Environmental experts accuse Israel of ecocide in Gaza

Several experts have warned against the environmental impact of the war on Gaza, accusing Israel of an intentional ecocide in the region, the New Arab reported on May 10th. 

“The greenhouse gas emissions generated during the first two months of Israel’s war in Gaza were greater than the annual carbon footprint of more than 20 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations,” said Gazan environmental activist Samar Safiya. 

The climate cost of the first 60 days of Israel’s war on Gaza is equivalent to burning at least 150,000 tons of coal. “In northern Gaza, two-thirds of the land was agricultural,” said Safiya, “now there’s nothing left.” 

She added that lemon and olive trees, as well as fields, have become collateral damage to Israeli airstrikes. Though Lucia Rebolino, co-author of a study by Forensic Architecture, suggested that this is intentional: “The environment is not just collateral damage, but a target of the Israeli army.” 

“Israeli bulldozers have razed fields and orchards to clear a buffer zone more than 300 metres deep along the northern border between Israel and the Gaza Strip,” she added. Of the 170 square kilometres of farmland that existed prior to the war, 40% has been destroyed. 2,000 agricultural buildings have also been razed — along with 90% of the northern districts’ greenhouses.  

READ: Health worker declares Israel’s war on Gaza “awful for women”

A joint study by the UN, World Bank and the EU estimates $629 million worth of agricultural damage. 

“We are living through an environmental catastrophe that will engender other catastrophes in the future,” said Safiya. “When the tanks roll onto our land, they also destroy its fertility.”

Forensic Architecture has published several reports on this “herbicidal war”, which has forced many farmers to leave their land.

“We regularly observed Israeli planes dropping herbicides on border agricultural areas at the beginning and end of the harvest seasons from 2014 to 2019,” said Rebolino, “Taking advantage of favourable winds to hit the maximum surface area.” 

Investigators from the media group Bellingcat claim that around 1,740 hectares of land have been cleared where the Israeli army has built a new road known as the ‘Netzarim Corridor’, used to transport troops and divide the north Gaza Strip from the south. The Corridor borders the wetland of the Wadi Gaza — a natural reserve whose banks were cleaned up at great expense by international NGOs a few months before the war.

Additionally, the UN reported that constant Israeli offensive action has resulted in an estimated 37 million tonnes of debris that could take up to fourteen years to completely clear away. “How are we going to dispose of all this debris, when there’s no waste infrastructure left standing?” asked Wim Zwijnenburg — a researcher at Dutch peace organisation PAX.

This rubble has also gradually contaminated soil and waterways — an issue that has undoubtedly resulted in the recent outbreak of hepatitis and meningitis within Gazan refugee camps. 

“Before the war, donors had invested large sums in the waste and water treatment system — it’s all been wiped out,” added Zwijnenburg. “Thanks to satellite images, we can see how thousands of pollutants infiltrate the soil and groundwater, and even how toxic fumes make the air unbreathable.”

READ: First aid shipment departs Cyprus for US-built Gaza pier

Some organisations have accused Israel of committing ecocide. On April 18th Israel granted 12 licences for offshore natural gas exploration in Gaza, violating international law. 

“The destruction of land is a systematic genocidal practice in the same way as the destruction of food production, schools, and hospitals,” said Rebolino.

While Saeed Bagheri — a lecturer of international humanitarian law at England’s University of Reading — acknowledges that the legal definition of ‘ecocide’ is difficult to specify, “the principle of humanity takes precedence over everything else,” he said. 

Because of this, he explained, Israel has the potential to face charges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ). “In any case, there must be an investigation.”

The UN has opened an inquiry into the destruction of the environment, though it will most likely wait until the war before any conclusions are reached.

“I only hope that the war will end so that we can recover our land and restore our soil, our water and our sea, which have been destroyed by the Israelis,” said Gazan Samar Abou Saffia.

The Israeli army justified its destruction of agricultural land on the grounds of Hamas, who they claimed “often operates from orchards, fields and farmland.” “The army does not intentionally harm agricultural land and strives to avoid any impact on the environment in the absence of operational necessity,” said its spokesperson. 

The New Arab 

 

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