1. Environmental Warfare in Gaza

Colonial Violence and New Landscapes of Resistance

by Shourideh C. Molavi

Published by Pluto Press in Feb 2024 

Paperback ISBN: 9780745344577
eBook ISBN: 9780745344591


The perimeter around the occupied Gaza Strip is formed by a sophisticated system of fences, forts and surveillance technologies. With each Israeli incursion, a military no-go area, or a ‘buffer zone’, is established along Gaza’s ‘borders’, extending deep into Palestinian residential areas and farmlands— further compounding the Gaza Strip’s isolation from the rest of Palestine.

Since 2014, the bulldozing of Palestinian lands by the Israeli occupation forces has been complemented by unannounced aerial spraying of military herbicides, extending the reach of Israeli violence into the realm of chemical warfare. Today, the spraying has destroyed entire swaths of arable land in Gaza, forcibly changing a once-lush Palestinian landscape, and providing the Israeli army with better visibility to fire at Palestinian targets with lethal force from a distance.

This book is a vivid document of this latest stage of Israeli warfare, including original maps, images and visualisations which deepen our understanding of its environmental and human impact. It collects new documents, original archival materials, stills of drone footage, first-hand testimonies of farmers, organisers and protesters, and documents affected vegetation in Gaza as ‘silent witnesses’ to Israeli settler-colonial violence.


2. The Silent Victim of Israel’s War on Gaza – verfassungsblog

03 April 2024

In March 2024, Forensic Architecture reported that more than 2,000 agricultural sites, including farms and greenhouses, have been destroyed in Gaza since October 2023. Almost six months into Israel’s war on Gaza, evidence indicates the devastating impacts of the war on the natural environment in Gaza. In particular, it has been reported that farms have been devastated, and nearly half of the trees in Gaza were razed. While this raises numerous issues, the question of whether Israel’s large-scale airstrikes on Gaza would make a substantial contribution to serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) protecting the natural environment during armed conflicts, deserves more thought than it gets.

In this post, I will discuss the legal implications of Israel’s military operations for establishing its fault and wrongdoing in relation to the environmental destruction going on in Gaza. I wish to bring into the analysis an issue of central importance that legally proportionate but unnecessary damage to the natural environment must be discerned in the context of basic considerations of humanity.

Environmental Protections of IHL

IHL prohibits any warfare that may cause “widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment”. This imposes obligations on States under two cardinal provisions enshrined in Articles 35(3) and 55(1) of the Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, whereby States undertake not to engage in warfare having widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.

Article 35(3) prohibits the use of “methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.”

Article 55(1) provides that “care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term, and severe damage. This protection includes a prohibition of the use of methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected to cause such damage to the natural environment and thereby to prejudice the health or survival of the population.”

Both Articles 35(3) and 55(1) are now widely recognised as rules of customary international law applicable in international and non-international armed conflicts. Needless to say, the common base of both articles is the prohibition of ‘widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment’ during armed conflicts. While it remains dubious what the term ‘widespread’ refers to, the term ‘severe’ in Article 35(3) is perceived to imply ecological concerns and limits on methods and means of warfare. Yet the term ‘severe’ is construed to mean damage prejudicing the health or survival of the population in Article 55(1).

I have engaged with these in detail elsewhere, and to avoid reiteration, I would accentuate the uncertainty and ambiguity on the threshold at which damage to the natural environment would lead to a violation of IHL within the meaning of Articles 35(3) and 55(1). This is in great part because of the disputed nature of the phrase ‘widespread, long-term and severe damage’, especially the term ‘long-term’, which is referred to as ‘a period of decades’ in the ICRC Commentary on Article 35 (1987, para. 1452), while under Article 1 of the 1976 UN Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD), it is understood as a matter of ‘months or approximately a season’.

Environmental Destruction as Evidence of Wrongdoing in Gaza

It should come as no surprise if the Israeli officials keep justifying the environmental destruction, especially the devastation of farms and agricultural land in Gaza, under two basic scenarios: destruction required by imperative military necessity to achieve a defined military objective; and the fact that there appears to be little evidence of ‘widespread, long-term, and severe environmental damage’ from Israel’s air strikes on the heavily civilian-populated Gaza.

The scenario of the destruction of the natural environment required by imperative military necessity will substantially be overruled if the attacker fails to strike a reasonable balance between necessity and the principle of humanity, which explicitly prohibits unnecessary suffering and destruction during armed conflicts. On this wise, none of the parties to armed conflicts can target, destroy or render useless any objects ‘indispensable to the survival of civilians’. As such, the natural environment is a system of unified ecosystems and sequences that has its own life, but it is indispensable for sustaining human life and for its development. Viewed from this perspective, the destruction of agricultural land that undeniably contributes to the sustenance of civilian populations in Gaza is conceivably an inhumane means of warfare conducted by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

The second scenario derived from the lack of evidence on ‘widespread, long-term, and severe environmental damage’ to the Gazan environment remains questionable. This scenario would be the case only if the present and long-term environmental impacts of the lethal weapons and explosions used by the IDF in Gaza are not known at present, and measuring them will be tricky and complex, if not impossible. There is no denying that determining pollution levels and assessing the risks to the civilian population and their environment in Gaza will depend on precise studies and scientific certainty, as well as the monitoring and evaluation of air, water, and soil, as we have seen in case of the 1991 Gulf War, where a permanent UN body required to investigate and decide with scientific certainty on alleged environmental damage.

On the facts, however, while there is inescapable evidence of real risk and destructive impacts of more than 65,000 tonnes of bombs dropped on the Gaza Strip, which has made the area unlivable, taking advantage of the uncertainty and imprecision in the exact meaning of the phrase ‘widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment’ is a misconception and speculative behaviour given that it could be invoked to manipulate the obligation to protect the natural environment in armed conflicts and that destruction of environment may not be used as a weapon. Yet again, this is a pure situation of risk, I would submit, where the principle of ‘humanity’ would come into play to hinder inflicting unnecessary suffering, injury and destruction. On the assumption that the law is either uncertain or dubious, the Martens Clause is illustrative enough to obviate this terminological confusion in the furtherance of civilian protection and human security as the overriding objective of IHL. Thus, in cases of uncertainty and ambiguity of the relevant laws or cases not covered by IHL treaties, States are required to respect a minimum standard as established by the principle of ‘humanity’ and the ‘public conscience’. While on the subject, this would remain applicable as the core principle protecting the environment due to the ambiguous and perhaps disputed nature of ‘widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment’.

It bears reiterating yet, ‘widespread, long-term and severe’ damage to the natural environment constitutes serious violations of the laws and customs of war and thus can be considered war crimes under Article 8(2)(iv) of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). There is no question whatsoever that IHL is a system of protection endeavouring to minimize harm and suffering during armed conflicts. Against this backdrop, the uncertain and almost disputed nature of the prohibition of ‘widespread, long-term and severe’ damage to the natural environment has nothing to do with the ICC investigations into disproportionate and intentional attacks and explosions that could produce damage to the natural environment not only for decades but also for several months in so far as that the health or survival of the Palestinian population is concerned. Importantly for our purposes, the ecocide and agricultural land devastation that occurred ‘collaterally’ by way of either proportionate or necessary military operations in Gaza, would require respect to a minimum humanitarian standard established by the principle of humanity, as I have touched upon above. This leads us to what is, in my estimation, the main conclusion that the legally proportionate collateral but unnecessary damage to the natural environment caused by the IDF’s large-scale offensive on Gaza must be observed within the limits of the principle of humanity.


It is beyond dispute that the UNSC Resolution 2728 (2024) demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza during Ramadan and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages should be considered a measure of progressive development by the international community in an effort to reduce civilian harm in Gaza. Having said this, even the UNSC resolution contains no mandate on the growing risk of environmental damage in Gaza. Yet nothing would dissimulate the fact that even the UNSC resolution has not ceased Israel’s cycle of violence against Palestinians and their natural environment. That being so, the natural environment remains the silent victim of Israel’s war on Gaza. This implies that the UN, in general, and the ICC in particular, should have done more to attenuate the substantial risk of mistreatment of the natural environment, concerning more particularly the ecology, health and survival of Palestinians.




SUGGESTED CITATION  Bagheri, Saeed: The Silent Victim of Israel’s War on Gaza, VerfBlog, 2024/4/03, https://verfassungsblog.de/israel-war-gaza-ecocide-environment/, DOI: 10.59704/27f1c54dda96f350.

One Comment

  1. M. B.Wed 3 Apr 2024 at 23:52ReplyFirst of all, it should be noted that Hamas – and not Israel – engages in agricultural terrorism, as the Wall Street Journal accurately describes (https://www.wsj.com/articles/hamas-agricultural-terrorism-oct-7-israel-food-supply-trying-to-break-the-community-e4d91a71). Hamas has been destroying Israeli farmland for years.Regarding Gaza: not only Israel is shelling the farmland, but Hamas is too – at least 10% to 20% of Hamas rockets, each of which is aimed at murdering as many Jews as possible, land in Gaza because they don’t reach “far enough” to get to Israel(https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/27/world/middleeast/israel-hamas-gaza-rockets.html).As a rule, and as in previous years, they land in the outer districts of Gaza, where the vast majority of Gaza’s agricultural land is located(https://jcpa.org/article/casualties-in-the-2021-gaza-war-how-many-and-who-were-they/https://twitter.com/IDF/status/1715796045278380461).Moreover, Hamas has destroyed parts of the agricultural land by tunneling under it – tunneling in general is very damaging to the environment (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/289372723_Erfassung_der_Tunnelerosion_in_Experiment_und_Modell_Mitteilgn_Deutsch_Bodenkundl_Gesellsch_101_81-82 ; https://idw-online.de/de/news31758).It is true that agricultural land has also been destroyed by Israeli shelling. This is not surprising. Gaza is a war zone and almost 50% of Gaza is agricultural land. It would be utopian to expect that such a large area would not be affected.However, the Israeli army is not deliberately shelling it. Rather, it is destroyed in the course of attacks on Hamas terrorists who are on – or in the tunnels under – the farmland.Hamas propaganda videos clearly show that Hamas often operates from the cover of trees and groves (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AONSuCU0PEw ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClLHBWOL5dQ). Therefore, also agricultural land becomes a legitimate military target according to IHL.I would also like to remind you that when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it left behind more than 4,000 (!) greenhouses free of charge and in excellent condition. Instead of using them for agriculture, however, they were looted and destroyed (https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/nahost-chaos-nach-raeumung-des-gaza-streifens-a-374523.html). So much for Hamas’ agricultural ambitions.It is particularly inappropriate to remind Israel of the principle of humanity while Hamas committed genocide against Jews on October 7 and is still holding 134 hostages.
    Israel is doing a lot to protect the civilian population.
    The UN should simply distribute the aid supplied by Israel more quickly (https://twitter.com/cogatonline/status/1771441823031984444). Israel’s great efforts to avoid civilian casualties as far as possible have resulted in a very low civilian:combattant casualty ratio.
    This has also been acknowledged by various military experts.A.
    Maj. (ret) John W. Spencer is the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point and Co-Director of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project, one of the world’s leading experts in Urban Warfe: 1st statement: “Israel has implemented more measure to prevent civilian casualties in urban warfare than any other military in the history of war. This includes many measure the U.S. has (or has not) taken in wars & battles but also many measures no military in the world has ever taken.” (https://twitter.com/SpencerGuard/status/1752181728016277765)2nd statement: “Israel is upholding the laws of war.” (https://edition.cnn.com/2023/11/07/opinions/israel-hamas-gaza-not-war-crimes-spencer/index.html)3rd statement: “In their criticism, Israel’s opponents are erasing a remarkable, historic new standard Israel has set. In my long career studying and advising on urban warfare for the U.S. military, I’ve never known an army to take such measures to attend to the enemy’s civilian population, especially while simultaneously combating the enemy in the very same buildings. In fact, by my analysis, Israel has implemented more precautions to prevent civilian harm than any military in history—above and beyond what international law requires and more than the U.S. did in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (https://www.newsweek.com/israel-has-created-new-standard-urban-warfare-why-will-no-one-admit-it-opinion-1883286)B.
    Col. Richard Kemp CBE, for more than 30 years a commander of British troops & Head of the international terrorism intelligence team at the British Prime Minister’s Office:
    “The Israel Defense Forces have achieved a significantly better civilian:combatant casualty ratio in battle than most if not all other armies.” (https://twitter.com/COLRICHARDKEMP/status/1732779663313801339?)C.
    Lt. Gen. David Deptula (Ret.), U.S. Air Force, 36-years of experience, planned the US Air-Force campaigns in many wars:
    “I have seen the exquisite care the Israeli Defense Force takes to avoid civilian casualties. They have extraordinarily stringent rules for avoiding collateral damage.” (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/military-experts-discuss-israels-use-of-unguided-bombs-and-harm-to-civilians-in-gaza)That leads to the conclusion of Prof. Herdegen from the University of Bonn: “Israel’s actions are in accordance with international law”

3. Gaza faces environmental disaster after eight months of crisis – ActionAid 

June 5, 2024

Today on World Environment Day (June 5), ActionAid is highlighting the devastating impact that eight months of bombardment has had on the environment in Gaza and the long-term consequences of the destruction.    
The Israeli military’s onslaught has not only been a disaster for the people of Gaza, killing more than 36,500 people and displacing more than 85% of the population, but it has also severely impacted the environment. According to UNEP, this has led to a major increase in land, soil, and water pollution. An estimated 55% of structures in Gaza have been damaged by bombing, leaving the land covered in at least 37 million tonnes of debris, much of which is laced with unexploded bombs, according to UNMAS. Chemicals and toxins from munitions have seeped into and contaminated the soil and groundwater. The Israeli military’s aerial bombardment has damaged 42.6% of cropland, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, while satellite imagery shows that almost half of Gaza’s trees have been destroyed.   
This has severely hampered Gaza’s capacity to feed itself by growing vegetables, fruit, and wheat at a time when the population is at risk of famine and more than 3,500 children under the age of five risk dying due to the shortage of food, according to Gaza’s Government Media Office. In the past week alone, two children have reportedly diedas a result of malnutrition.   
In some areas of Gaza, raw sewage is running between tents and mountains of rubbish are piling up in the streets because sewage and waste facilities are either damaged or unable to function due to the lack of fuel. This not only poses a serious immediate health risk to the population but will have serious long-term consequences for the environment.  

Amjad Al Shawathe director of the Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO), an umbrella organization of 30 Palestinian NGOs and a partner of ActionAid Palestine, told ActionAid: 

“The shortage of fuel affects the municipality services to collect [and treat] sewage and collect rubbish from the streets and between the shelters, which [are] now overcrowded with the new [internally displaced people]. The untreated sewage channels [are now] between the tents, which is a serious concern for the people who are living in these plastic or cloth tents. It has serious implications on the health situation, and we have concerns regarding the contagious diseases.” 

Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are having to endure these conditions in the midst of a scorching heatwave, without enough water or sufficient shelter from the sun. The lack of fuel means that vital desalination plants have shut down, UNRWA says, forcing people to walk long distances in the heat to try and find water.   
In the West Bank, too, Palestinians are being denied their right to a clean and safe environment. A recent report found that sewage and other hazardous wastewater from Israeli settlements was being dumped in Palestinian lands, damaging crops and leaving agricultural land unusable.    
Meanwhile, farmers are regularly being prevented from accessing their grazing land, crops, and olive trees by restrictions of movement imposed by the Israeli authorities or settler violence.   
Riham Jafari, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine, said: 

“As well as killing tens of thousands of Palestinians, mostly women and children, the Israeli military’s brutal onslaught of Gaza has had a devastating impact on the natural environment, severely disrupting its ecosystems and biodiversity. Even if this crisis ended tomorrow, its poisonous legacy will live on in the land, soil and water for many years to come.   
The destruction of agricultural land and greenhouses has made food production almost impossible in Gaza, and with only a trickle of aid entering the territory, people are starving, and children are dying of malnutrition. The current heatwave is making life even more intolerable for Gaza’s hundreds of thousands of displaced people who have nowhere to hide from the sun and no water to quench their thirst. The high temperatures will only increase the health risks posed by the raw sewage and piles of rubbish in the street.   
This unbearable situation cannot go on any longer, there must be a permanent ceasefire now to prevent more lives being needlessly lost and so that aid on the vast scale required can be safely delivered to those in need.” 


For media requests, please email Jenna.Farineau@actionaid.org or call 202-731-9593.

Spokespeople are available:

  • Niranjali Amerasinghe, Executive Director of ActionAid USA
  • Riham Jafari, Coordinator of Advocacy and Communication for ActionAid Palestine