Israel’s brutal, bloody war on Gaza shows no sign of relenting, with nearly all the Gazan population displaced and Israel warning the war could go on for another year.
Today, the UN’s International Court of Justice is hearing a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. South Africa is also calling on the court to order Israel to stop military operations there. A final ruling on the case could take years.
With no end to the war currently in sight, it has not stopped the greedy oil and gas industry from maneuvering to exploit a potential opportunity. There has been talk by the US of exploiting Gazan gas reserves, which could include billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of gas.
Who gets to exploit the gas reserves off the Gazan coast has long been an issue of enormous contention between Israel and the Palestinians. The issue stretches back over a quarter of a century. The exploitation of those reserves is intertwined with the current genocide.
Last November, as the fighting intensified in Gaza, Amos Hochstein, U.S. President Joe Biden’s energy security advisor, visited Israel. Hochstein discussed how Gaza’s undeveloped offshore gas could be part of any “potential economic revitalization plans.”
“There is an opportunity here to develop the gas fields in offshore Gaza, on behalf of the Palestinians,” Hochstein said, adding, “as soon as we get to the day after and this horrible war ends, there are companies willing to develop those fields.”
“We shouldn’t exaggerate its potential, but it can absolutely be a revenue stream for a Palestinian government, and to ensure there is an independent energy system for Palestine,” he added.
There was critical pushback to Hochstein’s comments on Twitter from scientists:
Everyone assumes climate politics is polarized.
Yes, the electorate is polarized. Yes, Congress is polarized.
But the center, the core of power, is shockingly unified in its support of fossil fuels. https://t.co/RtncppBNXo
— Dr. Genevieve Guenther (@DoctorVive) November 22, 2023
And critical perspective from experts:
Said advisor (Amos Hochstein) spent the years between the Obama and Biden administrations working for the gas export company Tellurian, and spoke on a panel organized by the Trump administration at the UN climate talks in 2017 https://t.co/ejs56xApU4
— Kate Aronoff (@KateAronoff) November 21, 2023
According to some reports, a significant portion of those proposed licenses will have to be sourced from within the occupied territory of Palestine, which Israel is reluctant to relinquish.
This is not the first time that the issue of offshore gas reserves has flared during the current conflict, either. In late October, Israel’s Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure announced it had awarded 12 licenses to six companies, including British oil supermajor BP and Italian oil giant Eni, for natural gas exploration off the country’s Mediterranean coast.
For BP and Eni, this support for Israel at a time when many people are calling for disinvestment once again reflects their overriding principles of putting profits over people, of supporting war over peace.
It is not surprising that this received a critical response from climate activists too:
Conflict starts, big oil arrives…
Israel awarded BP the license to explore for new oil and gas off the coast of Gaza.
— Fossil Free London (@fossilfreeLDN) December 7, 2023
In 1995, the Oslo II Accord gave the Palestinian Authority jurisdiction over its waters up to 20 nautical miles from the coast. Four years later, in 1999, the Authority signed a 25-year contract for gas exploration with the British Gas Group (BGG). That year, a significant find of gas, called Gaza Marine, was discovered off the coast of Gaza, with potential reserves of 1.4 trillion cubic feet.
In September 2000, then President of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat symbolically lit a flame on the BGG offshore exploration platform, arguing the resource would “provide a solid foundation for our economy and for establishing an independent state.”
That has proved to be a false hope. Despite these reserves, Israel has essentially blocked the development. Israel’s response has, in effect, been similar to other occupation violations, notably water and land.
As Amnesty International has pointed out: “Since the occupation first began in June 1967, Israel’s ruthless policies of land confiscation, illegal settlement and dispossession, coupled with rampant discrimination, have inflicted immense suffering on Palestinians, depriving them of their basic rights.”
Israel’s military affects all aspects of Palestinian life, including access to land and water, says Amnesty, noting that “It means daily humiliation, fear and oppression. People’s entire lives are effectively held hostage by Israel.”
This control extends to natural resources too. As the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, known as UNCTAD has pointed out: “Since the start of the occupation, Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have progressively lost control over their land and natural resources and, particularly, their supply of water.” The Palestinians have also “lost access to more than 60 percent of West Bank land and two-thirds of its grazing land.”
The blockade of Gaza by Israel since 2007 also has prevented the Palestinians “from exercising any control over their own fossil fuel resources,” according to Mahmoud Elkhafif, who works as a Coordinator for the Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit, at UNCTAD. This has thwarted the Palestinians from developing the resource as the Israelis have de facto control.
Elkhafif added that the continued denial by Israel was a violation of the letter and the spirit of the Hague Regulations, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a body of international humanitarian and human rights law.
The issue has periodically drawn international attention. In 2016, for example, a non-binding Early Day Motion at the UK Parliament “acknowledges the view of the World Bank that Israel’s occupation is preventing Palestine from accessing its natural resources, including not only oil and gas but also agricultural land and water aquifers.”
It called on the British Government “to press Israel, together with its European partners, to abide by its obligations and cease obstructing legitimate Palestinian endeavors aimed at accessing its natural resources.”
It was ignored. Nothing changed.
In 2018, oil giant Shell, which had acquired BGG, said it was giving up on the Gaza gas field, leaving the Palestinians looking for a new foreign investor to replace it. With Shell’s exit, the Palestine Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund, remained the sole stakeholder. Given the ongoing Occupation by Israel, no private companies were prepared to take the risk of investing.
In 2021, a study by UNCTAD outlined that new discoveries of natural gas in the Levant Basin are in the range of 122 trillion cubic feet, while recoverable oil is estimated at 1.7 billion barrels. It was estimated that over $500 billion could be generated from exploiting the reserves. Not all of this is under Gazan waters, but there are significant reserves off the coast.
The issue remained unresolved until June last year, before the current war started, when Israel finally gave “preliminary approval” for the development of the Gaza Marine gas field.
As usual, there were strings attached and conditions. Israel stated any development would require security coordination with the Palestinian Authority and Egypt and hinged on “preserving the State of Israel’s security and diplomatic needs.” Hamas also reportedly agreed to let the Palestinian Authority develop Gaza’s natural gas field in return for some royalties.
The industry press salivated at the prospect, noting that “Palestine could become the East Mediterranean region’s latest gas producer after Israel’s government gave provisional approval for the development of a long-dormant gas discovery offshore the Gaza Strip.”
Regional experts welcomed it too. Hesham Youssef was a career diplomat with Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for many years. Youssef wrote: “Gaza Marine development is no cure for the ills of occupation and ongoing conflict — it is tantamount to providing aspirin to a cancer patient — but it has the potential to relieve some pain and generate opportunities for additional steps that can improve conditions for Palestinians.”
October 7 Onwards
But then came October 7th, and everything changed.
In response to the attacks, Oil Change International, like billions of others and a growing majority of the climate movement, called for an immediate ceasefire.
As the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), Climate Action Network, and many others have pointed out, there is an intersectionality between the climate struggle and that of Palestine. There are many who argue that the war in Gaza is a climate justice issue – and Palestinian liberation was a major topic amongst civil society at COP28.
“Advocating for climate justice fundamentally comes from a place of caring about people and their human rights. That means speaking up when people suffer, are forced to flee their homes or are killed – regardless of the cause …. Our solidarity with Palestine is no different, and we refuse to let the public focus shift away from the horrifying human suffering that Palestinians are currently facing.”
The CJA has tweeted:
We call on our communities fighting for climate justice to see this as our struggle and demand that we cut military funding to Israel, and begin the process of demilitarization so that we can all be free. pic.twitter.com/IU6E2wYYrt
— Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) ?? (@CJAOurPower) December 11, 2023
This week, the Guardian noted that many young climate activists in the US are also fundamentally disillusioned with the Biden Administration’s support for Israel: “My generation is appalled. There’s a lot of people who are not willing to put their votes towards this administration as a result of their actions in Gaza,” one young activist, Elise Joshi told the paper.
Joshi was one of the signatories of a letter by the Sunrise Movement, Gen Z for Change, and others sent to US President Joe Biden with a “very stark and unmistakable warning: you and your Administration’s stance on Gaza risk millions of young voters staying at home or voting third party” in this year’s election. The Biden Administration, though, continues to support Israel.
The war itself is having a devastating impact not just on the people of Gaza, but the climate too. A recent scientific analysis of emissions from the first two months of the war in Gaza conservatively estimated that they were greater than the annual carbon footprint of more than 20 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations. And this is likely to be an underestimate. An estimated 99 percent of the CO2 emissions are attributed to Israel.
A Sustainable Future
For now, though, there is currently no end in sight to this bloody war. It is clear that when the violence ends, there will have to be a political solution.
For any sustainable and equitable solution, there has to be an end to the Occupation. Palestine has to have rights over its own resources, the right to reclaim its occupied land, and collective decision-making power over all matters affecting its community.
If given the opportunity, Palestine may join leaders from around the world, choosing not to exploit fossil fuels in an effort to curtail the climate crisis. They must also be given massive financial support to assist with the rebuilding of Gaza, which has now been likened to Mariupol and Mosul, both cities synonymous with being completely destroyed by war.
As renowned climate activist Vanessa Nakate pointed out at COP28 last year: “The ‘phase out’ of fossil fuels must be mirrored by a ‘phase-in’ of just, equitable and safe renewable energy.”
In Africa alone, there are still hundreds of millions of people suffering from energy poverty.
The ‘phase out’ of fossil fuels must be mirrored by a ‘phase in’ of just, equitable and safe renewable energy.
— Vanessa Nakate (@vanessa_vash) December 12, 2023
What is clear is that the international community and donors that plan to assist Gaza’s reconstruction should also put significant emphasis on rebuilding Gaza’s renewables and on the clean “phase in.”
As Abeer Butmeh, the coordinator of the Palestinian Environmental NGO Network (PENGON) notes, Palestinians “are forced to depend on the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation for most of their electricity supply. Therefore, any climate justice advocacy must consider energy independence and sovereignty as its objective.”
Palestine and Israel are already warming twice as fast as the global average, and there is a forecasted devastating 4°C increase in the region by the end of the century.
If this happens, much of the region would be uninhabitable, with water even more scarce, exacerbating tensions over land and water. Climate change was a critical issue for the Palestinian delegation at COP28.
Due to Israel’s control of power into Gaza, many have already turned to solar. However, much of this solar has been destroyed in Israel’s relentless bombing campaign.
According to Nada Majdalani, the Ramallah-based Palestine director for EcoPeace Middle East: “Destroying the solar panels is not only targeting the wellbeing of people, it’s diminishing the efforts of the Gazans in taking climate adaptation and measures to secure clean energy.”
So when Gaza rebuilds, solar could be an integral solution and scaled up to supply a significant proportion of the power demands. Instead of offshore gas, solar could be the engine driver for a free Gaza and help give the Palestinians the independence and sovereignty they so desperately need.
But for this to happen, Israel needs to end the war. And for a lasting peace, Israel has to end the occupation.