Israel is trying to present itself as environmentally friendly as it prepares once again to massacre civilian marchers in the occupied Gaza Strip.
Its propaganda is all the more cynical, given the environmental catastrophe its decade-long siege has imposed on the two million Palestinians in the coastal enclave.
Palestinians have been burning tires to create a smokescreen to protect thousands of civilians taking part in protests near the boundary from Israeli snipers who are under orders to shoot to kill.
These videos shows Palestinians holding celebratory processions as they collect tires in the Gaza Strip in preparation for this Friday’s rallies:
Yoav Mordechai, the general in charge of COGAT, the bureaucrat wing of Israel’s military occupation, has written to the World Health Organization to protest that Palestinians will cause an “ecological catastrophe” by burning large numbers of tires.
“This is a serious environmental issue that will harm the health of the residents and will cause unprecedented air pollution,” Mordechai claims.
But Mordechai, a key enforcer of Israel’s siege and occupation, is himself one of the biggest threats to the lives and health of Gaza residents.
Last Friday, Israeli forces shot dead 14 Palestinian marchers and injured 1,400 others, including 800 with live ammunition.
By Thursday, the death toll from Israeli violence in Gaza had reached 21, as an additional protester, Shadi Hamdan al-Kashif, 37, succumbed to a bullet injury to the head sustained the previous Friday. And health ministry sources said the body of an unidentified man was recovered near the boundary with Israel in northeast Gaza. He was reportedly killed late Wednesday by an Israeli drone.
An investigation by Human Rights Watch condemned Friday’s killings of protesters as “calculated” and warned Israeli leaders that they could face prosecution in international courts for the illegal attacks on unarmed civilians who posed no danger whatsoever.
The rallies protest Israel’s blockade of Gaza and call for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to lands from which Israel has expelled and excluded them because they are not Jewish.
Palestinians in Gaza are planning to continue their rallies – which organizers have dubbed the Great March of Return – in the weeks leading up to Nakba Day, the annual 15 May commemoration of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
The Israeli military says it fears that the smokescreen from burning tires could be used to shield “terrorists” from view.
But Israel’s efforts to portray the marchers as armed militants were debunked by Human Rights Watch, which stated that it “could find no evidence of any protester using firearms or any IDF [Israeli army] claim of threatened firearm use at the demonstrations.”
With more rallies planned, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has published ads in Israeli media urging soldiers to disobey illegal orders to shoot at unarmed demonstrators.
“The responsibility for issuing these unlawful orders and for their lethal consequences rests with the policy makers and – above all – with Israel’s prime minister, defense minister and the chief of staff,” B’Tselem stated.
“That said, it is also a criminal offense to obey patently illegal orders,” the group added. “Therefore, as long as soldiers in the field continue to receive orders to use live fire against unarmed civilians, they are duty-bound to refuse to comply.”
Israel’s environmental destruction
Ofir Gendelman, an Israeli government spokesperson who before last Friday’s massacre publicly threatened marchers with injury or death, posted tweets purporting to express concern for Palestinians’ well-being from the burning of tires.
“This will burn down Palestinian fields near the border and the heavy smoke, toxins and pollution will cause a huge environmental disaster for Palestinians,” Gendelman tweeted, according to The Times of Israel. “But Hamas doesn’t care. Remember that.”
Gendelman misleadingly used an image of large tire fire at a landfill in Texas along with his tweet.
It is particularly cynical of Israeli officials to pose as protectors of the environment, or to approach the World Health Organization.
Last year, 54 Palestinians died waiting for Israeli permits to leave the Gaza Strip for potentially life-saving medical treatment, according to data collected by the World Health Organization.
In 2017 Israeli occupation authorities approved just 54 percent of applications for permits to leave Gaza for medical appointments, the lowest rate since the World Health Organization began collecting data in 2008.
This staggering toll highlights the lethal impact of Israel’s ever-tightening siege on Gaza, a siege which is prompting the protests near the boundary fence.
Israel has also been bombing Palestinians in Gaza with tear gas drones – tear gas inhalation has been the cause of hundreds of injuries in recent days.
Israel’s siege and repeated military assaults have devastated Gaza’s electricity, water and sewage treatment infrastructure, causing an environmental catastrophe.
As a result, some 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage are discharged daily into the sea around Gaza.
“I feel like we are living in a septic tank,” Shaima Abu Saada, a 19-year-old resident of Gaza’s Beach refugee camp, told The Electronic Intifada last year.
That is everyday life for Palestinians in Gaza.
But ordinary Israelis only noticed when the sewage flow caused by Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure forced the closure of Israeli beaches last summer as well.
Israeli occupation authorities that are preparing to gun down more Palestinians in Gaza merely for protesting their catastrophic situation are in no position to complain about burning tires.