‘Apartheid Wall’ Environmental Disaster for Palestine

From 2003, by John Reese

August 21, 2003 the entire commercial area of Nazlat 'Isa was razed to the ground as some 15 bulldozers, accompanied by large numbers of military and border police, destroyed over 100 shops and 5 homes. - PENGON photo

August 21, 2003 the entire commercial area of Nazlat 'Isa was razed to the ground as some 15 bulldozers, accompanied by large numbers of military and border police, destroyed over 100 shops and 5 homes. - PENGON photo

In 1961, the world was transfixed as the Soviet Union enclosed West Berlin, Germany, in the 96-mile, 12-foot-high Berlin Wall. The social implications of the wall had a profound impact on world politics for nearly 30 years.

In 2003, the world remains largely ignorant of the fact that Israel is building a 200-mile, 25-foot-high “Apartheid Wall” around the West Bank of Palestine. Palestinians have named it after the reviled South African term meaning “apartness.” In the northern West Bank, the first phase of the Apartheid Wall is to be approximately 70 miles long and is to include electric fences, a “dead zone,” trenches, cameras, sensors and security patrols, all at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

The wall will not mark the 1967 border, also known as the “Green Line.”  The first phase will place 45,000 West Bank acres on the Israeli side, approximately, three percent of Palestine’s land mass. The footprint of the wall itself will be enormous, with as much as 8,750 acres completely lost. Construction of the wall will mean the removal of tens of thousands of trees and will effect the hydrology of the watersheds. This will cause changes in water quantity and quality, stream channel morphology and groundwater levels. Surface water flow will be altered, and there will be an increase in erosion and sedimentation.

The impacts on the region’s water supplies around the wall are also of serious concern. The climate of Palestine is semi-arid, and water sources are precious. In villages around Qalqilya and Tulkarm, more than 30 wells will be lost in the first phase of the wall. These wells, located in the western groundwater basin, were drilled prior to the 1967 occupation of Palestine by Israel. As a result, Palestinians will lose nearly 18 percent of their share of the basin’s water.

Construction activities and the long-term presence of a continuous 25-foot-high impervious barrier will cause a decrease in populations of animals and plants. The wall will cause habitat loss from the footprint and construction. As the micro-ecology of the area is impacted, exotic weeds, pests and pathogens will more easily invade and thrive in the disturbed areas. Animal populations will be fragmented and distribution patterns will be altered. The remaining small populations would then be vulnerable to all of the problems associated with rarity: genetic deterioration from inbreeding, random drift in gene frequencies and difficulty recovering from environmental catastrophes. Some species may disappear completely.

In addition to the problems associated with the wall, Israel is responsible for numerous other environmental impacts on Palestine. Israeli settlements annually discharge 224,000 tons of waste into Palestine, often polluting villages, streams and farms. Drinking water is contaminated by broken, but unrepaired, pipelines and sewage. More than 250,000 olive and other fruit trees have been destroyed in the last two years. This is all in addition to the environmental destruction that wars and their associated industries bring — including poisoning from the use of depleted uranium shells to land and property laid waste by fire, bombings and the machines of war. During the 35 years of occupation, Israeli authorities have neglected to consider the management, transfer or disposal of solid waste within Palestine. As a consequence, much land is rendered unfit for either agricultural or domestic use. The Israeli authorities also prevent municipalities from transporting solid waste to dumping sites outside city and village boundaries. Many Palestinian villages and cities have no other choice but to resort to using alternative dumping sites in urban areas where there is no environmental monitoring. In some areas, air pollution has become a problem due to burning garbage.

The Israeli government, military and colonizers — with the assistance of 14 billion dollars of aid from the US government this year alone — steal the Palestinian’s water, destroy their crops and take their land. The US government and the citizens of the US must reassess their stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and intervene to stop Israel’s war on the environment and on the civilian population of Palestine. Hopefully, this generation’s Berlin Wall will not stand.

John Reese was recently in Palestine for seven months working with the International Solidarity Movement and the Palestinian Hydrology Group. John is from Seattle, Washington, and has been a peace activist since the Vietnam War, as well as a hydrogeologist and environmental consultant for 20 years. He can be reached at jreese@scn.org.

For more information, visit http://www.palsolidarity.org; http://www.phg.org; http://www.seattlecan.org.

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