Reading Lists: Waste Colonialism and Palestine

When there’s conflict, academics and teachers will often put together a reading list or syllabus to show the breadth and depth of knowledge on a topic that is catching broad public attention. These reading lists are designed to add context, nuance, and history to public discussions (e.g. The Standing Rock Syllabus (2016); The Environmental Data Justice Syllabus (2019); the Trump Syllabus (2017)). As the latest military action in Palestine re-ignites public attention, resources have been created or shared on the conflict (e.g.: Palestine: Sheikh Jarrah, Expulsion, Occupation, and Settler Colonialism and Essential Readings: Environment and Politics in the Middle East).

There are also a few specialized lists that relate directly to the role of waste, pollution, and discards in Palestinian occupation. We have compiled a few of those here, highlighting ones that draw from multiple media (news, film, art, as well as academic research) and that foreground Palestinian writers (while also being limited to English-language texts).


Essential Readings: Land, Water, and the Environment in Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territories

This is an existing reading list compiled and annotated by Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins and the Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI) in December 2020. It opens:

Things are dire in Palestine. Not only politically, but also environmentally. Palestinians are so continuously forced to live inundated by wastes and a sense of their own wastefulness, that waste and the environment have collapsed to form a single ecology. This ecology shapes much about social, political, and economic life there. Palestine’s waste siege is only worsening. Israeli domination over the Palestinian territories it occupies is the primary culprit of continuing environmental degradation, which is in turn critical to the reproduction of that domination. Environmentalism, including a discourse of “environmental friendliness” and “good neighborliness,” has become a political currency among occupier and occupied, factions therein, the people who live there, and more geographically distant actors such as international donors. Palestinian Authority (PA) employees, for instance, must perform environmental custodianship before Israeli and international audiences in order to be considered for support to fund Palestinian sanitary infrastructures. In doing so, these employees (and the PA more generally) are forced to claim responsibility for West Bank waste flows and toxicities, despite knowing that Israel is largely responsible for those flows and their toxicities. Understanding the bi-directional flow of effects—from land, waste, and water, to the opening up and foreclosing of social and political possibilities, and vice versa—is therefore essential to understanding occupied Palestine.

In constructing this list, I have tried to prioritize scholarship by Palestinian academics and those based in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory]. The objective is simple: to offer opportunities for (self)representation of scholarly voices that are generally less heard, especially in English-speaking fora.

Access the annotated reading list here.

Professor Stamatopoulou-Robbins is an anthropologist at Bard College whose research centers around infrastructure, discard studies, science and environment. Her book is Waste Siege: The life of infrastructure in Palestine with Stanford University Press (2019).


A collage of news stories about waste, sewage, pollution in drinking water in palestine

Jesi Taylor Cruz and Waste Colonialism and Inequity in Palestine

This annotated list was originally a Twitter thread published in May 2021:

There is one topic related to violence in Israel/Palestine that I can speak to confidently and with “expertise”: waste colonialism and inequity in Palestine. So, here’s a thread with some info about how waste has become another weapon during occupation:

All these types of waste present risks to health/environment: agricultural, sewage, animal, medical, radioactive, hazardous, industrial non-hazardous, construction and demolition debris, extraction and mining, oil and gas production, fossil fuel combustion, and more.

Context: “In Gaza, due to the Israeli blockade imposed since 2007, restrictions on the entry of materials have prevented the implementation of vital infrastructural projects, not only in solid waste, but also in water and electrical power.” (Nidal Atallah, 2020) 90% of sewage is untreated in Palestine. Additionally, more than half of the e-waste generated in Israel is (often illegally) dumped in the West Bank. E-waste pollution can cause brain, heart, liver, kidney and skeletal system damage. Toxic and hazardous waste from weapons/explosions, construction debris, and destroyed buildings pollute groundwater, land, and air; settlements and checkpoints make it difficult to manage and transport waste produced from these events.

Multiple areas are impacted by sewage overflow and overburdened draining systems. ILLEGAL dump sites attract diseased pests that spread illness. These hazards disproportionately impact Palestinians: “…the dangerous phenomenon of illegal burning of electronic waste in order to extract raw materials such as metals from wires…” leads to health problems for people close to the burning.

"Municipal solid waste in Palestine" graph showing 65% of waste is landfilled, 32% is dumped.

License: CC-BY 4.0. Source: Nidal Atallah, 2020

In Palestine, “47 percent of all waste, including hazardous waste, is disposed of in unsanitary dump sites, while just 3 per cent of rubbish is recycled” (UNEP, n.d.).

3/27/2007 | Umm al-Nasir is flooded with raw sewage after a sewage tank collapse, five deaths; here’s a mini-documentary about what happened. “Gaza is Floating” (2011).

Some of the waste workers at risk of suffering harms in Palestine are children. This is from 2016 but it’s still relevant as these issues persist. Some pick through trash while under threat of Israeli fire: International Palestine. “Gaza’s children go to work in trash pits (part 1)” (2016)

Landfills are a primary source of soil and groundwater pollution in Palestine. Without the ability to develop and update infrastructure to secure the facilities, prevent leaks or toxic fluids, and manage incoming materials, pollution risks are increased: Abunama, Taher, Faridah Othman, Tamer Alslaibi, and Motasem Abualqumboz. “Quantifying the Generated and Percolated Leachate through a Landfill’s Lining System in Gaza Strip, Palestine.” Polish Journal of Environmental Studies 26, no. 6 (2017).

“Insufficient waste management capabilities and energy supplies have led to the contamination of soil and groundwater, and the discharge of sewage and wastewater into the Mediterranean Sea.” (UNEP 2020). “Access to safe drinking water in Gaza fell from 98.3% in 2000 to only 10.5% in 2014. Intensive use of agricultural pesticides, along with the inflow of sewage into the Coastal Aquifer, has resulted in nitrate concentration of 300 mg/L: six times higher than WHO recommendations.”
UNEP. (2020). State of Environment and Outlook Report for the oPt 2020. United Nations Environmental Programme.

In Palestine, “soil pollution comes from the discharge of raw and untreated wastewater into agricultural lands, the remains from stone quarries and the stone and marble industry in the form of dust or slurry, and the excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers…. Consequently, hazardous sewage is everywhere, from the landfills where plastics can live forever to the sea where fisherman can only fish within a few miles due to Israeli restrictions.” Berger & Levine. (2019). “Plastics in the Gaza Strip are both a curse and a blessing,” National Geographic. 

I say this to remind you that governments and policy makers often use waste as a weapon. It impacts human health, wildlife, and ecosystems. Waste MISmanagement is part of larger colonial projects and is actively poisoning billions of people around the world. This is one example.

Jesi Taylor Cruz (Treijs) is a Master’s student at CUNY Graduate Center, Department of Philosophy.

Short summary of Waste Siege:The life of infrastructure in Palestine

book coverThis is a Twitter thread by Max Liboiron on “Waste Siege: The life of infrastructure in Palestine” a book by Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins (2019), a book about colonialism, waste, agency, and complex infrastructures.

Waste siege “describes the necessity of continuing to engage with that which is unwanted or cast off in one’s effort to escape it” (7) under settler & military occupation. “abandonment (by the sate) & absence (of a state of one’s own)can be lived as inundation” (212).

This is a full book. Stamatopoulou-Robbins looks at landfills, sewage, second-hand goods, donated bread, sewage, burned waste, and all the forms of life constrained, enabled, shaped & understood by the unique forces of waste & wasting in occupied Palestine. The complexities of infrastructure, history, law, custom, waste & place are thick. SSR argues waste is not a “backdrop nor an acute, toxic *cause* of politics….but a set of interconnected dilemmas”(216). “Waste siege is an *environment* rather than a foreign object whose salient characteristic is that it has been forcibly & detrimentally inserted into ‘the environment'” (216). The idea that Palestine & Isreal “share” an environment is impossible after reading this text.

If you’re at all interested in complexity and waste, place-based rather than universal ideas of “good” waste management, toxicity, second-hand goods, and how systems like colonialism, settlerism, and waste are inextricably interconnected and co-constituting, this is a book for you.

From Standford Press:

Waste Siege offers an analysis unusual in the study of Palestine: it depicts the environmental, infrastructural, and aesthetic context in which Palestinians are obliged to forge their lives. To speak of waste siege is to describe a series of conditions, from smelling wastes to negotiating military infrastructures, from biopolitical forms of colonial rule to experiences of governmental abandonment, from obvious targets of resistance to confusion over responsibility for the burdensome objects of daily life. Within this rubble, debris, and infrastructural fallout, West Bank Palestinians create a life under settler colonial rule.

Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins focuses on waste as an experience of everyday life that is continuous with, but not a result only of, occupation. Tracing Palestinians’ own experiences of wastes over the past decade, she considers how multiple authorities governing the West Bank—including municipalities, the Palestinian Authority, international aid organizations, NGOs, and Israel—rule by waste siege, whether intentionally or not. Her work challenges both common formulations of waste as “matter out of place” and as the ontological opposite of the environment, by suggesting instead that waste siege be understood as an ecology of “matter with no place to go.” Waste siege thus not only describes a stateless Palestine, but also becomes a metaphor for our besieged planet.

Max Liboiron is the Managing Editor at Discard Studies and author of Pollution is Colonialim (2021) with Duke University Press. 

Other lists on environment and Palestine

While they do not focus on waste and pollution per se, here are other lists that focus on elements of environment and colonialism in Palestine:

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