Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Destruction and transformation of the Palestinian environment
posted by: Frubious Bandersnatch at 2:34 PM
By Odog

Comments on this blogspot, often by those unfamiliar with the situation in Palestine, have typically ignored the environment as a key component to the conflict. The purpose of this update is to provide a brief summary of the environmental conditions in Palestine and bring them to the forefront of debate. After decades under occupation the Palestinian environment has become severely degraded. The Israeli occupation has caused significant damage to the Palestinian environment due to unsustainable exploitation
of natural resources and by its geopolitical ambitions in the West Bank such as building settlements, roads, and conducting military incursions which have destroyed vital infrastructure. (photo; Olive trees destroyed for the construction of seperation barrier.)














Environmental destruction and occupation have accompanied significant deterioration in economic conditions and the social fabric of Palestinian society highlighting the intrinsic relationship between society and the environment. While the Israel can not be blamed for all of Palestine's problems, the occupation and Israel's ongoing policy of disengagement are significant cross cutting themes. Environmental destruction has particular significance to the peace process (or lack of it) and the viability of the two state solution. Presenting a brief summary of the environmental problems in Palestine will highlight why this solution is becoming increasingly irrelevant and divorced from the realities of the Israeli occupation.

So what are the major environmental problems in Palestine?

Water Concerns
Unsustainable utilization and management of both surface and groundwater resources in Palestine has led to their depletion and deterioration in quality. Current extraction from groundwater is exceeding recharge and ground water levels are decreasing rapidly. Similar conditions exist for the Jordan River where upstream extraction has dramatically reduced flow. Depletion of water resources is largely due to Israeli consumption which utilizes more than 80 percent of Palestinian ground water and denies Palestinians their rightful utilization of the Jordan River. Israel allocates Palestinians 93 million cubic meters (MCM) per year for industrial use, and 153 MCM per year for agricultural use, leaving per capita consumption for domestic use at less than 30 cubic meters per year. Settlers in the Occupied Territories are consuming Palestinian water at the rate of more than 100 MCM per year. On an annual, per capita basis, Israelis consume more than four times as much water as Palestinians.

Water quality in Palestine has deteriorated due to a number of factors. Management of waste water has been neglected throughout Palestine and in many cases it is discharged into the environment without prior treatment. Israeli settlements exacerbate this problem as they generate large amounts of untreated waste water which is discharged into Palestinian areas. Groundwater contamination in Palestine is further associated with agriculture. The widespread and excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides and other farm chemical contaminate aquifers during heavy rains where they are leached from the soil. Water Quality issues in the Gaza strip have reached critical levels due to high population densities, subsequent environmental impacts and extraction of groundwater. In Gaza, ground water has been over-pumped which has resulted in lowering the water table below sea level and saline water intrusion in many areas. In addition to this, waste water from deficient sewerage networks has contaminated ground water.

Solid Waste
The disposal of solid wastes in Palestine is a major environmental hazard as it is generally not controlled allowing dumping site to accumulate a variety of hazardous chemicals which contaminate soil and groundwater. Military operations and curfews in Palestinian areas have contributed by denying citizens freedom of movement, forcing them to dispose of wastes in illegal open sites. Israeli settlers living in the West Bank exacerbate Palestine’s solid waste problem. The 450,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, generate 471 tonnes of solid waste a day, 80% of which is dumped on Palestinian land and dumping sites. Urbanization and population growth has made solid waste disposal a significant environmental concern highlighting the need for recycling and solid waste facilities. Lack of available space for municipal planning due to Israeli land restrictions dictates that dumping sites are invariably close to wells and urban centers

Poverty
Poverty is a major issue both from an environmental and social perspective. Poverty and lack of financial resources limits government capacity to fund projects and maintain vital infrastructure while from a social perspective, poverty and lack of opportunities for the young exacerbate the potential for social unrest. Since the second Intifada economic conditions in Palestine have deteriorated significantly. Prior to recent hostilities close to 150,000 Palestinians found work in Israel and settlements. Over the past 5 years, under the pressure of closure the numbers of workers employed in Israel and settlements have declined by 56%. The subsequent losses in jobs has not been replaced by increases in Palestinian exports and services and historically high levels of donor assistance haven't been capable of replacing lost Palestinian incomes. Unemployment has now reached 23.5 percent in the Palestinian Territories and is concentrated in the ages between 15-24. (Photo: Rafa refugee camp)










Land Confiscation
The construction of Israeli infrastructure in the Palestinian areas occupied in 1967 requires the confiscation of land through “legal proceedings”. The primary Military Order used to legitimate the confiscation of Palestinian land is Military Order 58 of 1967, known as the Absentee Property Law. The Military Order transfers lands and properties of absentee Palestinians to the Civil Administration. In addition to this, in 1969 the Civil Administration issued Military Order 321, which gave the military the power to confiscate land for public services. Thus “Public” works in the Palestinian territory are inevitably those that benefit the Jewish colonies and bypass roads. (Photo: House demolition Al Walaja)












Colonies
The growth of colonies is mainly geared to the formation of blocks; i.e. they grow outwards and towards each other. Successive Israeli governments have encouraged the development of specific blocks more than others which enable linking of Israeli colonies and the enclosing of Palestinian areas. In June 2004, Israeli authorities announced the construction of a new Israeli settlement in Al Walaja village northwest of Bethlehem. The plan will involve the construction of "Givat Yael" settlement on 2000 dunums of Palestinian land. Combining with other expanded colonies, this settlement will physically complete the ring of settlements that separate Jerusalem and encircle Bethlehem. (Photo: Har Homa Settlement, Bethlehem)
















Check Points
Checkpoints constitute another form of fragmentation and often consist of permanent or temporary road blocks placed in Palestinian areas to control or restrict the flow of movement. Many checkpoints such as Kalandia checkpoint outside Ramallah, are similar to international borders whereby Palestinian's must have identification cards in which to pass through. In addition to checkpoints, Israeli authorities utilize a wide rage of other methods in which to restrict and control movement of Palestinians including road blocks, observation towers, earth mounds, trenches, and agricultural gates. (Photo: Huwara Checkpoint, Nablus)












By-Pass roads
By-pass roads were created by the Israeli Government to link colonies with each other and with Israel proper. The Israeli army controls the bypass roads, and enforces a 50 to 75 meter buffer zone on each side of the road in which no Palestinian construction is allowed.The construction of by-pass roads commonly occurs along the perimeter of Palestinian built-up areas. In the major towns bypass roads form asphalt boundaries that limit the expansion and development of Palestinian communities. (Photo: Israeli Bypass Road)



















Segregation Barrier
Construction of the segregation barrier is a fundamental component of Israel's geopolitical strategy. While the Israeli government declared the barrier a security measure it has clearly been shown to be part of Israel’s “land grab” policy. In 2005, the Israeli government published a revised plan whereby the wall will run for 683 km in the West Bank. Only 138 km (20.2% of the total length) runs on the green line. The wall dips significantly into the Palestinian territory dividing Palestinian communities, annexing land and appropriating vital resources. The segregation wall encloses 98 Israeli settlements accommodating 83% of the Israeli settler population and 55 Palestinian localities. (Photo: Wall Section, Kalandia)











Concluding remarks
Israel's unilateral withdrawal indicates Israel wishes to continue its occupation of Palestinian land while avoiding responsibilities to provide equal rights and services. The Israeli policy of fencing Palestinians into "Bantustans" will ensure Palestinians live in manageable sized ghettos which the State of Israel Israelis may monitor and control while exploiting as captive markets. The physical environment is the very foundation of human society in its ability to function and exist. A prosperous and viable state logically can not arise from unsatisfactory conditions. Environmental justice and equitable allocation of resources remains the focal point of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The State of Israel has systematically manipulated, exploited and damaged the Palestinian environment in order to undermine any capacity for viability or genuine independence. Until the issue of environmental justice is addressed the potential for a lasting peace will be unlikely except for a continuation of the current pattern of Palestinian resistance and Israeli repression. (Photo: Bili'n Anti Wall protest)
















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