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Environmental Nakba - FoE International Report

In 2013, our colleagues at Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) released a publication, authored by PENGON (FoE Palestine), GroundWork (FoE South Africa) and FoE Scotland, which details the environmental injustice and violation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. 

This blog is a summary of that report, which can be read in its entirety here, as well as calls to action from PENGON, which can be found below.


Friends of the Earth members in Palestine are calling for international solidarity, including to:

  1. Organise protests to demand an end to Israel's criminal attack on the Palestinian people, an end to the siege of Gaza and the ongoing blockade.
  2. Immediately mobilise to refute Israeli propaganda that ignores or justifies the historical and ongoing assault on Palestinian people, whether in the media or by governments.
  3. Push governments to support the Palestinian call for the immediate re-activation of the UN Special Committee against Apartheid.



In August 2012, a FoEI contingent participated in an observer mission to witness the environmental destruction being caused  by the colonial occupation of Palestinian land by Israel.

The report uses the phrase ‘environmental Nakba’ to describe the effect that colonisation by Israel has had on Palestine throughout the 20th and 21st century. Nakba is an Arabic word which means ‘catastrophe’, and refers to the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Palestine during 1947-9, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes by Zionist militia and Israeli forces at the end of the British Mandate and during the establishment of the state of Israel.



The historic land of Palestine that was occupied by Britain post-World War I until the formation of the state of Israel has, since 1948, comprised Israel (78%) and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip (22%).  With the Six Day War in 1967, Israel invaded and occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. The demarcation line between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory is known as the Green Line. 

After the 1967 occupation, Israel systematically moved numbers of its civilian population into the occupied territory, in violation of international law. Illegal Israeli settlers and settlements have continued to steal private Palestinian land, displace Palestinian communities, and exploit natural resources.   

The Palestinian economy has been heavily dependent on agriculture and fishing, however due to Israel’s restrictive policies on trade, movement and access to natural and economic resources, agriculture’s GDP share has declined from over 12% in 1994 to 6% in 2022.  The denial of Palestinian rights to access vital land and water resources greatly reduces the economic viability of a future Palestinian state.

Case study: Kafr Dik

Kafr Dik is a rural Palestinian village of over 5000 people located in the central West Bank area.  Some 80% of the village’s lands have been confiscated by the Israeli occupation authorities for expansion of nearby illegal Israeli settlements and an industrial zone. The village lost access to 25 outbuildings in their olive fields, as well as vital water cisterns, some of which date back 2000 years. Agricultural access roads are regularly closed by the Israeli military. There is only one natural spring where villagers can collect water by trucks or animals, and the water network is controlled by Israel. Palestinians were denied access to this water for years, until successful lobbying granted them access, however only to 28 cubic metres of water per day. To make matters worse, Kafr Dik’s access is close to an industrial settlement, so the only water they have access to, is often contaminated.

Case Study: Om Elkheir

Om Elkheir is a rural village located in the south Hebron hills area of the occupied West Bank that is engaged in the struggle for access to water. Evicted from their lands in the Negev by Israel in 1948, the community had to purchase land for the village. The 150 village households are entirely dependent on their livestock, and they have no access to water networks or electricity. Om Elkheir is surrounded by an ever-expanding illegal Israeli settlement and its poultry factory farms. The settlement’s water pipes pass through Om Elkheir’s land and deliver some 300 litres of water per person per day to the illegal Israeli settlers. Meanwhile Palestinian families in Om Elkheir receive some 15 litres of water per person per day, which must be transported by donkeys or by hand over long distances. 



The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum of 100 litres of water per person, per day. The reality of the water crisis for Palestinians is stark when compared to average water consumption of around 300 litres per person per day in Israel, 369 litres in the illegal Israeli settlements, while Palestinians in the occupied West Bank average 73 litres per person per day. Israel has access to 85% of the groundwater aquifer in the West Bank, compared to the 15% that Palestinians are allowed to use.This disproportionate difference is leaving Palestinians severely dehydrated. 

Access to surface water from the Jordan River has also been prohibited to Palestinians by the Israeli occupying forces since 1967. The UN office of humanitarian affairs raised serious concerns about what it calls a ‘war on springs’: the direct expropriation of water sources by Israeli settlers through simple theft, fencing off wells, intimidation as well as threats and physical violence, all of which is tolerated or even encouraged by the occupying military forces.



Toxic waste is another huge impact of Israel’s occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian territories. One Israeli settlement, Ariel, dumps sewage and industrial waste onto Palestinian agricultural lands, contaminating the land so that it is easier to confiscate under the ‘unused land’ rule. Israeli settlers account for the majority of waste production in the occupied West Bank, which is poorly managed, contaminating water supplies and leading to various serious health risks in nearby Palestinian villages. Incidents of illegal dumping of hazardous waste (including nuclear waste) in the West Bank by Israel have also been documented.



FoE International observers viewed the Nitzanei Shalom industrial settlement, located on the edge of the Palestinian city of Tulkarem, in the northern West Bank. This industrial zone contains 11 chemical factories owned by Israeli companies, producing herbicides, fertilisers and other chemical assets. The factories moved to these industrial zones in the occupied West Bank after being subject to legal action over pollution claims inside Israel. The zone was the perfect place to relocate, where they can operate under ambiguous legal frameworks controlled by the occupying Israeli military. Even the Israeli State Comptroller described these conditions as “bordering on lawlessness”, with little to no safety or environmental protections for workers or the land. 



To understand a bit about Israel’s greenwashing, we must also understand Palestine’s rich biodiversity. Palestine is home to one of the most important ecologies on the planet, comprised of Mediterranean, semi-desert and extreme desert vegetation sectors, and rich species diversity. It is home to a staggering 1600 vascular plant species, some 298 of which are on the preliminary red list of threatened species, as collated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) . 

A case study of greenwashing is Wadi Qana (‘wadi’ is an Arabic term for a river valley). Wadi Qana sits in the Salfit region in the central north of the West Bank. Because of its elevation it receives higher than average rainfall, and it has eleven natural springs along its length. This rainfall means that, unusually for Palestine, it would receive water all year round, if it is not over extracted. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has regarded Wadi Qana as an important plant area, containing many species protected by law, and a reservoir of medicinal plants for neighbouring cities. Wadi Qana was an important example of social-ecological integration of agricultural production with biological diversity. At its peak production, Wadi Qana’s olive trees produced more than 30,000 tons of olive oil.

All of this was disrupted however, when Wadi Qana was declared a closed military zone by Israel in 1979. Palestinians from the village of Deir Istiya were barred access to their lands until 1982, when Israel declared the area a nature reserve. During the three years of military designation, nine Israeli settlements had been established around the perimeter of the Wadi. These illegal settlements extracted water from the springs and emptied raw sewage into the Wadi.

Under the greenwashing guise of ‘nature protection’, Israel requisitioned large areas of Wadi Qana. This allowed Israel to destroy Palestinian properties, bulldoze olive trees, uproot seedlings, demolish outbuildings, and ransack agricultural development projects.

These designated ‘green spaces’ have become a significant tool of ethnic cleansing for the Israeli occupation authorities. The accompanying development of a tourist industry associated with the illegal Israeli settlements, converts areas of natural beauty in Palestine into playgrounds for Israelis from which Palestinians are excluded.



Israeli settlements, roads, military installations, the separation wall, and zones which are off limits to Palestinians are the most visible parts of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. However, as the examples in this report show, the occupation also comprises a host of less visible practices of colonisation. Such practices may be seen to constitute not only environmental crimes, but also the systemic colonisation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

The concept of an ‘environmental Nakba’ puts environmental injustices rightly in the context of the wider social injustices and human rights violations suffered by the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation. 

For these reasons, Friends of the Earth International's solidarity with Palestinian people does not merely pertain to their struggle against environmental injustices, but extends as well to their struggle against the occupation and for their right to self determination.



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