On Palestine and Israel

What's happening in Palestine-Israel begs a climate justice analysis. Histories of colonialism always do.

On Palestine and Israel
Pro-Palestine and Israel protesters collide at a New York City protest. Photograph by Mayolo López Gutiérrez / Instagram

LISTENING: to water boil
FEELING: stressed about work
SEEING: the dark sky brighten with the sun

What is our treatment of the land but a reflection of how we treat one another?

This is where my mind goes whenever I hear of bombs dropping or hostages taken. It's where my mind has traveled as the Palestine-Israel conflict continues. We live in a world where the powerful and privileged exist by keeping the vulnerable tied down and oppressed. Indeed, this is a history that the land over which Israelis and Palestinians are fighting knows well. The land grieves, too.

It is a history too long, complicated, and nuanced for me to break down in a single newsletter. My attempt to even comprehend a slither of that is why you're receiving this later than usual today. Such intention requires time. Such sensitivity requires space. I conducted an interview for today's newsletter, but my source pulled out at the last minute because I wouldn't share my full draft. I'm glad to at least have our conversation as background for what I've written today.

I sit here with privilege in the U.S. where I've never had to fight — not figuratively, but literally — for freedom. Though I come from an ancestry that wasn't afforded such grace, I was born into freedom. I've never held a gun or looked death in the face. I grew up in my own battleground of poverty and persecution, but my experience could never equate to a literal warzone where rockets flare and bullets pervade. I don't know true poverty and persecution: where tomorrow isn't promised and where hatred suffocates your community.

I've lived through enough trauma, however, to question systems of violence. I've seen enough loss to wonder: What might be possible if opponents laid down their arms and, instead, joined hands? What would a world built upon reparations and reciprocity look like rather than one built upon hate and hubris? Is it possible to see such liberation on occupied lands?

How do we set the land and its people free? Is it the job of the settler? Or of the oppressed? Could both come together in the name of liberty?

Welcome to Possibilities, a creative climate newsletter on the possibilities that lie where crisis meets community. I’m Yessenia Funes, and we're digging into the conflict in Palestine-Israel.

I'm no expert in the matter, but I am a reporter. We, reporters, do one thing damn well — and that's lay out the facts. The fighting we're seeing today didn't start when Hamas, the extremist governing body of Gaza (a Palestinian city), launched its attack on Israel Sunday. It dates back centuries. For our purposes, I'll start with 2008 when Israel escalated its attacks on Palestinians and the U.N. began tracking deaths.

Since 2008, over 6,000 Palestinians have died (not including the most recent deaths since Sunday). Up until a few days ago, the number of Israeli deaths sat at just over 300, per the U.N. Now, over 1,200 deaths have been added to both sides since Sunday.

These are largely civilian deaths. Innocent people are being killed. The children who survive will be left with lifelong scars. None of these people deserve to die. Nothing about this violence is acceptable. The violence should've ended long before this escalation. Until the Palestinian people are free from Israeli rule, the bloodshed is likely to continue. Finding a compromise for both won't be easy, but it's necessary.

There's no justifying the brutality Hamas has inflicted upon Israelis. Unfortunately, Palestinians have been suffering state-sanctioned violence from Israel for long enough to breed the sort of desperation that leads to further violence. Now, Israelis are unjustly suffering, too.

I first explored these painful and complicated truths in 2021 when I wrote a piece about the environmental harms from violence in the region for Atmos. It's worth reading now.

What's happening here, however, shouldn't be characterized as war. War suggests symmetry, that both sides have equal power. That's not the case for Palestinians. The Israeli government controls much of their access to electricity, food, and water. Since the fighting, the government has closed off that access until Hamas frees Israeli hostages.

It's worth noting that international law defines Israel's actions as a war crime. A government cannot starve civilians as part of its war strategy. Israel isn't alone in facing such allegations. Hamas is also engaging in war crimes by killing civilians. I can't help but think of my Israeli-Jewish landlord's teenage sons who were sent to live in Israel just a few months ago. I hope they're OK.

"Deliberate killings of civilians, hostage-taking, and collective punishment are heinous crimes that have no justification," said Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, to Reuters.

You might be wondering why I'm writing about all this in a newsletter dedicated to climate justice. For one, militarized attacks devastate the ecosystem. Chemicals pollute waterways, and bombs kill trees that provide necessary shade to people and river creatures during times of heat. These events leave people without food, homes, and shelter.

All this destruction makes communities even more vulnerable to extreme weather when the conflict settles down. It makes surviving the climate crisis, especially in the Middle East, damn difficult.

Then, there are the carbon emissions associated with such violence. Tanks require fuel. As do fighter jets. Destroying ecosystems means releasing the carbon they've stored. In doing so, soldiers weaponize nature whether they know it or not.

Above all, however, are the human lives. What is climate justice in a world where people are not free? How can we talk about a green future when some communities don't have a future to look forward to? How can cultures come together to talk about emissions reductions when they don't even have peace?

I know revolution is not what many of us in the West have romanticized it to be. I know it can be gory and ugly, but I also know revolution cannot sacrifice its humanity. Revolution cannot be rooted in vengeance; it must be rooted in love and liberation. Hate is winning right now.

I don't have the answers. All I have is my grief. 🌀

Rest in Power

While we can't say for certain that climate change led to these specific weather events (we need attribution studies for that), we do know that the Earth's rising temperatures are already creating more disasters like these.

Flash floods in the Indian Himalayas last week have killed at least 74 people while about 100 others remain missing.

Heavy rains in the capital of Cameroon led to landslides over the weekend that killed at least 40 people.

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