How Israel’s environmental violations sustain its apartheid regime

How Israel’s environmental violations sustain its apartheid regime
Israel has long attempted to ethnically cleanse Palestinians by using the occupied West Bank as a toxic waste dumping ground. According to Hala Yacoub, this reinforces why Palestine's liberation is also an environmental justice struggle.
6 min read
13 Jul, 2023
Palestinian students wearing medical mask holding banners reading 'stop air pollution' as they gathered in Tulkarm, West Bank to protest air pollution caused by Nitzanei Shalom Industrial zone in 2015. [GETTY]

The Israeli government recently released over a million documents from their state archives, revealing part of Israel’s plans to create a new stage of Israel’s settler colonial enterprise. This strategy depends on the slow ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in order to build settlements in the West Bank.

These documents show minutes from meetings held by the Israeli military’s Judea and Samaria Division which depict the stages of the settlement project in the West Bank. According to the documents, the first step would be dispossessing Palestinians from their lands using the legal cover of ‘firing zones’, and if they refuse to leave their homes, they will face oppressive consequences, including the destruction of crops.

The documents also catalogue the Israeli colonisation of Aqraba, a village in the north of the West Bank, and the building of the Gitit settlement on the land. They detail the stages of creating a coercive environment in order to forcibly dispossess Palestinians from the village, as previous tactics failed – including declaring the land a closed military area.

''It is clear that Israel treats the West Bank as its private ‘sacrifice zone’ because it is much cheaper to pollute the area than to responsibly process or reduce waste. However, it would be naïve to wait for an environmentally responsible approach from an apartheid regime which exists to serve a larger settler-colonial enterprise – especially when the continued violations help advance this project.''

In order to achieve their goal, Israeli authorities, including the occupying military, the settlement department at the Jewish Agency and the Custodian of Absentee Property, admitted to employing “a crop duster” in order to spread toxic chemicals which are “lethal for animals and dangerous for humans”. They served to also drastically deter the growth of crops on the land.

This poisoning of the land tactic has been a new revelation provided by the documents released.

Similarly to the case of Aqraba in the 1970s, today Masafer Yatta and the Jordan Valley are also facing policies aiming to displace and cleanse Palestinians from their lands. This starts with Israel creating military training areas which serve as a legal cover, and subsequently developing a coercive environment by systematically attacking Palestinian presence in the targeted areas.

Sacrificing Palestinians

The crime of crop dusting has in fact been ongoing since 1972. Little has changed throughout the decades, today’s practices and yesterday’s policies prove that when all else fails, Israel will easily resort to attacking the Palestinian ecosystem using toxins in order to feed its settler-colonial enterprise and apartheid regime.

Palestinian land is also used as a colossal sacrifice zone by Israel which places open waste dumps belonging to its illegal settlements, in the occupied Palestinian territories [oPt].

Today, there are at least 15 documented Israeli dumping sites in the West Bank that are located near Palestinian villages that are negatively impacting the communities’ well-being, agriculture, and security. Some involve the burying of raw waste and others are used to treat recycled waste – a hazardous process.

In the Jordan Valley, the soil is reported to absorb 60% of toxic sludge resulting in Israeli wastewater treatment. Furthermore, the largest Israeli dumping site created for medical waste treatment is located in the illegal Maale Ephraim settlement in northern West Bank.

To make matters worse, several industries and landfills have been closer to the green line or inside the West Bank where the environmental repercussions would only fall on Palestinians. For example, the Geshuri and Sons Factories, which produce a range of products, mainly pesticides, were moved from their previous location – which was considered too harmful for Israelis – to the Nitzanei Shalom industrial settlement in the city of Tulkarm.

The Kfar Saba pesticide factory was also moved to the Tulkarm area, as was the Dixon Gas company’s industrial gas factory which required open air to freely burn its solid waste produce. Both of the factories produce dangerous pollutants which are harmful to Palestinians.

Ecocide for apartheid

For Israel, the West Bank is populated by ‘non environmental rights deserving’ Palestinians who are consequently forced to suffer through increasing rates of cancer, optical and respiratory diseases. This is certainly the case in Tulkarm where, according to research by professor Mazen Salman from the agriculture faculty at Khudouri University, most of the optical and respiratory diseases in the area are located in the surroundings of the Israeli factories.

Not to mention, the acres of Palestinian crops that have been destroyed including citrus farms in Wadi Qana and olive tree groves in Qaryut (found in the Salfit governorate).

It is clear that Israel treats the West Bank as its private ‘sacrifice zone’ because it is much cheaper to pollute the area than to responsibly process or reduce waste. However, it would be naïve to wait for an environmentally responsible approach from an apartheid regime which exists to serve a larger settler-colonial enterprise – especially when the continued violations help advance this project.

By placing hazardous landfills in the oPt, Israel not only the generates a coercive environment in order to displace Palestinians, but also the de facto annexation of the lands that host the landfills – which is a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention.

The relationship between Israel’s environmental violations and its apartheid regime are inescapable. Using waste dumps in the oPt in order to efficiently maintain the economy of Jewish settlers, annexing and displacing Palestinians to empower Israel’s settler colonialism, imposing impossible living conditions on Palestinians, systematically sacrificing a zone and its population for the sake of another, are all apartheid practices. After all, the Apartheid Convention (1973) highlights in its definition the “imposition of living conditions calculated to cause its physical destruction”.

Indeed, Israel’s violations are not merely environmental, neither in intent nor effect. Sacrifice zones, as a global phenomenon, serve imperialist interests. This not only highlights that the Palestinian struggle is an environmental one, but also that environmental justice is incomplete without the fight for decolonizing Palestine.

Hala Yacoub is a 24-year-old trainee lawyer at Al-Jubran Law Firm and a legal researcher at the Justida Legal Research Centre in Palestine. With a thorough interest in International Law, Hala actively engages in exploring the application of legal principles to advance the struggle for Palestinian liberation and promote a more just world. As a volunteer at Stop The Wall, she dedicates her time to advocating for the rights of Palestinians and raising awareness about the ongoing forms of oppression they face.

Follow her on Twitter: @Palestiniantilt

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.