Prior to the start of the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP27), which took place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, between 6 and 18 November, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs promoted the official delegation it will send to COP27, boasting that this is the State’s “most significant participation since international conferences on this topic began.” The Israeli delegation included the President of Israel, senior officials of various ministers, Zionist parastatal institutions like the Jewish National Fund, civil society, academics, senior officials of the private sector, and entrepreneurs. This year, Israel built its first national pavilion at COP, promoting 10 climate tech companies and hosting more than 30 events.
The delegation weaponised Israel’s long-used greenwashing strategy, boasting about the country’s “leading role” in climate tech and innovation toward climate change mitigation and adaptation, in areas such as renewable energy, gas, water desalination and reuse, afforestation, and alternative proteins.
Such a narrative showcases Israel as ‘environmentally-friendly’, in order to normalize and deflect its climate apartheid and environmental destruction against the Palestinian people, their land and their natural resources. The greenwashing narrative also conceals how Israel’s settler-colonial and apartheid regime, and prolonged belligerent occupation actually reinforces Palestinians’ climate vulnerability.
Israel’s greenwashing discourse has its foundation in the Zionist settler-colonial and racist logic that Zionists are “more advanced and civilised” to develop the land of Palestine than its indigenous Palestinian people, and that they came to Palestine to “make the desert bloom”. At an event titled, “Water reuse to address climate challenges” at the Israeli Pavilion at COP27, the Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection, utilised this narrative, boasting about Israel’s leading role in water desalination and reuse, underlying that “we have established the state of Israel in the middle of the desert. We suffered from water scarcity since the beginning…. We came up with the solution.”
What is Behind Israel’s Eco-Friendly Discourse and “Solutions”?
- Land and Natural Resources Appropriation
Israel’s greenwashing strategy puts a blind eye to its direct violation of Palestinians’ ability to develop self-determined resilience strategies of mitigation and adaptation to the climate crisis under its system of settler-colonialism, apartheid and prolonged occupation. This is specifically due to Israel’s policies of fragmentation, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the denial of the peoples’ collective right to self-determination, development and the appropriation, exploitation and degradation of Palestinian land and natural resources. This has been effected through the exploitation of land, water, natural gas and oil, quarrying, extracting dead sea minerals, as well as depleting Palestinians’ non-renewable and finite resources.
Specifically vulnerable to increased climate hazards are Palestinian communities whose livelihood mostly relies on access to and exploitation of their land and natural wealth, such as farming, herding and Bedouin communities. Around two million Palestinians living under a 14-year-old illegal blockade and closure in the Gaza Strip are also exposed to increased risks to climate related hazards such as water scarcity, and food insecurity. Around 97 percent of Gaza water is undrinkable, and over 60 percent of Gaza households are food insecure. Implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies is dependent on the Palestinian people’s ability to access and develop their land and natural resources in a sovereign and free manner, which is part of their inalienable right to self-determination.
- Climate Apartheid
In addition to Israel’s occupation and apartheid regime’s impacts on Palestinians’ climate vulnerability, there are many Israeli policies and activities which leave direct environmental injustice impacts over Palestinians, including:
- Illegal settlements have many negative impacts on both the environment and the human rights of nearby Palestinian communities. In industrial and agricultural settlements, corporations including chemical factories and companies operate without or with very low consideration to any environmental law, including the Israeli law, causing contamination of the surrounding air, soil and water.
- Many illegal Israeli settlements do not have proper waste treatment facilities, discharging a large amount of untreated sewage into Palestinian streams, valleys, and onto agricultural land. This implicates the destruction of the soil and changing its biological composition, implicating the death of trees and crops, as well as disease spread and extinction to Palestinian livestock and wildlife.
- Israel appropriates Palestinian land in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) as landfills for its waste. Israel, the Occupying Power illegally transports waste, including hazardous waste, into 15 Israeli waste facilities in the occupied West Bank. Moreover, illegal settlers’ solid waste, which is twice as more solid waste per capita than Palestinians, is mostly dumped in landfills in the West Bank. This is combined with the inability of Palestinians to develop climate-resilient infrastructure, including waste infrastructure, because of Israel’s apartheid and occupation and the associated policies and activities. All these climate apartheid practices and policies contaminate the air and pose health risks to nearby Palestinian communities.
- The quarrying industry in the OPT, not only contributes to the violation of the Palestinian right to self-determination and to permanent sovereignty, it further benefits from the appropriation of Palestinian property, and the pillage of Palestinian natural resources. Further, it depletes non-renewable and finite resources of the protected population, which may amount to the war crime of destruction of natural resources and environmental destruction. The resulting clouds of dust and pollution from the quarries, which do not abide by any environmental law, cause damage to the nearby Palestinian residents’ rights to land, landscape and environment.
- Another form of environmental destruction is caused by Israel’s targeting of Palestinian civilian property and infrastructure as part of its widespread and systematic demolition policy in the West Bank and successive military offensives in the Gaza Stip. For example, during Israel’s May 2021 military offensive on the Gaza Strip, Israel targeted with live bullets and artillery shells the main waste dump of Gaza city triggering a major health and environmental crisis. Another attack during the May 2021 military offensive, which caused catastrophic environmental damages included Israel’s targeted attack and destruction of the Khudair Warehouse. The Khudair Warehouse housed over 50 percent of agricultural supplies within the Gaza Strip. The attack on the chemical warehouse, created a chemical cloud that spread chemical waste over the people and environment of Gaza, poisoning the population. As the Israeli attack targeted with knowledge a chemical warehouse with chemical contents, it may constitute an indirect chemical weapon, which is prohibited under international treaty and customary law.
Conclusion: Decolonization, Social Justice, and Human Rights to Advance Climate Justice
While the COP serves as an avenue to address the global climate crisis, many States have often employed the COP to boast about their environmentally friendly initiatives, turning a blind eye to their own regimes of colonialism, occupation, aggression, apartheid, and authoritarianism and how they reinforce social injustices, racial discrimination, and the denial of the people the exercise of their right to self-determination.
The struggle for climate justice cannot be separated from struggles to end all systems of alien domination, including colonialism, apartheid, and occupation. An intersectional approach to climate change-related challenges, should be adopted, to include self-determination, human rights, and social justice.
In Palestine, Israel’s settler colonial apartheid regime and military occupation continues to deny the Palestinian people their inalienable right to self-determination, including their right to full sovereignty over their natural resources. In effect, the Palestinian people have been prevented from confronting the adverse effects of climate change. Decolonizing Palestine, and ending the apartheid and occupation, as well as realizing the Palestinian peoples’ right to self-determination including their right to full sovereignty to their land and natural resources is the only sustainable solution for the Palestinian people to set and implement viable mitigation and adaptation strategies to climate change.
 Rule 74, ICRC customary International Humanitarian Law Database; Hague Declaration concerning Asphyxiating Gases, 1899; Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, 1925 (Geneva Gas Protocol); Chemical Weapons Convention, Article I; Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 8(2)(b)(xviii).