Climate Justice Key to Peace in Middle East
by Jacob Tarasofsky
It was on my third morning at the Karama Center – a small, makeshift community center in the heart of the West Bank – that Ali took us to the tiny village of Jubbet Ad-Dib. Ali owns the Karama Center and is the founder of Taghyeer Palestine, one of the most prolific nonviolent resistance movements in the region. Despite boasting a population of only 150 people, Jubbet Ad-Dib is essential to the work that Taghyeer does.
As a peacebuilder and nonviolent activist, Ali searches for communities that have been marginalized by the Israeli Occupation and uses Taghyeer’s resources to support them. These vulnerable communities tend to be hotbeds for violent radicalization, and this is an Climate Justice Key to Peace in Middle East Peace & Social Justice outcome Ali wishes to avoid at all costs.
In the case of Jubbet Ad-Dib, the village was suffering heavily because it was not connected to the energy grid, had very low water availability, and food insecurity that came from diminishing crop yields due to water scarcity. Taghyeer responded to their need by installing a solar power microgrid, training village women in the practice of water-conserving permaculture, and fronting the cost of building a large permaculture farm just outside the village. This initiative was hugely impactful for the small community; one of the major outcomes being the agency granted to the women completely transformed their status in the village. To this day, Jubbet Ad-Dib is run by a women’s council born out of Taghyeer’s intervention.
Yet our visit that morning was not to celebrate these achievements. Several weeks before my arrival, all water flow to Jubbet Ad-Dib had been stopped. In addition to putting the lives of residents in immediate danger, all the permaculture crops were dying. Taghyeer wanted to send a water truck, but every attempt had resulted in the truck being seized by the Israeli military (IDF). This paralleled another recent event, where IDF soldiers had confiscated Jubbet AdDib’s newly installed solar panels, which were only returned to the village after a six-month legal battle.
I don’t speak any Arabic, yet when I met the women that day no language barrier could have stopped me from feeling the intense anguish that months of labor, care, and love were made meaningless by forces completely outside of their control.
Luckily, my guide Ali is extremely well-connected and had been pulling levers behind the scenes to get special permission to bring a water truck to the village, finally getting a green light on the day of our visit. Elation filled the room with the announcement, and I witnessed something fleeting in the Middle East: a genuine sense of hope. We returned to the Karama Center in the afternoon, the relief still visible in everyone’s body language, and cherished the feeling of having returned some dignity back to a few of the victims of conflict.
Victories like that are few and far between in the Occupied Territories and, as if on cue, later in the evening, Ali got a phone call from Jubbet Ad-Dib: the water truck had been confiscated anyway.
The story of Jubbet Ad-Dib is hardly an exception to the rule. Climate injustice in Palestine is rampant, continuously escalating, and closely tied to the repression they face under the Occupation. It is no coincidence that the average Palestinian daily water usage lies at seventy-three litres per day – significantly less than the 100-litre minimum recommended by the WHO – while Israelis average 300 daily litres. Despite only making up about 25% of the West Bank’s population, Israeli settlers are granted 87% of the water in the region’s main aquifer.
Another important climate justice issue is the destruction of Palestinian farmland. Israeli takeovers of Palestinian farmland are frequent, and subsistence farms get converted to unsustainable industrial agriculture. This industrialized agriculture on “cheap” seized land then floods Palestinian produce markets and undercuts Palestinian farmers, forcing them to adopt similar destructive and unsustainable practices. Additionally, there are many instances of farms being burned by gangs. The perpetrators are hardly ever prosecuted in the West Bank’s highly biased justice system, making this a form of state-sponsored violence that perpetrates climate injustice.
There are many other crucial climate justice topics in Israel-Palestine that include dirty and inadequate electrification, pollution of Palestinian land by neighbouring settlements, structural water contamination, and much more. And yet, organizations like Taghyeer that include climate justice in their peacebuilding activities are still outside the norm. Why is that? I had the privilege of interviewing a volunteer youth activist at Zimam Palestine, a community-based, grassroots organization that aims to increase the capacity of young Palestinian leaders. Part of a new generation of changemakers looking to centralize climate justice in the peacebuilding conversation, and also highlighting the failures of the efforts that preceded them, my interviewee lamented how climate justice is rarely addressed in peacebuilding circles.
Traditional peacebuilding in Israel-Palestine has not addressed the most pressing needs of the Palestinian population. Dialogue initiatives are a prime example of this – exceptionally popular with international donors who have limited knowledge of what the real needs of the Occupation’s victims are, they sound promising but often fail to delivery lasting change.
Nurturing shared empathy can be a meaningful intervention, but these efforts often fall flat because of the power imbalance and the vast disparity in quality of life between participants, which are not addressed by the intervention.
Studies show that the main outcome of these programs is for Israeli settlers to feel like they have done something good, without actually working with their new Palestinian partners towards any kind of tangible equality. Emerging thought on peace and conflict in the Middle East emphasizes that for true, lasting peace to be achieved, Jews and Palestinians must be equals at the political, economic, and societal negotiating tables.
In contrast, the most effective organizations tackling climate injustice as part of their peacebuilding mission are true grassroots movements whose theories of change are built on the aim to materially improve the lives of oppressed people. What distinguishes organizations like Taghyeer is that their initiatives are born from interacting with communities understanding their needs.
To that end, peacebuilding efforts in Israel-Palestine must start by listening to the needs of ordinary Palestinians. When I asked a director of a prominent international peacebuilding organization about the omission of climate justice work from many NGOs’ platforms, he pointed out that many peacebuilding NGOs don’t concern themselves with such day-to-day struggles, and that their top-down structure often limits the impact of their actions.
The work being done already demonstrates the effectiveness of this needs-driven approach:
- The Nassar family have owned a farm south of Bethlehem since the Ottoman Empire, yet they have been in a court battle with the Israeli government for over two decades over their right to stay on the land. After the government uprooted hundreds of their trees as a form of legal intimidation, it was the Centre for Jewish Nonviolence that stepped in and launched a tree-planting campaign to restore their orchards.
- The Palestinian Heirloom Seed Library works with Palestinian subsistence farmers to reintroduce native species that have been lost after decades of land seizures and forced agricultural industrialization, thereby bridging the restoration of Palestinians’ connection to the land with the restoration of native flora.
- Even dialogue initiatives can be part of the solution when tied to tangible issues for Palestinians. EcoPeace’s flagship “Good Water Neighbours” community project builds mutual understanding between Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians towards the importance of sustainable stewardship of shared water resources. This project has fostered connections between the groups in a way that has tangibly led to improved water access for Palestinians, showing that empathy-building can be meaningful when it fosters true grassroots action that is born from that dialogue.
Centering climate justice in the peacebuilding conversation means centering on the lived experiences of the civilians suffering most. Where traditional peacebuilding has failed, an emergent group of (mostly young) grassroots activists is charging forward with new vigor and focus.
Their message is unwavering: to fight climate injustice, we must start by listening.