This episode delves into the the dire environmental impact that West-European settler-colonial projects have always had on the lands and peoples that have been their target.
From Israeli afforestation to the near-extinction of buffalo in the Great Plains of North America, Helena and Yousef break down settler attempts to appropriate resources and destroy indigenous self-sufficiency.
Helena Cobban: (00:44)
Hey there, Yousef, how are things with you this week?
Yousef Aljamal: (00:46)
Everything is alright. I think there are a lot of things to talk about in light of the recent Amnesty International report calling Israel an apartheid state. What about you?
Helena Cobban: (00:58)
Yeah, things are pretty good here.
Yousef Aljamal: (01:02)
In this podcast series, we are exploring the intersections between the Zionist settler colonial project in Palestine, which is still ongoing today and the many others settler colonial projects that with European nations have pursued in all the words non European continents throughout the past 600 years.
Helena Cobban: (01:23)
Yousef and I believe that studying what's happening in Palestine today can help us understand a lot about the roots of Western imperialism and vice versa. Last week we looked at the stories that settler colonialists tell themselves and others in order to justify the plundering and the cruelty they engage in against countries and peoples far distant from their own. Today we're going to discuss the dire environmental impact that West European settler colonial projects have always had on the lands and peoples that have been their target. I have to tell you this topic was originally Yousef's idea, and it's a really rich subject to explore. But first, before we dive into this discussion of the environmental impact of settler colonialism, I'd like to ask Yousef to quickly bring us all up to date on this week's main headlines from Palestine.
Yousef Aljamal: (02:24)
As I said, I will start with the Amnesty International report that has described Israel's policies against the Palestinians and as a form of apartheid. This is not the first report we had the Human Rights Watch report and David Salem report, and again, Palestinians have been talking about this forever. But finally, when an international organization is saying this, people take, you know, take them seriously. Also, the US administration is calling for an investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American in the West Bank by the Israeli army and the Israeli army after much pressure decided to suspend three officers. whether they're going to be held or not. I think these are the two main headlines, and I just heard some good news, that my friend Shahd Abusalama, who was suspended for her views on Palestine by her university in the UK, got reinstated again and she's receiving much support across the UK.
Helena Cobban: (03:33)
Thanks Yousef, that's really great. The Amnesty report is very important. So now let's get back to the matter of the environmental impact of various settler colonial projects throughout the past 600 years. Yousef tell us what it was that sparked your interest in this topic in the first place.
Yousef Aljamal: (03:55)
You know, growing up in the Gaza Strip, I spent the first 23 years of my life in the Gaza Strip without leaving except once when I was too young. I grew up in a place that looks like a concrete jungle because of the policies of the Israeli occupation. The huge lack of green areas, there are no parks. And I've witnessed first hand how green areas and trees are being cut over the years. Whenever you visit the Gaza Strip, wherever you look in the Gaza Strip, you find buildings and cement and walls. And there are thousands and thousands of people who live in a single kilometer, so it's one of the most densely populated places on Earth. But when I traveled, I had a sort of environmental shock, I would say. I couldn't believe that you know that beautiful high trees, green areas, you know, mountains. I could only see a flat area with cement and beton and just like a concrete jungle. So this was, you know, growing up in Gaza and then leaving Gaza and making the comparison was the reason why I decided I wanted to talk about this topic which is important to me.
Helena Cobban: (05:19)
Yeah, you also had been talking about. Obviously this population density in Gaza, so I guess the population recently passed 2.3 million people living in that tiny strip of land. Is that right?
Yousef Aljamal: (5:46)
That's correct, by the end of the previous year, 2021.
Helena Cobban: (6:06)
Yeah, I think you know when you're talking about settler colonialism as a broad historical phenomenon, so the settler colonialists come from across the sea and they come into a country and they look at the country and all the people in it and all its resources as something that they can plunder and loot, just like in the old days, the Vikings. And of course, this has an environmental impact wherever they go. So I mean, we've seen a lot in Israel, I guess in your part of the world, water is a big deal, and the Israelis, the Zionist project has just taken all the water to control and and left very very little for for the indigenous people, for the Palestinians.
Yousef Aljamal: (06:36)
Exactly this is the case in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In the West Bank, Israeli settlers have ten times more access to water than Palestinians, and much of these, you know, water resources are taken from the Palestinians wherever the Israelis went, whether in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, and they pillaged settlements and colonies. They chose areas that have a lot of water, much water and this is true to the Gaza Strip. If we look at the Gush Katif settlement block, it was built on an area that that was full of water wheels and again they sold this water not only while they were there until they left in but even before they left. They made sure that they take as much as they could of this water. In the West Bank, Palestinians have a lot of water. Across the West Bank, especially in the north [Palestinians] are suffering and buying water. My mother was in the West Bank visiting her family and she told me that people in Jericho buy water. It's very ironic, they have the water, but they cannot use it. It's for Israeli settlers. And again if we look at the Gaza Strip and what Israel has done over the years as of today, 97% of Gaza's water is unfit for human consumption and again this is because of Israeli policies. They destroyed the only desalination facility in the Gaza Strip in 2008. In 2009 I visited this site and took many international delegations to this site to visit, which is located next to Gaza's only power plant, which was also destroyed. So when you do not have electricity, you cannot get water. This is the struggle. The sewage now makes it to the Mediterranean because of these Israeli targetings of Palestinian water infrastructure, sewage makes it through the Mediterranean, and an interesting fact here, Israel only allowed Palestinians to have some projects implemented through the EU when sewage started, you know moving towards Israeli shows because the current goes to the north. It's not racist, it doesn't know borders, so when they got harmed by their own actions from Gaza they said, OK, let's have a deal here. Let's have some projects implemented.
Helena Cobban: (11:47)
Yeah, you know I just remember the time that I did some research in the occupied Golan Heights in I want to say 1998 and very few people in this country here in the States realized that there's still a vibrant indigenous population of Syrian citizens in Golan who are about equal in number to the Israeli settlers there, and the indigenous Syrians. They historically have always had wonderful orchards, apple orchards, using rainwater that you know comes down Jabal Al-Shaykh, Mount Hermon and they capture it in cisterns. And then they use it to feed their apple orchards. But the Israeli authorities, first of all, tried to break the cisterns so that they couldn't use the runoff water, and then they tried to tax the water. All that was back in I'm 1998, I'm sure the situation is far worse for them now, but wherever they go they want to grab control of all the resources and extract them for their own benefit, and I guess we see that now in the West Bank with stone, which is a very valuable resource and they have just been quarrying the stone so much. You know irrigation systems and in the West Bank. And how they have changed over the years and from Palestinian farmers used to have you know water wells. And then they could connect them through bribes so that they could have water running through their canals. And this is how they have for many years irrigated the agricultural produce. But now increasingly because of colonial policies. And people are more. Becoming dependent on, you know, modern ways of irrigation using only pipes. To irrigate their lands and agricultural produce, which is encouraged by Israel so they try to somehow get rid of, you know, all these indigenous systems of irrigation. And implement modern quote, unquote, you know up-to-date systems of irrigation and asking Palestinians you know to use them instead.So here in the United States, you know when the settlers came, they immediately started. Completely transforming the ecology, and one of the big things that happened historically was that the indigenous people who lived in the center of the country called the plains had a very kind of rich relationship with the massive Buffalo herds. There they would hunt the Buffalo, which were the main source of food and they would use many Buffalo products. And then when the settlers came they just eradicated all the Buffalo herds. Right away and. I mean, that was their way of essentially starving the indigenous people that lived there and it's gone on and on and on. Obviously in terms of the extraction of resources, oil and gas, and most recently we have this XL pipeline that is supposed to bring oil and gas. I think from Canada down through Minnesota and the indigenous people in Minnesota have really put up a huge fight against this pipeline. But you know, the federal government controls everything. So you see, settler colonial regimes everywhere are seeking to control the land and its resources, and to extract whatever they want. I mean right now today you see it. Obviously in Israel a lot. But you also see it in Brazil where they are trying to cut down the natural forests in the Amazon ecosystem. I’d also like to talk a little bit about greenwashing and the attempts of the Zionists to describe what they're doing as being somehow ecologically sound, but I think before I do that, I want to give you your friendly reminder that this podcast is brought to you by Just World Educational. So if the listeners go to our website, www.justworldeducational.org. You'll find links to all the episodes of the world from Palestine. You'll find lots of other educational resources and a donate button that lets you support this podcast series and all the rest of our work. So now yourself, back to this question of greenwashing. How do you see that happening in terms of the Zionists?
Yousef Aljamal: (14:21)
I think it takes two shapes or two forms. One is called afforestation. Where they plant trees, as I said, mainly by the Jewish National Fund, which has been doing this for almost 100 years in Palestine. or they build what they call biblical parks and the aim of these, you know, campaigns of planting trees is to take over Palestinian land or to divide Palestinian communities. We have seen this in the Naqab recently with Palestinians taking to the streets protesting these Israeli policies of planting trees in order to take over more Palestinian land. Ironically, Israel has squeezed Palestinians in the Naqab and they live on only 5% of what they used to own of land. But still the Jewish National Fund and the Israeli authorities are not satisfied with this. They want to take more land from them. And again we have the religious interpretation, of taking over, of afforestation, greenwashing. That is, biblical parks where they build these parks in the heart of Palestinian communities. As we have seen in Jerusalem. To take over Palestinian lands and kick Palestinians out and again if the narrative is a challenge by native Palestinians, and we have the the current case of Sumaya Fellah who studies environmental engineering at Israel Technology Institute. The Technion in Haifa and she exposes the hazards that the Israeli occupation causes to the Palestinian environment, including the work done and carried out by the Jewish National Fund, and she was placed under house arrest because of her activism. Again, there are different excuses why the Israeli authorities interrogated her, claiming that she attended a conference in Madrid. In November last year, but again, she's exposing, you know, all these environmental plans quote unquote to take over Palestine land. So even the natives are not allowed to challenge this narrative. And if they do then they will face implications and consequences. And again the silence of her institute is very telling and the role of Israeli institutions even in this greenwashing is very telling. The different examples where now Israel is trying to promote itself as a country that exports technology to the world. And we'll talk about technology, we talk about agriculture, and you know, all these agriculture technologies that they talk about. For example Israeli water company. They're talking, you know, they're taken from Palestinian resources They are at the expense of the Palestinian people.
Helena Cobban: (17:33)
That's right, I mean, and they also claim that they invented drip irrigation, whereas you know there's a lot of evidence that Arab agriculturalists have been using it throughout the Middle East for generations. I guess one of the things that I've noticed obviously about this afforestation program is that they often used for a station to cover over or in an attempt to cover over the ruins of villages that were Palestinian villages that were destroyed in the 1948 Nakba. Then they also have used them to try to cover over the traces of Palestinian terracing on the on the hills you know which the terracing has been there for generations So they just come in and and well, they came in in the early, maybe early post Nakba period and and planted forests and then recently some of the forests have been burning and then suddenly everybody sees Oh my goodness, you know there was there was terracing there. Oh my goodness there was the remains of a village there and you can suddenly see it. Yes, exactly this has been the case in Western Jerusalem. I think in August last year they were huge. Forest fires because of the, you know, high temperatures. We have seen this also in other countries, the ironic thing in Israel these forest fires revealed history of Palestinians that they have been trying to hide for almost seven decades now, and we've seen traces, as you mentioned, that Palestinian farmers built in Western Jerusalem for almost four or years. So another another example I thought of from a different settler colonial project of using this sort of national parks narrative and national parks system was in South Africa in apartheid when the the main anti apartheid movements all had their kind of military bases in Mozambique, sort of off to the northwest of of South Africa. And they so the like ANC and others other anti apartheid groups would send their their militants in. Across the border. So the South African regime created what they called the Kruger National Forest, which runs right along the border. Or it did then and that the idea of the National Forest was that. Basically you would have, you know, wild animals, lions and tigers roaming free in that area, and they were actually part of the South African defense system because you know, they would hope that the lions and tigers would catch the militants as they came in from Mozambique and they were. quite. Open about that, you know that was the point of the Kruger National Forest, so I think that's pretty extreme. Maybe, maybe the Israelis have not yet put lions and tigers roaming freely to catch Palestinian militants, but I guess they use. They use dogs and possibly also dolphins in their military operations. Interesting though.
Yousef Aljamal: (21:02)
Yes they did. I think this was revealed recently in the Gaza Strip, during the May 2021 offensive, the Israeli military and Navy have used dolphins to track Palestinian fighters who were trying to infiltrate into. Israeli territorial waters and carry out attacks and I think another interesting aspect is that they're building, for example, in the West Bank Factories, or you know, contraction facilities to take white Palestinian stones that we called the Jerusalem stones that are famous across the West Bank. They're very expensive and pricey. They're very beautiful marbles. and again, because of the excessive use and extractions of these stones, they they have polluted the Palestinian environment and not only this, there is evidence that there is a nuclear waste that was dumped into Palestinian villages. In the habit or tradition of Israeli settlers and Israeli settlements they pump their sewage into Palestinian villages and and you know this is not surprising, I live in the Gaza Strip and I've seen this happening every day in different ways, but especially with the destruction of the only desolation. Facility in my refugee camp and now we have almost 20% of Gaza sewage is being pumped into the Mediterranean. They have also destroyed 78 water wells in the West Bank and 150 water pools in addition to 43. 1000 meters of water pipes, and again demolishing almost 2500 dunams of irrigation. You know systems so they are systematically targeting Palestinian water resources and the environment day after day.
Helena Cobban: (23:19)
So I guess what we're seeing is that they're seeking to loot and plunder the resources. The natural resources for themselves, like the stone, and historically you know, like the South African colonialists were there to take gold, or you know, people just wanna take the resources and at the same time to control or disperse or concentrate the indigenous people who live there so you know it's a kind of a multi functional thing that they're doing. You talked at the beginning about the intense density of the population in Gaza, of which I guess about 80% of the people there are refugees from 1948 Israel. I remember in the 1970s I used to teach English to girls in Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, and at that time Shatila refugee camp seemed pretty pretty crowded. You know it was a bustling. Like a little town with two story houses you know and people would put plants on the second story and but it was a, you know, it was crowded, but it was quite pleasant. When I went back to Shatila refugee camp in 2004. I wanna say. Because the Lebanese Government has always very tightly controlled Palestinians in Lebanon, Shatila refugee camp always looks like something out of a really, really scary movie. It's like eight and nine stories high and very, very crowded and people down at the bottom who you know, walking down the narrow alleys. Can't, you know, there's no fresh air? There's no fresh air circulation. Everybody has, you know, lung problems and rheumatism, and it's extremely unhealthy. And that is all part of the kind of the the plan of concentrating the Palestinian populations until they want to leave the region completely.
Yousef Aljamal: (25:30)
Exactly, they talk about natural growth when it comes to Israeli illegal settlements and colonies in the West Bank. But again, they do not apply this to Palestinians who live next door. They're not allowed to expand, and if they build without a permit in area C, which is 60% of the West Bank, then their houses get. Demolished as we have seen recently in Hebron, and the same applies to the Gaza Strip. We talk about the nature of the growth of Palestinians and the number of Palestinians has doubled 10 times since in the Gaza Strip to almost 2.3 million now. So it's like 8 times almost. And the you know, the Israeli authorities are trying to take over more Palestinian lands by creating a buffer zone that is 1/3 of Gaza. Very small, you know, and shrinking space and if we go to the sea the Mediterranean and we have another buffer zone. That's right, and fishing has always been really important for Gaza and for all the Palestinians up and down the coast. But Gaza is the only place where you have even any access to the coast right now. there was this agreement between Israel and Egypt. I think 1950. So the original. Size of the Gaza Strip. Is not 365 kilometers as we know it is plus something so. The Israeli authorities claim that Palestinians keep attacking. You know, the border we have to create a buffer zone. Between Gaza, so this is The first buffer zone ever 1950 between Gaza and today's Israel. They said farmers could work there. But this is a Demilitarized Zone. But later on they took over this buffer zone. Which is about 150 kilometers of Gaza's original size. And they created another buffer zone, so they took more land and now. Palestinians are, you know, squeezed in a very small coastal enclave and the number has, you know, triple double many times, but they're not allowed to use this land. It's now part of Israel.
Helena Cobban: (28:00)
Yep, so that's how it goes. Settler colonialism in Palestine. Carrying on until we around the world can work with our Palestinian friends to put an end to it. So let's hope we can build some kind of a future for Palestine that includes all of the people who are legitimately there. And hope you can go home soon.
Yousef Aljamal: (28:28)
I hope so. I'm very hopeful you know. I think there's an increasing international solidarity and awareness and even leading human rights organizations. This is something that I wouldn't have expected 10 years ago. I would say I remember when I met you and Gaza in 2012. I guess I wouldn't, you know, think of of Amnesty International calling Israel an apartheid state, so I'm very hopeful hopefully.
Helena Cobban: (28:54)
Yep, well, thanks for being with us, Yousef. It's always great to talk to you and we put things into different perspectives. So great. Have a good week.
Yousef Aljamal: (29:05)
Thank you for having me again and you too have a good week.