Palestine, A Climate Justice Issue

By Dan Fischer

On August 8, Rising Tide released a Statement of Solidarity With Palestine, condemning Israel’s assault on Gaza and occupation of the West Bank. This current article aims to delve beyond Rising Tide’s statement, which neglected to mention Zionism and its role in US energy imperialism. I argue that Palestine is a strategic point of focus for climate justice activists.

Political Moment

Rising Tide’s statement and its endorsement of the People’s Climate March’s “Free Palestine Bloc” come at an interesting political moment, a flashpoint for Palestine solidarity. Outraged by Israel’s brutal killing of 1900 Gazans this summer, many Americans are speaking out against Israel for their first time. A July 24 Gallup poll found Americans under 30 saw Israel’s actions in Gaza as unjustified, by a two-to-one margin.

Climate activists now have an opportunity to connect two of North America’s most radical, rapidly growing social movements. As the editors of Jacobin Magazine wrote last year, “scarcely anywhere — except for the environmental movement — are young people in motion with such a mix of revolutionary élan and disciplined militancy as they are in the case of Palestine.”


Clear a Country of Wild Beasts

Israel’s apologists often deny that Zionism—the movement for building a Jewish state on indigenous Palestinians’ land—is a settler-colonial movement. However, Zionism’s founders were very clear about their intentions. In his 1896 book The Jewish State, Zionism’s founder Theodore Herzl used the words “colonial,” “colonists” and “colonization” to describe his movement.

Zionist colonists established a highly polluting and water-consuming society, displacing hundreds of Palestinian subsistence farming communities. Herzl himself expressed a willingness to exploit the colonized people’s environment, which would be repeatedly bombed and bull-dozed over the next century. “Supposing, for example, we were obliged to clear a country of wild beasts … we would organize a large and active hunting party, drive the animals together, and throw a gelignite bomb in their midst,” Herzl wrote.

Israel’s oppression of Palestinians has gone hand-in-hand with environmental destruction. Israeli industrial zones in the occupied West Bank pollute indigenous villages. Within Israel itself, Palestinians residents comprise the vast majority of households not connected to any sewage system, and the untreated sewage flows into people’s streets and pollutes streams. Gazan children tread through raw sewage on their way to school, due to fuel shortages and infrastructure disrepair from Israel’s blockade. Israel’s repeated wars on Gaza leave an enormous environmental toll on the environment, with military vehicles ripping through sensitive farmland and orchards . In the future, Israel may try to grab Gaza’s considerable offshore gas reserves.

Securing Oil Flows

Since Herzl, Zionism’s leaders have allied themselves with Western imperial powers, betting that these powers would assist them financially and diplomatically. In Herzl’s words, the Jewish state would “form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”

This stance has put Israel in the role of serving the US, whose main interest in the Middle East is securing the flow of oil from the region. In 1958, the US National Security Council articulated its strategy: “if we choose to combat radical Arab nationalism and to hold Persian Gulf oil by force if necessary, a logical corollary would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East.”

Israel gladly obliged. In 1967, Israel crushed Egypt’s subversive Nasser regime in the Six Day War. Nasser had hosted the First Arab Petroleum Congress and advocated “Arab Oil for Arab People,” a troublesome slogan from the point of view of Western capitalists. In 1970, Israel helped produce Syria’s withdrawal from Jordan, accelerating Arab nationalism’s decline.

In the 1980s, Israel acted as a US proxy and sold weapons to Iran. Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arens explained the goal was to establish contact with the Iranian military and try to eventually overthrow the Khomeini regime, which had nationalized Iran’s oil industry. In the Gulf War, Israel provided the US with bombs and desert boots, helping contain a situation where Iraq could threaten Saudi Arabia’s oil fields.

In the lead-up to Washington’s 2003 war on Iraq, Israeli political leaders appeared all over the US media, promoting the war. A CBS headline summarized, “Israel to US: Don’t Delay Iraq Attack”. Some self-described “realist” political scientists therefore blame Zionists for the Iraq invasion, but they have the story backwards. Although Zionists assisted, evidence shows that Washington had a primary interest in preventing Saddam from disrupting—you guessed it-oil flows. No less than General John Abizaid, CENTCOM’s top commander responsible for US forces in the Middle East from 2003 to 2007, later admitted, “Of course [the Iraq war is] about oil, it’s very much about oil, and we can’t really deny that.” Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chair during the invasion, wrote in his 2007 book, “the Iraq war is largely about oil.” Greenspan further explained in a Democracy Now! appearance, that if Saddam developed nuclear weapons, “he would have essentially endeavored and perhaps succeeded in controlling the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz”.
So, Israel plays an important role in the Pentagon’s efforts to ensure maximum oil extraction in the Middle East. It assists the Pentagon, which is in the words of an October 2012 Business Week headline, “The World’s Biggest Fossil Fuel User”. Washington’s massive military budget—Harvard’s finance expert Linda Bilmes estimates the Iraq and Afghanistan wars cost $4-6 trillion—drains funds that the government could theoretically spend on green projects like public transportation and community-controlled wind cooperatives.

Zionists for Fossil Fuels

Here is where it gets personal for many North American climate activists. Zionists have expanded their mission from assisting energy imperialism in the Middle East to assisting North America’s internal energy imperialism. In December 2013, I wrote an article for Palestine Chronicle titled “Zionism in Service of Fossil Fuel Extraction”. My findings included:

  • The American Jewish Committee advocates and lobbies for fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline, offshore drilling, and coal and nuclear power.
  • AIPAC’s 2013 energy memo approvingly noted “the United States and Israel are positioned to play a leading role” in fracking for methane gas.
  • The Anti-Defamation League trained the New York police in 2008 on dealing with “environmental extremists, anarchists, and anti-globalization extremists.” The organization has monitored and smeared peaceful environmental groups like the Earth First! Journal.
  • Prominent Zionist leaders like Malcolm Hoenlein and Samuel Eizenstat, sit with oil and gas drillers on the board of Council for a Secure America, a pro-fracking, pro-Israel outfit.
  • Pennsylvania hired the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response to spy on peaceful anti-fracking activists. The shadowy group boasts of employing Israeli counter-insurgency experts as trainers.

As I wrote, “there is no conspiracy at work. These groups simply follow the philosophy of political Zionism’s founder Theodore Herzl, who advocated domination of nature and subservience to Western imperial powers.”

Since my article, more examples have come to my attention. This May, the Jewish Daily Forward reported that “Jewish religious and communal groups are virtually unanimous” in opposing fossil fuel divestment campaigns. The Forward quotes a climate activist who correctly says Zionists’ pro-fossil fuel stance is alienating young Jews.

So-Called Green Zionism

Marginal groups like the Green Zionist Alliance, which praises Herzl on its website, try to remedy the situation by creating an illusion of Zionist sustainability. Their only effect is to greenwash Israel and the well-financed, overwhelmingly pro-extraction Zionist lobby.

Another fake green group, the Jewish National Fund, will probably attend New York’s UN summit and boast about the water-sucking, ecologically inappropriate trees they’ve planted over uprooted Palestinian villages and native olive trees. The JNF directly controls 13 percent of Israel’s land and prevents non-Jews from buying and leasing it. This discriminatory group also has 6 of 13 seats on the government body controlling a further 80 percent of Israel’s land. They pretend to be green, but they are a central institution perpetuating Israeli apartheid.

While Rising Tide’s statement condemns Israel’s post-1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, it doesn’t mention Zionism, which Britain’s 1937 Peel Commission identified as an “underlying cause” of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Being so adept at opposing climate change’s false solutions, Rising Tide should point out the limitations of the Zionist two-state “solution” which would leave Israel as an ethnocratic state unrepresentative of the non-Jewish fifth of its population and unwilling to allow the return of its millions of refugees.

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