Workshop: February 7 and 8, 2019

Environmental Justice in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank

Spring 2019 Workshop: Environmental Justice in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank Photo: 'Land of Olives and Vines, Occupied Territories of Palestine' photograph courtesy of National Geographic, UNESCO World Heritage Site In the Central Highlands between Nablus and Hebron, a series of ancient terraces, agricultural towers, and a complex irrigation system have been used to cultivate Battir since antiquity. The agricultural practices—still in use today—are some of the oldest farming methods known to humankind. In 2014, the site was listed "in danger" because of ongoing geo-political transformations in the region. According to UNESCO, Israel’s controversial West Bank Barrier “may isolate farmers from fields they have cultivated for centuries.”.

Photograph courtesy of National Geographic and UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Land of Olives and Vines, Occupied Territories of Palestine. (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)  

Workshop: Environmental Justice in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank. Fifty years into the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, it is important to understand the lesser known aspects of this apparatus. The focus of the workshop is on the administration of environmental injustice in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. Dates: February 7 and 8, 2019. 

Workshop Organizer

Irus Braverman, Professor, William J. Magavern Faculty Scholar, University at Buffalo School of Law

Location: 509 O'Brian Hall, UB North Campus, Amherst, New York

Workshop Description:

Rarely highlighted by international media and seemingly marginal in comparison to the deadly stakes of safety issues in this region, concerns about land, water, air, afforestation, and wildlife are in fact central to the administration of the occupation in the West Bank as well as to the broader relationships performed there. This workshop will examine environmental justice issues in the West Bank through legal, historical, anthropological, geographical, and cultural perspectives. Although several human rights reports exist on such matters like water and waste in the West Bank (e.g. Al-Haq 2015; B’Tselem 2017), there is very little academic scholarship on this topic. Our workshop, and the collection of essays that will emerge from it, will provide a first-of-its kind attempt to address some of these issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. We will engage scholars from varying disciplinary and geographical contexts to explore both the empirical and the theoretical questions at stake, with a strong emphasis on the nexus of justice, environmental governance, and occupation regimes.

The first questions we will tackle are definitional: What is environmental justice generally, and what unique issues arise in this context in the occupied West Bank? What legal regimes and institutional apparatuses are currently in place that constitute and enable such environmental justice issues? To many, framing any issue as “environmental” implies that it is neutral and apolitical. In this region, however, environmental issues are inextricably intertwined with relationships of domination for Palestinians (Alatout 2006). Under the occupation, is there any sort of environmentalism that is not already environmental justice?

Furthermore, the literature that deals with environmental justice issues in Israel, and that is therefore confined to the Green Line, emphasizes that “[g]eneral macroenvironmental risks, which are the focus of many environmental justice studies internationally, are less applicable to Israel because its very limited size means that the bulk of the risks located in its core areas affect everyone” (Shmueli 2008, 2384). In contrast to the idea of a shared destiny within this confined space, reports from the West Bank indicate that “Israel has turned the West Bank into a sacrifice zone, exploiting and harming the environment at the expense of the Palestinian residents, who are completely excluded from the decision-making process” (B’Tselem 2017, 18).

The workshop will address the mechanisms, experiences, and wide-ranging impacts of environmental injustice in the West Bank. Much environmental justice scholarship focuses on relationships between a minority group and a state government. Similarly, the limited scholarship on environmental justice in Palestine concentrates on the environmental implications of domination by an occupying government (Alatout 2006; Zeitoun 2008). The regulatory scheme is critical for these explorations. For example, Israel applies less rigorous regulations in industrial zones in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and even offers financial incentives such as tax breaks and government subsidies, making it more profitable to build and operate waste treatment facilities in the West Bank than inside Israel (B’Tselem 2017). As a result of this regulatory infrastructure, there are at least fifteen waste treatment facilities in the West Bank. Most of the waste they process is produced in Israel. Six of the facilities handle hazardous waste, which requires special processes and regulatory supervision due to the dangers it poses.

In addition to the dynamics of the Israeli occupation administration, this workshop will also examine relationships that crosscut multiple scales. How are distributions of environmental goods and hazards shaped not only by Palestinian/Israeli power relations, but also by lines of socioeconomic class, ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation? Through physical infrastructure, racialized biopolitics, and legal institutions, colonialism is deeply embedded in the occupied Palestinian territories (Zureik 2015; Smith 2011). As colonialism becomes an ever more long-term feature of people’s social interactions and experiences of place, how does it shape not only the distributions of environmental goods and hazards between Israelis and Palestinians, but also competition and cooperation over such distributions among Palestinians of different class, ethnicity, religious backgrounds, and political affiliations?

The workshop is sponsored by The Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy.