The ARIJ report “Status of the Environment in the State of Palestine – 2015” provides a comprehensive overview of the environmental situation in the Palestinian territories.
Forests cover approximately 3.94% of the West Bank and 0.55% of the Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, large parts of these forests have been confiscated by Israel, declared restricted military areas and military bases and / or cleared for the construction of Israeli settlements and the separation system. Forest areas were also cleared by the Palestinian side for fuel (either as biomass or for coal production). As a result of this and due to wind, snow, soil erosion, aging and fire, the forest areas in the Palestinian territories have been extremely reduced with corresponding negative effects on the climate.
According to the Palestinian Environment Agency, there are around 50 invasive plant species in Palestine and also some invasive animal species (particularly bird species) that were brought into the country by humans, spread there and are now endangering the local ecosystem. The invasive bird species are primarily the ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri), the shepherd’s maina (Acridotheres tristis) and the Indian silver beak (Lonchura malabrica). The Shepherd Maina was named one of three bird species among the world’s 100 most invasive species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) back in 2000. It occupies the territory of other birds, destroys their nests and eggs and competes for their food.
Alien species are increasing both in terms of the number of species and in terms of their degree of dispersion. However, a comprehensive study of the negative impacts on biodiversity and the environment is still pending as a basis for developing a national strategy to control and eradicate these invasive species.
Soil erosion is prevalent in areas of intensive arable farming and in the mountainous regions of the West Bank, where steep slopes are exposed to heavy rainfall and overgrazing by goats and sheep. The floors can be easily removed without terracing. Arable land is also decaying because Palestinian farmers cannot reach and work their fields because of the restrictions on their freedom of movement imposed by the Israeli state.
Desertification is a problem in the eastern slopes of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These areas are subject to overgrazing and over-urbanization, temperatures are high and the amount of precipitation is low. This makes the areas prone to climatic changes.
Military equipment, ammunition and Israeli military bases
The armed conflicts in the past decades and Israeli military exercises in the Palestinian territories have also led to the destruction of the environment and agriculture in the Palestinian territories. There are duds and landmines in the landscape that are dangerous for the environment and people. After troop exercises in the Palestinian territories, duds are not collected by the Israeli army. Discarded military equipment also endangers the environment. Leaking fuel and oil in Israeli military bases pollute the soil and groundwater. In April 2019, dozens of birds died in the town of Sabastiya near Nablus from excessive use of tear gas.
According to ITYPEAUTO, the Palestinian Territories are viewed as one of the world’s biodiversity crisis areas. The biodiversity in the Palestinian territories is decreasing due to uncontrolled urban development, the expansion of Israeli settlements, over-harvesting of wild plant species, land destruction and high population growth. Plant species are becoming increasingly rare or very rare (the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ) speaks of 370 species) and are at risk of disappearing completely.
According to the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ), 17.6% of Palestinian municipalities and 53.9% of all households in the Palestinian Territories (38.4% in the West Bank and 83.5% in the Gaza Strip) were connected to a sewage system in 2015. The rest of the waste was disposed of via septic tanks and cesspools. There are six central wastewater treatment plants in the West Bank and four in the Gaza Strip. But only 2/3 of the total wastewater is treated there. The rest ends up in the soil uncleared.
The wastewater from the Israeli settlements also pollutes the environment in the West Bank. According to B’Tselem, in June 2009 only 81 of the 121 Israeli settlements recognized by Israel were connected to a sewage system. These facilities use processes that are less advanced than those used in Israel. Many of them are only intended for a small number of the population, suffer from operational failures and are temporarily completely shut down. The remaining settlements discharge their wastewater untreated into the environment. According to a study by the Knesset Research Institute, this is 19 million cubic meters per year.
Wild rubbish dumps, where toxic waste is dumped, pose a serious threat to the environment and people in the Palestinian territories. There are around 40 such dumps in the Ramallah / El Bireh administrative district alone.
The construction of the separation facility in the West Bank has had numerous negative effects on the waste and sewage disposal of the Palestinian population there.