Israel’s war making Gaza uninhabitable for generations to come

Israel’s war making Gaza uninhabitable for generations to come

Buildings destroyed during Israeli bombardment in the Palestinian territory on July 9, 2024. (AFP)
Buildings destroyed during Israeli bombardment in the Palestinian territory on July 9, 2024. (AFP)
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Alongside the joys of childhood in the mountains of southern Lebanon, war and active bombing were never far away. While the Israeli occupation of most parts of southern Lebanon ended on May 25, 2000, two years after I was born, occupations of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Shebaa Farms still continue today. A 33-day war was waged on Lebanon in July 2006, when I was eight years old. I was raised with the conviction that the fate of the Lebanese and the Palestinians is historically interconnected and that, one day, Palestine will be free. But this is not about me.
As I am writing, the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip has been raging for 270 days, with at least 38,430 people killed and 86,969 wounded since Oct. 7, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. We are witnessing an unfolding genocide that also has dire consequences for ecosystems and violates the right of many people to enjoy and live in a healthy environment.
The ongoing war on Gaza has inflicted severe environmental damage, affecting air, water and land, along with all who depend on them. The immediate emissions from the war are staggering, with a mean estimate of 536,410 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the first 120 days of war, 90 percent of which are attributed to Israel’s air bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza.
The air is contaminated with chemicals from weapons like white phosphorus due to the heavy use of explosives and exposure to white phosphorus munitions. This, in turn, leads to a decrease in the productivity of agricultural land and can harm existing plants.
Water resources have been severely compromised, with about 60,000 cubic meters of untreated sewage and wastewater flowing daily into the Mediterranean Sea. Gaza’s drinking water system, already insufficient before the war, with 90 to 95 percent of groundwater undrinkable, is now in an even more critical state with an average availability of only 2 to 8 liters per person per day.
The destruction of farms and agricultural lands, coupled with 17 years of blockade, which has deprived the region of essential farming inputs, has led to severe food insecurity. As much as 57 percent of Gaza’s cropland has been damaged and, according to the UN, Israel has reportedly destroyed 70 percent of Gaza’s fishing fleet. Livestock are starving.
Olive trees have often been deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers or settlers, becoming a symbol of the suffering of Palestinians dispossessed of their heritage and unable to access their land and crops.

The war has inflicted severe environmental damage, affecting air, water and land, along with all who depend on them.

Farah Al-Hattab

Public health crises and increased vulnerability to the worsening impacts of climate change are silent but deadly consequences of the war. The Middle East and North Africa region is warming nearly twice as fast as the global average. Gaza, already a climate-vulnerable area, faces worsening conditions due to the war. A heat wave in April highlighted the dire conditions for the displaced population, with several people dying from the heat.
Public health infrastructure, already weakened by years of blockade, is collapsing under the strain of the war. Sewage, wastewater and solid waste management systems and facilities have collapsed. Thousands of tonnes of solid waste are accumulating in informal dumping grounds across Gaza. The spread of diseases like skin infections, hepatitis A and diarrhea is increasing, with a potential epidemic threatening thousands of lives.
The environmental impact of the war extends beyond Gaza, affecting neighboring countries like Egypt and Jordan, which are both experiencing rising air pollution due to their proximity to Gaza. And Lebanon, particularly its southern border areas, is suffering from war-related agricultural damage, chemical pollution and contamination from explosive remnants. There too, a preliminary assessment indicated that white phosphorus shelling has caused extensive environmental harm, impacting natural ecosystems, water quality and posing threats to human health and livestock.
Although the natural environment is protected under international humanitarian law, it continues to be a silent casualty of war. The environmental devastation in Gaza violates multiple international laws and conventions designed to protect the environment during armed conflict. The Rome Statute and Geneva Conventions highlight that intentional environmental destruction can constitute a war crime.
International law requires Israel to bear the cost of rebuilding Gaza, given its recognized responsibility as an occupying power.
An Interim Damage Assessment by the World Bank stated that the total cost of the damage as of January was approximately $18.5 billion, while the damage already sustained in the environmental sector was $411 million.
According to UN Trade and Development, Gaza’s “unprecedented destruction will take tens of billions of dollars and decades to reverse.” And a UN Development Programme report stated that “the level of destruction in Gaza is such that rebuilding public infrastructure would require external assistance on a scale not seen since 1948.”
With no permanent ceasefire on the horizon, the damage and the cost of reconstruction will inevitably increase, further compromising the ability of the Palestinian people to inhabit Gaza again.
I am witnessing an unfolding genocide with my own eyes, through my phone — a haunting first-hand documentation of horror. As long as Israel is not held accountable for the blood it has shed in my region, I fear the Gazans’ fate is coming for the rest of us.
In order to protect people, the environment and peace in Gaza and the region, Greenpeace demands an immediate and permanent ceasefire; a global embargo on all arms sales and transfers; an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine; the consistent and secure passage of aid trucks and enabling of investigators and environmental specialists to conduct field-based surveys.
Some longer-term measures include international and regional donor support for water infrastructure development; comprehensive postwar environmental assessments; sustainable reconstruction efforts focusing on climate mitigation, resilience policies and community involvement; and measures to hold Israel accountable for the damage inflicted in Gaza in violation of its international obligations.

Farah Al-Hattab is a campaigner and legal researcher with Greenpeace Middle East & North Africa based in Beirut. She was born and raised in southern Lebanon.


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