FRESH AIR

The latest pro-Palestinian meme: Israel as “Environmental Oppressor”

Jan 13, 2023 | Judy Maynard

Tweet by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network
Tweet by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network

Recent social media posts by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) and the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) allege environmental oppression of the Palestinians by Israel.

The “No War No Warming” poster used by both organisations in their social media feeds is one of a series of posts designed by Visualizing Palestine (VP) –  eye-catching ready-to-go graphics to promote the pro-Palestinian narrative.

VP claims to create “data-driven tools to advance a factual, rights-based narrative of the Palestinian-Israeli issue” (emphasis added). Its products actually demonstrate how “facts” can be used dishonestly.

Depicting a stylised mother and child against a burnt-out postwar backdrop, this poster displays a series of unrelated statements purporting to link them in a kind of false syllogism: first, that the US military is the “#1 institutional fossil fuel user in the world” and has the highest military expenditure; secondly, that Israel is a major recipient of US military funding. Finally, “Palestinians experience the staggering human and ecological cost of US and Israeli militarism.”

The conclusion does not follow at all from the claims made and is, in any event, plain nonsense.

Clearly, the reference to the US military’s fossil fuel use is intended to malign the US – and Israel by association – as environmental villains, about which, more later.

Gaza is presented as a case study, and is claimed to have suffered from “Israeli bombardments”, damaged or destroyed water structures, 97% contamination of its fresh water, and 75% of its shoreline polluted by damaged waste infrastructure.

Note that Israel is only mentioned in the first of these four points The reader is meant to infer that Israel is the cause of the rest of the problems. But that is just not the case.

The VP posters are designed to give the impression of being “factual”, so they even provide a link to the sources for the information they contain, lending them an air of credibility.

And indeed the information is not so much untrue, as presented so misleadingly and manipulatively as to convey a completely false impression.

Take, for example, the claim that 97% of Gaza’s water is contaminated, the source for which is given as the Rand Corporation’s 2018 publication The Public Health Impacts of Gaza’s Water Crisis.

The publication, indeed, confirms this figure, but here it is in context:

Even though the water and sanitation crisis is not a new phenomenon in Gaza …a confluence of negative developments has exacerbated the situation…First is the continued depletion of the coastal aquifer, Gaza’s only source of freshwater, which is not sufficient to meet the needs of its approximately 2 million Palestinian residents. Decades of overpumping, combined with the seepage of wastewater and agrochemicals and seawater intrusion, have brought the aquifer to a possibly irrecoverable state. As a result, some 97 percent of the aquifer’s groundwater is already unfit for human consumption, according to WHO water quality standards… Demand for scarce potable water sources in Gaza is only going to rise with an expected population growth…

Moreover, recurring conflict with Israel has severely damaged the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure in Gaza.

…Despite international pledges to fund the reconstruction of houses and infrastructure destroyed in the [2014] war, as of March 2018, a funding gap…remained…

Furthermore, severe restrictions on access and movement imposed by Israel and Egypt have hindered post-conflict repair and rebuilding. Israel tightly restricts the importation of a list of dual-use items that could be used for both civilian and military purposes, for instance. This list includes 70 percent of the technical equipment needed for the WASH sector, such as pumps and chemicals for water purification. In response to months of attacks from Gaza using fire kites and balloons mounted with incendiary devices, Israel in July 2018 temporarily shut down Kerem Shalom, the main crossing of goods into Gaza, to all imports and exports except for food, medicine, and “humanitarian equipment.”…

The state of the WASH sector is linked directly to a chronic energy shortage in Gaza…The electricity deficit crisis has worsened since mid- 2017 due to an intra-Palestinian dispute between the PA and Hamas over payments for the electricity imported from Israel…

And so the report goes on, demonstrating that the situation is a complex one, far from being mainly attributable to Israel, and the Palestinians themselves bear a large share of responsibility for the damage and crisis – especially through the over-pumping allowed by the strip’s successive Palestinian administrations since 1994, through repeatedly starting destructive wars, and through the internal Palestinian dispute which has disrupted electricity supplies.

It says nothing like what another VP poster, titled “Undrinkable”, claims: “97% of Gaza’s water is contaminated due to Israel’s blockade and military occupation.” This claim is a complete fabrication.

In recent years, pro-Palestinian propaganda has increasingly moved to a variation of the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle.

The openly proclaimed “it’s not complicated” campaign appears regularly on social and other media in an attempt to dumb down a very complex century-old conflict into a one-sided narrative built on simple soundbites.

The cynical “Do Better on Palestine” campaign, which pro-Palestinian journalists backed during 2020, was a manifestation of this strategy. It called for media outlets and workers to eschew balance in reporting of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and instead become activists, promoting the Palestinian narrative by depriving their audience of context and Israeli claims and perspectives.

Relying on, and indeed encouraging, historical ignorance of the Israel-Palestinian conflict makes it simpler to effectively vilify and ostracise the Jewish state.

Why the Environment?

The VP poster is an example of the latest narrative to be exploited by the anti-Israel propaganda machine in order to claim Palestinian victimhood at the hands of Israel. Climate change is the issue generating the greatest concern globally, especially among young people. Concocting an illusory and simplistic connection between this global challenge and the Palestinian cause is calculated to gain widespread support.

That it is an illusion is readily apparent from the environmental crimes the Palestinians have no compunction in committing themselves, even when they cause self-harm.

The “case study” above makes the claim that Gaza has been subject to Israeli bombardment and damage to infrastructure, but nowhere does the poster mention the thousands of environmentally destructive rockets fired by Hamas militants over many years at Israeli population centres, inviting eventual retaliation from the IDF.

The Hamas rulers of Gaza have consistently disregarded the human rights of their people: launching missiles from their residential areas, using them as human shields against retaliation, and often killing them directly through misfired rockets.

Hamas’ environmental credentials are summed up thus by the NGO UN Watch: “Palestinian harm to natural resources, such as destruction of Gaza greenhouses delivered intact by Israel; Hamas’ commandeering of international aid money to fund the construction of terror tunnels rather than to rebuild destroyed infrastructure; environmental pollution caused by Palestinian tire [sic] burning; destruction of flora and fauna with arson balloons and kites; and refusal to develop their own water resources and deal with their own sewage as required by the Oslo Accords.”

Palestinians have also committed environmental atrocities in the West Bank, including the destruction of forests through arson, and the burning of tyres to create smokescreens for violent attacks or demonstrations – both of which cause a serious health hazard to Jews and Arabs alike.

The Israeli government and industry, on the other hand, invest heavily in developing technologies to improve the health of the global environment, in such fields as clean energy, water treatment, agriculture and food production, and improving supply chains. These innovations are exported around the world, including to Australia.

“Green-Washing”

Israel is of course not perfect on the environmental front – no country is –  and naturally there is room for improvement. But its record is infinitely better than that of either the PA in the West Bank or the Hamas rulers of Gaza, and Israel outclasses virtually all other governments across the Middle East region in environmental terms.

Yet the true agenda underlying the “environmental human rights” campaign against Israel is revealed when Israel’s undeniable advances in this area are decried by anti-Israel activists as mere “greenwashing”. This is a claim that Israel takes such initiatives only for the purpose of whitewashing its “crimes” against the Palestinians.

By this logic, the citizens of the Jewish state must be depicted as all irredeemable criminals, who, when they make extensive, costly and innovative efforts to counter the effects of climate change, must be doing so only for nefarious motives. They cannot really care about the environment – it must really be a way to facilitate their evil deeds against Palestinians! This is veering close to  antisemitism.

The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks astutely observed that antisemitism is a mutating virus, that justifies scapegoating the Jews by appealing to what is popularly regarded as the highest moral authority of the time and culture.

Early on, that source of authority was religion, resulting in Church-sanctioned antisemitism. Later, following the Enlightenment in Europe, the “scientific” study of race was to lay the foundation for future Nazi ideology. Today, that authority is accorded to the secular religion of human rights.

“That is why”, said Rabbi Sacks, “Israel—the only fully functioning democracy in the Middle East with a free press and independent judiciary—is regularly accused of the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide.”

Today crimes against the environment can be added to that list, with the recognition of the environment as a human right. The United Nations Human Rights Council, for example, appointed its first Special Rapporteur on climate change in 2022, the aptly named Mr. Ian Fry.

As critics make increasingly grotesque claims regarding Israel’s alleged environmental breaches against the Palestinians, they are seeking to tap into the language and moral authority of the current human rights and environmental discourse.

So Israel is regularly blamed for adversely affecting the health and well-being of Palestinians through environmental degradation. While the Palestinian Territories may in many senses constitute a toxic environment, it is one that the Palestinian leadership is largely responsible for creating.

 

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