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On World Environment Day, Al Mezan warns about the environmental impact of Israel’s military activities in Gaza

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5 June 2021 |Reference 55/2021

June 5 each year marks World Environment Day, the United Nations (UN) day that encourages worldwide awareness and action to protect the environment. The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is “Ecosystem Restoration” and will coincide with the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global initiative through 2030 aimed at preventing, halting and reversing the degradation of ecosystems across the globe.   


During its 54 years of occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, Israel’s policies, practices and repeated military operations have resulted in adverse environmental impacts, going so far as to pose a permanent threat to terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The environmental impact of the Occupying Power was also prominent during its last military offensive against the Gaza Strip between 10-21 May 2021.     


As thoroughly documented by Al Mezan, over the course of the military assault, Israeli military forces indiscriminately and disproportionately targeted protected civilian objects in the Gaza Strip, including civilian houses, industrial and commercial entities, and vital infrastructure. One common practice in every Israeli military escalation is the intensive use of explosive devices, which has produced large amounts of debris and rubble that contribute significantly to air and soil pollution. Similarly, Israel’s weapons, aircraft, and vehicles have also created constant noise pollution.  


Extensive environmental damage and pollution was caused by Israel’s deliberate attacks on environmentally-sensitive infrastructure, such as sewage treatment plants and on Gaza’s municipal facilities, including water wells, networks and power lines. Rendered incapable of producing a continuous, adequate supply of energy as a result of Israel's fuel ban and attacks on electricity grids, Gaza’s impaired  municipal services are posing an increasingly significant risk both to the health and well-being of the two million residents as well as to the Strip's environment and ecosystem.


As reported by Al Mezan, due to the shortage of electricity needed to operate the treatment plants, municipalities throughout the Gaza Strip are now pouring raw or partially treated sewage directly into the sea. At the same time, the Israeli military attacks that targeted municipal vehicles and facilities served to disrupt solid waste collection and disposal. Accordingly, over the course of the 11-day offensive, waste remained on the streets.  


Further, Israel’s scorched-earth policy included the destruction of agricultural lands and livestock farms, which not only continues to harm Palestinian farmers directly, but also threatens their livelihoods and thus food security of the impoverished community. Well before the recent offensive, Israel’s near daily, large-scale vehicle movements at the perimeter fence caused widespread damage to sensitive habitats adjacent to the fence, including agricultural lands. Moreover, in recent years Al Mezan has reported regular aerial spraying of agrochemical herbicides by the Israeli military on Palestinian farmlands near the fence, destroying crops just before the harvest. As well as having a devastating impact on the life and livelihoods of agricultural and rural communities in Gaza, the use of chemicals pollutes the soil and surrounding environment to hazardous levels.


The release of hazardous chemicals was also reported during the Israel’s latest offensive. In one episode, an Israeli bombardment set fire to several agricultural supply warehouses belonging to the Khudair Company in the Al-Atatra neighborhood in North Gaza. The fire destroyed around 500 tons of agricultural pesticides, causing smoke and chemical emissions that lasted for days, as well as massive amounts of waste deemed by Gaza’s Water and Environment Authority to be extremely hazardous and harmful. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, the entire neighborhood had to be evacuated.


As noted by Mr. Issam Younis, Al Mezan’s General Director, “despite the unstable and worrying environmental situation amid Israel’s ongoing closure and its repercussions on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Israeli forces continue to deliberately attack ecosystems and facilities necessary to preserve them. If this environmental crisis persists, the enjoyment of basic human rights, notably the right to health, of over two million Palestinians in Gaza will be severely undermined.”


On World Environment Day, Al Mezan calls on the international community to:


  1. Urgently intervene to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian properties in the Gaza Strip, pressure Israel to enhance electricity services and allow the entry of materials needed to develop water and sanitation facilities as part of Israel’s legal obligations as an occupying power vis-à-vis the occupied Palestinian people;
  2. Support the recovery of municipalities throughout the Strip by mobilizing funds to be used to resume basic municipal services and carry out infrastructure and sustainability projects necessary to preserve Gaza’s environment and ecosystem;
  3. Send a mission of international experts to examine the remnants of Israel’s weapons and analyze their impact on human health, the environment, and ecosystem, especially water and soil;
  4. Accelerate efforts to rebuild water and sanitation facilities and networks in the Gaza Strip, and allocate funds for enhancing the environment in general;
  5. Expedite the formation of the Commission of Inquiry appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council that will be able to effectively challenge the impunity of those perpetrating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.