Mark Lynas / The New Statesman – 2006-08-14 10:45:09
LONDON (August 14 2006) — It is a measure of the scale of Israel’s atrocities against the Lebanese that the worst environmental disaster in Lebanon’s history has gone largely unreported in the midst of all the death and destruction. “Chances are our whole marine ecosystem facing the Lebanese shoreline is already dead”, laments the country’s environment minister, Yacub Sarraf. “What is at stake is all marine life in the eastern Mediterranean”.
More than 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil has leaked from Lebanon’s Jiyye power plant since it was attacked by Israeli warplanes on 13 July. As if deliberately to hamper any attempts to staunch the flow of oil, Israel then bombed the power plant again two days later, preventing emergency workers from gaining access to the site. An indication of the scale of the disaster comes from satellite photos showing a 3,000-square-kilometre slick along two-thirds of Lebanon’s coastline.
The oil has now begun to wash up in Syria.
Worst affected among the region’s wildlife will be green turtles, an endangered species whose young begin to hatch on Lebanese beaches in late July. As the baby turtles scramble towards the sea, they will run straight into the oil and die. Environmental groups say they are prevented from surveying the damage or rescuing the turtles because of continued Israeli fire.
None of this will come as a surprise to the Palestinians, who have suffered the environmental consequences of Israel’s scorched-earth policies for decades. The water supply to nearly a million Gazans was cut off by bombing last month. Untreated sewage lies in pools on the beach, thanks to Israeli shelling of the Gaza City waste-water treatment plant in 2002. Landfill sites are overflowing and on fire, and two pilot composting plants – constructed with outside help as an alternative to landfill – lie idle, having also been damaged by Israeli bullets.
Israel will no doubt deny all of this or construe it as “accidental” (and I will be accused of anti-Semitism for daring to write it). No such claim can be made for the 50,000 tonnes of hazardous waste that the UN Environment Programme discovered in 2003, buried by Israel on Gaza’s beach. Nor can the impact of West Bank settlements be so easily dismissed: untreated sewage pours down from their army-protected hilltop fortresses, contaminating what remains of Palestinian agricultural land in the valleys. Aluminium and electronics factories avoid domestic Israeli pollution controls by relocating to the occupied territories, where hazardous waste is simply dumped on Palestinian land.
In areas where Israel’s segregation wall has been completed, whole communities are cut off from their farmlands and water supplies. Construction of the barrier, known to its Palestinian victims as the “apartheid wall”, continues apace with US support, despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague declaring it illegal and immoral. As I write, Israeli soldiers have stopped Palestinians from venturing on to their own land near Jenin, so that troops can begin the uprooting of hundreds of olive trees in advance of the wall.
In March last year, according to the Israeli peace campaigner Ethan Ganor, shepherds from Palestinian villages near Hebron found their livestock killed by poison pellets scattered in their fields by Jewish settlers. This might be dismissed as the action of a few fanatics, but it is consistent with reports about settlers targeting Palestinian resources.
In 2003, the Guardian journalist Chris McGreal reported how settlers had hacked down Palestinian olive trees in a night attack. More than 250 trees, some dating from Roman times, were damaged or destroyed.
Violence against the land and its inhabitants has become part of the same matrix of aggression. Perhaps most revealing was Israel’s destruction of a solar power project in Gaza in an air strike on 28 June. That environmentally friendly technology could deliver a better future for Palestinians is not part of Tel Aviv’s plan.
As far as Israel is concerned, the Palestinians have no future — except as a dispossessed underclass, deprived of land and identity, segregated by a four-metre-high wall into a network of South African-style bantustans.
This is not a future any people can or should accept, not in South Africa, nor in Palestine. And so, the war goes on.
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