlement bypass roads
- Hazardous solid waste pollution by settlements