Ceasefire now, ceasefire forever: No climate justice without Palestinian freedom and self-determinationand self-detrmination
by Patrick Bigger, Batul Hassan, Salma Elmallah, Seth J. Prins, J. Mijin Cha, Malini Ranganathan, Thomas M. Hanna, Daniel Aldana Cohen, Johanna Bozuwa
December 13, 2023
We write this in remembrance of Palestinian climate scholar Khalil Abu Yahia, cited in this piece, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike along with his mother, his two brothers, his wife Tasnim, and his two young daughters, Elaf and Rital on October 30, 2023.
An immediate, permanent ceasefire and end to all occupation and apartheid is the only viable path forward for lasting peace, security, and survival of people and ecosystems through the climate crisis.
Military domination of public resources and capture of US industrial capacity fuels the climate crisis and fundamentally renders full decarbonization—let alone climate justice—almost impossibly difficult to achieve.
Demanding an immediate, permanent ceasefire and end to US funding for Israel’s occupation of Palestine is a vital priority for resisting abandonment of the most vulnerable communities, for whom the climate crisis will continue to heap danger and misery without rapidly reducing emissions and investing in just transitions around the world.
Climate crisis in Palestine cannot be detached from the Israeli occupation. The brutal and extensively documented apartheid regime that Israel imposes and maintains over Palestinians is fundamentally incompatible with the tenets of climate justice. This short brief aims to show the inextricable connection between resistance to occupation and the struggle for a just, decarbonized world where all life can thrive. An immediate, permanent ceasefire and the end of US funding for Israeli apartheid and occupation is needed to halt the ongoing violence and address the driving forces of climate breakdown in Palestine.
The current crisis in Gaza is the entirely predictable consequence of decades of brutality, dehumanization, and intentional creation of social, economic, and environmental precarity. Since the horrific October 7th attacks organized by Hamas, Israel’s unrestrained campaign of collective punishment has cut off electricity, water, and food supplies to Gaza, an area already described as “the world’s largest open-air prison.” Scholars have warned that Israel’s actions are genocidal. Israel’s bombardment has targeted hospitals, schools, homes and other sites of shelter, resulting in the deaths of at least 18,000 Palestinians, including thousands of children, and the displacement of more than 1.8 million people. Israeli forces have specifically focused on executing journalists. The number of dead will surely grow—perhaps dramatically—and the already-appalling situation could become much worse as Israel continues to limit humanitarian aid, Gaza’s civil order verges on collapse, and Israeli violence escalates in the West Bank and on the Israel/Lebanon border.
The US climate movement must stand in solidarity with Palestine. Israel’s day-to-day actions for decades, now reaching a crescendo of extreme, illegal escalation of violence since Hamas’ October 7th atrocities, are a continuation of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” that began in 1948 with Israel’s dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians. The environmental aspects of the Nakba, or “environmental Nakba,” continue through the apartheid regime’s destruction of Palestinian life and land and amplification of Palestinians’ extreme climate vulnerability.
In the face of the current, crosscutting crises of unfolding genocide in Palestine and intensifying climate chaos—both amid stifling inaction from global powers—the US climate movement should be particularly called to respond. Demanding an immediate, permanent ceasefire and end to US funding for Israel’s occupation of Palestine is a vital priority for resisting abandonment of the world’s most vulnerable communities, for whom the climate crisis will continue to heap danger and misery without rapidly reducing emissions and investing in global just transitions. This means taking a stand to stop the violence in Palestine while taking on the Military Industrial Complex in the United States to ensure freedom, safety, and peace for all.
Apartheid and Climate Vulnerability
There are two crucial phenomena affecting climate vulnerability in Palestine: (1) Broken or undermined infrastructure has limited (or outright eliminated) Palestinian access to crucial rights and services, and (2) Israel’s land confiscation has decreased food access, economic stability, agricultural production, and critical biodiversity.
In Gaza, Palestinians have long struggled to build and maintain drinking and waste water infrastructure following 16 years of blockade preceded by decades of occupation. Israel has not only limited access to infrastructure, but used the occupied West Bank as a sacrifice zone, where toxic industry and wastewater are concentrated, heightening Palestinian residents’ risks of cancer and illness. Much of that infrastructure is now completely destroyed, putting the entire population at risk as the climate crisis makes rainfall less predictable and, at times, more intense. Rising temperatures will endanger the young and the old, especially since Israel has destroyed much of Gaza’s (solar) electricity generation for air conditioning and other fundamental needs for survival. With nearly one-fifth of buildings in Gaza destroyed, many Palestinians from Gaza no longer have homes to return to shelter—they have been made refugees again after they or their elders were forced out of other areas of occupied Palestine.
Furthermore, Israel’s ongoing land confiscation and denial of use to Palestinians causes direct environmental devastation and injustice. Israeli settlements and their encroachment on, and theft of, the tiny amount of agricultural land still accessible to Palestinians further undermines already-weakened food sovereignty and security for Palestinians. In some of the areas where Israel has pushed Palestinians off their land, it claims to “rewild” those areas for ecological benefits. Now, Israeli forces are bulldozing fields and orchards in northern Gaza for tank and military vehicle access. The settler-colonial campaign to replace native olive groves and crops with non-native pines, eucalyptus, and monoculture crops has reduced biodiversity, increased susceptibility to fire, and placed unsustainable pressure on local natural resources—while attempting to invoke a faux-European landscape from which Palestinian history and presence has been erased. In short, the struggle for Palestinian liberation and self-determination is also a struggle for environmental justice, offering a clear throughline from Gaza to climate-vulnerable communities globally and in the United States.
The US Climate Movement’s Obligation to Palestinian Justice
Since the US is the largest donor of military hardware to the Israeli state by far, the US government is directly complicit in Israel’s crimes of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and genocide in addition to providing diplomatic cover in the form of vetoing UN resolutions, opposing independent investigations, and pressing other US allies to do the same. Israel’s military apparatus produces consistent and effectively guaranteed returns on investment for US arms manufacturers and their investors. This arrangement is a lucrative stimulus package for war profiteers in the US and abroad who are simultaneously turbo-charging the global climate crisis. Even as it cuts domestic funding for critical social investment and public opinion turns against US support for Israeli war crimes, the Biden administration is pushing for more than $14 billion in funding on top of the $3.8 billion in unconditional annual funding Israel’s military receives from the US. Israeli police and military often train their US counterparts, imposing the same systems of militarized control and profiling used to oppress Palestinians on overpoliced communities, usually Black, Indigenous, and communities of color, in the United States.
This is an unjust, untenable state of affairs. Unfortunately, advocating for an end to Israeli apartheid and calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire is often considered a controversial position in the US climate movement, or perceived as irrelevant to the work of pushing for stronger climate action.
Environmental Precarity in Palestine
Even before the current escalation in Gaza, 96% of water was considered undrinkable because the Israeli blockade restricts all access to water except for a small, increasingly polluted portion of the Coastal Aquifer Basin, 71.5% of Gazans were considered food insecure, 65% lived in poverty, and the entire territory experienced recurring power cuts. In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians are forced to purchase rationed water from Israel’s national water company and store it in tanks on top of buildings, while Israeli settlers’ unlimited access to piped water depletes natural springs and discharges wastewater into drinking and agricultural sources used by Palestinians. Israelis consume five times more water than the populations of the occupied West Bank and Gaza combined, despite having a population that is less than twice their size.
While climate projections forecast that all of historic Palestine, and the Eastern Mediterranean more broadly, will experience intensifying extreme temperatures and drought, Palestinians are much more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than Israelis. While Israel touts its water management, desalination, and agricultural climate adaptation technologies to world markets, it makes it structurally impossible for Palestinians to replicate those strategies. In Gaza, the blockade and corresponding economic instability prevents desalination plants from operating. Apartheid policies prevent the issuance of licenses for water infrastructure to Palestinian water authorities. The Israeli state systematically destroys Palestinian farmland, including olive trees, a primary source of income and food security for hundreds of thousands of families. Palestinians in Gaza must contend not only with intensified water and food deprivation on top of already severe restrictions on water and agriculture, but also with sea level rise-induced encroachment of seawater into the severely depleted Coastal Aquifer—a climate-driven disaster amplified by Israeli threats to flood Gaza’s land, which would accelerate land salinization and drinking water supply destruction.
Israeli blockade, apartheid, and state violence also undermine self-determination and climate action by targeting of Palestinian educational institutions, civil society, and activism. The Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network describes how environmental defenders are imprisoned on charges of “public incitement” and repeatedly harassed by the Israeli state, reflecting the broader criminalization and persecution of Palestinian human rights defenders by Israel. Decades of Israeli destruction of Palestinian educational institutions and infrastructure, from the recent bombings of UNRWA schools, universities, and archives in Gaza to routine school demolitions to enable settler expansion, are attempts to diminish the physical, social, and cultural infrastructure of Palestinian society. Echoing settler-colonial modes of control wielded against Indigenous people around the world for the last 500 years, even the most innocuous of Palestinian cultural environmental activity is prohibited or criminalized by the Israeli state. Foraging for ‘akkoub (wild artichoke) and za’atar (thyme) have both been declared illegal by the occupying regime. As Palestinian artist Jumana Manna writes, these laws “constitute an ecological veil for legislation that further alienates [Palestinians] from their land” by legalizing Israel’s control of the definitions and practices of ecological preservation, and the erasure of Palestinian culture.
Israel masks these abuses through a public relations effort to greenwash its reputation as the ‘startup nation’ responsible for myriad clean tech and climate adaptation technologies. Israel attempts to justify land theft with green colonialism, a practice exemplified by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF was founded alongside the Zionist movement in the early 20th century to acquire land and property in historic Palestine. To this day, the organization enables Palestinian displacement by establishing national parks on top of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages and designating land for conservation purposes, including in parts of occupied East Jerusalem. The JNF operates with international charitable status in the US and Canada, despite being a quasi-governmental organization that owns 13% of land in historic Palestine.
Israel’s renewable energy expansion drive provides further evidence of greenwashing and green colonialism. Swathes of the occupied West Bank and the Naqab desert have been used or designated for commercial solar energy expansion, driving direct displacement through theft of land and resources. While Palestinians are displaced to support Israel’s renewable energy industry, Palestinian solar projects are destroyed as “illegal constructions,” having failed to secure permits from Israeli authorities, and Lebanese renewable energy projects are militarily targeted.
The violent, everyday maintenance of Israeli apartheid intensifies local air and water pollution and prevents Palestinians from decarbonizing. Instead, Palestinians are forced into energy insecurity through reliance on diesel-powered generators in the West Bank and a single power plant in Gaza. More broadly, the Israeli occupation of Palestine cuts off the possibility of reaching the economic stability required for investment in renewable energy and climate-safe infrastructure.
The US Role in Palestine’s Humanitarian and Ecological Crises
US funding, diplomatic and policy cover, and arms fundamentally enable the dispossession and murder of Palestinians while contributing to long-term environmental breakdown. The US has, by far, the highest military spending of any country in the world and the highest ratio of military spending to GDP of any major economy bar Russia. The annualized budget of the most significant US climate spending plan to date, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), is one-tenth of the more than $800 billion spent on the military each year. The US military itself is the largest institutional consumer of liquid fossil fuels in the world, with corresponding emissions on par with those of entire medium-sized countries like Peru and Portugal. In addition to this direct military spending, and the ecological harm it entails, funding for Israel is concentrated in the form of military funding. This funding both enables occupation and ethnic cleansing as well as acting as a subsidy for some of the most environmentally detrimental industries in the world.
Even non-defense US federal agencies and some high-profile non-government organizations are complicit in fueling Israeli violence toward Palestinians and other neighboring countries. The US Department of Energy maintains a close partnership with Israel that “helps advance [Israel’s] capabilities” in areas spanning both renewable and fossil energy, while those same energy developments dispossess Palestinians. The US Environmental Protection Agency promotes Israel’s water reuse practices, taking delegations of “water leaders” to Israel to celebrate its conservation practices while ignoring the apartheid system that facilitates Israel’s access to water.
Ceasefire Now, Ceasefire Forever
Even as the climate crisis intensifies, perpetual war and conflict, including the US establishment’s insistence on maintaining Israeli apartheid and its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, is used to justify the continuation of the US military’s domination of public resources and capture of US industrial capacity. This fuels the climate crisis and fundamentally renders full decarbonization—let alone climate justice—almost impossibly difficult to achieve. In the words of Gustavo Petro, President of Colombia, “The life of humanity, and especially of the people of the south, depends on the way in which humanity chooses the path to overcome the climate crisis produced by the wealth of the north. Gaza is just the first experiment in considering us all disposable.” As more of the Earth becomes uninhabitable, more communities will be rendered surplus to the reproduction of global capital and, under the status quo, more expendable.
To confront the drivers of climate breakdown is also to confront the drivers of apartheid, militarism, and perpetual war. An immediate, permanent ceasefire in Palestine and end to all occupation and apartheid is the only viable path forward for lasting peace, security, and survival through the climate crisis. For both ethical and practical reasons, there cannot be climate and environmental justice in just one region or country. There is climate justice globally, or nowhere.
We are grateful to Zena Agha, Alex Clark, and Mazen Labban for review of this brief.