“The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” Jews and Christians alike have commandeered this prophecy from the Old Testament book of Isaiah to fit their respective Zionist agendas: for Jews, the establishment of the state of Israel; for Christians, the transfer of all Jews to Palestine so that Christ may return to earth. The verse is superimposed on photographs of kibbutzim gardens in vile propaganda used by televangelists and in slideshows seen in small country churches. After all, who better to take care of the Holy Land than God’s own Chosen People? In the 62 years since Israel was created, hard-working Jewish immigrants have turned the land from a barren desert into a veritable oasis fit for Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon.
With respect to the nearly 800,000 Palestinians that were forced to flee their homes upon the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Jewish State’s wanton destruction of the environment in their absence merits condemnation as well. The land once known as Palestine began suffering detrimental and irrevocable changes in the early 1950s when Israel’s fledgling government drained the wetlands surrounding Lake Huleh, north of the Sea of Galilee, for a housing project. Once the lake was dry, the Palestinian Painted Frog that inhabited the wetlands became extinct. The last reported sighting of the small amphibian was in 1955. Today, many other species are facing extinction due to Israel’s gross disregard for the environment.
Israeli fish farming is killing off coral reefs in the Red Sea, threatening unique species of fish and other marine life. According to coral ecologist Dr. Yossi Loya, five million fish are bred in cages each year without permits, a $20 million per year industry protected by the Israeli agriculture lobby. Coral reefs in Aqaba and along the Sinai Peninsula continue to thrive, as Jordan and Egypt do not permit large scale fishing off the Red Sea coast.
Meanwhile, Israeli corporate greed is threatening another natural wonder, the Dead Sea. At a 2009 regional conference to address the dramatic decrease in Dead Sea water levels, it was determined that industrial development would need to be abated. Israeli company ICL Fertilizers/Dead Sea Works responded by increasing potash production in their Dead Sea facility by 30 percent.
In 1999, Israel’s gross abuse of natural resources led a group of concerned citizens to form Zalul, a watchdog organization that monitors the effects of industrial dumping. According to the group, 500 million tons of raw sewage are discharged into the Mediterranean Sea annually, mere miles from public beaches. Israel’s Ministry of the Environment issues licenses to the culpable corporations, effectively granting permission to dispose of waste in such a manner.
In addition to industries, several municipalities, including Acre and Ashdod, have no properly built sewage treatment plants, contributing to Mediterranean Sea pollution. In the Tiberias municipality, a malfunctioning sewage treatment plant caused the closure of seven beaches along the Sea of Galilee in 2007 after Israeli Health Ministry officials found double the allotted amounts of fecal bacteria in the water for the second time in as many months.
While Israeli citizens have been adversely affected by the government’s failure to adopt responsible policies, Israel’s environmental racism and wholesale environmental terrorism against Palestinians and neighboring countries are far more sinister. In March 2009, Israel was forced to compensate Jordan for polluting the Yarmouk River with oil waste and sewage, contaminating the Kingdom’s water supply. Eleven years ago, water contaminated with sewage was pumped from Lake Tiberias into Jordan.
In the West Bank, illegal outposts and unauthorized settlements pump sewage into rudimentary pits. The village of Deir Sharaf served as a dump for Israeli settlers until 2005, despite its close proximity to underground wells on which tens of thousands of Palestinians depend for drinking and sanitation. In Ya’abad, close to the city of Jenin, most residents work in wood-coal factories that pollute the air with rank smoke. The same industry exists in Egypt, although workshops were moved out of town for the health of the residents. Such a move in occupied Palestine is impossible because the Israelis control the area outside the city limits, prohibiting construction.
The human rights organization Yesh Din released a report in December 2009 citing 69 complaints of olive groves being damaged or destroyed during the past four years, 27 of which occurred between January and October 2009. The Israel Defense Forces issued a statement that the olive harvest had passed “quietly,” despite hundreds of Palestinian trees being reported destroyed. Not only are the centuries-old olive trees vital to the livelihood of Palestinian villagers, they possess an almost spiritual quality so the loss to farmers is tantamount to losing members of their immediate families.
It is worse still in Gaza. Even before the Israeli blockade, Palestinian fishermen were prohibited from sailing more than five kilometers out to sea, rendering the immediate coastal area devoid of fish. The Israeli military routinely destroyed wells serving refugee camps in Gaza. International Solidarity Movement member Rachel Corrie wrote of sleeping in front of the wells with fellow activists to prevent their destruction before she was murdered in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer driver.
Also in 2003, the Israeli military began bulldozing the Gaza side of the internationally recognized “Green Line,” which is the site of one-third of Gaza’s agricultural land, according to a United Nations report. Israel continues to raze olive and fruit trees, farmland, irrigation piping, homes, greenhouses and wells; anyone found within this Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” risks being shot. At least 13 Palestinian civilians have been killed and 39 injured in border regions in and outside of the buffer zone this past year, including women and children.
It is not just the human toll that has devastated Gazan farmers. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported in September 2009 that 35,000 cattle, sheep and goats, as well as one million birds and chickens were killed during Israel’s nearly four-week assault on Gaza dubbed Operation Cast Lead. The animal carcasses, along with chemical agents used by the Israeli army, contaminated the water. According to the farmers, chemical-laden water now dehydrates trees rather than quenching them.
Earlier, during Israel’s 2006 simultaneous bombardments of Lebanon and Gaza, the Jiyeh power plant serving southern Lebanon was hit, resulting in a 15,000 ton oil spill, devastating local fishermen along with the ecosystem. Millions of dollars of infrastructure was destroyed in Gaza, exacerbating the already grave situation concerning water supply and sanitation.
Such problems resulted in the March 2007 disaster in the village of Umm Naser when a sewage reservoir burst its banks, killing two elderly women and three children, while destroying 200 homes. International development agencies had been prevented from entering Gaza to upgrade treatment facilities or build new ones. Palestinians continue to suffer severe power shortages and just last month, Israeli forces opened dams, flooding areas of the already ravaged Gaza Strip.
Israelis have duped the international and religious communities into believing their claim to Palestine is based on a belief that the land is holy—that their spiritual and emotional connection to this land reaches across millennia. Through the willful decimation of the land’s natural resources along with its native inhabitants, the Zionist establishment has proven that in the Holy Land, nothing is sacred.
(c) 2010 Tammy Obeidallah