North Africa, West Asia: Opinion

How Palestine’s climate apartheid is being depoliticised

International donor-led schemes promote peacebuilding and collaboration rather than pushing Israel to end its occupation

Muna Dajani
25 February 2022, 12.00am
Palestine’s struggle is also a climate and environmental struggle
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Eddie Gerald / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

At the core of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is its theft of Palestinian natural resources, including land and water, which exacerbates the climate crisis. Palestine’s struggle is also a climate and environmental struggle and, for decades, Palestinian civil society organisations and their global partners have been fighting to achieve justice on these issues.Yet the climate crisis is progressing at a rate faster than many governing bodies around the world can handle and with Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestine, Palestinians are doubly unable to mitigate much of its effects.

But Palestine is unique for another reason. Its leadership, the Palestinian Authority (PA), has been complicit in obstructing real successes in climate and environmental justice.

That is, since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian struggle has been reduced to a state-building project that is doomed to fail so long as the status quo of military occupation and corrupt Palestinian leadership persist. Through its participation in the UN’s COP climate conferences and other international forums on climate change that promote collaboration between states, the PA continues to delink climate and environmental issues from Israel’s military occupation of Palestine, effectively depoliticising and normalising it.

True environmental justice, which would include restoring Palestinians’ rights to access to their natural resources by ending the Israeli occupation, is rarely addressed in these international forums and conventions. As a result, the fight for climate and environmental justice in Palestine continues to be funded by international donors who, along with the PA, seek to manage Israel’s climate apartheid rather than pushing Israel and its allies to end it.

Normalising Israel’s climate apartheid in Palestine

The framework of peacebuilding through negotiations, exercised and promoted by the Western world in mediation with Israel and the PA, is nothing more than a set of ‘colonial practices’ that benefit colonisers at the expense of the colonised. This framework has shaped initiatives and policies aimed at addressing climate crises in Palestine for decades. As a result, environmental and climate issues are continually disconnected from the political reality of military occupation, so the programs fail to disrupt Israel’s settler-colonial practices.

For example, donor-funded initiatives like EcoPeace and the Arava Institute have for years used slogans such as ‘the environment knows no borders’ and ‘bringing people together’ to promote collaboration between Israel and Palestine around climate and environmental justice. Palestinian environmental organisations and their allies have long criticised these initiatives for normalising and legitimising the Israeli occupation under the guise of sustainable development, trust-building and greening the environment. Fundamentally, these schemes serve to disregard what is clearly a situation of climate apartheid, and to promote the climate crisis as yet another arena where cooperation and dialogue are the answer instead of radical political change.

Technological fixes depoliticise apartheid

Many of these collaborative initiatives and donor-funded programs also promote the idea that climate-related issues can be solved with technology, without addressing the underlying political realities. The climate crisis, however, is not a natural phenomenon; it is human-made and compounded by political and economic decisions. In the case of Palestine, the effects of climate change are influenced and exacerbated by Israeli settler colonialism and theft of natural resources.

For example, rather than advocating for putting local, national and international pressure on Israel to commit to adhering to Palestinians’ water rights, the EU and other donors have emphasised the potential for technology to solve what they have framed as ‘water scarcity’ in Palestine. This donor-led development scheme obscures a fundamental political reality: ‘water scarcity’ in Palestine is linked to Israel’s military occupation and its theft of Palestinians’ natural resources, including water.

Climate change across Palestine must be understood as an inherently political reality exacerbated by decades of Israeli settler colonialism and theft of natural resources

As another example, the Green Climate Fund, a multilateral financial mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is currently supporting a five-year project focused on increasing water availability for sustainable agriculture in Gaza through the use of treated wastewater. This technological fix disregards the political reality that Gaza faces due to Israel’s crippling blockade and siege, which in turn isolates it from the rest of Palestine. The fix thus ultimately continues to use donor funds to manage the situation rather than ending military occupation and unlawful economic siege in Gaza.

Greenwashing settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing

These problematic approaches to climate change affect not only those Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, but also hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live inside Israel, as well as Syrians in the occupied Golan Heights (Jawlanis). Through its ratification of the Paris Agreement, Israel has committed to a 25% reduction in its 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and it aims to achieve this by developing green energy projects in occupied territories.

In the occupied Golan, this takes the form of a large-scale wind project that is planned to be developed on what little remains of Syrian Jawlani agricultural lands. And as of January 2022, Israel is uprooting Palestinians from their homes and lands in the Naqab as part of a project to flatten dunes and plant trees. These projects greenwash what are fundamentally settler-colonial and ethnic cleansing policies by Israel against Palestinians.

What Palestinians need

Climate change across Palestine must be understood as an inherently political reality exacerbated by decades of Israeli settler colonialism and theft of natural resources. Therefore, challenging peacebuilding and collaboration initiatives, which normalise and depoliticise settler-colonial military occupation are crucial steps to centring climate justice within Palestinian popular mobilisation.

Several Palestinian civil society organisations are already undertaking this critical work. PENGON, the Palestinian Environmental NGO Network, for example, has been leading the way in raising awareness and mobilising for environmental, water and climate justice in Palestine. Similarly, Al Haq, a leading human rights organisation in Palestine, has expressed the need to adopt an intersectional approach to climate change, including through investigating its impact on women in the Israeli-occupied Jordan Valley.

For such efforts to be amplified and empowered, the PA and the international community must support their justice-based advocacy and challenge international forums such as COP for normalising climate apartheid. Moreover, the donor community should cease support for green normalisation projects that ignore the political reality and power disparities between Palestinians and Israelis. Local and international climate change activists should also focus on addressing historical climate and environmental injustices in Palestine in order to hold Israel accountable for its theft of Palestinians’ natural resources.

Finally, the international community should support the mobilisation of local, national and international resources to pressure Israel to acknowledge and commit to adhering to Palestinians’ water and land rights. These steps would place the justice framework at the centre of Palestinian popular mobilisation, thus allowing Palestinians to not only restore their environment and mitigate climate change, but also reclaim their historical connections to their lands and resources.

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