Why the climate movement must embrace liberation-based activism and the opposition to genocide
“No climate justice on occupied land” is a chant of climate activists who are becoming increasingly involved with the Palestinian cause. However, this is not a new phenomenon. Climate activism has connected to the Palestinian cause for years.
One Climate works to raise awareness of the impact of the occupation on the environment by taking Israelis to tour settlements and meet with Palestinian activists. Muna Shaheen, a co-founder, stated that -
“Many environmental laws that apply in Israel don’t apply in the West Bank… I am not taking people away from the political issues to the environmental issues, but I am emphasizing the importance of the climate situation.”
There is definitely much to be concerned about. As One Climate notes, the occupation reduces Palestinian land which can lead to overgrazing, controls and contaminates water sources, and harms and destroys orchards and fertile land.
“The colonialism combined with capitalism creates a situation that allows the Israeli government to take more advantage of the resources — and we are located in a very sensitive, endangered area.”
Settlements, one of the most glaring and violent facets of the occupation, come at a great cost, both for Palestinians and their land. Palestinians themselves are subjected to unnecessary raids and aggressions, and it is not uncommon for this to result in the murder of one or several Palestinians. While subjecting Palestinians to terror, the settlements themselves produce two times as much solid waste per capita, and are conveniently located on hilltops, with Palestinian villages below. Polluted wastewater and contaminants therefore flow directly into Palestinian communities, thereby further endangering indigenous land.
Israel provides plenty of financial incentives for settlers, such as tax benefits, as well as land discounts for parcels of land in settlements, upon which settlers are able to build factories. The West Bank has seen consistent growth in the number of factories on indigenous land, owned and operated by Israeli settlers. It also provides incentive to build waste treatment plants in the West Bank, making it more financially advantageous to do so, and with far less regulation, especially when compared to the regulation applied to treatment plants within Israeli territory. Palestinians of course are never informed about these decisions, nor asked for their consent, and instead are left to suffer the consequences. The Institute for Middle East Understanding reported that the environmental impact of Israel’s occupation can have a detrimental impact on Palestinian health. Palestinians are at higher risk of asthma, cancer, and other respiratory issues, “as well as genetic health disorders causing miscarriage and congenital birth defects.”
Concerns of climate change activists have only increased as the situation is even more dire in Gaza as a result of the war. Many have expressed concern over the effects of white phosphorus on the land, the contamination of water sources, the destruction of solar panels, and the overall decimation of agriculture.
Since the start of Israel’s most recent aggression against Gaza, there has been global condemnation from the people, manifesting in mass protests around the globe. Climate activists have joined the usual crowds of anti-colonial activists, anti-apartheid activists, and concerned citizens in taking to the streets to protest.
The most notable of these climate activists is of course Greta Thunberg, who has been vocal in her support for Palestine. Her post on X, posted on the 20th October in which he stated that “the world needs to speak up and call for an immediate ceasefire, justice and freedom for Palestinians and all civilians affected” was met with indignation by the Israeli government.
Arye Sharuz Shalicar, a spokesperson for the Israeli army stated to POLITICO that
"Whoever identifies with Greta in any way in the future, in my view, is a terror supporter."
However, in a statement on X, he later retracted the statement, saying -
“I spoke out of a deep sense of pain and my words do not reflect my personal views or those of the IDF."
Greta however refused to back down, and in another statement posted on X on December 5th posted -
“Demanding an end to this inexcusable violence is a question of basic humanity. Silence is complicity. You cannot be silent in an unfolding genocide.”
Greta’s statement was also met with negativity in Germany, a country that has been significantly more supportive of Israel’s actions in Gaza than other European nations such as Spain or Belgium.
Several German politicians demanded that Fridays for Future, the German branch of the movement Greta started, distance itself from the activist, which it promptly did so, in a series of posts expressing support for Israel.
During a protest in Amsterdam, Greta had the microphone snatched from her hands, after mentioning Palestine. The man who had taken the microphone stated that he “came for a climate protest, not a political point of view”.
Is this representative of the divide between climate activists on the issue?
Fridays for Future Sweden argued that “Fridays for Future has not ‘been radicalized’ or ‘become political’. We have always been political, because we have always been a movement for justice.”
This is a statement that has been echoed by other climate groups, arguing that the two causes are inextricably linked. Friends of the Earth UK, Greenpeace, and Extinction Rebellion have all expressed solidarity with Palestine.
Just Stop Oil has taken part in a sit-in protest at Waterloo Station to demand a ceasefire, while Extinction Rebellion has placed children’s shoes in Trafalgar Square to represent the young lives lost in the ongoing genocide.
This is not the first time that climate activists have voiced their concerns over war or military interventions. Several groups have pointed out that militaries are detrimental to the environment with the Conflict and Environment Observatory and Scientists for Global Responsibility stating that militaries are responsible for 5.5%of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if the US military was a country, it would be the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gasses.
Also a concern is the fact that US lobbying in 1997 resulted in the exclusion of militaries from emissions inventories. It is therefore evident why such an aggressive military campaign would be concerning for activists. There is also the fact that the venn diagram of oil/energy giants and companies that benefit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian is in fact, a circle.
This was highlighted by Fossil Free London who protested outside of BP over the news that the company had recently been licensed to explore for gas off of the coast of Gaza. In a statement on twitter, the group said “While Israel commits genocide, BP just sees a new business opportunity. No climate justice without Palestinian justice”
While similar protests have been occurring worldwide, COP28 took place in the UAE less than 2500 km away from Gaza, starting on November 30th. Attitudes towards the conference were mixed. The Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON) as well as La Via Campesina, two significant climate justice groups, have boycotted the conference, likely due to Israel’s participation in the summit.
Others have taken the opportunity to platform the Palestinian cause. Jagan Chapagain, the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies spoke of the situation at the conference, warning of the potential of an environmental catastrophe.
On the first day of the conference, Asad Rehman, director of War on Want called for a ceasefire. In response, the UNFCCC cut off the live stream, likely due to UNFCCC guidelines stating that protests have to be approved and cannot mention countries or companies. As the conference continues and the voices of climate activists get louder, it is clear that the genocide in Palestine is not an issue that can be isolated from that of climate change.