Interwoven struggles: the green paradox meets the Palestine paradox

Marwan Bishara

Al-Jazeera  /  October 5, 2023

Marwan Bishara explains how and why the struggles for Palestinian liberation and climate justice became one and the same.

The struggles for Palestinian liberation and climate justice have become intertwined, literally and figuratively, in philosophy as well as tangible consequences. Both causes are gaining momentum and widespread international support, but facing pressing realities that cause advocates to feel as if they are running against the clock.

Today, Palestinians are not only being subjected to increasing oppression and grave human rights violations at the hands of the Israeli Apartheid regime but are also facing a looming climate disaster. Israel’s own meteorological studies reveal that the Eastern Mediterranean is one of the most climate-vulnerable places on the planet. Whereas worldwide temperatures have increased by an average of 1.1°C since pre-industrial times, in Israel/Palestine average temperatures have risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit) between 1950 and 2017, with a forecasted increase of 4C (39.2F) by the end of the century.

The wider Middle East is facing a similar predicament, with temperatures rising almost twice as fast as the rest of the world with far-reaching consequences for the health and well-being of the roughly 400 million people living in the region. Despite the majority of Middle East countries being signatories to the Paris Climate Accords, so far, their leaders have failed to meet the commitments made in the agreement. Moreover, as international demand mounts, oil-rich countries in the region continue to increase fossil fuel production. That the United Arab Emirates chose to appoint the head of its state-run oil company as the president of this year’s climate conference in Dubai (COP28), would be comical if it weren’t tragic.

However, as lacking and concerning as the actions of Middle Eastern leaders on climate change may be, they pale in comparison to the hypocrisy displayed by their Western counterparts.

A recent opinion piece by David Wallace-Wells published in The New York Times succinctly exposed the hypocrisy of the current US administration’s holier-than-thou attitude on climate change by underlining the fact that the United States will be responsible for over one-third of all planned fossil fuel expansion through 2050. “As President Biden emphatically called climate change an ‘existential threat’ and announced the creation of a climate conservation corps,” Wallace-Wells explained, “the United States broke a record for oil production”.

This hypocrisy perfectly mirrors the long-standing response of affluent, and powerful, Western nations to the Palestinian tragedy. The very same nations who preach peace but subsidize Apartheid in Palestine are also professing their commitment to mitigating climate change, but (alongside the likes of China, Russia and India) helping global CO2 emissions reach historic highs.

Indeed, the lofty promises of “climate justice” from Western nations have regrettably proven as hollow as those about “Palestinian justice”. In both cases, these states talked the talk but refused to walk the walk, leaving poor and vulnerable communities to bear the brunt of their excesses and hypocrisy.

Furthermore, in both cases, they devised and implemented inadequate and counterproductive mechanisms to appear to be “helping”. On climate change, they came up with deceptive concepts like “carbon offset” and “carbon credit” to evade meaningful action and a just, swift transition to renewable energy. On Palestine, they devised unworkable “peace plans” that only serve to deepen Palestinian oppression, while Israel made supposed attempts to “improve” Palestinian life under occupation instead of addressing the fundamental issue of occupation itself, as it must.

Equally cynical is Israel’s routine attempts to confiscate Palestinian lands under the pretext of “environmental conservation”. This tactic, known as “green colonialism”, exposes Israel’s appropriation of environmentalism to displace the Indigenous population of Palestine and exploit its resources. Israeli green zones are primarily established to legitimize land seizures and prevent the return of displaced Palestinians, further entrenching a system of apartheid.

Over the years, the movement to address the climate crisis transcended its scientific origins, expanded its goals, and became a struggle for justice. As the Israeli daily Haaretz explained in a 2021 article, this is why countless environmental organizations worldwide have publicly declared their support for the Palestinian cause. Today, the climate justice movement calls not only for action to mitigate climate change but also for fundamental shifts in social structures that perpetuate the crisis, addressing issues of social equality, distributive justice, and control of natural resources, as in Palestine.

Indeed, Israel exacerbates the climate risks facing Palestinians by denying them the right to manage their land and resources, making them more vulnerable to climate-related events. In the occupied West Bank, where Israel controls more than 60 percent of the land, it systematically steals and destroys Palestinian land and water, enabling its 600 thousand settlers to consume six times as much access to water as the West Bank’s 2.9 million Palestinian residents.

The epitome of Israel’s greenwashing efforts is represented by the Jewish National Fund, which controls some 11 percent of the land and plays a central role in the Judaization of Palestine.  As reported by Haaretz, “JNF’s attempt to portray itself as a fighter in the battle against climate change is a farce. Its contributions to the environment are marred by racism and dodgy dealings.” Israel’s uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian olive trees so that JNF could plant imported trees to efface all traces of Palestinian existence is not eco-friendly, it is ecocide, and utterly criminal.

In many ways, Israeli apartheid has been a microcosm of a world cursed by racism, fear, violence and inequality. And at the end of the day, or at the end of days, global warming, just like Israel’s apartheid, will bring everyone down regardless of race or status. We will either survive together, in harmony, or end up in hell.

Marwan Bishara – senior political analyst at Al-Jazeera