A friendly PSA: Celebrating Earth Month means acknowledging environmental degradation in Palestine. With the end of Earth Month, it’s time to seriously consider the implications of war and occupation on Palestine’s environment. 

As an Eco-Facilitator for the Sustainability Office, an environmental studies major, and above all, a self-proclaimed environmentalist, I’m always enthusiastic when Earth Month rolls around. From entertaining festivals to engaging lecturers, Earth Month provides an ideal time and space to re-evaluate my choices to be more environmentally conscious. This April, I celebrated by listening to a panel discussion about plastics and pollution, attending Sunrise’s film screening, and shopping at the Sustainable Market. I would be remiss, however, to ignore the nagging in the back of my mind. 

While April marks Earth Month, recent weeks have seen college campuses across the United States dominating media headlines for their pro-Palestine rallies. Wesleyan’s Students for Justice in Palestine has recently launched its own Palestine solidarity encampment in front of North College. So, in navigating Earth Month during the ongoing occupation, it’s become painfully clear that while we in Middletown are adversely affected by climate change, Palestinians in Gaza are disproportionately harmed. 

Like other Eastern Mediterranean countries, climate change in Palestine makes precipitation and the volume of the natural water supply more variable. Rising sea levels leave Palestinians in Gaza vulnerable to worsened salinity due to already poor infrastructure. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, 70% of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip are drinking contaminated water. 

Israel’s occupation of the land in 1967 has only worsened living conditions in the West Bank. Since its occupation, Israel has treated water and land as commodified state property, belonging solely to its government. The Oslo II Accord splits the West Bank into three regions: Areas A, B, and C. Area C is a fully Israeli-controlled region where Palestinians are subject to limited access. The region houses most of the agriculturally productive land and water necessary for Palestinian survival. Blockading the land leaves Palestinians powerless as Israel maintains control over the water’s distribution. 

The current allocation of water resources greatly favors Israel. The Jordan River Basin provides the main source of surface water, and Palestinians are denied access to it. Israel has effectively monopolized water, a public good and human right, and left Palestinians in crisis.

With the onset of climate change, the effects of Israel’s actions have been exacerbated. Israel’s actions have left ecological damage to the surrounding environment and its regenerative cycle. In diverting and extracting water from the Jordan River, Israel reduces the water’s natural recharge capacity and disrupts the hydraulic cycle. Legal frameworks, irrigation infrastructure, and desalination technology also perpetuate these inequalities, making it difficult for Palestinians to manage their water resources independently and sustainably govern the land. 

I should note that I’m not claiming that the loss of land and natural resources is comparable to brutally killing thousands of innocents in Israel and Palestine. I do think, however, that the environmental implications of war and occupation are often overlooked. War has multifaceted consequences on a region, yet the affected environment is disregarded as replaceable. 

In the years following a conflict, there seems to be this conception that the environment will be able to regenerate on its own. We expect affected countries to compete with economic powerhouses in the international market and then blame them when they can’t keep up. Climate change has a profound effect on us—leading us to use reusable straws, compostable utensils, solar panels, electric cars, and standardized waste bins—so what do you think its impact on a war-torn region will be? Recent studies have shown that the carbon cost of rebuilding Gaza’s 100,000 damaged buildings using contemporary construction techniques will generate at least 30m metric tonnes of warming gases.

A reading I recently did for my Chinese Eco-Civilization class outlined the notion of hydraulic lock-in, which I’ve found especially relevant in this discussion. Hydraulic lock-in refers to a situation where a particular environmental approach becomes deeply entrenched in a society, making it difficult to transition to more sustainable alternatives. Israel’s structurally rooted infrastructure and framework deprives those under its occupation of the opportunity to consider alternative water management structures. Hydraulic lock-in implies that a country must input indefinite natural resources and human energy to sustain its infrastructures. As the occupying force, Israel is willing to extract infinite inputs of the West Bank’s natural resources. The unfortunate corollary, of course, is that Palestinians in this region will pay for the environmental degradation. 

While the West Bank water crisis is detrimental and destructive, it is one of many environmental consequences of the occupation. Pollution from missiles contaminates the air, water, and soil; modern warfare harms wildlife; aircrafts, tanks, and other transportation vessels emit fossil fuels. Since the escalation of the occupation in October 2023, during which waste management facilities were destroyed, the United Nations Environment Program estimates at least 100,000 cubic meters of sewage has been discharged onto land or into the Mediterranean Sea. 

So, when we commit to protecting the Earth during Earth Month, we’re also committing to Palestine. The occupation of Palestine is inherently an environmental rights issue, and it’s due time that we recognize it as one. 

Lyah Muktavaram can be reached at lmuktavaram@wesleyan.edu

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