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Israel’s Latest ‘Security Problem’: Who’s to Blame for Gaza’s Environmental Crisis 

Palestinians fill their bottles at a water purification station due to the lack of clean water in Gaza on 5 November 2013 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]
Palestinians fill their bottles at a water purification station due to the lack of clean water in Gaza on 5 November 2013 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

Writing in The Jewish Journal under the title, “A Spillover Crisis: How Gaza’s Water Shortage Affects Israel”, Dominik Doehler explains the direct link between Gaza’s water problems and Israel.

Doehler offered a scientific explanation behind the besieged Strip’s water crisis, but when it was time to assign responsibility, something went wrong. Instead of recognising how Israel’s war and protracted siege destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, the writer blamed the “ongoing conflict between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority” for Gaza’s suffering.

“Today, those who pay the price of the conflict between the Palestinian factions are the two million people in Gaza,” Doehler writes, without any mention of Israel’s primary role in any of this.

The dishonesty of the writer should not be entirely surprising, considering the biased nature of the publication. This is particularly symptomatic of Israeli and pro-Israeli media which often shy away from acknowledging the facts, but deflect responsibility from Israel, and point the finger of blame on Palestinians only.

That said, it is interesting that Gaza’s growing humanitarian crisis is finally registering in Israel as a pressing problem requiring action. However, it is not the impact of the crisis on the population of Gaza that is sounding the alarm bells in Tel Aviv, but rather the potential environmental damage Gaza’s ongoing misery may cause Israel.

On June 3, researchers from Israel’s Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion universities presented a report commissioned by the environmental organization, EcoPeace Middle East, in which they warned that “the collapsing water, sewage and electricity infrastructure in the Gaza Strip pose a material danger to Israel’s groundwater, seawater, beaches and desalination plants”.

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One would expect any report on the environmental situation in Gaza to focus on the fact that nearly two million Palestinians in the Strip are living in inhumane conditions due to a relentless 12-year Israeli blockade and repeated devastating military assaults which are rending the area “uninhabitable by 2020“.

Instead, the report has implied that the residents are solely responsible for the imminent environmental catastrophe in Gaza, which is threatening the security and well-being of Israeli citizens. The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, which published a detailed report on the presentation, also spun the issue as a matter of national security.

But what Israel has now identified as a “national security problem” is indeed a disaster of its own making. The occupation, colonisation, dispossession and aggression against Palestine and the Palestinians have caused untold environmental damage to the extent that now, even the Israeli occupier is suffering.

The environmental situation in Gaza is indeed dire at the moment, but it is not the Palestinians who made it so. Neither the “rapid population growth”, nor neglect or ignorance of residents that are its root causes. Countless reports by the United Nations and other organisations have documented in detail how and why the main culprit is Israel, its violent assaults on Gaza and its merciless siege.

Israeli settlers flood Khan al Ahmar with wastewater [Twitter]

Take the problem of untreated sewage ending up in the sea, which is causing issues for Israeli beach-goers and water desalination plants. The reason why Gaza’s sewage is getting disposed of in this “irresponsible” way is that water treatment plants are not operational; they were targeted in the 2014 Israeli assault on the Strip and were never rebuilt because the Israeli siege does not allow for construction materials and spare parts to be brought in.

Untreated sewage is part of the larger water crisis in Gaza. As the report rightly points out, Gaza residents are overusing the aquifer under the Strip, which has become increasingly contaminated with seawater and chemicals and which constitutes the only source of freshwater for residents because of the involuntary separation with the West Bank.

The reason for Palestinians in Gaza being unable to establish a proper water management system is again Israel’s doing. Israel has repeatedly bombed its water infrastructure, including water pipes, wells and other facilities, and the debilitating Israeli siege has prevented the local authorities from fixing it and building a water desalination plant.

Gaza’s water problem is not only an annoyance for the Israelis but a potential source of an epidemic for the Palestinians. Already, diarrheal diseases have doubled, reaching epidemic levels, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, while salmonella and typhoid fever are also on the rise.

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Then there is the problem with rubbish which Palestinians are burning, hence “polluting Israeli air”. As Cambridge University academic, Ramy Salemdeeb, has pointed out, Gaza has been unable to develop a proper waste management system because of economic restrictions due to the Israeli siege and a “limited land availability” because of its isolation from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories.

Given that Israel is a settler-colonial project, the overexploitation of the colonised land to the detriment of the environment and the local population is naturally a part of its modus operandi.

Indeed, all the land Israel has taken and occupied has suffered from environmental degradation in one way or another, with its harmful effects being conveniently shifted towards Palestinians area, villages and cities.

If Israel continues to treat the issue as a “security problem” it will never get resolved because at the heart of it is the destructive logic of a colonial enterprise which seeks to exploit both land and people with no regard for nature and human wellbeing.

In other words, Israel will never achieve security – environmental or otherwise – as long as it continues to oppress the Palestinians, occupy their land and ravage the environment. Israeli air, water and the overall environment will never be immune from the Israeli-made disasters in occupied Palestine. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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