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Holy Land or Living Hell: Ecocide in Palestine

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    Holy Land or Living Hell: Ecocide in Palestine Pollution, Apartheid and Protest in Occupied Palestine by: Ethan Ganor
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2005
      Holy Land or Living Hell: Ecocide in Palestine

      Pollution, Apartheid and Protest in Occupied Palestine
      by: Ethan Ganor

      From the Jordan River Valley and Dead Sea Basin, through the central
      highlands comprising the West Bank's populated core to the fertile
      western hills bordering Israel, recent reports from occupied
      Palestine reveal a worsening environmental crisis. A labyrinth of
      settlements, industrial zones, dumps, military camps, fortified
      roads, electrified fences and a massive concrete wall-all of it
      installed by Israel in the West Bank since 1967 and intensified
      since 2000-is draining the life from this ancient land.

      Destructive actions by settlers and soldiers, waste from factories
      and settlements, land confiscations to expand settlements and roads,
      the plunder of water, the mass uprooting or burning of trees, and
      the snaking, sunset-eclipsing structure known to Palestinians as
      the "Apartheid Wall" are causing the West Bank's once-lush ecology
      to deteriorate. The cumulative impact on the land's hydrology,
      topsoil, biodiversity, food security and natural beauty is severe.
      No longer recognizable as a "Holy Land" bountifully "flowing with
      milk and honey," as inscribed in religious texts and memories,
      Palestine's environment has become a weapon of war, deliberately
      designed to turn its inhabitants' lives into a living hell.

      Israel's much-touted "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip, while
      proof that decolonization is possible, is also a smokescreen,
      distracting attention from the escalation of violence in the West
      Bank. Fully chronicling the current devastation in Palestine could
      fill several volumes; what follows is only a few snapshots.

      Poisoning the Land

      In late March, shepherds from Tuwani and Mufakara, Palestinian
      villages near Hebron in the southern West Bank, discovered strange,
      blue pellets littering their grazing fields. Suspecting these seeds
      as a possible cause of the mysterious deaths of dozens of goats and
      sheep during the previous week, villagers had them analyzed. The
      tests confirmed their hunch: The pellets were barley laced with
      fluoroacetamide, a rodenticide produced only in Israel and illegal
      in many other countries due to its acute toxicity.

      Not just livestock, but also wild gazelles, migratory birds, snakes
      and other animals had been poisoned. Palestinian farmers were forced
      to quarantine their flocks and stop selling or using their milk,
      cheese and meat. On April 8, a new poison-pink pellets tainted by
      brodifacoum, another highly toxic, anti-coagulant rodenticide-was
      found at a hillside grazing area near Tuwani. Later that month,
      Amnesty International issued a press release condemning Israeli
      authorities for failing to clean up the toxic chemicals from
      affected areas and bring the perpetrators to justice.

      Local Palestinians blame Israeli settlers from nearby Maon and Havat
      Maon, two small outposts south of Hebron, whose male members are
      notorious for assaulting Tuwani children as they walk past the
      settlements to school. Solidarity activists videotaped one Maon
      security official admitting that he knew that Havat Maon settlers
      had planted the poisons.

      Despite this admission, no arrests were made, and the poisoning has
      spread. In mid-April, in Yasouf, a Palestinian village south of
      Nablus, in the northern West Bank, large quantities of wheat seeds
      boiled in brodifacoum were found.

      Industrial Pollution and Dumps

      While such poisonings may seem to be isolated attacks by rogue
      settlers, other forms of pollution in the West Bank are systemic and
      permanent. The landscape is blotched with Israeli factories. Based
      mainly on hilltops at Israeli settlements and border-area industrial
      zones, the factories manufacture products ranging from aluminum,
      plastic and fiberglass to batteries, detergents, pesticides and
      military items.

      Because Israel's own, generally stringent, environmental laws
      regulating industrial processes and waste discharge are not enforced
      inside the Occupied Territories, the West Bank has become a
      sacrifice zone. Many of the factories have no environmental
      safeguards and unleash solid waste burned in open air, wastewater
      that flows into watersheds, or hazardous waste dumped and buried at
      outdoor sites. Lands near the foothills of industrial zones are
      especially vulnerable. One of the largest zones, Barqan, near
      Nablus, encompasses 80 factories and generates 810,000 cubic meters
      of wastewater per year. The wastewater flows into a wadi (a
      watercourse that is dry except during the rainy season) and pollutes
      the agricultural lands of three Palestinian villages.

      On July 5, International Solidarity Movement activists joined
      Palestinians to demonstrate against Geshuri Industries, an Israeli-
      owned manufacturer of pesticides and fertilizers. Originally located
      in the town Kfar Saba, in Israel-until citizens obtained a court
      order shutting it down for pollution violations-Geshuri moved to its
      current site at the edge of the Palestinian town Tulkarem in 1987.
      Pollution from the plant has damaged citrus trees, tarnished soil
      and groundwater, provoked respiratory ailments among neighboring
      residents, and contributed to Tulkarem having Palestine's highest
      cancer rates. This Spring, a new wall (which annexed vast swaths of
      agricultural land) was constructed around the complex. Wearing blue
      surgical masks to avoid inhaling factory fumes, the protesters held
      signs and painted messages on the wall: "Remove the death
      factory," "Get your poison away from our children" and "This is

      Illegal dumps are another chronic problem. On April 11, more than
      200 people from Anarchists Against the Wall, Green Action Israel and
      the Palestinian village of Deir Sharaf blocked Israeli garbage
      trucks from transporting trash onto the grounds of Abu Shusha, the
      West Bank's largest quarry. In 2002, during its "Operation Defensive
      Shield" invasion, the Israeli army seized this site from its
      Palestinian owners. Since then, thousands of tons of waste have been
      moved covertly into the quarry, which is in close proximity to four
      wells and only 250 yards from the aquifer that provides Nablus with
      its drinking water.

      An investigation by the Palestinian Hydrology Group confirmed that
      runoff from the dump "has killed medicinal and wild plants in the
      valley. It has affected the biodiversity and aesthetics of the area.
      Most importantly, the land is no longer fit to grow olive trees."

      After three years of silence, international outrage finally erupted
      in early April, when Israeli journalists exposed the scheme. With
      tacit government approval but no official permit, settlers were
      churning profits from the dump by selling their trash-transport
      services to Israeli cities. Environmental justice scored a rare
      victory in July, when an Israeli court passed an injunction shutting
      down the dump. Yet the reservoir of refuse remains, and dozens of
      other dumps throughout the West Bank remain in operation. Nor has a
      factory above the quarry been shut down, and it continues to pump
      streams of foul-smelling black sludge into the olive groves below.

      Sustainable Apartheid?

      While Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing government
      and extremist Israeli settlers are the immediate agents of this
      ecocide, a global system that benefits from and sustains the
      Occupation is also culpable. The US supplies the military firepower
      and diplomatic muscle that makes it possible; Caterpillar provides
      bulldozers that raze homes, trees and fields to build the wall; and
      financial institutions like the World Bank bestow essential economic

      In 2004, the World Bank published two reports outlining a sick
      version of "sustainable development" for Palestine, which accepts
      the reality of the wall rather than its illegality. As the wall
      carves its path through the West Bank, isolating communities and
      annexing cropland, the livelihood of tens of thousands of
      Palestinian families is destroyed and unemployment becomes endemic.
      In line with Israeli objectives, the World Bank proposes to solve
      this artificial problem by establishing new "industrial estates"
      alongside the wall, where cheap Palestinian labor, working for one-
      fourth Israel's minimum wage, will be exploited to produce goods for
      export into the globalized economy.

      Already, one such estate is under construction in Tulkarem, on
      Palestinian land that has been annexed behind the wall. In addition,
      the World Bank has helped Israel raise funds to create a
      more "secure," "efficient" and "growth-orientated" apartheid:
      upgraded, high-tech checkpoints and prison gates, "smart fences,"
      watchtowers, border crossings with radioactive "naked spy" machines
      that look through people's clothing, and underground tunnels to
      facilitate full Israeli control over Palestinian travel and a
      continuing monopoly on the land's natural resources. Under the
      apartheid regime, travel between any of the West Bank's eight
      population districts-Jenin, Nablus, Qalqilia, Tulkarem, Jericho,
      Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron-is barred without special permission,
      and Jerusalem is completely cut off by the wall. Rather than end
      this matrix of segregation and dispossession, the World Bank wants
      Israel to "ease internal closures and restore the predictable flow
      of goods across borders."

      This normalization of apartheid not only shreds the basic human
      rights of Palestinians by confining them to ghettos and sweatshops,
      it also perpetuates the ecological devastation of the land. True
      sustainability can be based only upon the July 9, 2004, decision by
      the International Court of Justice (ICJ) requiring Israel to tear
      down the wall. The decision mandates the international
      community "not to recognize the illegal situation created by the
      construction of the wall, and not to render any aid or assistance in
      maintaining the situation created by it."

      Grassroots Resistance to the Wall

      With international powers unwilling to enforce the ICJ ruling and
      the United Nations resolutions calling for an end to occupation,
      Palestinian communities are mobilizing to defend their lands from
      annexation and destruction. Since September 2002, when Israel began
      building the wall's first ring to enclose the then-wealthy
      agricultural town of Qalqilya, the Palestinian Environmental Non-
      Governmental Organizations Network has coordinated the Grassroots
      Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (AAWC). AAWC is rooted in nonviolent
      direct action, organized by Popular Committees Against the Wall in
      dozens of communities that are directly threatened by the wall's

      Budrus is a small village of 1,300 people, located 20 miles west of
      Ramallah, where two years of fierce resistance have yielded the
      first case of a community successfully blocking erection of the wall
      on its land. Mass rallies united the whole town, as everyone from
      toddlers to elders converged in targeted fields and olive groves,
      swarming construction crews with peaceful discipline and raising
      enough ruckus to prompt Israel's Supreme Court to alter the wall's
      route. In March, after Israeli forces stormed a local wedding,
      opened fire and arrested a teenager, villagers spontaneously tore
      down 1,000 feet of a barbed-wire fence erected in lieu of the wall.
      Yet the cost has been high: Six village residents have been killed
      and hundreds wounded by army retaliation against the nonviolent

      Current resistance is most active in Bil'in, a village of 1,600 also
      near Ramallah, where almost-daily demonstrations since February have
      opposed Israeli plans to annex 60 percent of the community's 1,000
      acres via the wall. With support from international and Israeli
      solidarity activists, villagers have been employing Earth First!-
      style tactics. On May 4, protesters chained themselves to olive
      trees to obstruct the razing of an orchard situated in the wall's
      path. On June 1, they locked themselves into a mock wall in front of
      bulldozers, forcing soldiers to symbolically dismantle the wall
      before they could remove the activists. These actions and other
      creative visual stunts have generated extensive media attention but
      also a brutal military crackdown. Tear gas, rubber-coated metal
      bullets, shock grenades and a new device called "the Scream"-a huge
      loudspeaker that emits painful sound waves-are commonly used to
      disperse the demonstrators, who have not yet halted the wall's

      About one-third of the planned 420-mile wall is finished; 80 percent
      of it penetrates into the West Bank. Construction is occurring now
      in the Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron regions, as well as around
      the Ariel bloc of settlements deep inside the northern West Bank. If
      completed there and along the Jordan Valley, the wall stands to
      annex around 46 percent of the West Bank. More than 400,000 olive
      trees, which comprise 40 percent of Palestine's cultivated land and
      are the staple crop of rural communities, are estimated to have been
      uprooted during the last five years.

      This Fall promises to be another season of intense grassroots
      resistance. Palestine's annual olive harvest peaks in October and
      November, and international activists will once again be present to
      challenge Israeli settler and army actions that deny Palestinians
      access to their land and the right to harvest their crops.

      For more information, visit www.palsolidarity.org;

      Ethan is an anti-Zionist, eco-anarchist Jew, a graduate from the
      Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel and the founder
      of the Trees Not Walls Network. He owes a debt to forests for
      providing refuge to his grandfather for two years in Eastern Europe
      during the Holocaust. Contact him at treesnotwalls @ riseup.net..



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