by Hanna Homestead

Environmental Impact of Explosive Weapons in Gaza

On June 5, World Environment Day, the Climate and Militarism Program at the Center for International Policy hosted a webinar about the severe and widespread environmental impacts of explosive weapons being used in the genocidal war against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Explosive weapons supplied by the United States to Israel (and elsewhere around the world) cause both direct and indirect civilian deaths through environmental destruction and contamination that remain long after the bombs explode.

A recording of this panel is available on the event webpage or on the Center for International Policy’s YouTube channel.

An excerpt from the conversation about the long-term implications of explosive weapons on civilian health, human rights, and global security is below:

What’s happening right now is devastating. Not just the ecological damage – I genuinely worry about the generational effects and the profound health effects that this is going to have in the future, in children, and the cancer rates, and the chemicals that pregnant women are being exposed to… about the long term projections of cancer and pulmonary diseases. These typically have fairly long lag times. For cancer, it’s 20 to 40 years. Now, that could be accelerated by repeat exposures.

My immediate family members were affected by the war [in Iraq]. We had cancer rates spike in our family. You know, I think it’s just a matter of time that we’re going to see a lot of these diseases [in Gaza]. I can only speculate, because we don’t have the capacity to test contamination right now.

This is in large part because we don’t have any more universities in Gaza that are left standing. And so you have the scholasticide on top of the ecocide. And so you really can’t study what is happening.

Because of the ongoing bombing, we’re not able to actually sample the air and sample the soil and sample the water, but what I would imagine is there’s so much heavy metal contamination in the soil that it would probably be rather dangerous to grow anything. And the water situation, on top of dehydration and thirst, and on top of the famine that people are experiencing… With just the sheer amount of bombings, I also worry about the concrete material that is being pulverized over and over and over again.

What we saw immediately in the aftermath of 911 was the increased exposure to a number of not just heavy metals, but you also have asbestos from the buildings, you have building materials, you have pulverized glass, steel, and all these other things… Just from that single event, we saw the ensuing effects over decades. Now Gazans are eight months into this madness and are being exposed to things that I honestly don’t understand, I don’t know…

However, we know that particulate matter doesn’t respect boundaries. It doesn’t respect borders… And so even from just a plain human level, I don’t know who is being exposed to this. I would imagine Israelis, I would imagine people in the surrounding region… The heavy metals are carcinogenic. These things aren’t just going to go away, you have to have efforts in terms of soil remediation. This takes a lot of money, a lot of funding, and a lot of technologies to try and clean it. You know, even in the United States we see Superfund sites, these places become very, very difficult, if not impossible, to really clean.

With military aggression, be it by the United States or by Israel, we tend to see that the environmental effects on civilians aren’t even considered, and this is why these things are so under-studied. I want to make that clear. In Iraq, there were these massive burn pits, just ongoing pits of fire, and the [U.S. military] would just throw everything in there. And that caused so much damage to the atmosphere and the environment. And actually, the only way we know about their health effects is through American soldiers who came home. We do not care – there’s very limited data – on the effects of burn pits on Iraqi civilians. And I think this is very telling of where we are – not only in regard to the overall lack of science regarding lasting military contamination – but that it’s very intentional. 

It’s part of the dehumanization where civilian lives are sort of relegated as less-than, as Iraqis and Palestinians. A lot of people of color are just relegated as such. Sort of, ‘you’re just in the way of the bomb.’ And I think that this is the mentality that intense militarism really is centered around.

Dr. Meena Aladdin, PhD, Molecular Toxicology [comments have been summarized and edited for brevity]


Watch the recording here. The full list of webinar panelists includes:


Image description and credit: An Israeli army tank deploys near a sunflower field in Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip. © Menahem Kahana, AFP