July 24, 2008

Why is the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel supporting West Bank settlements?

Posted in pollution tagged at 11:37 am by Mira Vogel

Green Prophet writes:

“…a recent article by Zafrir Rinat published in Ha’aretz (Green beyond the Green Line, too) posed the awkward as to why SPNI’s campaigns appear to stop at the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border: Why don’t they oppose Israeli construction in the West Bank for environmental reasons?”

Mossi Raz of the Life and Environment group has a petition (Hebrew) condemning tours and visits by SPNI to illegal outposts because they are easy to interpret as expressions of support.

This is a bit muddled but I’m in a rush. I want to pick up on what I take to be Michael Green’s point – that there’s a case for opposing the Israeli settlements from an environmental position.

I would have thought that if you oppose building in a place from an environmental perspective, you oppose it whether the builder is Israeli or Palestinian.

If Palestinians proposed to build over or move into evacuated illegal outposts or settlements, taking advantage of the infrastructure, the same environmental reasoning would apply as applied to the illegal Israeli dwellers. Just because the new residents are Palestinian, it doesn’t mean that they have mastery of pollution control. The ongoing neglect of the pollution of Palestinian land is absolutely unacceptable. Beitar Illit, the settlement mentioned by Green, is partly responsible for polluting the Palestinian village of Wadi Fukin further down and depleting its springs. The thing is, Tsur Hadassah, an Israeli town west of Jerusalem, may also be responsible. Springs and streams don’t respect human boundaries.

Friends of the Middle East set up its Good Water Neighbours project involving both Tsur Hadassah and Wadi Fukin. They are twinned, despite being separated by the Green Line, the armistice line of 1949 and the internationally recognized border between the two regions:

“Massive urban development, especially in Beitar Illit, has disrupted the feeding system for the springs, already drying up two of them. Soil and earth from the building process has been dumped over the slopes, covering much of the area, and occasionally wastewater from Beitar Illit flows into the fields, rending them unusable. Continued development is expected to worsen the damage. This unique landscape is being eaten away slowly”

The point is that the outposts, waste, depletion of vital Palestinian water, and the failure to do anything about them are disgusting and an affront to peace, but they are different problems. For example, Beitar Illit is in a bloc which according to active peace plans may remain with Israel in final status agreements, exchanged for Israeli land elswhere – this is subject to negotiations (important to note the ongoing expansion there, despite the Annapolis agreement to cease settlement work).

I agree with Green and Rinat that visits to the outposts and settlements are easy to be interpreted as tacit support – Zafrir (author of a Haaretz article linked from Green Prophet) points out at the end that the SPNI can speak out independently against the occupation (but she doesn’t give examples). The SPNI is likely to issue a response soon.  Zafrir is right to challenge the SPNI’s insistence that it is apolitical, while also claiming to be a social-environmental group (although I can’t immediately see on the SPNI site where it claims this – but to try to isolate the environmental from the social seems wrong anyway). (Incidentally, Greens Against the Boycott are right to challenge Caroline Lucas about sharing a platform with senior Hamas members while also claiming to support peace.) Often environmental interests butt up against social interests, and then organisations have to bite the bullet.

Opposing the dumping of waste on, and depletion of water from, Palestinian agricultural land is to do with the environment and is also to do with far more than the environment. Opposing settlement by one group and not another can’t be done on environmental grounds alone.

Hat tip: Richard at Engage.

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2 Comments »

  1. Michael said,

    Thanks for posting this.

    There are two points in my post (and the original ha’aretz article). The main issue I wanted to highlight was the glaring contradiction between the SPNI’s claim’s of being “political” whilst actively supporting West Bank settlements. They can’t have it both ways.

    The second – more complex than the first – is whether or not the SPNI should oppose environmentally damaging construction in the West Bank. Sure, Israelis aren’t the only ones in the area being ecologically irresponsible, but it’s still strange how the SPNI’s protests stop at the Green Line, regardless of whether construction is Israeli or Palestinian (massive construction of houses, roads, fences and walls on open space and agricultural land is generally done by the former). The, otherwise excellent, SPNI seems to have a muddled policy which has opened up a number of contradictions. Don’t hold your breath for an official response.

    Re: Tsur Hadassah possibly being responsible for environmental damage at Wadi Fukin – highly unlikely. There’s a huge pipe pouring sewage onto Wadi Fukin, not far from the building rubble dumped there, clearly coming from Beitar Illit – Tsur Hadassah is on the opposite side of the valley.

  2. miravogel said,

    Hello Michael

    “claim’s of being “apolitical” whilst actively supporting West Bank settlements” , right? (I can change it if you want).

    I’d still be inclined to draw a distinction between environmental opposition to the construction of homes on the one hand and opposition to the dumping, the sewage and the depletion of water, on the other.

    Thanks for the extra info about Tsur Hadassah – the post I linked to said it was uncertain how much pollution was coming out of Tsur Hadassah but implicated Beit Illit and Hadar Betar for definite.

    I saw a vid of the sewage pipe a few months back but I can’t find it right now. Disgusting indeed. Intolerable.

    Thanks for your comment.


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