Why Israel Is Wrong To Fear Climate Refugees

Experts are calling on Israel to completely enclose its borders with a barrier to keep out ‘floods of climate refugees’

Around two months ago, a small piece of research carried out by the University of Buffalo found that in environmental disasters, humans tend to make things worse. Rather than getting together to resolve issues, the bickering starts and the fists start to fly. It’s a pretty bleak look at human society but one which I don’t buy into. I’d like to think that if/when things turn ugly due to runaway climate change, that the human race will sit down and try to avoid all sorts of nasty things like water wars. Indeed, there is a growing body of research which suggests that scarce resources could encourage better regional co-operation.

However, every now and then something happens which makes me doubt my faith in humanity and it’s ability to do ‘the right thing’. The recent report presented to Israel’s environment minister suggesting that they build a border fencing – including a marine border in the Mediterranean and Red Seas – to keep climate refugees out is one such example.

The report states that Israel must prepare for a situation in which climate refugees escaping drought and rising oceans will flood into the country in their efforts to reach Europe. “The lack of water, warming and sea-level rise, even if it will occur on a different schedule, will bring migration movements from all impoverished regions to every place where it is possible to escape this,” wrote a team of academics, led by Prof. Arnon Soffer and Dr. Anton Berkovsky of the University of Haifa’s Geography Department.

Moreover, the experts told the Jerusalem Post that additional law enforcement resources will be required to deal with the ramifications of securing the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, as an economic crisis might ensue for Negev Bedouin who trade across those lines. “In India, they shoot; in Nepal, they shoot; in Japan, they shoot,” Prof. Arnon Soffer said, adding that in Israel, the refugees know they can find welcome. “I am one that fights for building fences all around Israeli borders,” he said to the Jerusalem Post.

“We are an island – we don’t belong to this region, and we have to defend Israel from waves of migration from Egypt from Jordan and maybe from Syria. If we want to keep Israel a Jewish state, we will have to defend ourselves from what I call ‘climate refugees,’ exactly as Europe is doing now,” he said.

I think this statement from one of the authors is particularly telling and illustrates how national fears (real or imagined) become imprinted on the spectre of ‘climate refugees.’ For Soffer it seems to be about keeping Israel Jewish and making sure they are not ‘flooded’ by (let’s face it) Arabs. However, not only is this fear xenophobic but it’s inaccurate too. According to the latest research on climate refugees by Gregory White, climate disasters actually make it very difficult for people to leave and those that do travel, don’t go very far. So stating that you are justing doing what Europe is doing actually means following an illogical policy put in place due to irrational fears.

Whats more, White states that a “security-minded approach to CIM [Climate Induced Migration] diverts intellectual energy from more important endeavours.” Endeavours such as helping the developing world adapt and mitigating the emissions of the developed world. He adds that efforts to encourage adaptation and nurture south-south cooperation on trade and sustainable development practices, would be “far better than sounding an environmental-refugee klaxon and securitizating international borders.” Especially as the securitization of borders would have its own ecological costs inflicted by the military-security industry.

On a lighter note, the report does recommend swift action to increase Israel’s water supply and secure its food and energy. Soffer also says that sharing water resources between Palestinians and Israelis may well lead to peace. Whats more, the Environment Minister is a little dubious of the extreme measures proposed by the report. Speaking to Ynetnews he explained that “hiding behind fences is not a solution. Instead, it’s important to develop cooperative (initiatives) with neighbouring countries and international agencies.” How genuine this statement’s co-operative spirit is considering he said he’s happy to cut Gaza’s power supply if Israel faces any shortages, is another issue for another time.

For now, I just want to say that any notion that Israel’s should build a(nother) barrier to keep out climate refugees is not only irrational but it’s also not a particularly useful way to handle the unfair hand climate change will deal some of the world’s poorest people.

: Image of the boundary on a lock, of Israel/Lebanon via Maxmac/Shutterstock.com

For more on Climate Refugees see:

Climate, Migration and Why the Security Agenda Just Doesn’t Help

Israeli Minister Proposes Cuts to Gaza Electricity to Bridge Shortfalls

Water Scarcity Leads More to Peace Than War (Interview)

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2 thoughts on “Why Israel Is Wrong To Fear Climate Refugees”

  1. The definition “climate refugees” although it sounds somehow more “sexy” than just plain old refugees has no accurate definition and has becomes a linguistic tool to stimulate romantic sympathy. …and all those African refugees who Europe is trying to fences out over the past years, before they get to the Mediterranean…what kind of refugees are they?
    The refugees Israel is being inundated with have first passed through at least two other countries, Sudan and Egypt. Why do we not hear comments and demeans by Arwa Aburawa and others that those countries, or at least Egypt should respect international treaties, allow the refugees to stay and absorb them before they get to Israel. Before they get to a far smaller country then either Sudan or Egypt. In this case size does matter. The smaller the community these Africans infiltrate the greater the tensions. Tens of thousands of refugees diluted into a population of 90,000,000 Egyptians is certainly less disruptive than dispersing of those same people into a population of only 7,000,000.
    Another factor that a practical sense of fairness and justice would demand to be considered it the geopolitical reality each country lives within. Egypt while is is currently in great internal turmoil, is secure in its borders and population. Unlike Israel, Egypt has no external enemies committed to its de-legitimization and destruction. Egypt is a largely Muslim country as are most of the refugees. Libya too would be a far more logical destination for these people. Libya imports and employs tens of thousands of “foreign” workers in its highly profitable energy industries. Libya is just as conveniently available as Israel to people traveling on foot from within the African heartland. Again, it is a county in which the Africans can far more easily assimilate within than is Israel.
    It is disengenious to make statements that have absolutely no basis in fact. At this point, there is defenatly no indication or reason to believe that these refugees will attempt to leave Israel and migrate to Europe. Certainly there is no news coming out of Europe to encourage these people that there are jobs waiting for them there.
    I too agree that “hiding behind fences is not a solution.” It is also ugly and an adimtion that an important part of the Zionist dream has failed to far. The dream is/was to leave the ghetto, to become a state like any other state. The fences have built at great expense in a so far successful attempt to keep out those of our neighbors who would sacrifice themselves in order to murder us. I can assure you that we would much rather have used those resources to for other purposes. “Instead, it’s important to develop cooperative (initiatives) with neighboring countries”. Which of the neighboring countries are we suppose develop these initiatives? Syria? Hezbollah in Lebanon. Egypt which already follows a policy of violence to encourage the refugees to move on to Israel? Other than the nu-neighbor-less of our neighbors I totally agree that there is a critical need for an international effort to help these people. Remember, only some of them are “climate” refugees. Many if not most others are fleeing endless and pointless wars and a general situation of poverty and despair.
    In Israel we are already dealing with far more of our own pathology, social distortion and outright hostility by strangers, than we can reasonably handle.
    If someone, anyone is really seriously concerned with the fate of these refugee people the above article by Arwa Aburawa does not contribute. More creative thinking than is demonstrated here is needed.

  2. Jen says:

    Interesting commentary. I didn’t realize this conversation happening was even taking place, this idea of “climate refugees”. So thanks for reporting on it. I am currently reading World War Z by Max Brooks, a fiction novel about what might happen during a “zombie apocalypse.” Interestingly enough, Israel puts itself in a voluntary quarantine, invites outsiders to join her and than walls herself up from the rest of the world. Climate induced migration doesn’t happen as fast as that which would likely result from a global pandemic, but still interesting to explore how Israel views her responsibility to her citizens vs. her responsibility to citizens of the world.

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