Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Contemporary Environmentalisms

Is there a systematic environmental injustice towards Israel’s Arab residents?

-Alon Tal (p. 332 of Pollution in a Promised Land, 2002)

In answer to the above quote, I would argue that the answer is definitively yes – and that includes the Arab residents of all of Israel’s Occupied Territories. When the Israeli government plans where to build their most polluting facilities, such as the Ramat Hovav industrial park and hazardous waste facility or the nuclear plant in Dimona, it put these sites where “it felt there was nobody there” (Tal, 332). In actuality, the Bedouin live so close to the hazardous waste that it is likely contributing to the increase in respiratory illnesses in the population in the last ten years (which is what the Bedouin claim, but there is not yet concrete proof pointing to the Israeli facilities as the cause). However, Israel often excuses itself from this environmental racism by pointing out Arab residents and neighbors do not show as much apparent concern for the environment as Israel does. It is easy for Israeli environmentalists to continually criticize pollution created by Arabs (both Palestinian and Bedouin together) as dangerous and irresponsible, without ever acknowledging the class and infrastructural causes behind this pollution, let alone acknowledging their own responsibility for the class and infrastructural differences between themselves and their Arab counterparts.

There is more pollution in the Occupied Territories and Bedouin do engage in environmentally unsafe practices, such as improper waste disposal, but this stems partly from the change in life forced upon them by Israeli Occupation. During my interview with Arava student Hazem, he noted surprise at the way the Israeli and American students were so focused on nature and preservation. The attitude from Arab communities seems too preoccupied with being occupied to be concerned for the ecosystem. The environmental problems with the Bedouin could be alleviated by educational programs and recognition. The pollution levels in the Occupied Territories could be aided by any number of things: financial aid for infrastructural upkeep from Israel (as a belligerent Occupier they are legally obligated to see to the basic health of its Occupied people in exchange for shutting down the economy of the Occupied people), Israel removing the Jewish settlements which add pollution, PA putting money into waste water treatment plants or other environmentally friendly infrastructure or educational programs, etc. The problem with the Israeli attitude toward Arab pollution is not that it is wrong, expressly, but that it is dismissive of the larger issue. As long as the Israeli government and the PA continue to ignore these systems of environmental racism, the worse the pollution in the Territories will become, and the worse the pollution the Bedouin both create and are subjected to will become.

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