WorldIsrael at War


Deforestation of Gaza for food, fuel due to lack of humanitarian aid

The IDF has cleared thousands of acres of trees throughout the Gaza Strip, something that's readily apparent in satellite imagery.
Posted at 6:52 PM, Mar 12, 2024

With negotiations for a cease-fire in Gaza at a standstill, desperately needed aid for civilians will continue to enter the besieged enclave at a trickle. That includes fuel. Satellite imagery shows that displaced people have been using Gaza's own land to scavenge for fuel using trees and plants.

In October, Planet Labs, a commercial satellite company, released an image showing an area near Gaza's southern city of Rafah. The company then released an image of the same area in late February. Not only is the area now filled with numerous tents and temporary structures, but the land has also been stripped clean of plant life.

This isn't a unique location, either. Scripps News with our partners at Bellingcat found 11 locations throughout the Gaza Strip where it appears desperate Palestinians cut down trees for fuel or supplies. Five locations are cemeteries. In some, trees were quickly cut down over the period of days. For others, weeks.

Video from Palestinian Authority news outlet Wafa News Agency showed Palestinians cutting down trees in the Deir Al-Balah Cemetery in November. Another video shared on Instagram in January showed Palestinians desperately pulling up the roots of plants near the border wall with Egypt.

The few aid convoys that have been allowed into north and south Gaza have been able to deliver limited quantities of fuel, but it's mostly for what little is left of the medical infrastructure in those areas.

Scripps News spoke with Ahmed Benchemsi, a spokesman for the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch, which recently released a report detailing the status of vital aid like food, water and fuel in Gaza.

"Fuel is needed to operate various civilian infrastructures that are necessary to the existence of civilian people," Benchemsi said. "So it is not justified to cut fuel as a general policy as the Israelis are doing." 

There's another source to the damage to Gaza's plants as well, and that's the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF has cleared thousands of acres of trees throughout Gaza, something that's readily apparent in satellite imagery. It's also visible in footage released by the IDF themselves. One estimate from a remote sensing expert says around 30% to 38% of Gaza's tree crops have likely been damaged or destroyed.

"The laws of war are clear," said Benchemsi. "Warring parties are strictly prohibited from attacking objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and objects. That is legal language. It means food, means medical supplies, means drinking water installations and it means agricultural areas — which have been very widely destroyed by the Israeli army."

The IDF has said in the past that part of its operational doctrine in Gaza is to clear orchards with bulldozers in case there are explosives hidden in them.

Aid ship en route to Gaza, where hundreds of thousands face starvation
A ship prepares to ferry aid directly to Gaza.

Aid ship en route to Gaza, where hundreds of thousands face starvation

A quarter of Gaza's population is starving, according to the U.N., because they cannot find enough food or afford it at vastly inflated prices.