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British government accused of silencing Palestinian climate activists at Cop26

PALESTINIAN climate activists have accused the British government of complicity in silencing their voices at Cop26 after they were effectively barred from the United Nations summit.  

Strict visa rules and Covid-19 restrictions prevented the entire Palestinian civil society delegation from attending the international conference in Glasgow, despite the Middle East being one of the regions most vulnerable to the climate crisis. 

West Bank climate activist Manal Shqair told the Morning Star today that, since the British government does not recognise Palestinian vaccination certificates, she and others would have been required to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks, which they could not afford. 

In contrast, Israeli vaccine certificates are recognised, so delegates from that country were able to enter Britain without needing to quarantine or to obtain a visa.

“Instead of making it possible for us Palestinians, who are bearing the brunt of the climate change, to be part of … Cop, the UK government are complicit in perpetuating the constructed silencing of Palestinians,” Ms Shqair said. 

Ms Shqair and fellow delegate Abeer al-Butmeh, director of Friends of the Earth Palestine, were only able to participate in meetings in Glasgow via video link.

Speaking to the Morning Star ahead of a People’s Summit event, she said that their absence made it more difficult to challenge Israeli claims to be leading the fight against climate change. 

Ms Shqair, a campaigner with the Stop the Wall group, stressed that Israel is harming the environment and making the occupied territories more vulnerable to climate change through its monopoly control of water sources. 

In one case, the dumping of sewage water from a settlement into a village in the Salfit area of the West Bank forced more than 50 Palestinian families to leave their lands, she said. 

“The destruction of the environment is used by Israel as a tool to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the areas it want to occupy or build settlements on,” Ms Shqair argued.

“There should be a clear message that Israeli apartheid and the climate crisis are intertwined.”

A Palestinian Authority delegation was present at Cop26, but Ms Shqair stressed that politicians were not able to “convey the message of the entire Palestinian civil society.” 

Anger at the exclusion of Palestinian civil society delegates has been heightened by the presence of Israeli NGO the Jewish National Fund (JNF) as an observer at the conference. 

Established in 1901, the JNF was set up to purchase swathes of Palestinian land and make it available to Jewish settlers. Campaign group Stop the JNF has called for it to be removed from Cop26. 

“The JNF claims to be the oldest green organisation in the world, but its credentials are phoney,” Stop the JNF spokesperson Annie O’Gara told the Morning Star. 

The NGO, whose British branch has charitable status, has been blamed for damaging the environment through planting millions of non-native pine trees, which have made the soil inhospitable to other species.

“The presence of the JNF is offensive, given its racist nature, its toxic history and the damage it is doing to the land of historic Palestine,” Ms O’Gara added. 

Speaking during the People’s Summit event, Ms Butmeh said: “The Israeli occupation exacerbates the climate risks by denying Palestinians the right to manage and administer their land and the natural resources. 

“We cannot achieve climate justice under occupation in Palestine.”

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