Those who are not familiar with how Israel, particularly with its military occupation of Palestine, is actively and irreversibly damaging the environment might conclude erroneously that Tel Aviv is at the forefront of the global fight against climate change. The reality is the exact opposite.
In his speech at the UN Climate Change Conference — COP26 — in Glasgow, right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pushed the Israeli brand of "innovation and ingenuity" to "promote clean energy and reduce greenhouse gases". Israel uses this particular brand to sell everything, whether it be promoting itself as the saviour of Africa; helping governments to intercept refugees fleeing from violence and war; pushing deadly weapons in the global market; or, as Bennett did in Scotland, supposedly saving the planet.
Before dismissing Bennett's rhetoric as empty words, we must remember that some people actually buy into this Israeli propaganda. One of them is American billionaire Bill Gates.
The day after Bennett's speech, Gates met with the Israeli prime minister on the sidelines of COP26 to discuss the establishment of a "working group" to study potential cooperation "between the State of Israel and the Gates Foundation in the area of climate change innovation," reported the Times of Israel. According to the newspaper, Gates, who had asserted in his meeting with Bennett that only innovation can solve the problem of climate change, commented, "That's really what Israel is known for."
The Microsoft billionaire's obsession with "innovation", however, might have blinded him from addressing other things that Israel is also "known for": being the world's leading human rights violator, for example, whose horrific track record of racist apartheid and violence is known to every member state of the United Nations.
Something else that Gates might not be aware of is Israel's systematic and purposeful destruction of the Palestinian environment, resulting from its occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv's insatiable appetite for military superiority and constant "innovation" in terms of arms and ammunition. Every act that is carried out to entrench the military occupation consolidates Israel's colonial control and the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements, all of which have a direct impact on the Palestinian environment.
Not a single day passes without a Palestinian tree or orchard being set ablaze or cut down by an Israeli. "Clearing" the Palestinian environment is, and has always been, the prerequisite for constructing or expanding Jewish settlements. For these colonies to be built, countless trees have to be "removed", along with the Palestinians who have planted them, cultivated them and harvested them for centuries.
Over the years, millions of Palestinian olive and fruit trees have been uprooted in Israel's constant demand for more land. The resultant soil erosion in many parts of occupied Palestine speaks volumes of this horrendous ecocide.
But it does not end there. For hundreds of illegal Jewish settlements housing more than 600,000 settlers to exist, a heavy price is being exacted from the Palestinian environment on a daily basis. According to the thorough research of Ahmed Abofou, an independent legal researcher with Al-Haq rights group, illegal Israeli settlements "generate around 145,000 tons of domestic waste daily." Indeed, "In 2016 alone, around 83 million cubic metres of wastewater were pumped throughout the West Bank."
Moreover, Israel has near total control of Palestinian water. It relies on the occupied West Bank's aquifers to meet its water needs, while denying Palestinians access to their own natural water resources.
According to Amnesty International, the average Israeli receives 300 litres of water per day, while a Palestinian receives just 73 litres. The problem is accentuated when the water usage of illegal Jewish settlers is also taken into account. The average settler uses as much as 800 litres per day, while entire Palestinian communities can be denied a drop of water for days and weeks on end, often as a form of collective punishment.
The issue is not just about outright theft, denial of access or unequal distribution of water resources. It is also about the lack of clean and safe drinking water, an issue that has been highlighted by international human rights groups for many years.
The result of these unfair policies has forced many Palestinians "to purchase water brought in by trucks" at prices "ranging from 4 to 10 USD per cubic metre," reported Amnesty. The human rights organisation highlighted that, for the poorest Palestinian communities, "water expenses can, at times, make up half of a family's monthly income."
As bad as the situation may sound, the plight of the besieged Gaza Strip is much worse than that of the occupied West Bank. The tiny and overcrowded territory is a prime example of Israeli cruelty. Two million Palestinians living in Gaza are being denied the most basic human rights, let alone freedom of movement.
Since the Israeli military blockade on Gaza started in 2007, the environment of the coastal region has deteriorated on a constant basis. With restricted access to electricity supplies and bombed-out sewage plants, the Palestinians in Gaza are forced to dump raw sewage into the sea. Furthermore, Gaza's main aquifer is now polluted to such an extent that 97 per cent of the available water is undrinkable, according to UN reports.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. From the destruction of Palestinian wells to the poisoning of trees; and from the demolition of entire ecosystems to make space for Israel's apartheid wall, to the use of depleted uranium in its various military offensives against Gaza, Israel has been on an unrelenting mission to destroy Palestine's environment in all of its manifestations.
In truth, Mr Gates, this is what Israel is "known for" by anyone who cares to pay attention. Allowing Bennett to present his country as a potential saviour of humanity, while legitimising Israel with massive investments in "innovation", mischaracterises — in fact, invalidates — the entire global campaign to truly understand the nature of the climate problem at hand.
Those who are hurting the planet have no right to claim that they are saving it. As it stands, Israel is the enemy of the environment that it ravages wilfully. This is really what it should be "known for".
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.