Earth Day in Israel:
Apartheid Showing Through the Greenwash
By Stephanie Westbrook
On April 22, as part of the global Earth Day celebrations, homes, offices and public buildings in 14 Israeli cities turned out the lights for one hour in an effort to "increase awareness of the vital need to reduce energy consumption." The Earth Day celebrations included scenes of green fields, wind generators and rainbows projected on the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem, the Green Globes Award ceremony recognizing "outstanding contributions to promote the environment" and a concert in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv powered by generators running on vegetable oil as well as volunteers on 48 bikes pedaling away to produce electricity.
The irony was not lost on the 1.5 million residents of Gaza who have been living with daily power outages lasting hours on end for nearly three years due to the Israeli siege on the coastal territory. The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) reports that over 100 million liters of fuel were allowed into Gaza in 2009, however as Gisha points out, that amounts to only 57% of the need. As summer approaches bringing peak demands, spare parts and tools for turbine repair are in dire need. There are currently over 50 truckloads of electrical equipment awaiting approval by the Israeli authorities for entry to Gaza.
The constant power outages have led many families in Gaza to rely on low quality generators running on low quality fuels, both brought in through the tunnels from Egypt, causing a sharp increase in accidents resulting in injury and death. According to the UN agency OCHA, in the first three months of 2010, 17 people died in generator related accidents, including fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
The mayor of the central Israeli city of Ra'anana, of which 48% is reserved for city parks, vowed to plant thousands of trees as part of the city's sustainable agenda. Palestinian farmers from the West Bank village of Qaryut near Nablus had their own tree planting ceremony in honor of Earth Day, only to find the 250 olive tree saplings uprooted by Israeli settlers from Givat Hayovel. Another 300 were uprooted during the night of April 13 outside the Palestinian village of Mihmas by settlers from the nearby Migron outpost. The Palestinian Land Research Center estimates that over 12000 olive trees were uprooted throughout the West Bank in 2009, with Israeli authorities responsible for about 60%, clearing the land for settlements and construction of the wall, and Israeli settlers the rest.
Earth Day in Gaza brought armor plated bulldozers escorted by Israeli tanks that proceeded to rip through fields of winter wheat, rye and lentils at Al Faraheen near Khan Younis in the Israeli imposed buffer zone, destroying the livelihood of a Palestinian family because, as Max Ajl, who filmed the entire shameful episode, explained, "They could."
But that's not all that was being dug up in Gaza. The UN Mine Action Service uncovered and removed 345 unexploded ordnance, including 60 white phosphorus shells, left over from the Israeli assault on Gaza. Approximately half were found under the rubble of destroyed buildings.
As the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection was launching its "Clean Coast 2010" program for Earth Day, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 million liters of raw or partially treated sewage was being pumped into the Mediterranean sea from Gaza's overworked, under funded and seldom repaired sewage treatment plant. Damage from Israeli air strikes and lack of electric power and spare parts due to the siege make it impossible for the plant to meet the demands of Gaza's 1.5 million residents, with the daily overflow creating serious health hazards.
In addition to the Green Globe awards, the Ministry of Environmental Protection had it's own award ceremony last month recognizing Israeli Defense Force units, soldiers and commanders who "exhibited excellence in protecting the environment, environmental resources and the landscape." The theme for this year's annual competition was water and included projects related to the "protection of water sources" and "water savings."
For Palestinians living in the West Bank, this "protection of water sources" was documented in Amnesty International's October 2009 report Troubled Water: "The Israeli army's destruction of Palestinian water facilities – rainwater harvesting and storage cisterns, agricultural pools and spring canals – on the grounds that they were constructed without permits from the army is often accompanied by other measures that aim to restrict or eliminate the presence of Palestinians from specific areas of the West Bank."
The Amnesty International report also notes that for decades, Israeli settlers have instead "been given virtually unlimited access to water supplies to develop and irrigate the large farms which help to support unlawful Israeli settlements." And nowhere is this more evident than the Jordan Valley where 95% of the area is occupied by Israeli settlements, plantations and military bases and where "Israeli water extraction inside the West Bank is highest."
One such company helping to sustain the illegal settlement economy is Carmel Agrexco, Israel's largest fresh produce exporter. By its own admission the company, which is half owned by the State of Israel, exports 70% of the produce grown in the West Bank settlements. Europe is by far its biggest market, though its produce arrives as far as North America and the Far East. Agrexco promotes itself as a green company, with a focus eco-friendly packaging and organic produce, though one could argue that transporting organic bell peppers from Israel to the US is hardly ecological. Even the self-proclaimed "green ships" used to bring fresh produce to Europe are named Bio-Top and EcoFresh. "
But there is nothing green about occupation and colonization, nothing ecological in violating human rights and dignity. And that's why an international coalition supporting the Palestinian call for boycotts of Israeli products has set its sights on removing Carmel Agrexco produce from supermarkets – and ports – across Europe.
The original Earth Day was about grassroots mobilization, public protest for change and political awareness of the issues. In Israel's Earth Day celebrations, its Apartheid system is showing through the greenwash.
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