6 November is annually marked as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict—a day that sheds light on the harm caused to the environment by conflict. Although most post-conflict damage assessments examine human and material loss, air pollution and water and soil contamination are also likely outcomes of armed conflict, often through the destruction of water and energy resources and agricultural property.
This year, the Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict is marked by Israel’s continued implementation of practices and policies that harm and limit access to the environment, thereby chronically violating and undermining human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Such policies in the West Bank include settlement and settler bypass road construction, the confiscation of Palestinian privately owned land, and the imposition of checkpoints, a permit system, and military training sites. These activities destroy lands and prevent farmers from accessing and cultivating agricultural property. The farming sector in Gaza is also stifled through the imposition of Israel’s no-go and restricted access zones, razing of agricultural lands, impounding of rainwater by artificial dams, and spraying unknown chemicals onto fields.
Importantly, Israel has severely restricted Palestinian access to natural resources, which contributes to environmental pollution. The World Bank reported that in some parts of the West Bank, Palestinians have access to only 25-30 liters of water per day compared to the minimum of 120 liters recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The situation in Gaza is even worse: only 10% of Gaza’s two million people have access to clean water, while 95% of the available water cannot be consumed by humans or animals. Gaza also has restricted access to equipment necessary for the treatment of raw sewage, forcing residents to dump untreated sewage directly into the sea. Critical environmental changes, from the impact on the growth of plants to bird migration, have been caused by these practices.
Further, the Israeli military’s targeting of residential areas and agricultural lands means that harmful residues from the weaponry are omitted into the air and soak into agricultural lands and water sources. The make-up of the weaponry and the volume of the ammunition used regularly against the Palestinian population entails a long-lasting impact on the environment.
Israel’s policy of closure and blockade of Gaza hinders the daily entry of fuel, which reduces the operational capacity of Gaza’s sole power plant. The residents must therefore resort to the use of individual, fuel-consuming generators that omit air pollutants into the densely-populated Gaza Strip.
Al Mezan stresses that Israel’s occupation and associated activities have a devastating impact on the environment and Palestinian access to land and natural resources. Al Mezan calls on the international community to take immediate steps to end Israel’s violations of international law that are rooted in practices and policies that harm the environment and prevent an adequate standard of living. Such steps must immediately prompt the full lifting of the closure and blockade of Gaza, in parallel to the implementation of redress and accountability mechanisms.