Palestine: An Environmental Emergency

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t only shaped by violence and displacement; it’s also defined by environmental injustice.

Israeli military airstrike in Gaza. (Image Credit: BBC)

The Palestine-Israel conflict has topped headlines since October 7 after an alleged terrorist attack, violence and destruction detailed by every major news source. The food shortages and displacement of Palestinians is severe, but Palestine has become a victim of environmental injustice in a worsening situation.

Environmental injustice is when a marginalized group is subjected to significantly more risk of harm from man-made and natural environmental hazards around them. It usually affects people of color, poor communities, and citizens of occupied spaces, and Palestinians find themselves in all of those categories.

Water has become one of Palestine’s most pressing issues. The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populate places on the planet, and yet 97% of their water is undrinkable. As part of their suffocation of Gaza, Israeli forces prevent adequate water sanitation supplies from entering the area, and what little clean water they have is rapidly disappearing from consumption and saltwater contamination.  

There is one desalination plant still functioning in Rafah, the place where most of Gaza’s displaced population is concentrated, but it cannot sustain the entire population. The plant once served 300,000 people but has been attempting to supply around 1.5 million as a result of the war. Other desalination plants have gone offline or have been bombed.

About 70% of Palestinian refugees have resorted to drinking contaminated water, some parents choosing not to shower in hopes that their children have enough water.  Israel blames Palestine for poor management of their infrastructure while they bomb desalination plants, restrict access to fuel, so Palestinians can run the remaining plants, and prevent humanitarian aid from reaching refugees.

Protests against Israeli occupation in Washington DC. (Image Credit:

Water shortages have also played a role in the loss of agriculture. Palestine was once teeming with life, but anyone looking at it now would see a desert. People on the West Bank have been farming since ancient times, developing traditions around it and integrating it into their cultural identity, and today, about 90% of Palestinians work in the agricultural industry. One of their most important plants is the olive tree.

Existing as a symbol of strength and resilience, the olive is a core part of Palestinian country and culture. In recent times, olives were responsible for over a tenth of the economy, yet Israel has shown no concern for the destruction of these trees. Over 800,000 have been uprooted illegally by Israeli forces since 1967, and public morale is running low.                

Another concern facing Palestinian farmers is soil conditions. Constant Israeli air striking has caused dangerous amounts of cobalt and mercury to enter the soil, and companies that are most responsible for pollution in the area had tax incentives to move to the West Bank. This waste has also been linked to heightened risk of miscarriages and cancer.

White phosphorus illegally used in Gaza in an Israeli airburst. (Image Credit: Human Rights Watch)

More chemical concerns have arisen as overwhelming evidence of illegal use of white phosphorus in Gaza by Israeli forces has emerged. White phosphorus is extremely dangerous and can easily burn people, fields, and buildings. It was released around Gaza’s densely populated port. It can burn humans down to the bone. This dangerous chemical can reignite after being dressed, and often causes organ failure. Relatively small burns are usually fatal, and those who manage to survive do so with disabilities.

Use of white phosphorus is illegal under international law for the extreme risk to civilians. Documented cases of these kinds of attacks can be found as early as 2009, so it cannot be said that this was a response to attacks from Hamas on October 7.

Palestine is dying as we speak. The occupation has scarred generations of Palestinian families, and these horrific conditions persist even through Islam’s holiest month. Demands to free Palestine have been echoed around the world and cannot be forgotten as this conflict continues. Environmental injustice is only one aspect of settler-colonialism. Spread the message. Boycott companies that support Israel, give resources for donating to aid for refugees, and persist until the genocide ends. When Palestine looks to us, we cannot look away.

Written by Olivia Marant

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