In Judaism, trees are viewed to be sacred.  Jewish religious texts compare trees to the Torah, the holiest book in Judaism, and mandate that Jews in every generation must plant trees to ensure that the next generation will have enough resources to sustain it.

The Midrash in Kohelet Rabbah teaches: “When G-d created the first man, he took him and showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him, ‘See my works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are.  And everything that I created, I created it for you.  Be careful not to spoil or destroy my world—for if you do, there will be nobody to repair it.”

Just as G-d planted trees first in the Garden of Eden, one of the first acts that the Zionist Movement did was to plant trees in the Land of Israel.   In fact, in Judaism, we have an entire New Year for Trees and provide our fruit trees with a mandatory year of rest once every seven years, so that they can blossom, flourish, and replenish themselves.

For this reason, ecological terrorism is just as grave of a crime against humanity as regular terrorism is.   Counter-terror scholar Grant Wardlaw defined terrorism as: “The use or the threat of use of violence by an individual or group whether acting for or in opposition to an established authority, when such activity is set to create extreme anxiety and/or fear inducing effects in the target group larger than the immediate victims with the purpose of coercing that group into acceding to the demands of the perpetrators.”

Daniel Shwartz, writing in The Journal of Peace Research, declared that an ecological terrorist is anyone who commits an act of terror as defined above: “The physical harm from environmental terrorism is not confined to the direct effects of acts of terror itself.   When ecological destruction occurs, the interconnective nature of the environment ensures that harm extends far beyond the act.”  Thus, when Hamas fires incendiary balloons and kites into forests and kibbutzim in Southern Israel or Armenians destroy the trees, homes and cultural heritage sites in the occupied regions of Azerbaijan before withdrawing in the framework of the peace agreement, it is truly an act of ecological terrorism.  In both cases, the perpetrators do not want their victims to enjoy the natural world that surrounds them.

In an official statement, the Israel Defense Forces declared: “The ecological and economic impact that these fires cause can be irreparable. Terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip have carried out some of the largest acts of environmental terrorism in the world. During August 2020, fires sparked by balloons destroyed thousands of acres of natural forests and farmland in southern Israel, killing massive amounts of wildlife. Local farmers’ crops, farming equipment, and livelihoods were damaged.”  According to various media reports, there have been tortoises, gazelles, birds, and other animals who have fallen victim to such ecological terror.  In fact, in a couple of particularly shocking incidents, Hamas attacked explosive devices to birds, thus slaughtering the poor animals while they harmed innocent civilians in the process.

Similarly, in recent days, ecocide, which is defined as the destruction of the environment by negligent or human action, was committed by Armenians in Kalbajar as Azerbaijani residents who were displaced 27 years ago have returned to their homes.  Located in the northwestern Nagorno-Karabakh region in the west of Azerbaijan, the Kalbajar region had been occupied by Armenian forces since 1993.  Some 60,000 Azerbaijanis had to leave their homes in 128 villages and they took refuge in other parts of Azerbaijan.  There were no Armenians in the area before the occupation according to the records.  Armenia has then resettled its own citizens in the area after the Azerbaijanis left.

Armenian settlers as they withdraw from the Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven Azerbaijani districts have committed ecological terrorism of a similar magnitude to Hamas by burning down the homes of internally displaced Azerbaijani refugees, slaughtering cattle, cutting down trees, looting holy sites such as the ancient Caucasian Albanian Khudavang Monastery which belongs to Azerbaijan and robbing the area of cultural treasures.  They have been doing this to make the region uninhabitable for Azerbaijani internationally displaced refugees who wish to return to their homes that they were forcefully expelled from in the 1990’s.   In fact, as Azerbaijan takes over additional areas in the context of the peace agreement, the Armenian environmental terrorism that systematically left the region in ruins is blatantly there for all to see.

Over the past 30 years, it has been noted Armenia has been looting natural resources, polluting waters, destroying flora and fauna, cultivating narcotic plants and trafficking drugs in the occupied territories, thus causing massive destruction and severe damage to the environment.  Armenia’s recent acts of ecological terror only have exacerbated an already horrific situation in the region.  As a result, the region is overrun with pollution, debris, and a lack of biodiversity, leading to many rare plants and animals who once populated the region under Azerbaijani control to cease to exist.

Considering the above-mentioned facts, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution No. 2085 in 2016 on the deliberate deprivation of water to the residents of the border regions of Azerbaijan.  The resolution demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Armenian Armed Forces from the region and the provision of on-site investigations by engineers and hydrologists.

The environment and trees are pivotal for all humanity.  Trees provide oxygen for us to breathe, shade for us to rest under, fruit for us to eat and make our world the beautiful place that it is.  During wartime, Judaism teaches that it is forbidden to cut down trees for it constitutes “needless destruction.” Rashi (France, 1040-1105) explained that trees are not enemies; therefore, we have no right to destroy them or to make them suffer.

Rabbi Bachya (Spain, 1255-1340) concurred, proclaiming that trees are so pivotal to human life that to destroy trees is equivalent to destroying humanity for cutting them down also destroys the human lives that depend upon trees.   Thus, in conclusion, it is of pivotal importance that the international community start paying attention to acts of ecological terrorism and develop a strategy in order to address it rather than merely ignoring the phenomenon and leaving the victims to suffer their horrendous fate.

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