Scorched earth: when the environment becomes a weapon.

July 20 marked 112 days since the first kites and balloons with a burning coal or accelerant were launched over Israel from Gaza. The homemade incendiary kites have caused fires in agricultural and protected areas adjacent to the Gaza border.

Border farms suffer from the loss of income from crops and damage to irrigation systems. The fires pollute the environment in many ways, some are dramatically visible, but many more may be subtle and cumulative. The growing list of environmental components degraded by the fires include groundwater resources, soils and agricultural land, air pollution, and the coastal marine ecosystem.

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Living under a black sky.  

The burning of thousands of tires at the border have led to the release of toxic materials into the fragile ecosystem, and the fires caused by the launched incendiary devices destroyed more than 7,400 acres of land, hundreds of acres of wheat fields, and 2,700 acres of protected nature reserves.

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Agricultural areas will likely recover more quickly then the ecosystems in nature reserves, whereas much of the plant life will return next season, animals, if they have not been killed, cannot return to their native habitats. Local wildlife that has been killed are foxes, porcupines, jackals, bee populations, rodents, reptiles, tortoises, lizards, insects, snakes and many more species. Fires have been raging through the Be’eri Crater Nature Reserve, the HaBesor Stream Nature Reserve, and the Kariyya (Carmia) Nature Reserve devastating forests and farmland.

This ongoing ecocide is a recipe for a prolonged disaster, it is not only making living conditions dangerous and miserable, the damage and destruction of the ecosystems are causing resource depletion, which can lead to further conflict, causing a cycle of further damage and destruction of ecosystems. The environment will be doomed.

“Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of the ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.”

(Polly Higgins’s proposal for the Rome Statute)

From the ancient to the modern world ecocide has been an act against humanity. After the Marsh Arabs joined in the revolt against Saddam Hussein, he drained the marshes to bring them under his control. These marshes, that have given life to that land for more than 5,000 years, became desolate, salt-encrusted land ( J.W. Dellapenna, 2007).

The destruction of these ecologically rich wetlands was an ecocide adopted as a means of genocide against the Marsh Arabs.

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The UN General Assembly resolution 47/37 and international humanitarian law expressly prohibit the destruction of the natural environment in armed conflict. In May 2016, the Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme reaffirmed this resolution.

“destruction of the environment, not justified by military necessity and carried out wantonly, is clearly contrary to existing international law”. 

Scorched-earth policy is an ancient military strategy that aims to destroy anything that might be useful to the enemy while it is advancing through or withdrawing from a location. This has been used through history by the Persians, the Romans, but also more recent by Daesh. Daesh’s scorched-earth policy has created an immense environmental and health havoc where the Iraqi government and humanitarian organizations are still dealing with. Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, called this crime an ecocide and compared it to the environmental destruction caused by Saddam Hussein’s wars.

Environmental terrorism consists of one or more unlawful actions that harm or destroy environmental resources or deprive others of their use. Nature is weaponized, abused by man made natural disasters. It is unfolding in front of our eyes, claiming animal lives, destroying plant life, causing ecological contamination.

It is time to protect the environment from being attacked, destroyed and being weaponized. All biological life deserves protection, we cannot tolerate that the natural world is directly and deliberately destroyed in pursuit of political or social justice, whatever the motive, by any single person or group of people.

The damage that is caused to the natural world itself makes me grieve, I grieve the losses. We are part of nature, as we should not harm ourselves, we should not harm nature.

Crimes against peace are morality-driven laws, based on the sacredness of all life and the universal agreement to protect wellbeing. Although the first crime against peace (genocide) has been in place since 1948, the first case in the International Criminal Courts did not begin until 2006.

(Polly Higgins)

This is of course the whole purpose of environmental terrorism, direct and intentional attacks on the natural world, such as scorched-earth policies to rob the targeted group of food supplies, water, communications, agriculture, industrial resources, transportation and even people.

This disproportionate destructiveness of the natural world must be banned.

The environment has in most countries no legal rights, but environmental lawyer Polly Higgins wants to change that. She proposed to the United Nations that ecocide, the mass damage or destruction of ecosystems, be classed as a crime under international law, alongside genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression.


Ecocide and genocide in the Iraqi Marshlands. WIT Press. By J.W. Dellapenna. 104:401-409 · May 2007.

About the Author
I have had the privilege to work as a professional archaeologist on a vast number of archaeological sites in the Middle East, Sahel and North Africa for over twenty-two years. I write about Jewish history, culture and heritage, from ancient texts to modern politics.
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