COMMENTARY: Israel continues to embrace colonial roots through violence

Three weeks ago, the Central Jersey Climate Coalition (CJCC) mobilized approximately 1,000 students, faculty and local community members in the Global Climate Strike, a worldwide day of action demanding climate justice for all and the end of fossil fuels. The passion and enthusiasm was incredible, and our coalition plans to continue to fight for our demands for Rutgers and for Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

Despite the success of this action, it was unfortunate to read a piece in The Daily Targum that criticized our partnership with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an organizational member of the CJCC since its inception.

The coalition unfairly singled out Israel by including a speaker from SJP at the strike, the author said. After listing numerous human rights abuses across the world, the author questioned why SJP only spoke about Israel and ignored all other examples of oppression around the world. This type of criticism would be laughable if it was not so uniquely dangerous for Palestinian activists and organizers.

The speaker from SJP did not, in fact, only mention Israel’s egregious human rights abuses and environmental injustices. The speaker discussed anti-colonial struggles in Kashmir, the Bahamas, North America and Palestine. 

But, even if this speaker did only speak about Israel’s systems of occupation and apartheid against the Palestinian people, why is SJP the only activist group at Rutgers that is expected to speak on all ecological and human rights abuses before they can speak about the injustices occurring on the land in which they are fighting for? 

This kind of critique is grounded in the same ahistorical and white supremacist logic as the “all lives matter” responses to the Black Lives Matter movement, another partner of the CJCC. Implicitly, this author seems to be suggesting that either the plight of the Palestinian people is either rational because human rights abuses occur around the world, or, even worse, that the Palestinian cause actually does not matter at all. 

While the author maintains that the creation of the state of Israel resulted in “no mass killings, no mass deportations ... no removal of citizenship,” he seemingly ignores the lethal violence and ethnic cleansing of the 1948 Nakba, and the subsequent and ongoing policies of expulsion, colonization and violent repression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli state. The human rights abuses involved in this system have been well-documented by the United Nations (UN) and numerous other internationally-respected bodies. 

Even just looking at one example of what we traditionally consider a strictly “environmental” issue — the human right to water — we can easily see how settler colonial occupation directly fuels environmental injustice. 

Since 1967, Israel has occupied the West Bank, taking over total control of the aquifers in the region and diverting approximately 90% of the water into its own illegally constructed settlements and industrial farms. Because Palestinian wells are drying up due to this dangerous geoengineering — and Israel denies permission to Palestinians to dig their wells any deeper — Palestinians are forced to literally buy back the water that rests in their own land from the state that is violently occupying it. 

This is eco-apartheid at its worst, and it is representative of a larger wave of eco-fascism that is rising up in response to the escalating climate crisis. 

The fact is, Israeli apartheid is perhaps the most quintessential example of the inextricable link between settler colonialism and the climate crisis. Similar to how ideologies like manifest destiny have allowed settler colonial states like the U.S. to view certain lands and peoples as extractable, exploitable and less valuable than their whiter counterparts, Zionism has been the foundation upon which systems of dispossession, ethnic cleansing and apartheid have been built. 

These dangerous narratives, ones that see the land and humans as things to be controlled and dominated, must be relegated to the detritus of Western thought if we are going to get anywhere close to solving the climate crisis.

Linking injustices like settler colonialism, the carceral state and the military industrial complex to the climate crisis are not just some sort of radical grab bag of movements. These connections acknowledge the crisis for what it is: The existential culmination of free-market dogma, a doctrine that has inflicted so much violence on bodies and lands around the world, and the movement that resists this violence must be as urgent as it is intersectional. 

Now is not the time to back down in response to people who hold obsolete and oppressive ideologies. Now is the time to rise up, like humanity has never done before, and leave no one behind.  

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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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