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HomeopinionsHow Arab eco-normalisation of Israel covers up its crimes

How Arab eco-normalisation of Israel covers up its crimes

As world leaders gathered in Dubai for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28), Israeli President Isaac Herzog and a delegation of two dozen Israeli officials were allowed to join them. That is despite the fact that Israel is not only committing genocide in Gaza, but also ecocide of devastating proportions.

COP28 is yet another venue Israel has used to greenwash its image and solidify its normalisation with Arab states. Indeed, Herzog met with a number of Arab leaders who have chosen to normalise relations with Israel and have pursued joint “green initiatives” with Israeli companies.

So-called environmentally friendly collaborative projects between Israel and Arab states constitute a form of eco-normalisation – the use of “environmentalism” to greenwash and normalise Israeli oppression and environmental injustice.

This effectively extends Israeli green colonialism – which has been devastating Palestine for decades – into the rest of the Arab world. Resisting it must be part of Arab solidarity and struggle in support of the Palestinian cause.

Water apartheid

One prominent example of eco-normalisation is a United Arab Emirates-backed Israeli-Jordanian deal to exchange desalinated water for energy.

In November 2021, Jordan, Israel and the UAE signed a declaration of intent for Project Green and Project Blue, jointly known as Project Prosperity. It envisioned the construction of a 600MW solar power plant by Masdar, a UAE state-owned renewable energy company, on Jordanian territory to sell electricity to Israel and the expansion of an Israeli water desalination programme to export 200 million cubic metres of water to Jordan.

The three countries intended to announce a concrete agreement on the implementation of the projects at the COP28 in the UAE, but ahead of the start of the conference, Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi said that his country would not sign anything due to the war in Gaza. However, there has been no official announcement about the full termination of the deal.

While the future of the project is uncertain at this time, it still has contributed to Israel’s eco-normalisation. It has helped support an image of the country as a green technology pioneer “assisting” its “underdeveloped” neighbours suffering from the consequences of climate change.

The project effectively covers up Israel’s responsibility for water scarcity in Jordan. Israel has been depleting its neighbour’s water resources by usurping control over the Jordan River and restricting access to the resources of the Yarmouk River. It controls double the water share it should be entitled to under the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention and refuses to abide by previous sharing arrangements.

Mekorot, the Israeli national water company, has played a leading role in depriving Jordan of its fair share of water. It has been diverting water from the Jordan River to Israeli communities, including ones in the Naqab desert, which is directly affecting water availability for Jordan.

It also has created a water supply network for the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, depriving the native Palestinian population of adequate access to water resources and effectively imposing water apartheid on them. It has been enabled to do so by the Israeli military occupation and its Military Order 158 of 1967, which declares that Israel has full control over all water resources in the occupied territories and none can be developed without its permission – which, of course, Palestinians almost never receive.

Despite the leading role it is playing in pushing Jordan and the occupied West Bank towards water scarcity, Mekorot has been touted internationally as a “pioneer” in water desalination technology. Its participation in water projects, especially in the Global South, has contributed to Israel’s greenwashing efforts.

Those would undoubtedly continue even as Israel triggers what is already shaping to be a water catastrophe in Gaza.

Even before the ongoing brutal war, the Gaza Strip was struggling with a major water crisis. It was estimated that 96 percent of the water in its aquifer was contaminated and unfit for human use. This was very much due to the fact that the siege Israel imposed on the Strip in 2007 had prevented proper water and wastewater management and treatment.

Since mid-October, even the few existing wastewater and desalination facilities have become inoperable as Israel has cut off electricity and fuel supplies. In addition, the Israeli bombardment has targeted water pipes and sewers throughout Gaza.

Experts in public health have raised concerns about the looming outbreak of infectious diseases, including waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid. Israel’s plan to flood tunnels under Gaza with seawater may lead to the further contamination of underground water and soil, resulting in a water-related environmental and human disaster.

Green energy colonialism

The eco-normalisation of Israel has also extended into the energy sector.

A few months ahead of COP27, in August 2022, two Israeli companies, Enlight Renewable Energy (ENLT) and NewMed Energy, signed a memorandum of understanding to develop renewable energy projects in Jordan, Morocco, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain, as well as Saudi Arabia and Oman, which have not officially normalised relations with Israel.

Their plans include the development, construction and operation of wind and solar power plants and energy storage. These projects, of course, bolster the image of Israel as a hub for creative renewable energy technologies and help greenwash its image.

Both Enlight and NewMed have been involved in projects that reinforce the Israeli occupation and apartheid. Enlight has two wind farm projects in the occupied and annexed Golan Heights and is developing another wind energy project in the northern part of the Naqab desert and the southern part of the occupied West Bank, in partnership with several illegal Israeli settlements.

NewMed is a subsidiary of the Delek Group, which has been involved in gas exploration projects in disputed maritime areas, near Palestinian and Lebanese waters. It also owns a chain of petrol stations across illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights and supplies fuel to the Israeli occupation forces.

Of course, the native Palestinian and Syrian populations of these occupied territories do not benefit from Israeli energy projects and they are effectively denied sovereignty over their energy resources.

Palestinians inhabiting Area C have no access to the electricity grid in the area, which has been developed by Israel to serve Israeli illegal settlements. The Israeli authorities also refuse to issue them permits to set up solar panels, which could provide an alternative source of energy.

In Gaza, before the war, Palestinians lived with just a few hours of electricity per day due to the Israeli siege. As part of the complete blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip since October 7, Israel has totally cut off electricity from reaching Gaza and targeted alternative sources of energy like solar panels. Even the solar panel systems operating in hospitals such as al-Shifa have been bombed.

Israel’s exploitation of Palestinian resources to the detriment of the Palestinian people masked in the form of “green projects” is a perfect illustration of green energy colonialism.

Energy colonialism refers to companies and states plundering and exploiting the resources and land of impoverished countries and communities to generate energy for their own use and benefit.

As we have argued in our book Dismantling Green Colonialism: Energy and Climate Justice in the Arab Region, renewable energy colonialism is an extension of the colonial relations of plunder and dispossession.

It effectively maintains the same political, economic and social structures that have generated inequality, impoverishment and dispossession in formerly and still colonised places and shifts the negative effects of energy production – including pollution – to these already marginalised communities.

Resisting eco-normalisation and colonialism

Eco-normalisation allows Israel to position itself in the energy and water sectors regionally and globally as a leader in innovation and green technologies, thereby reinforcing its political and diplomatic power.

With the exacerbating climate and energy crises, it will likely use the increasing reliance of other countries on its technology and energy and water resources as yet another tool to marginalise and sideline the Palestinian struggle.

Thus, there is an abiding connection between Israeli greenwashing, which is reinforced through eco-normalisation, and the consolidation of apartheid and settler colonialism in Palestine and the Golan Heights.

The dark tunnel that is Palestinians’ life under Israeli oppression is getting darker. Yet a glimpse of light can be seen that illuminates the Palestinians’ long path to liberation: that light is the increasing resistance of the Palestinian people, who refuse to be isolated, dehumanised and obliterated.

The struggle to topple Israel’s oppressive occupation and apartheid regime is also part of the wider struggle for self-determination and emancipation of dispossessed and marginalised peoples across the world. Colonial attempts to further isolate Palestine from the rest of the Arab world through eco-normalisation can be thwarted by the collectively enacted power of Arabs and other peoples.

To this end, social movements, environmental groups, trade unions, student associations and civil society organisations in the Arab region and beyond must intensify their protests against their governments until they end their normalisation ties with Israel. International grassroots movements should increase their support for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and shine more light on the role Israeli “green technology” companies play in the colonisation of Palestine.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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