In the month of August 2018 Staat van Beleg could list 729 human rights violations (and 143 reports/ analyses). (see our archive) This month we focus on how the Palestinian people and their land is being poisoned by their occupier.
The whole concept of occupying a people and their land is a poisonous act in itself, but in this article we will just focus on violations where Palestinians are being exposed to harmful substances.
Zionists used biological weapons even before Israel was created in 1948 and ever since. In 1948 they injected typhoid in the aqueduct of Acre to make it easier to conquer the city. Two weeks later, after their “success” in Acre, the Zionists struck again. This time in Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of refugees had gathered after their villages in southern Palestine were occupied.
Flooding farmlands with sewage
On many occasions we saw Israeli colonists flooding farmlands with sewage water. Israeli settlements in the Qalqilya district, northwest of the West Bank, are the main cause of environmental pollution, which comes mainly from wastewater and sewage that flows from these settlements into Palestinian agricultural lands nearby. This has destroyed crops and diffused diseases and epidemics in the area. Sewage also floods from the settlements into the rich underground water reserves in the area and creates lakes of wastewater that is destructive to the environment and health.
Very recently, Palestinian farmers have complained that sewage coming from the Ariel settlement is polluting the atmosphere and the natural park in western Salfit.
Like other countries, Israel has a system in place for treating the waste generated in its territory. However, as a report from B’Tselem reveals, a significant portion of this system is located outside Israel’s sovereign borders, in the West Bank. Abusing its status as an occupying power, Israel has set out less stringent regulations in industrial zones in settlements and even offers financial incentives such as tax breaks and government subsidies. This policy has made it more profitable to build and operate waste treatment facilities in the West Bank than inside Israel. B’Tselem’s research has found that there are at least fifteen Israeli waste treatment facilities in the West Bank. Most of the waste they process is produced in Israel. Six of the facilities handle hazardous waste that require special processes and regulatory supervision due to the dangers it poses. The report focuses on five waste treatment facilities operating in the West Bank: four plants that process hazardous waste and dangerous substances produced in Israel (including infectious medical waste, used oils and solvents, metals, batteries and electronic industry byproducts) and one that processes sewage sludge.
What we also see is the disposal of chemical waste from Israeli industrial zones. The flooding of waste and toxic water from the Industrial Zone of the illegal Alfie Menashe Israeli colony for example. This industrial zone was built on Palestinian lands near Qalqilia and continues to devastate Palestinian agricultural lands and the environment in Wad ar-Rasha village, exposing the residents to serious health risks.
Another good example is Geshuri activities, a privately owned Israeli agrochemicals company that manufactures pesticides and fertilizers with potential serious health implications of its site of occupation for the many residents neighbouring the factories. The company was originally located in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya but was closed down by a court order in 1982 after residents complained on account of its plants toxic emissions and was relocated to land (stolen for the purpose) on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Tulkarem. There the pollution unabated continues apace and the factory called Keshet Prima, can avoid Israel’s strict environmental laws. It is part of an industrial area between Tulkarem and Israel called Nitzanei Shalom that is home to 12 Israeli chemical factories. Neighbours claim the factory’s chemical waste and emissions have led to ruining the agricultural land around the factory, ground water and air pollution and increased disease rates including respiratory diseases, eye infections and cancer. Furthermore, the Geshuri factory does not operate during the months when the winds blow in the direction of Israel. Following a mediated negotiation process provided by the Basel Convention Secretariat, Palestine succeeded in winning an agreement from Israel for the waste to be transferred back across the Green Line, to be appropriately disposed of in Israel. This is a significant victory for Palestine, demonstrating one possible way to use international environmental law to hold Israel accountable for violating the environmental and human rights of Palestinians and seek appropriate remedies.
However, in accepting the consequences of its criminal actions, Israel has demanded that the case not be published on the Basel Convention website. Despite the lack of public disclosure about the case to date, it remains an important first step in seeking effective remedial action for environmental crimes committed by Israel against Palestinian communities
Israel breaches the terms of the Basel Convention (which regulates the movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal) on a regular basis. On the 14th of February Palestinian customs control crews seized three Israeli trucks in Salfit carrying toxic litter and solid waste amassed from territories occupied in 1948. More recently on 31 July The Palestinian Authority customs police stopped an Israeli truck laden with 19 huge boxes containing unsafe plastic waste from Israel trying to enter Jenin in the West Bank to dump its load.
Another catastrophic environmental nightmare is the possibility of radioactive waste being leaked from the Dimona nuclear reactor on Palestinian lands in the Negev. Dr Mahmoud Saadah, head of the Palestine branch of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), holds the Dimona nuclear reactor directly responsible for the increase in deformities in the area and surrounding villages. It is one of the few nuclear facilities in the world not subject to international safety inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“The only places found to have higher concentrations of Caesium-137 than the West Bank were Chernobyl and Fukushima”.
Spraying farmlands with toxic pesticides
When you google ‘Israel spraying toxic pesticides Gaza’ you will be surprised how many entries you’ll find. Over the years Israel has regularly been spraying toxic chemical substances and dangerous herbicides on farmlands across the besieged Gaza Strip. Palestinian farmers said that Israeli troops spray weed killers to dry wild plants around security fences in order to have clear vision to watch the area, but they usually spray dozens of meters around their targeted areas, killing and damaging Palestinian crops.
In November 2017 Israeli army planes sprayed Palestinian farmland in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip with toxins and chemicals. Medical sources in Gaza said the Palestinians suffered chemical burns, severe shortening of breath, and various types of allergies after being exposed to the Israeli toxins, while working on their lands.
These practices are not new and also not restricted to Gaza. Chemical defoliants against Palestinian crops were found in Ain Al- Beida in 1968, Aqraba in 1972, Mejdel Beni Fadil in 1978 and Negev in 2002.
But there is another worrying development. Due to the decline in production and Israel’s ban on the entry of basic commodities, Gazan farmers have resorted to the use of banned chemical substances to maximize crop yield. This poses a serious health hazard to both farmers and their consumers. The United Nations has frequently expressed concerns over the excessive use of toxic pesticides by Gaza farmers. Many medical experts in Gaza are worried about a rise in the number of registered Gazan cancer patients, especially in the agricultural areas.
With nowhere else to turn in a water-scarce region, Gaza has been drawing much of its water from the sea but also expels effluent into the same source. While Israel has met its water needs with desalinated water, building the world’s largest reverse osmosis plant only 30 miles north of Gaza, similar facilities in Gaza lack the electricity to run at full capacity.
Its power problems became critical last March when an internal dispute between Gaza’s ruling leadership, Hamas, and the rival West Bank-based Palestinian Authority left fuel duties unpaid, forcing the only local power plant’s closure and leaving Gaza with such little electricity that pumps used to funnel sewage to cleansing plants could no longer function. The wastewater instead headed straight to the sea, where pollution levels have reached four times the international standard. It has caused alarm in Israel as well, where beaches close to the enclave have been shut down because of the spreading pollution.
Much of the population lives in places like the Shati refugee camp, founded to house an influx of Palestinians displaced from nearby villages during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. At Shati, the industrial pipe spewing into the sea also carries medical waste from Gaza’s main hospital, al-Shifa. Residents said their children have complained of itchiness after going swimming and that even the sand smells strongly of sewage. Their fears deepened after five year-old Mohammad al-Sayis died in July of 2017 from a form of shigellosis—a disease spread through fecal matter.
Parasites, including many that affect humans, were found in almost half the samples collected for a 2014 study into the quality of water on Gaza’s coast led by Ahmed Hillis, an expert with the Palestinian Environment Quality Authority. According to the World Health Organization, water-related diseases are the main cause of child deaths in Gaza and estimated to account for a quarter of all illnesses.
Gaza’s environmental challenges cannot be separated from the blockade, which increases the overpopulated enclave’s dependence on whatever resources are available to it. More than 3,000 items needed to develop Gaza’s water and sanitation sector await Israeli approval to enter the strip because of restrictions on “dual-use items,” which Israel claims could also be used to build weapons to be used against it.
All provinces of the West Bank suffers water scarcity. Israeli control of the head water and frequent interruptions of water for long periods forces the people to utilize water of unprotected springs and wells.
In October 2017 more than 300 people fell ill due to contaminated drinking water in the Al-Fawwar refugee camp, south of Hebron in the West Bank. A medical source said that most of the infected children were infected with Amoeba bacteria after sewage water was mixed with drinking water in the camp.
The health effects of teargas
An American study has revealed that the constant use of tear gas by the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) in Palestinian refugee camps has devastating effects on the physical and mental health of residents, especially women, children and the elderly.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley said that Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem is the most exposed place to tear gas in the world. Researchers conducted a survey of 236 individuals in Aida camp as well as 10 focus groups in Aida and Dheisheh camps in August 2017. Based on the survey, 100% of the citizens reported being exposed to tear gas in the past year, 84.3% were exposed while in their homes, 9.4% at work, 10.7% in school, and 8.5% in cars. Residents described various physical effects from such frequent exposure to tear gas including loss of consciousness, miscarriage, breathing difficulties, asthma, coughing, dizziness, rashes, severe pain, allergic dermatitis, headaches and neurological irritability, blunt trauma from canister injuries, and more.
The Israeli constant use of tear gas has also resulted in very high levels of psychological distress which leads to sleep disruption, acute stress responses, and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Children and teachers in the camp reported being unable to carry out school activities during the IOF gas attacks.
During the Great March of Return in Gaza Israeli occupation forces used “strange” and “unknown” gases against unarmed, peaceful protesters.The gases caused protesters’ bodies to convulse and tremble. Many lost consciousness for several hours as a result. On 14 August the father of a 14-year-old Palestinian boy reported about his son still being in a semi-coma for 4 days with convulsions every 5 minutes after he was exposed to nerve gas. The treatment for this child and other civilian victims of Chemical Warfare, is a simple medicine which Israel is now preventing from entering Gaza. Gaza doctors have reported that the symptoms are caused by a neurotoxin, an unknown chemical nerve agent in the form of gas which targets the entire nervous system, resulting in violent convulsions, extreme suffocation, coma and in some cases death.
Another unknown gas was used back in October 2017 when Israel bombed a tunnel in Gaza, killing eight Palestinians. A day after the attack the spokesman for Health Ministry in Gaza said that most of the reported victims were killed or injured from inhaling poisonous gas fired by Israeli air forces at the tunnel, stressing the urgent need to reveal the kind of weapons used in the assault.
There are many more violations regarding poisoning that we did not mention. For example a case of mysterious boxes that were dropped by air over the West Bank and the call of a rabbi for poisoning the Palestinian water supply. Even the Palestinian cattle isn’t safe from being poisoned by Israeli settlers.
We can conclude that the use of harmful substances on the Palestinian people, their land and their cattle are a significant part of the Israeli occupation and expulsion policies and is another contributing factor in the overall Palestinian genocide.