Martedì, 16 Luglio 2024
Ecocide / Israele

The price of war: environmental devastation in Gaza

Satellite analyses reveal devastated farms, trees felled, and water polluted. NGOs report: "Agriculture and wildlife have been completely destroyed."

The conflict in Gaza is inflicting a severe human toll, but it is also causing significant environmental damage. Israel has unleashed tens of thousands of bombs on the Strip since the conflict began, resulting in widespread devastation. Estimates from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), revised in January 2024, indicate that this bombing campaign has generated an enormous amount of debris and hazardous materials, totalling 22.9 million tons.

"Due to the Israeli occupation, all aspects of life and the environment in Gaza have been heavily damaged: agriculture and wildlife have been completely destroyed," said Abeer al-Butmeh, coordinator of the Palestinian environmental NGOs network. The total incidence of damage in Gaza remains to be quantified, but a detailed analysis of satellite imagery provided to The Guardian by Forensic Architecture (FA), a London-based research organisation specialising in documenting state violence, has revealed an alarming situation. Following the initial airstrikes, ground troops continued by completely dismantling greenhouses and uprooting gardens and cultivated fields using heavy machinery such as tractors and tanks.

Before the outbreak of the conflict, farms and gardens covered approximately 170 square kilometers, corresponding to 47% of Gaza's entire land area. However, according to FA's estimates based on satellite data, by the end of February, Israeli military action had caused the destruction of over 65 square kilometers, equivalent to 38% of that land. In some cases, such as in northern Gaza, up to 90% of crops have been razed to the ground, while around the city of Khan Younis, the percentage stands at around 40%. "What remains is devastation," commented Samaneh Moafi, assistant director of FA’s research. "It's an area now completely uninhabitable."

According to UNEP, extensive bombardments in densely populated areas can result in the long-term contamination of soil and groundwater. The shortage of clean water and fresh air, primarily due to the release of hazardous substances like asbestos and industrial chemicals, poses health risks to thousands of individuals. Additionally, the loss of agricultural land and pollution of the sea from waste jeopardize the food security of the entire region. When Israel ceased fuel supplies to Gaza after October 7, resulting power outages meant sewage could not be pumped to treatment plants, resulting in 100,000 cubic meters of sewage per day being discharged into the sea, as reported by UNEP. Moreover, the fuel shortage has forced residents in Gaza to resort to cutting down trees wherever they find them for use as fuel for cooking or heating purposes.

Israeli authorities have defended their actions as necessary for national security, stating that they "seek to prevent environmental impacts in the absence of operational necessity" but added that "Hamas often operates from gardens, fields, and agricultural land,” thus asserting their obligation to respond. Israel is also contemplating making certain demolitions permanent, with some officials proposing the establishment of a "buffer zone" along the Gaza-Israel border, where much of the region's farmland is situated. Furthermore, certain demolitions have already paved the way for Israeli military infrastructure.

Bellingcat journalists revealed that about 1,740 hectares of land appear to have been cleared in the area south of the city of Gaza, where a new road known as Route 749 has been built, crossing the entire width of the territory. The Israeli armed forces justified the construction of the route as a "military necessity," aimed at "establishing an operational foothold in the area and allowing the passage of forces and logistical equipment."

The environmental destruction caused by attacks on Gaza has not gone unnoticed by researchers and environmental organisations, who sound the alarm about its potential devastating effects on local ecosystems and biodiversity. Calls to consider such damage as "ecocide" and to investigate it as possible war crimes have become increasingly urgent, highlighting the severity of the situation. "Palestinians have a strong connection to the land - they are very attached to their land and also to the sea," added Abeer al-Butmeh.

In accordance with the Rome Statute, which regulates the regulations of the International Criminal Court, launching an attack with the knowledge that it will result in extensive, enduring, and significant harm to the natural environment is deemed a war crime. The Geneva Conventions specify that parties involved in a conflict must refrain from employing warfare tactics that result in "widespread, long-term, and severe damage to the natural environment." It is now incumbent upon the international community to comprehend how to implement these provisions and guarantee that individuals responsible for environmental destruction in armed conflicts are held responsible.

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The price of war: environmental devastation in Gaza
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