ASSADI: Colonialism, climate irrevocably linked


Column: Dose of Reality

Two weeks ago, a faculty member had submitted an opinion piece to The Daily Targum concerning the protest at Rutgers against destructive climate policies. Their piece concerned one specific student group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The faculty member criticized the student organization for singling out Israel in their critique of destructive environmental policy.

Although the issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can evoke emotional and clouded arguments, I plan to lay out some facts to consider, not as a critique of the faculty member, but of the misconceptions laid out in the piece that they wrote.

First, the criticism of Israel’s construction of a wall, which displaces countless Palestinians and destroys the thousands-year-old ecosystems, is not unwarranted. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel concluded that the country’s efforts to change its natural landscape will threaten already-endangered species of plants and animals, according to Haaretz, an Israeli news publication.

Even more disturbing is the motive: By destroying the forests of Palestine, Israel is curbing any possible construction of homes by native Palestinian nomads, known as Bedouins.

It separates farmers from their farmland, students from their schools and people from their extended families. Not to mention that the land has been stolen from the Palestinians themselves.

As for the argument that SJP should be calling out less-developed nations for their environmental effects, why should Israel, a wealthy developed nation, be held to the same standard as a country like Egypt? Does Israel want environmental activists to give them credit via comparison with a dictatorship? Or in comparison with countries where millions are starving or homeless? Or with governments that are known to be corrupt? 

This would then mean the United States should not regard Israel with the prestige it has enjoyed since its conception in 1948. In the same way that the United States and Canada should be held to a higher standard as wealthy nations with strong infrastructures, Israel should be held to that same standard.

The professor makes sure to point out the horrendous conditions that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank live under, and put the blame on the Palestinians for their condition. They then ask SJP about the environmental concerns over those living conditions, such as their water and sewage systems. 

What the faculty member leaves out of the piece is that practically only one entity is at fault for the condition of the Palestinians: Israel.

Israel restricts access to water and electricity for the Palestinians, averaging at about 4 to 5 hours a day of power, according to Human Rights Watch. Israel has also compromised sewage and hospital operations, through bombings and restriction of construction materials. 

To be clear, preventing Palestinians from building an environmental infrastructure is one of many destructive efforts. Israel restricts the flow of economic opportunities and medical care supplies. 

Israel has cut off access to the sea as well, tanking the fishing economy that existed there. As a result, the unemployment rate in Gaza was at 52% in 2018. Approximately 2 million people rely on humanitarian aid, which Israel restricts access to as well.

Israel has essentially taken away all tools of what it takes to be a developed country from the Palestinians, and has turned around to the world, exclaiming, “Look! The Palestinians do not protect the environment!”

Essentially, this argument commits a sinister fallacy: It expects the Palestinians to have clean drinking water and healthy sanitation, all while Israel controls that exact water to the Palestinians’ detriment. 

The reality is that Israel has subjugated the Palestinians to an open-air prison and expected them to free themselves of their living conditions.

 Yara Assadi is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in public health. Her column, “Dose of Reality,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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