NU-Q students host webinar on environmental injustice in Palestine

March 15, 2021

Environmental experts and researchers spoke at a Northwestern Qatar panel and said that the Israeli occupation of Palestine has been detrimental to the environment – destroying agricultural land and creating “water-apartheid.”

The webinar – Israeli Environmental Apartheid: A Weapon Against Palestinians – was sponsored by the school’s Palestine Student Club and co-hosted by the Liberal Arts Program. Panelists were Mazen Qumsiyeh, a professor at Bethlehem University and director of its Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability; and Mona Dajani, a research officer at the London School of Economics’ Middle East Center and senior research fellow at Lancaster Environment Center. The session - video below - was moderated by the student club’s president, Kayan Khraisheh.

According to Qumsiyeh, the politicization of the environment in Palestine dates back to 1948 when much of the existing agriculture and habitats were destroyed, and “historic villages and towns were depopulated to accommodate for the establishment of Israel.” He explained, “Almond, olive, fig, and carob trees were uprooted and replaced with mono-cultural European pine trees, which has had a great impact on our environment.”

The agricultural destruction, he said, continues today as Israel expands its territories, building new settlements, roads, and infrastructure on land previously used by Palestinians to herd animals and farm produce.

This has also had a detrimental effect on the water supply in Palestine. For one of the mega-projects to irrigate agricultural land in Israel and Jordan, Qumsiyeh said “Israel diverted the water supply from the Jordan Valley and Lake Tiberias, resulting in the drying up of the Jordan River and the shrinking of the Dead Sea," which diminished species and destroyed biodiversity and agriculture in the region. 

Once a rich and green agricultural region, the Jordan Valley today is dry and arid, and the Jordan River – which is a border checkpoint for travelers between Israel and Jordan – has almost disappeared as a result of the upstream water projects in Israel, Jordan, and Syria.

Dajani noted that these circumstances result in Israel controlling more than 80 percent of the West Bank’s water and having full control over the Jordan River, allowing it to “internally displace communities by depriving them of water so they cannot enhance their livelihood and become internally displaced in the very confined area of the West Bank.” 

In creating what she referred to as “water-apartheid,” Dajani pointed to how Israel has taken control of water resources to “weaponize the environment” and enforce Israel’s control of Palestinian livelihood by building Israeli-controlled water dams and canals that destroy and dry farmland and displacing communities by their limiting access to freshwater.

While both sides are struggling with the consequences of a global water crisis, its impact on Palestinians, who rely on Israel for their water supply, is exacerbated by the region’s politics. “This a man-made crisis and not one based on climatic conditions – it does not affect everyone the same,” Dajani said. “The illegal Israeli settler uses much more water than the Palestinian, and the Palestinian, in different parts of the West Bank, gets different access to water.”

The Palestine Student Club is a student-run organization that’s dedicated to celebrating Palestinian culture and tradition. The club has organized multiple discussions and events to highlight Palestinian literature, poetry, cuisine, politics, and international relations.