The CEO and Executive Vice President of the World Jewish Congress submitted a petition to the Deputy Director of the UN Environment Programme last week signed by over 22,000 people. Robert Singer asked the UN body to condemn what he described as the "environmental crimes" caused by the incendiary kites and balloons flown by the Palestinians who participate in the Great March of Return protests along the eastern side of the besieged Gaza Strip.
Singer blamed the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, for the said "crimes" and alleged that hundreds of animals have been killed, and over 8,000 acres of farmland, woodland and wildlife have been destroyed. He asked why the international community "remains silent while Hamas practices environmental warfare, which jeopardises Israeli citizens and wild animals."
The WJC official was also angry that, "The livelihood of the thousands of farmers, who have committed their lives to turning what was once desert into an oasis, has been shattered." He pointed out that international law stipulates that, "causing natural environmental destruction amid violent conflicts is prohibited" and said that the "deliberate and inexcusable… attacks against innocent beings is never acceptable, and today we are seeing both animals and nature being targeted as victims of war."
Like anyone else who cares about the environment, Singer did the right thing in submitting a petition to the UN to highlight the dangers of fire and toxic smoke on farmland and woodland. However, in focusing on the environment he is evading the reality of what is happening in the Gaza Strip, and the legitimacy of the Palestinian protests.
The Great March of Return protests were initiated by Palestinian activists in March and remain ongoing. They were not organised by Hamas, although the movement and other Palestinian factions such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular and Democratic Fronts are part of the fabric of Palestinian society, so it is natural to find their leaders and members involved.
In the wording of his petition, Singer did not explain why the Palestinians have been protesting for 29 consecutive Fridays. He did not find it worthy of the UN's attention to point out that the Palestinians want an end to the 12-year siege imposed by Israel. Nor that the siege has a negative impact on every aspect of life, including the sewage and electricity systems which either work irregularly or not at all. Israel is thus, in effect, creating the circumstances leading to millions of cubic metres of raw sewage pouring into the Mediterranean Sea every day. That's also a catastrophe for the environment, but it escapes Singer's attention.
He also ignored the pollution caused by repeated Israeli attacks on Gaza since 2006, which intensified during three major offensives in 2008/9, 2012 and 2014. The damage caused by Israel's use of what many suspect has been illegal munitions — including white phosphorus bombs and toxic gas rather than tear gas — is much more dangerous than the fires arising from the Great March of Return protests. This is an indisputable fact.
Singer has also repeated the old canard beloved of Zionists that Israeli settlers have turned "what was once a desert into an oasis." The "livelihoods" of "thousands of farmers have been "shattered" by the protesters, he alleged.
In fact, Palestine was well-cultivated before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. It is not true to say that the "thousands" of Israeli farmers turned the desert into an "oasis"; their farms are built on the land where once stood Palestinian villages before the latter were wiped off the map and the residents were driven out of their land, or killed. Only then did the "farmers" — let's call them settler-colonists —turned them into either settlements or woodlands. The Palestinian protesters are demonstrating for their legitimate right to return to their lands and put an end to Israel's ethnic cleansing.
Concern about anyone's livelihood is laudable, but Robert Singer clearly has no compassion for the tens of thousands of Palestinians whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the Israeli-led siege. Even in the occupied West Bank, farmers are unable to access their lands due to the Apartheid Wall built across Palestinian territory by Israel.
It is ironic that Singer refers to international law regarding damage to the environment, given that Israel breaches international laws and conventions on a daily basis. But let's leave that aspect alone for the moment. I would like to ask the World Jewish Congress CEO why he and his organisation and its petition to the UN do not draw the international body's attention to the uprooting of Palestinian-owned olive trees — some of them hundreds of years old — by Jewish settlers, and the destruction of farms and woodland in the occupied Palestinian territories?
According to data collected by the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Agriculture, the Israeli authorities and their settler-colonists uprooted an average of more than 83,000 trees each year in the occupied territories between 2000 and 2012. On Sunday, Israeli settlers uprooted 450 more fruitful olive and grape trees in two different areas in the occupied West Bank.
Perhaps Singer and his colleagues would also like to comment on the 19 million cubic metres of wastewater from Israeli settlements which flows through the occupied West Bank each year. Is that not an "environmental crime"?
I am not against exposing the negative side of any action, but I am against the idea of exposing the negative side of legitimate Palestinian resistance against Israel's brutal military occupation while totally ignoring the very negative side of the Israeli occupation. By any reasonable standards, as well as international law, the latter is many times worse than the former in terms of the effect on the environment and the daily lives of millions of people.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.