ISrael, the Palestinian territories, are some of the most vulnerable areas on the planet. The new government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has emphasized the need to maintain far-right support rather than address the problems of global warming.
While global temperatures have increased an average of 1.1% per year since preindustrial times, Israel’s average temperature has risen 1.5degC (2.7degF), according to Israel Meteorological Service. The service predicts a 4degC (42.2degF), increase by the end the century. According to an investigative report from Haaretz newspaper, Israel’s Environment Ministry projects that sea levels will rise to as much as one meter by 2050. This is according to Israel’s Meteorological Service. It also threatens to destroy Israel’s beaches and desecrate its desalination plants. The densely populated Gaza Strip, home to 2.1 million Palestinians is crammed onto 365 km (141 sq. mi. mi.
One would expect that the imminent climate disaster would spark a strong climate movement in an area already under threat from desertification and falling precipitation. The whole thing seems to be largely an afterthought. The issue of climate has not been mentioned in recent Israeli elections. In fact, the Palestinian government has made it a secondary concern. Netanyahu replaced an experienced environmental protection minister in his cabinet with the ex-chairperson of Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, widely seen as more appealing to the ultra-conservative allies within the new government.
The Middle East isn’t the only place where politics has overtaken climate issues. Global corporations and world leaders promised large-scale decarbonization programs during the United Nations 2021 Climate Talks in Glasgow. But they quietly walked them back one year later, when the Ukraine war and the looming threat of gas shortages threatened the political stability. The threat to Israel and Palestine is more immediate and existential.
Climate action in this area of disputed land is hindered by non-sensical battles for territorial, historical, and political rights. The warming climate only adds to these tensions. One Climate is a Palestinian-Israeli activist for climate justice. An activist from Palestine, who is a citizen of Israel, requested not to be identified because she was afraid that her work with government agencies might be compromised. Even the group’s full name, One Climate From the Jordan River to the Sea, reflects the founders’ dilemma: by avoiding the contentious Israeli/Palestinian/occupied territories/annexed lands/West Bank and Gaza designations, the organization is hoping to focus on the one thing that all the region’s inhabitants should agree upon: the impending climate crisis.
Mohammed Amer Hammoudi, 67, displays his irrigation system under an olive tree in his orchard in Asira al-Shamaliya, northern West Bank. This was Oct. 25, 2021.
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. Israel continues to discover new natural gas resources off its coast. It primarily focuses on technology innovations in climate adaptation and protection. These include precision irrigation and desalination. However, these are expensive solutions that will not solve all future issues. These innovations do not reach the complex network of Palestinian communities who share the disputed lands in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. This creates the potential for tensions to increase as the resources become scarcer. According to Nada Majdalani (Palestinian director of EcoPeace Middle East), an NGO comprised of Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists, the heatwaves and water shortages, food insecurity and storms that are associated with a warmer climate do not stop at political borders. We are all in this boat together. Even though the Israelis may have built-in resilience mechanisms. This doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter. Edward Said, a late Palestinian-American literary critic and social commentator, once called environmentalism “the indulgence for spoiled tree huggers without a proper cause.” Majdalani believes that this sentiment persists today, referring to climate activism as second only to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The average Palestinian gets up every morning worried about getting to work, even if it means crossing checkpoints. They are obsessed with the occupation. It’s security for the Israelis. They feel that the enemy is on the other side and must be controlled.
Dror Etkes (an Israeli activist) says Palestinians have no choice but to concentrate on the immediate threat. Climate change is of paramount importance. This will have a huge impact on our lives. You can’t think of anything else when you are almost drowning. You just want to keep your head above the water.”
EcoPeace Middle East was founded in the wake of the 1994 Oslo peace accords in order to promote sustainable development and solutions to shared environmental challenges–especially the need for water–across conflict lines. The long-running Israeli-Palestinian war over water is a major factor. This has been made worse by Israeli control over most of the region’s water resources and because the Palestinians have less access to piped water infrastructure. The problem will only get worse due to climate change. EcoPeace’s Green Blue Deal Initiative proposes to increase regional cooperation and interdependency at the government level. It harnesses Jordanian solar power to power desalination plants on Israeli and Palestinian coastlines. This water could then be piped to the Palestinian Territories as well as Jordan.
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Although European leaders are supportive of the idea, activists in the region doubt that it is possible to solve the climate problem without first resolving political issues. For example, Gaza Strip is home to 2 million Palestinians. Israel has blocked Gaza Strip since Hamas won elections in 2015. After hostilities broke out in Israel’s 2021 elections, Israel further restricted or stopped the import of parts such as large-diameter steel pipes that are vital to wastewater treatment.
This has led to tens, thousands of cubic meters worth of sewage seeping into groundwater every day and flowing into Mediterranean Sea. These resources are both used by Israelis and Palestinians. Majdalani says, “It only demonstrates how absurd and shortsighted the thinking can be.” Majdalani says that Israel’s policy of blocking Gaza from [certain] material is actually working against them. “It’s like shooting yourself in your foot,” she said. The entities have the same land and water, but act as if they are on different planets. It’s difficult to imagine how they will plan for the future if political strategies are used against them.
A Palestinian schoolboy stands near a wastewater channel that runs through the Gaza valley in Al-Mograqa village in Gaza on Nov. 6, 2022.
Ahmed Zakot—SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Even organizations like One Climate, which was founded to promote climate justice region-wide, struggles to knit together climate activism and environmental concerns without the group unravelling over Israeli-Palestinian politics. Influential Israeli climate activists worry that working with Palestinians will alienate Israel’s Jewish religious right, which is growing in power.
Meanwhile, the power imbalance between Jewish Israelis—even those who are politically left-wing—and Palestinians promotes fears among Palestinian climate activists that cooperation could be misinterpreted as “normalizing” relations before the conflict is resolved. It’s a situation that Majdalani, of EcoPeace, has frequently faced in her own activism. “There’s this pervasive sense of ‘we don’t cooperate with the occupier, it’s not the right political environment.’ But if we wait for the right political environment, we will lose more land. We will have more people suffering water shortages, more farmers leaving their farms, and the crisis will continue.”
Meanwhile, progress on the two-state solution has effectively stalled under a far-right government that opposes any efforts to create a viable Palestinian state. If the expansion of Israeli settlements on what is supposed to be Palestinian land in a two-state future continues at the same pace, says Etkes, the anti-settlement activist, “[Climate change] might not even be a Palestinian problem in 30 years, it might just be a purely Israeli one.”
-With reporting by Yasmeen Serhan / London
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