The destruction of Palestine’s environment
Today, in the Middle East, the lives and health of people in Gaza, Palestine are being systematically obliterated.
The Israeli military have bombed hospitals, homes, refugee centres, schools, and places of worship.
At the time of writing, 25,700 Palestinians have been killed and 1.7 million people, nearly three-quarters of Gaza’s population, have been displaced.1 Many people have had to move numerous times.
Gaza’s cultural heritage is in ruins. Over 100 historical and cultural sites have been destroyed including mosques, churches, libraries, publishing houses, museums and monuments.2
The current conflict was sparked by abhorrent attacks on Israeli civilians by the militant group Hamas but Israel’s response has been wholly disproportionate, waging all-out war on one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated places, and creating a human and environmental catastrophe.
Environmentalists under attack
As an organisation, we are striving for a world where everyone enjoys a healthy environment and a fair share of the Earth’s resources, including Palestinians.
Friends of the Earth is a global network of environmental organisations, and so we are standing in solidarity with siblings in Friends of the Earth Palestine (PENGON), a network of 15 environmental groups in Gaza and the West Bank.
Since October Israeli air strikes have damaged every one of PENGON offices in Gaza and totally destroyed most of their staff’s homes. Islam Ali, one of their staff team, was killed by an Israeli air strike in October: she was sheltering in southern Gaza having already displaced from her home at the Al-Shati Refugee Camp. A further four PENGON staff in Gaza have since been killed by bombing.3
In the West Bank, PENGON staff have faced heightened intimidation from Israeli settlers and soldiers. Increased military roadblocks have divided communities and made travel to work, including sites affected by conflict, more arduous and dangerous.4
The destruction of Palestine’s environment
The work of environmental organisations like PENGON is critical right now because this is a war over land and resources – a war over the environment – and the impacts on Palestine’s environment have been devastating.
Gaza’s sewage works shut down in October and since that time, effluent has flowed directly into the Mediterranean Sea. Bombing has further damaged sewers and wells, causing waste to mix with water sources and flow on streets, enabling the spread of water-borne diseases such as cholera.5
Israeli policy has left Palestinians short of drinking water for decades. Before the conflict the average resident of Israel consumed four times the water that residents of Palestine did, a disparity Amnesty International describes as “truly staggering”.6 But water supplies to Gaza have been reduced so much that the UN now reports that people in Gaza do not have enough water to live.7
Most cultivated fields have been destroyed by military action in Gaza and bakeries, factories and food warehouses have been bombed or shut down due to lack of basic supplies, fuel and electricity. Residents have long since exhausted stockpiles and water. As a result, almost the entire population of the strip is suffering from acute food insecurity or famine.8
PENGON reports that the weapons used by the Israeli military have introduced toxic chemicals into Gaza’s earth, air and ground water.9 Israel’s use of white phosphorous, as reported by Human Rights Watch,10 has a number of frightening effects including creating acid rain which, with other water sources so lacking, residents are forced to drink as rainwater.11
This military action has also created a surge in climate emissions: the first two months of Israel’s bombing campaign and invasion saw 281,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide released.12 Prior to October up to 60% of Gaza’s electricity came from roof-top solar power,13 now many solar panels litter bomb sites.14
For many decades, the military occupation of Palestine has provided cover for the dumping of toxic waste and polluting industries, with polluters exploiting the lack of regulation in occupied territories with no Palestinian control. A 2012 Friends of the Earth fact-finding mission found 11 chemical factories operating without basic regulation or worker rights, in Palestine but behind the partition wall, and the dumping of effluent and toxic waste on Palestinian land.15 Could this be the future of Gaza?
Read the report from PENGON / Friends of the Earth Palestine on environmental justice under Israeli occupation covering land grabbing, water rights and solar energy issues.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
The five staff members at PENGON killed this winter join the list of 2,000 environmentalists killed around the world since 2012. As is the case in many countries, defending the environment in Palestine is a dangerous business.16 Our colleagues in Palestine continue to work in the face of threats and intimidation.
They do this because the appropriation and destruction of the land itself is the most fundamental of environmental injustices. This is why Friends of the Earth partners campaign against land-grabbing in the name of climate action and the theft of water resources by major corporations.17 We will continue to work together as a global movement, drawing power from our shared challenges.
Campaigning as a movement
Following a historic interim judgement by the International Court of Justice, Israel will now face trial for violating the Genocide Convention,18 and Friends of the Earth Scotland, along with many of our international partners, have called on the UK Government to support this case.
However, far from holding Israel to account the UK is in fact profiting from this violence by selling weapons to Israel 19. Instead of supporting international efforts to withdraw support from the Israeli regime, the UK Government is changing the law to illegalise divestment.20
We demand a change of course, an immediate ceasefire, the release of both hostages and political prisoners, the opening of borders, and an end to military occupation and apartheid; for a just peace that recognises the rights and human dignity of all those who live in Israel and Palestine.
In Scotland we can put pressure on UK and Scottish leaders to push Israel to change course. We can support the boycott, divest and sanctions campaign and we can work within our unions to stop the manufacture of weapons for Israel.
Write to your MP to call for a ceasefire using our online tool
Update Feb 2024: We joined Scotland’s national demonstration on Saturday 3rd February in Edinburgh. We encourage all our friends and supporters to do the same, and to offer your solidarity to the people of Palestine however you can.
This was written by FoES staff with input from a range of sources including PENGON /Friends of the Earth Palestine and the Friends of the Earth International federation.
 BBC News, ‘Khan Younis: UN says 12 killed at Gaza shelter as fighting rages’, 25th January 2024: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-68078580
 La Vida Campesino, 100-Day Weekly Report on the Gaza Strip, 10th January 2024
 PENGON testimonies shared directly with Friends of the Earth International members, October and January 2024
 PENGON 2024, as above
 Al Jazeera interview with EcoPeace Middle East and the Conflict and Environment Observatory, ‘Is Israel’s Gaza bombing also a war on the climate?’, 5th December 2023: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/12/5/is-israels-war-on-gaza-also-hurting-the-climate
 Amnesty International, ‘The Occupation of Water’, 29th November 2017: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2017/11/the-occupation-of-water/
 UNICEF, ‘Barely a drop to drink: children in the Gaza Strip do not access 90 per cent of their normal water use’, 20th December 2023: https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/barely-drop-drink-children-gaza-strip-do-not-access-90-cent-their-normal-water-use
 Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, ‘Israel is Starving Gaza’, 8th January 2024: https://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip/20240108_israel_is_starving_gaza
 Friends of the Earth International, ‘Palestine is a cause of human rights and climate justice’, 8th December 2023: https://www.foei.org/palestine-is-a-cause-of-human-rights-and-climate-justice
 Human Rights Watch, ‘Israel: White Phosphorus Used in Gaza, Lebanon’, 12th October 2023: https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/10/12/israel-white-phosphorus-used-gaza-lebanon
 Al Jazeera, 2023, as above
 Social Science Research Network, preliminary findings published in the Guardian, 9th January 2024: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/09/emissions-gaza-israel-hamas-war-climate-change
 Al Jazeera, 2023, as above
 Common Dreams, ‘Solar Panels in Gaza Can’t Withstand Bombs’, 18th January 2024: https://www.commondreams.org/opinion/solar-panels-gaza-bombs
 Friends of the Earth International, ‘Environmental Nakba’, 14th September 2013: https://www.foei.org/publication/environmental-nakba-environmental-injustice-and-violations-of-the-israeli-occupation-of-palestine/
 Global Witness, ‘Almost 2,000 land and environmental defenders killed between 2012 and 2022 for protecting the planet’, 13th September 2023: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/almost-2000-land-and-environmental-defenders-killed-between-2012-and-2022-protecting-planet/
 Friends of the Earth International, ‘Our environment, our rights’: https://www.foei.org/publication/our-environment-our-rights/
 Amnesty International, ‘Israel must comply with key ICJ ruling ordering it do all in its power to prevent genocide against Palestinians in Gaza’, 26th January 2024: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2024/01/israel-must-comply-with-key-icj-ruling-ordering-it-do-all-in-its-power-to-prevent-genocide-against-palestinians-in-gaza/
Since 2015, the UK has licensed at least £474 million worth of military exports to Israel, including components for combat aircrafts, missiles, tanks, technology, small arms and ammunition. https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/12/12/selling-weapons-israel-could-make-uk-complicit-war-crimes
 Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland, ‘How the Anti-Boycott Bill threatens climate action’, 23rd January 2024: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/system-change/how-antiboycott-bill-threatens-climate-action