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US study examines Israel’s ‘targeting’ of Palestinian agricultural, water and energy infrastructures

Israeli settlers damaged olive trees after storming into Palestinian olive groves [Sawsan Bastawy]
Israeli settlers damaged olive trees after storming into Palestinian olive groves [Sawsan Bastawy]

Researchers at Duke University and the University of New Hampshire have examined how “Israel’s targeting of agricultural, water and energy infrastructures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has had dire impacts on human welfare and livelihoods in both locations”.

According to the Duke University press release, the new report “is based on an original database that identifies 982 incidents between 2006 and 2017 in which Israeli forces, agencies or settlers damaged, destroyed, disabled or restricted access to sites and structures that provided food, clean water and other essential services to Palestinians”.

The data from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank comes from a larger database that documents the targeting of infrastructure across the Middle East and North Africa. The analysis was published in the journal International Affairs.

“For so long, the international community has largely focused on the direct targeting of civilians in war and has overlooked the way in which governments target infrastructure during war and occupations that can persist for decades,” said Erika Weinthal, Lee Hill Snowdon Professor of Environmental Policy at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

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“Our research, which synthesizes findings from hundreds of government documents, UN reports, prior studies and other verifiable sources, shows that when you target objects like cisterns, sewer lines, fishing boats and olive trees, you are also indirectly targeting the humans who depend on them. This has profound long-term implications, not only for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza but for peace and security across the region,” Weinthal said.

The cycle of destruction, rebuilding and destruction again has resulted in significant degradation of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and economy

said Jeannie Sowers, associate professor of political science at UNH’s College of Liberal Arts.

With respect to the Gaza Strip, the report notes how “repeated attacks on water and sewage infrastructure have damaged 60 per cent of the area’s treatment plants, 27 per cent of its pumping stations and more than 20 miles of water or wastewater lines”.

The systemic use of legal restrictions, permit denials and other indirect forms of oppression is an example of “slow violence,” Sowers explained, referring to a term Princeton University scholar Rob Nixon coined in 2011 to describe environmental damage that unfolds gradually and largely out of sight of the public.

“Slow violence has been especially widely used in the West Bank,” Sowers said. “It includes a range of practices, from the theft of electrical generators to the denial of construction permits to build water systems for Palestinian villages, as well as refusals to connect them to existing systems. Collectively, such actions have contributed to the fragmentation of the Palestinian population into a series of isolated, donor-dependent enclaves.”

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