Environment

by EA Cassie    –    8 min read

‘Wissam’s vision was to have a sustainable business of his own. His family have lived in Battir for generations and he carries on their work growing vines, olives and vegetables organically. He began to develop an eco-tourism business, working in partnership with a local environmental consultancy to offer a low-impact and small scale alternative to standard commercial mass tourism – and so the Al Burj Restaurant and Farm was created. The only problem was that the restaurant was located in Area C, an area under full Israeli military control. Over 75% of Battir land is located in Area C.’

‘Until last week Wissam had his own restaurant employing five local chefs. This was before a bulldozer accompanied by Israeli soldiers came to carry out a demolition order on the business. We walk a short distance uphill through olive groves to where the restaurant had been. Olive branches were torn from the trees as the bulldozer passed by and now they lie broken on the ground. A little further on and a pile of stones is all that remains of the toilet and washroom. At the top of the hill, where the restaurant was, there is less to see. A traditional tabouna oven lies on its side on a level stone platform encircled by the shattered stumps of wooden poles which once supported an elegant tarpaulin roof. An environmentally sensitive structure, it has left few traces behind.’ (EA Lesley)

A shepherd in the Jordan Valley

The West Bank was once home to grazing sheep and cows, fields of vegetables, grains, and fruit trees. Today, farmers do not have access to enough fresh water or land to grow crops or raise livestock. Decades of military occupation have brought environmental destruction, and increasing challenges due to climate change have impacted Palestinians’ ability to access water, grow crops, and raise livestock on once-fertile land.

Climate change is a real threat to the communities across the West Bank, where Palestinians do not have control over how natural resources are managed.

(See reports from the UN’s IPCC and EcoPeace Middle East for more detail)

Predicted rising temperatures:

Rising temperatures:    World Average: 2°c

World Average 20%

Rising temperatures:    Palestine: 4°c

Palestine 40%

Rainfall:

Projected rainfall decline in Palestine:    40%

Palestine rainfall declined by: 40%

Years of drought in the past 20 years:    15 years

Drought 75%

Experts estimate that the world will see an average increase in temperatures of 2 degrees celsius in the coming years. However, in occupied Palestine, it is estimated that temperatures could rise up to 4 degrees, and annual rainfall could decline as much as 40%. EcoPeace Middle East has recorded 15 years of drought in the past 20 years, and changes in global climate systems will increase the frequency of extreme weather and desertification of land. In the world’s most water-scarce region, climate change is a real threat to the communities across the West Bank, where Palestinians do not have control over how natural resources are managed.

‘Projected climate trends … will result in increased water shortages, flooding and subsequent challenges in food security. The capacity of the Palestinians to cope with and adapt to these challenges, is constrained due to its limited control over and access to its natural resources, especially land and water, as a result of the restrictions imposed by Israel.’

Climate Change Profile: Palestinian Territories. Read the report

Failed crops in Deir Istiya

Desert landscape in the Jordan Valley

As part of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, water rights and allocations were included in the temporary agreements made between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. Until a final status agreement was made, the Joint Water Committee would manage the water extraction and distribution – Palestinians were allowed a fixed amount of water per year (if they wanted more, they would need to apply for a permit from Israel).

This fixed amount has not been adjusted to account for the population increase in the decades since the agreement, and many Palestinians report that their communities have not received the allocated amount set out almost 30 years ago. Israel controls the underground aquifers in the West Bank and sells the water back to Palestinians through its half-nationalised, half-private water company, Mekorot. Palestinians are forbidden to dig new wells or to deepen the existing wells; many of which were dug in the early 20th century, so are either dry or too shallow to reach fresh water. Read more about water rights in Palestine here.

Access to water is a fundamental human right enshrined in international law, and as the global climate changes, Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are increasingly vulnerable.

‘The Israeli occupation has led to maladaptive policies and practices that undermine Palestinian resilience to the threat of climate change.’

Zena Agha, Al-Shabaka

A Palestinian man looks over his olive groves, cut down by Israeli settlers

In addition to the challenges posed by climate change, Palestinians across the West Bank also face the deliberate environmental destruction by Israeli authorities, security forces, and settlers. EAs and other human rights organisations have witnessed and reported repeated accounts of this destruction, including poisoning of Palestinian wells, diverting sewage from Israeli settlements into natural springs which supply Palestinians with water, and uprooting, burning, or cutting down Palestinian olive and almond trees (see UNOCHA’s weekly reports on the Protection of Civilians for examples).

Israel has also established chemical production facilities in the West Bank which contaminate the land and water supply. These facilities do not meet Israeli health and environmental safety standards, so the facilities were shut down and moved into the West Bank.

‘[Israel] has created a situation in which environmental legislation in the West Bank is much laxer than inside Israel, conveniently overlooking the long-term impact of environmental hazards on the Palestinian population and on natural resources, and neglecting to prepare future rehabilitation plans.’ (B’Tselem)

Settlers poison the roots of a Palestinian farmers olive trees so it can no longer fruit

Israeli settlers dump rubbish on a Palestinian road in Nahalin

Across the world, organisations like the UN, NATO, and the OECD have examined the relationship between climate change, natural resources, and conflict. The realities of climate change will threaten the future of Palestinians and Israelis living in the region, and this is exacerbated by the policies and practices of the Israeli occupation which violate human rights and obstruct the work of Israelis and Palestinians working for a just peace.

What does international law say?

States Parties recognize the right of everyone to... 'The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene.'

Article 12, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966

'Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.'

Article 53, Fourth Geneva Convention

'The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct.'

Article 55, The Hague Regulations, 1907

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