Israel sees many collaborations with universities from abroad. Since 1998, Canada's York University Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) has an
academic partnership agreement with Israel's Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES). The agreement enables up to three York University Bachelor students in Environmental Studies annually to receive credit for studying at Arava, and up to three graduates from the Arava to enter York's Master in Environmental Studies program. Beyond the exchange of students the agreement includes collaboration in research, teaching, faculty development, and more.
The agreement is bearing fruit according to Maxwell Brem, manager of external relations at FES as he wrote in 2001, "in a small corner of the Negev desert, specialists and students from around the region are coming together to address environmental problems under the auspices of a regional environmental centre with growing ties to York. The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies brings together Israeli, Jordanian, Palestinian, Egyptian and some international students, including Canadians, to do applied research on ecosystem issues affecting the Middle East region. The students fuse an ecological identity that brings Middle East ecosystems into consideration, not just the particular conditions in their home areas." As well-known, Arava is a unique environment, as explained by Rabbi Michael Cohen, the outreach director of AIES, it "is not only a centre for Middle East environmental studies but for leadership development as well, preparing future Jewish and Arab leaders to solve the region's environmental challenges cooperatively. Students have a unique opportunity to study and live together for an extended period of time. Students live in special dormitories built on the Kibbutz for the institute, but eat their meals in the communal dinning room of the Kibbutz and are adopted by Kibbutz families. Together, they build networks and understanding that will enable future cooperative work in the Middle East and beyond. By encouraging environmental cooperation between peoples, the Institute is working towards peace and sustainable development on a regional and global scale."
Interestingly, just recently York reported that Arava held a conference on September 13 to 14, 2017, the second annual Track II Environmental Conference, entitled “Promoting environmental agreements between Jordan, Israel and Palestine, to improve lives, protect the environment, and support sustainable resolution of conflict”, which was aimed to highlight the progress of the Track II working groups which was launched at the previous year’s conference. The conference attracted 85 participants from Israel, Jordan, Palestine and the United States, including some members of the Knesset and Palestinian politicians, as well as high ranking environmental stakeholders. The conference included Palestinian speakers such as Tahani Abu Dagga and Dr. Ziad Darwish from the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, who praised the Arava Institute for discussing regional problems and expressed hope for a common sustainable future in the region; Dr. Shaddad Attilli, a policy advisor for the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department and former PA Minister of Water and Head of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA); economist Ahmad Hindi, a member of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society; Eng. Ahmad Yaqubi, Gazan water resources expert; and Salah Mohsen, Director of the Research Department at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; The conference hosted also United States Ambassador Dennis Ross, the facilitator of the peace process of both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, who spoke on the role of Track II in cross-border agreements. He reviewed the history of negotiations during his time with the Clinton administration.
While the cooperation was well received, pressure from pro-Palestinian groups is now forcing York University to trim its relations with Arava. On November 6, 2017 Rhonda L. Lenton, York University president & vice-chancellor, published a statement "York University responds to false claims regarding the Faculty of Environmental Studies". She was responding to a student group which claimed that York would boycott Arava. Lenton wrote that the student group "publicly and falsely claimed that York’s FES Faculty Council declared an academic boycott against the AIES. No such academic boycott was considered or voted on."
However, President Lenton actually admitted that the "Faculty Council did pass a motion by a vote of 15-7, to recommend to the Dean that the FES not seek a new agreement with AIES." The academic partnership agreement between the two institutions expired on September 25, 2017. She ended her announcement by stating that "no Faculty Council has the authority to boycott any academic institution."
But contrary to the president's announcement, that "nor was the term “boycott” included in the motion", the issue of the boycott was very much on the table. The group Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University (SAIA York) tweeted a series of Tweets on November 7, "We are proud to have been given the opportunity to present to the Faculty of Environmental Studies Council at #YorkU"; "Our presentation highlighted Israel's violations of human rights and international law and its destruction of the environment"; "In the end, Council voted NOT to seek to renew its partnership with the Arava Institute"; "York University's president Rhonda Lenton and the Israel lobby can deny that any vote on our campus had anything to do with BDS"; "But with public opinion shifting in the favour of Palestine's liberation from occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid..."; "there's only so much you can deny and for so long"; "It remains clear to the rest of us which way the wind is blowing: towards freedom, justice and equality."
But this is not surprising, Ghada Sasa, a Palestinian student wrote her Master's thesis "Israel: Greenwashing, Colonialism and Apartheid" supervised by York FES Professor Sabah Alnasseri, submitted in July 26, 2017. Sasa wrote in the opening: "I decided to write my Major Research Paper (MRP) on Israel, as a Palestinian who lived under Israeli occupation and who witnessed Israel’s social and environmental injustices first-hand. I wanted to understand how people I met in Toronto could describe Israel as an environmental steward, as it oppresses my people and I have seen the Israeli army protect Israeli settlers, as they burned my village’s olive trees. In addition, I wanted to understand how Israel’s environmental policies fit within Israel’s system of oppression. By highlighting how Israel’s self-image as an environmental steward is false, I hope my research can refocus attention on Israel’s oppression of the indigenous Palestinians and urges readers to join the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel." Sasa's dissertation was rated an outstanding paper at York.
Although President Lenton denied that the faculty has the right to boycott Arava, the decision on whether to renew the collaboration is still pending. IAM will report on this development.
York University Faculty Boycotts Israeli Academic Institution
On October 26, 2017, FES boycotted the institution after the FES Faculty Council passed a motion to not renew a long-standing partnership agreement between FES and AIES. The motion, which was presented by SAIA York, garnered 15 votes in favour, seven against, and one abstention. While AIES has branded itself as an institution that promoted peace and environmental cooperation, the motion condemned AIES as an institution that "has a history in green washing injustices and environmental harms" perpetuated by the Israeli government.
AIES is funded by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). AIES has also officially partnered with the JNF since 2002. As an Israeli quasi-governmental organization, the JNF has played an instrumental role in advancing Israel's colonial project for over 100 years. This project has not only devastated the indigenous Palestinian people, but also the environment. Still, AIES boasts of this partnership on its website, praising the JNF's "heart and action" and its "green innovations". Arava conveniently omits the JNF's colonial legacy from its website, serving to normalize and greenwash the organization and, by extension, Israel's colonial history.
AIES also opened in 1996 as one of the hundreds of people-to-people (P2P) programs that were established around that time. P2P programs were based on "cooperative activities between Israelis and Palestinians to promote peace". However, such programs failed to create peace in the last 20 years, because they did not seek to end Israel'soppression of the Palestinian people. Rather, they perpetuated Israel's oppression by encouraging "coexistence" rather than "co-resistance" against Israel. By encouraging coexistence and environmental cooperation, without recognizing Israel's oppressive role and the need to resist against this oppression, Arava has served to normalize and greenwash Israel's oppression.
By boycotting AIES, FES has taken a courageous stance on the right side of history to pressure Israel and complicit Israeli organizations to end their injustices against the Palestinian people. It is even more inspiring that FES has taken this historic step in consideration of the recent government crackdowns on BDS in Canada and elsewhere. FES has chosen to stay true to the radical, human rights, and anti-colonial roots of environmentalism and to uphold York University's commitment to social justice by implementing academic boycott against Israel. We hope that this victory will inspire other York faculties and other academic institutions to implement or endorse the academic boycott against Israel in the struggle for a world free of colonialism, apartheid, occupation, and war, and in the realization of peace, justice, and equality for all.
York University responds to false claims regarding the Faculty of Environmental Studies
"York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) and The Arava Institute of Environmental Studies (AIES) had an academic partnership in the form of a Letter of Agreement (LOA) from 1998 through to September 25, 2017, when the agreement expired. York University is proud of that collaboration.
Recently, a student group has publicly and falsely claimed that York’s FES Faculty Council declared an academic boycott against the AIES. No such academic boycott was considered or voted on, nor was the term “boycott” included in the motion brought to FES Faculty Council.
FES Faculty Council did pass a motion by a vote of 15-7 to recommend to the Dean that the FES not seek a new agreement with AIES. To be clear, authority regarding inter-institutional letters of understanding rests with the Provost and VP Academic and either the President or VP Finance and Administration.
York University has for some time been clear that we do not support academic boycotts, and our position has not changed. York University strongly supports international student exchange and research collaborations that support mobility, create experiential education opportunities, and help to prepare Canadian and international students to be successful in the global knowledge economy."
-Rhonda L. Lenton, President and Vice-Chancellor
Barbara Joy, Director, Media Relations, 416-736-5593/416-333-3374, firstname.lastname@example.org
Annual Cross-Border Environmental Cooperation Conference – Arava Institute for Environmental Studies
Posted by Editor on Wednesday, November 8th 2017
On September 13th-14th, 2017, the second annual Track II Environmental Conference was held at the Arava Institute. The conference, entitled “Promoting environmental agreements between Jordan, Israel and Palestine, to improve lives, protect the environment, and support sustainable resolution of conflict”, aimed to highlight the progress of the Track II working groups launched at last year’s conference, encourage productive dialogue between Track I and Track II Environmental Forum participants, and outline a pathway and work plan for the year ahead. It was attended by 85 participants from Israel, Jordan, Palestine and the United States, including some members of the Knesset and Palestinian politicians, as well as high ranking environmental stakeholders.
The conference was opened with welcoming addresses from Tahani Abu Dagga and Dr. Ziad Darwish from the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, who praised the Arava Institute for discussing regional problems with “love and conviction”, and expressed hope for a common sustainable future in the region despite the current political situation. MK Amir Peretz also gave stirring welcoming remarks. Following opening remarks and summaries of the working process throughout the past year, participants had the opportunity to hear Palestinian and Israeli officials and stakeholders in plenary sessions focusing on different topics.
“We can no longer say that there is no partner, it is defeatist.” MK Hilik Bar
During a panel on “Recent Track I Cross-Border Environmental Agreements – Can they be an impetus for real environmental change in the region?”, Adv. Shiri Milo-Loker, a Senior Audit Manager at the State Comptroller’s Office, MK Yael Cohen Paran, a physicist with the Green Movement who is currently serving in the Knesset with the Zionist Union, Dr. Shaddad Attilli, a policy advisor for the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department and former PA Minister of Water and Head of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), Alon Etkin, representing the Ministry of Regional Cooperation, and economist Ahmad Hindi, a member of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, discussed recent research and reports, as well as conditions in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The more time that passes, the more complicated it gets to solve. Now it is still possible to put in the effort ant come to a solution. But with time, it will only get more complicated and further away and the result will be disastrous.” MK Issawi Frej
The following session, facilitated by Al-Monitor columnist Akiva Eldar, focused on “advancing Cross-border environmental agreements between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan in preparation for a two-State solution”. The topic was discussed by Dr. Shaddad Attilli, former Minister of the Palestinian Water Authority, MK Ksenia Svetlova and MK Yehiel “Hilik” Bar, Members of the Knesset for the Zionist Union, and United States Ambassador Dennis Ross, who was the point man on the peace process in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. A lively discussion developed between Palestinians speakers and Israeli members of Knesset, but all could agree on the necessity to share information and technology immediately, regardless of the current governments’ inability to engage in dialogue, to end the suffering of ordinary citizens.
“We will see a change only when people start to really work together, believe each other, believe in the other side again…If we can solve one issue with local leadership, and then another issue, the changes that we can make will be bridges to build the peace that we want to see as soon as possible.” MK Yael Cohen Paran
On the morning of the second day, keynote Speaker Ambassador Dennis Ross addressed the audience on the role of Track II in facilitating cross-border agreements, based on the history of negotiations in the Middle East. He explained the difficulty of reconciling “two rights” from two national identities, and reviewed the history of negotiations during his time with the Clinton administration. Amb. Ross expressed his belief that Track II discussions and projects are important in creating a sense of possibility for greater Track I discussions.
Amb. Ross’ address was followed by a discussion on Gaza’s environmental and humanitarian crisis. This session included MK Issawi Freij (Meretz party), Eng. Ahmad Yaqubi, Gazan water resources expert, and Salah Mohsen, Director of the Research Department at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. It was emphasized that the water crisis in Gaza can be easily solved technically, and that the only barrier is political.
After a working group session that gave participants an opportunity to discuss further steps with partners in their field of expertise, the conference was concluded by David Lehrer, the Executive Director of the Arava Institute, with a closing summation, focusing on the principle that each side has its own narrative, that needs to be acknowledged. He then encouraged NGOs to work together on the issues, adding “you would be surprised what a small organization can do.”
“We lost the sense that we can agree on anything, so focus on practical immediate needs that can get agreement – that will prove we can.” Amb. Dennis Ross
GREENWASHING COLONIALISM AND APARTHEID
PROFESSOR SABAH ALNASSERI
MAJOR RESEARCH PAPER
SUBMITTED TO THE FACULTY OF ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE
OF MASTER IN ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES
YORK UNIVERSITY, TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA
JULY 26, 2017
I decided to write my Major Research Paper (MRP) on Israel, as a Palestinian who lived under
Israeli occupation and who witnessed Israel’s social and environmental injustices first-hand. I
wanted to understand how people I met in Toronto could describe Israel as an environmental
steward, as it oppresses my people and I have seen the Israeli army protect Israeli settlers, as they
burned my village’s olive trees. In addition, I wanted to understand how Israel’s environmental
policies fit within Israel’s system of oppression. By highlighting how Israel’s self-image as an
environmental steward is false, I hope my research can refocus attention on Israel’s oppression
of the indigenous Palestinians and urges readers to join the call for Boycott, Divestment, and
Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. More generally, my research stresses the need to view humans
and the environment as inseparable entities, since this paper demonstrates how social harm
frequently causes environmental harm and vice versa.
This paper demonstrates how Israel uses environmental policy to sustain its oppressive status
quo, rather than the environment. This paper is divided into four parts. First, I explain how past
colonial and apartheid states used environmental policy to sustain their oppressive status quos.
Second, I describe how Israel employs systems of colonialism, capitalism, and apartheid. Third, I
explain how these systems harm not only the indigenous Palestinians, but also the environment.
Fourth, I explain how Israel uses environmental policy to advance its oppressive agenda. I also
explain how this policy often harms the environment. This paper concludes by explaining how
Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinian cause are resisting against Israel’s oppression. In
sum, this paper argues that all oppressive systems, such as Israel’s colonialism, capitalism, and
apartheid, must be dismantled in order to safeguard human and environmental interests. I argue
that environmental policy used by states, like Israel, to advance colonialism, capitalism, and/or
apartheid must be rejected by all environmentalists. Indeed, I argue that the definition of the term
environment needs to be widened to include humans, since human and environmental fates are
inextricably linked, (Mcdonald 2002, pg. 3). This paper combines scholarly research with
personal narrative, drawing on my personal experience, as a Palestinian who witnessed Israel’s
For Mom and Dad, and Palestine, with love
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FOREWORD ….………………………………………………………………………………………… II
TABLE OF CONTENTS………………………………………………………………………………... V
INTRODUCTION ………...…………………………………………………………………………...… 1
A PERSONAL ANECDOTE ……………………………………………...……………...……... 1
Figure 1. Olive Trees on Fire ………...…………………………..………………………………...2
OUTLINE ……...………………………………………………………………………………… 2
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK ………...……………………………………………………... 3
1. GREENWASHING COLONIALISM ……………...……………………………..………………… 4
COLONIAL ROOTS OF ENVIRONMENTALISM ………………………………………...….. 4
ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY FOR POLITICAL INTERESTS ………...…….……...……….. 7
NATIONAL PARKS …………………………………………………...…………………...…….. 7
FOREST RESERVES …………………………………………………………………………... 10
AGRICULTURE ……..………………………………………………………………………….. 11
GAME PARKS AND IRRIGATION ………………………………………...........………..… 12
LEGITIMIZATION, GREENWASHING, AND CAPITALISM …….....…….…………..… 13
ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY FOR ECONOMIC INTERESTS …………...……..………..... 17
ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY FOR APARTHEID …………………...…………………........ 18
2. ISRAEL’S COLONIAL AND APARTHEID LEGACY….….…...…………….…………..…...… 21
ZIONISM AND COLONIALISM……………………………………………….……………… 21
PALESTINIAN CATASTROPHE…………………….……………………………………...… 23
OCCUPATION ………………………………….…….……………………………………...… 25
Figure 2. The Colonization of Palestine ………...……...………………………………………... 28
ISRAELI APARTHEID ……………..………………..………………………………………… 30
ISRAELI CAPITALISM …………………….………………………………………..………... 31
3. ISRAEL’S DEVASTATION OF THE ENVIRONMENT ………..……….……….…..………..... 33
ZIONISM AND THE ENVIRONMENT……………………….…………………………….... 33
ISRAELI OCCUPATION’S IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT …………………...……… 34
INDUSTRIAL ZONES: WEST BANK …...………………………………………...…… 35
Figure 3. Israeli Industries in the West Bank …………………………………………... 36
WAR: GAZA ………………….…….……………………………………………..…..... 37
WATER ……………………….…….……………………………………………..…..... 40
WATER APPROPRIATION ……………………….…………………………..……………..... 41
ECOSYSTEM DEGRADATION ………….………………………..………………..……….... 43
ISRAELI AGRICULTURE ………………….………….……………………………..... 46
DEFORESTATION AND ISRAEL’S APARTHEID WALL ……………..…………………... 48
Figure 4. Apartheid Wall ………………………..………………..………...……………..……... 49
SETTLEMENTS …………………………………….………………………………………...... 49
CLIMATE CHANGE …..………………..…………...……………………………...………..... 51
Figure 5. Countries Ranked by Ecological Footprint per Capita ……..…....……………..……... 52
Figure 6. Countries with Biocapacity Deficit ………………………………………………….... 53
4. ISRAEL’S GREENWASHING ………...………………………………..………………………..... 54
INTRODUCTION ……………………………………………………………………...……..... 55
‘GREEN COUNTRY’ PROPAGANDA ……………………………….……………………..... 56
Figure 7. SWU Israel Environment Propaganda Pamphlet ...……….…...………..…..……... 59, 60
JNF ……………………………………………………………………………...……………..... 61
RACIST, COLONIAL HISTORY ……………….....…………………………………..... 64
AYTZIM AND ARAVA ……………………………………………………….……………..... 66
ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY FOR ISRAELI POLITICAL INTERESTS …….…….…….... 73
CULTIVATION AND “MAKING THE DESERT BLOOM” ………………………….... 73
Figure 8. Nabulsi Soap ....………………………………………………………..……... 75
FORESTS ………….…………...……………………………………………………..... 76
NATIONAL PARKS AND NATURE RESERVES ……….....……………...…………..... 78
ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY FOR ISRAELI ECONOMIC INTERESTS ………..……….... 81
CONCLUSION AND MOVING FORWARD ……………………….…………….......…………...... 83
BIBLIOGRAPHY …………………...………………………………………………………………..... 90
Sasa, Ghada VIII
This paper would not have been completed without the incredible support I have
received from my dear family, friends, comrades, and advising committee.
I would like to thank my supervisor, Professor Sabah Alnasseri, for his valuable support,
advice, and encouragement. I would like to thank my advisor, Professor Ellie Perkins, for her
patience, guidance, and useful feedback on my drafts. I also wish to thank Professor Carla
Lipsig-Mummé for providing continual support, going beyond her role as incredibly inspiring
In addition, I would like to thank my friends, Rachelle and Hammam, for providing
advice on my paper, and Elias, for editing my paper, providing advice, and following up to
ensure I stayed focused on writing. I would also like to thank Yara, Bilal, and Karen for
providing useful reading material, and Khalto Layla, for her endless encouragement, and
following up on the progress on my paper.
Finally, I must express my profound gratitude and thanks to my parents, who nurtured
my love for Palestine and social justice, supported me always, and pushed me to excel in my
studies. Their selflessness, optimism, kindness, and courage taught me to persevere, even in the
most difficult of times.
A personal anecdote
A couple of months after returning to Canada to pursue my Master in Environmental
Studies, I attended an event, which highlighted Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.
After the talk, I began to discuss the content with a classmate who suddenly countered:
“But Israel is the only country in the Middle East that cares about the environment!” I was
shocked. His attempt to justify Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights by highlighting its
supposed environmentalism was dehumanizing. I had also just come back from a trip to the West
Bank, which was occupied by Israel. Images flashed through my mind of a day when Israeli
settlers descended upon my Palestinian village of Madama and burned scores of our olive trees.
The settlers were accompanied by the Israeli army. When Palestinians tried to stop the settlers,
the Israeli army fired tear gas and sound bombs at the Palestinians. This kind of social and
environmental injustice, in which Israeli colonists had impunity to assault Palestinian people and
land, was a regular part of life for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
My classmate’s retort that Israel cared about the environment was incredibly flawed and
offensive. However, Israel has spent a lot of money to brand itself as a “Green Country” in
recent years, (Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection 2012). Israel’s “leading
environmental agency”, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), has played an instrumental role in the
greening of Israel’s image by promoting its successes in forestation, combating desertification,
and rehabilitating forests, (JNF website 2017, n.p.). Israel’s green image helps legitimize it, as a
progressive and moral nation, rather than an oppressive colonial, capitalist, and apartheid state,
which continues to harm millions of Palestinians and the environment.
Figure 1. Olive Trees on Fire. A photo taken by my brother of the fire, which was started by
Israeli settlers on the hills of our village of Madama, located in the occupied West Bank, (2015).
This paper is divided into four parts. The first draws from the existing literature on green
colonialism to explain how past colonial states used environmental policy to advance their
oppressive agendas. The second part demonstrates how Israel operates as a colonial, capitalist,
and apartheid state, since its birth. A brief historical overview of Zionism, Palestinian
displacement, Israeli occupation, Israeli apartheid, and Israeli capitalism is provided. The third
part highlights how Israel harms the environment, in addition to the indigenous Palestinians. The
last part demonstrates how Israel uses environmental policy and crafts its self-image as an
environmental steward to advance its colonial agenda. This paper concludes by discussing how
Palestinians are resisting against Israel’s oppression and what they can learn from the anti-
apartheid struggle in South Africa in their fight for social and environmental justice. The
conclusion also stresses the need to view humans and the environment as inseparable entities,
and the need for environmentalists to reject any kind of environmental policy that is used to
advance an oppressive agenda.
This research contributes to colonial and environmental studies, as it explains how Israel
operates green colonialism. The concept of green colonialism lacks a precise definition. I define
the concept in this paper as the use of environmental policy to advance a colonial agenda. This
concept is not to be confused with that of ecological imperialism, which stresses how
environmental destruction can facilitate colonial expansion, (Crosby 1986). Based on my
intensive research, the book Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and
the Origins of Environmentalism 1600–1860 (Grove 1995) is the most comprehensive text
available on the topic of green colonialism. In this book, Grove demonstrates how
environmentalism has much of its roots in colonialism. Green colonialism has been linked to
various countries, such as Canada (Jago 2017), India (Kumar 2012), South Africa (McDonald
2002), and Zimbabwe (Kwashirai 2009). How Israel operates green colonialism is neglected in
academia. Some research has been done on the JNF, which uncovers the colonial and
greenwashing role of this organization, notably by Kershnar, Levy, Benjamin, Scandrett,
Deutsch, Schwartzman, Blumenthal, Abu-Sitta, Balsam, Zayid, Sahlab, Hat-Artichoker, and
Kovel (2011) in their book Greenwashing Apartheid: The Jewish National Fund’s
Environmental Cover Up. However, this paper explains how Israel operates green colonialism
beyond the JNF and how Israel’s actions fit into an established colonial pattern. Israel’s negative
impact on the environment is also often neglected in academia. This paper provides a unique
comprehensive overview of how Israel operates colonialism, capitalism, and apartheid, and how
these systems intersect to harm Palestinians and the environment.
1. GREENWASHING COLONIALISM
Colonial roots of environmentalism
Environment is a broad concept that can be defined in different ways. However, it
typically encompasses non-human elements, such as water, air, and plants. Environmentalism is
a movement or philosophy aimed at protecting or improving the health of these elements,
(Merriam Webster 2017, n.p.). The movement emerged in different parts of the world,
throughout history, and dates back centuries. However, as Grove (1995) argues:
…it was not until the mid seventeenth century that a coherent and relatively
organised awareness of the ecological impact of the demands of emergent
capitalism and colonial rule started to develop, to grow into a fully fledged
understanding of the limited nature of the earth's natural resources and to
stimulate a concomitant awareness of a need for conservation.
According to Grove, environmentalism fully emerged in the 17
century, as a response to the
negative impacts of capitalism and colonialism on the environment. Capitalism and colonialism
also emerged during the 17
century, (Hobsbawm 1960, pg. 107). While there is a longer
history shaping the development of both capitalism and colonialism, leading British historian
Hobsbawm states neither system fully emerged until the 17
This convergence in histories is of no coincidence, since capitalism and colonialism had
one common goal. The goal was to make profit. As an economic and political system, capitalism
sought to maximize profit by exploiting cheap labour and natural resources, (Lapon 2011).
Colonialism, Murphy (2009) says, is a form of imperialism, (pg. 5). Colonialism refers to a
period when a small number of European countries extended formal political control over land
on other continents, (pg. 6). In the 17
century, Britain and France occupied Australasia and
North America, and Europe took control of much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America in the 19
century. And as Blaut (1993) argues, “[t]he goal of all European individuals and groups involved
in the colonial process (clergy apart) was to make money”, (pg. 281).
Colonialism generated tons of capital through gold and silver mining, plantation
agriculture, trade in spices and cloth, slavery, piracy, and other ways. Commodities, such as
sugar, tobacco, coffee, tea, cotton, furs, feathers, timber, and rubber were transported from the
colonies to Europe, where they became consumer goods, (Murphy 2009, pg. 9). As countries
depleted their own natural resources, due to capitalist policies, and in their search for more
valuable resources, they colonized new territories and exploited their people’s labour and
resources. The search for timber, for example, lay behind British expansionism in North America
and elsewhere, (Grove 1995, pg. 389). Malaysia also became “Britain’s most valuable tropical
colony”, because it supplied rubber for the mass production of cars, (Murphy 2009, pg. 10).
Colonialism fuelled European capitalism and spread capitalism to other regions in the world.
Colonialism, coupled with capitalism, devastated not only millions of people, over the
years, but also many environments, (Crosby 1986). Europeans brought new plants and animals,
whether deliberately or accidentally, to the lands they colonized, (pg. 136). Some of these new
species severely altered colonized environments, (pg. 136). For example, the European
introduction of cattle in Central America and the Caribbean coast contributed to severe soil
erosion, the effects of which can still be felt today, (Grove 1995, pg. 63). However, as Crosby
(1986) highlights, it was disease, which accompanied some European animals, that played the
biggest role in altering colonized environments and devastating indigenous people. While
Europeans evolved immunological defences to these diseases, having interacted in close
proximity with these animals over a long time, the majority of the colonized populations did not
and were thus rendered “defenceless”, (pg. 286). Consequently, disease quickly killed much of
the indigenous populations Europeans encountered, (pg. 38). These epidemics facilitated
European colonial expansion to a greater degree than military might, according to Crosby, since
many of the indigenous people that could have resisted colonialism were killed by disease.
Europeans also destroyed the forests of many of the territories they colonized, to make
way for plantation agriculture, dramatically altering the landscape of these territories, (Grove
1995). European deforestation caused soil erosion, the drying of streams, and even reduction in
rainfall. According to Grove, the speed and severity of the ecological degradation of colonized
territories, due to colonialism and capitalism, alarmed European colonial empires and prompted
them to begin implementing environmental policies. Therefore, environmentalism emerged as a
European colonial response to the destructive consequences of colonialism and capitalism.
However, colonial empires implemented environmental policies out of self-interest and
not out of concern for the environment or the indigenous people they were decimating. Murphy
(2009) states colonists pursued two strategies to inform their environmental policy, (pg. 14).
These strategies were conservation and preservation. Conservation of nature helped colonial
states ensure they could exploit resources from territories they colonized over the long term.
Preservation of nature helped colonial states maintain “nature in its natural state regardless of its
utility”. Colonial states used both strategies to benefit their political and economic interests,
rather than the environment, as I explain below.
Environmental policy for political interests
The environmental policy of national parks can advance colonial political interests in
many ways. National parks were first established by Western colonial powers, such as the United
States (U.S.), (Robbins 2007, pg. 1203). Informed by a preservationist strategy, national parks
seek to keep nature in its existing state by reserving land for sole state ownership and excluding
people from their grounds. After all, Western views of nature hold that people need to be
excluded from nature in order to protect it, (Ramutsindela 2005, pg. 2).
Due to their exclusionist trait, national parks are often exploited as a tool of dispossession
by colonial states. In the U.S., national parks have been linked to ethnic cleansing, since natives
have been forcibly removed and their treaty rights to traditional land use for hunting and fishing
erased, often without acknowledgment or compensation, to make way for national parks, (Kantor
2007, pg. 42). Meanwhile, natives were branded as “incapable of appreciating the natural world”,
because they hunted animals and set fires, (pg. 49). Throughout Africa, the establishment of
national parks also involved the “removal, social dislocation, and exclusion of indigenous
communities”, (Mcdonald 2002, pg. 135). Africans have also been portrayed “homogenously
in the role of poachers and whites in the role of conservationists”, (pg. 19).
Meanwhile, preservationist environmental policies, like national parks, tend to target
areas that are relatively unaffected by development, where indigenous people are already
struggling to preserve their livelihoods and cultures against external encroachment,
(Murphy 2009, pg. 15). The natural landscape of an area designated to become a national park,
which tends to include forests, mountains, water, and thick vegetation, can provide a great degree
of cover and isolation, so people could organize and express themselves culturally and
politically, relatively autonomously, (McNeill 2004, pg. 21). The inhabitants of these areas
could, thus, control and define their own identities, (Dahl, Hicks, and Jull 2000, pg. 175). By
creating national parks and expelling their inhabitants, colonial powers could then not only gain
control of a new territory, but also a territory, which could provide cover for anti-colonial, anti-
government, or anti-capitalist organizing. By creating national parks, colonial powers could also
gain control of the people who inhabited the areas, dispossessing them culturally, politically,
physically, and spiritually, and drawing them into the colonial state’s society and economy.
After the removals of indigenous people, parks are often advertised as a showcase of
uninhabited land or “nature’s handiwork unspoiled”, (Kantor 2007, pg. 42). The history of the
people who inhabited the land, named its features, and harvested and hunted its plants and
animals for thousands of years is simply erased. National parks, thus I argue, help advance the
political interests of colonial states in two significant ways. First, they help justify colonial land
grab and the dispossession of indigenous people. Indigenous people are blamed for
environmental destruction and ineffective resource management in this process. Colonial states
also argue that the exclusion of people is the only way to protect nature. Second, national parks
falsely portray areas as uninhabited, erasing the pre-colonial histories of the parks and hiding the
criminal actions of colonial states, helping to further dispossess indigenous people, (Robbins
2007, pg. 1206). Knowledge of the benefits national parks provide colonial powers is
unsurprising given the historical fact that national parks were first established by colonial
powers, such as the U.S.
And while national parks are created on the premise that they benefit the environment,
many argue national parks do more harm than good, (Robbins 2007, pg. 1206). Critics of
national parks argue that nature is constantly changing. Using preservation tactics to maintain a
landscape in its existing state, as in the case of national parks, is interfering with natural
processes and can actually reduce biodiversity, degrading the health of the environment.
For example, Parks Canada (2017), which governs Canada's national parks, recently
prohibited the use of power boats and other trailered boats in Waterton Lakes National Park,
(n.p.). Parks Canada argues that the prohibition of boats will help prevent zebra and quagga
mussels from “contaminat[ing]” the park. Parks Canada explains that zebra and quagga mussels,
which were introduced from Europe into North America in 1980s, cling to boats, spread quickly,
and outcompete native aquatic species for food. In addition, Parks Canada states: “No method,
technology or natural predator exists to remove invasive mussels once established in a water
body”. However, Parks Canada uses vague language and does not provide any references to back
its statements, as to how these mussels harm Canadian ecosystems. Back in 2008, Canadian
aquatic ecologist Professor Radu Guiasu also provided evidence that, in some Ontario locations,
zebra mussel populations were stabilizing or even declining, (pg. 32). He adds:
Both zebra and quagga mussels have become important food sources for several
local species in Ontario, […]. At Long Point, on the shore of Lake Erie, for
example, these waterfowl eat large quantities of introduced mussels, keeping
mussel populations in check naturally.
While noting that “deliberate species introductions can have unpredictable consequences and
they should never be attempted casually”, Guiasu argues that zebra and quagga mussels,
demonized as threats to Canadian ecosystems by Parks Canada, can be actually having a positive
impact on some Canadian ecosystems, serving as an important food source for many aquatic
species. Rather than attempting to reduce the numbers of these mussels, according to Guiasu:
“Perhaps the best thing we can do for many wilderness areas and the species they shelter”, he
adds “is to leave them alone as much as possible and allow them to continue to exist and evolve
on their own”. Of course, even if national parks were to benefit certain species, they should
never justify human rights violations. However, criticism of the ecological impact of national
parks reinforces the argument that national parks are used as a tool to advance a colonial agenda,
rather than benefit the environment. This criticism also demonstrates how social harm, even in
the form of environmental policy, often translates to environmental harm.
Forest reserves are state-protected natural areas, which serve to preserve or conserve
nature, (National Forest Foundation 2017, n.p.). Forest reserves also have a colonial history,
(Grove 1995), They were first established by European colonial powers in the colonized
territories of Mauritius, St Helena, St Vincent, South Africa, and India. These reserves were
“useful in controlling uruly peoples and 'tribes', claiming territory and organising economic
space”, helping to advance colonial political interests, (pg. 280). For instance, during the 18
century, the British decided to establish forest reserves on the island of St Vincent, which they
had colonized, partly to control the rebellious indigenous Carib population, (pg. 290).
According to Grove, Caribs constituted “one of the most effective groups of organised
military (and non-military) resisters ever encountered during British colonial rule," (pg. 282).
British settlement commissioners attributed the effectiveness of the Caribs’ resistance to the
Caribs’ use of “extensive forest cover of the island in a very effective military sense”, (pg. 290).
Forests, according to McNeill (2004), “have always been and still remain important strategic and
tactical assets in combat”, (pg. 21). Besides serving as a source of war materials, forests “serve
as an obstacle to movement, especially of cavalry and artillery, and provide concealment or
cover, especially to infantry or irregular forces”. Indeed, the commissioners noted that the Caribs
made “any access to [them] impracticable”, since they surrounded themselves with wood, (Grove
1995, pg. 290). By creating forest reserves, the British could expel Caribs from the forests,
weakening the Caribs militarily. Indeed, after the British crushed the Carib uprising, which was
waged against British colonization and forest reservation, they expelled the Caribs not only from
the forests, but from the whole island, forcibly transferring the Caribs to the nearby island of
Bequia, (pg. 287). Grove states forest reserves have since become “frequently associated with
forced resettlement”. The creation of forest reserves, thus, helps colonists not only claim territory
and justify displacement, under the pretext of environmental protection, but also dispossess
indigenous people from a very important military defence tactic in the form of forest.
Agriculture, which involves cultivating and conserving species, can also advance
colonial political interests. In 1760, Emmerich de Vattel claimed that only those who practised
settled agriculture had the right to control land, because cultivation was the only way to ensure
the subsistence of the human race, (pg. 286). Those who did who did not cultivate, Vattel stated,
“are wanting to themselves, and deserve to be exterminated as savage and pernicious beasts”.
Based on Vattel’s genocidal claims, European colonists often justified colonial annexation and
the acquisition of 'sovereignty' by claiming that colonized people did not cultivate land and, thus,
did not have the right to own land, (pg. 266). In the case of St Vincent, the British argued that the
Caribs hardly cultivated their land and for what little cultivation they practised “appeared merely
in small disturbed spots of provision ground near to their cabins... worked entirely by women; for
the rest of the Caribs drew their sustenance by their guns or from the seas,” (pg. 285).
Referencing Vattel, the British went on to dehumanize the Caribs, delegitimize the Caribs’
claims to land ownership, and justify British takeover of St Vincent. By cultivating St Vincent
themselves, the British argued that it was they, not the indigenous Caribs, who had the right to
own the island. Colonists, therefore, can use agriculture or as means of claiming land ownership
and dispossessing indigenous people.
Game parks and irrigation
Game parks, which reserve land primarily for the protection of animals, also help
advance colonial political interests by “[fixing] the fluid and porous boundaries of indigenous
communities” in Africa, (Murphy 2009, pg. 22). The fixture of boundaries forces migrant people
to become sedentary, making it easier for the colonial government to control them. Therefore,
the African version of wildlife conservation history portrays game parks as “white inventions
which elevate wildlife above humanity” and which serve as “instruments of dispossession and
subjugation”, (McDonald 2002, pg. 134).
On the other had, irrigation has been used for centuries, by nations across the world, to
supply water to plants. However, colonial powers also use irrigation to encourage nomads to
become sedentary, (Murphy 2009, pg. 11). In addition, irrigation helps to draw nomads into
wage labour and orientate agriculture towards overseas markets, making colonies more profitable
for colonial powers.
Legitimization, greenwashing, and capitalism
Environmental policy also helps legitimize colonial states, (pg. 13). For instance, the
Netherlands traded bird-of-paradise feathers out of Indonesia, which they colonized, in the 19th
century. The indiscriminate slaughter of birds in Indonesia led to local outrage. When this
outrage spread overseas, the Dutch government was pressured to show they were “good
colonialists”. Policies to protect the bird-of-paradise followed, in what became the first case in
which “public opinion in developed countries was mobilized to influence environmental policy
elsewhere in the world”. Therefore, according to Murray, “early conservation policies [which
were implemented by colonial countries] were motivated by legitimacy problems rather than
enlightened self-interest or some sense of doing the right thing”.
The use of environmental policy to legitimize oppressive states grew with the rise of
environmental consciousness. Environmental, feminist, anti-war, and human rights activism all
boomed during the 1960s, (Entine 1995, n.p.). Environmental protection, especially pollution
control, began to rise in response, (Barry and Frankland 2014, pg. 19). In the 1990s, a movement
known as "socially responsible capitalism”, or cause-related marketing (CRM), also grew and
was led by corporations, such as The Body Shop, (Entine 1995, n.p.). CRM is defined as “a type
of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in which a company’s promotional campaign has the
dual purpose of increasing profitability while bettering society”, (Organ 2017, n.p.). By creating
“ethical policy”, companies could market themselves as socially responsible, attracting and
profiting off ethically conscious consumers. CRM quickly became a “hot business”. As of 1995,
for instance, British people spent 25 billion pounds a year with companies “seen as progressive”.
To be seen as progressive, many corporations began enacting environmental policy,
marketing their products and/or practices as environmentally friendly, even when they were not.
This type of false green marketing is known as greenwashing, (Barry and Frankland 2014, pg.
19). Greenwashing is modeled on the word “whitewashing”, which is defined as “a coordinated
attempt to hide unpleasant facts, especially in a political context,” (Greenwashing Index 2017,
n.p.). Greenwashing has the same premise, but in an environmental context. An entity complicit
in greenwashing tries to “hide unpleasant facts” by marketing itself as environmentally friendly.
For example, UK-based The Body Shop, which is widely seen as “in the vanguard of
‘environmentally responsible’ companies” and as “one of the world’s leading ethically run
businesses”, has created environmental policy around “energy efficiency”, “waste management
and pollution control”, and “testing and marketing around safe products”, (Robbins 2001, pg. 96-
97). The company’s founder advocated worldwide for rainforests, whales, and the homeless, and
against acid rain and exploiters of developing countries. However, The Body Shop “is perhaps
widely known as being ‘against animal testing’”, (pg. 96). On its website, The Body Shop (2017)
also regularly promotes initiatives aimed at bettering communities and the environment.
Currently, it argues that people “restore 1 square metre of rainforest bio-bridge
with every purchase” of its products, helping to “connect rare species by linking habitats of
biodiversity and enabling local communities to live sustainably” in Vietnam, (n.p.).
However, The Body Shop is a multinational capitalist corporation, (Purkayastha 2007,
pg. 21). As such, it is part of an “unpleasant” capitalist system that profits off the exploitation of
people and the environment, (Klein 2014). Indeed, leading scholars and environmentalists, such
as Naomi Klein, argue that capitalism is inherently harmful towards the environment, since it
encourages infinite consumption of natural resources, for infinite growth in profit, on a finite
planet, (pg. 58). Klein contends that capitalism is fuelling climate change, which is causing
large-scale human and environmental devastation, due to extreme weather, loss of ecosystems,
loss of biodiversity, and sea level rise, (pg. 13). Due to these effects, climate change is today
recognized as “the biggest threat facing humanity”, (The International Fund for Agricultural
Development 2016, n.p.). How could The Body Shop (2017) strive to “enrich not exploit”, as per
its website, while it is part of a capitalist system that is based on exploitation and has been
fuelling catastrophic climate change?
Indeed, Purkayastha (2007) highlights how, in 1998, The Body Shop was slammed by
environmental non-governmental organization, Greenpeace UK, for how it “exploited the public
by championing various agendas while it was actually more similar to other corporate attempts”,
(pg. 7). Greenpeace UK argued that The Body Shop’s products were not natural, but had been
synthesized and produced. Though The Body Shop claimed it was against animal testing, its
products also contained ingredients that had been tested on animals by other companies.
Greenpeace UK also dismissed the company’s marketing of Community Trade products (CTP),
which The Body Shop claimed were sourced from marginalized communities for a fair price in a
sustainable way. CTP, Greenpeace UK argued, was a mere marketing ploy, as it accounted for
less than one percent of sales of The Body Shop’s products. CTP was also labelled as patronizing
and was said to have created tensions and divisions within indigenous communities, while
undermining their self-sufficiency and self-dependence. Greenpeace UK also stressed that The
Body Shop paid exploitative wages to its workers and had an anti-trade union stance. In 2006,
The Body Shop also agreed to be acquired by the beauty care giant L’Oréal, which tested on
animals and which had “yet to show its commitment to any ethical issues at all”, (pg. 1). The
Body Shop’s anti-union stance, harmful impact on various indigenous communities, synthetic
products, and sell-out to L’Oréal prove that the company prioritizes profit over environmental
and human well being, like other capitalist companies.
As explained by Beard (2013), CRM simply “allows businesses to continue harmful
practices while putting up a facade of philanthropy that does nothing to tackle the root causes of
[problems] that lead to the need for […] help” from corporations in the first place, (pg. 2). The
root cause of some of the gravest social and environmental problems facing the world today is
capitalism. Corporations, such as The Body Shop, use CRM not only to greenwash their
capitalist operations and the capitalist system supporting their profits, but to also encourage
people to consume more products and directly contribute to the capitalist system. Worse, CRM
businesses undermine activism by convincing people they are doing their part to do good for the
world simply by buying certain products rather than working to overhaul the capitalist system,
While some argue that “well intentioned” corporations can help to “reform” capitalism
into a more socially and environmentally responsible system, such corporations are few in
numbers, according to Zarembka, (2009, pg. 184). In the end, “big, big business will force
corporations to the only road they know, that of profit, competition and capital accumulation
with no real frills unless it aids profit by dressing up corporate image”. Zarembka adds that “a
system based on private ownership of the means of production, profit, competition and the drive
to capital accumulation [capitalism] is unlikely to reform much”, at least not from internal
pressure, (pg. 196). Capitalist reform must come from external pressure on big business, whether
from workers or the state, as has worked in the past, rather than from a number of entrepreneurs.
As demonstrated by the cases of the Netherlands and The Body Shop, environmental
policy can be used to greenwash or legitimate colonialism and capitalism. I refer to Israel as a
modern example of a colonial state that greenwashes its oppressive practices in the fourth part of
this paper. Overall, environmental policies can help advance colonial political interests, whether
by displacing locals, expanding state control, or legitimizing colonialism and capitalism.
Environmental policy for economic interests
Environmental policy can also advance colonial economic interests. After all,
environmental degradation threatens the “long-term economic security” of the colonial state, (pg.
7). This security relies on government income and the viability of resources in the territories
being colonized, such as timber, (pg. 15). France saw a “continuous supply of useful timber”, as
“absolutely necessary”. Therefore, after it began to deplete timber in territories it was colonizing,
during the 17
century, it set up forest reserves. As a conservation tool, these reserves prevented
French settlers and indigenous people from using the trees, so the French government could
guarantee it could exploit them for timber, for its own benefit, over the long term. In addition,
the creation of some forest reserves involved the “effective biological reconstruction of the forest
environment to serve the economic interests of the state”, (pg. 10). Premiums were also often
provided by colonial states for the planting of economically valuable trees, such as cinnamon.
European colonialism also marked the first time botanical gardens were established for
scientific contribution, (pg. 73). Botanical gardens were used for experiments in raising “rare and
useful plants”, (pg. 196). These experiments were particularly important in the context of the
lucrative European spice trade. European colonists transferred many spice crops to the colonies
in an attempt to grow and sell them. Colonists transferred such crops without regard for how they
may harm the environment. In addition, botanical gardens were used to study “unfamiliar floras,
faunas and geologies”, so colonists could better exploit the riches of the lands they colonized,
(pg. 8). Medical surgeons were also employed by colonial states, for the first time, as state
scientists and custodians of botanical gardens. From forest reserves to botanical gardens, key
environmental policies emerged with European colonial and commercial expansion. Colonial
powers used these policies to ensure they can exploit resources over the long term.
Environmental policy for apartheid
"Apartheid reveals with exceptional clarity the way unfairness within the human estate extends
its damage into the natural estate as well."
— Alan B. Durning (1990, n.p.)
Environmental policy can also help sustain apartheid. Apartheid is defined in
international law as a “system of acts taken by a state which violate the basic rights of one group
of people for the purpose of keeping another in power”, (Munayyer 2017, n.p.). As per this
definition, the oppressive system of apartheid mirrors that of colonialism. Indeed, apartheid is
often described as an extension of colonialism, (Gorelick 1986, pg. 75). The United Nations
(UN) also “assimilated colonialism and apartheid by asserting that both give rise to the right of
self-determination”, (pg. 71). However, while both colonialism and apartheid are considered to
be “severe violations of international law” and “absolutely prohibited for states”, apartheid is
also defined by the UN as a “crime against humanity”, (Palestinian BDS National Committee
The word apartheid was first used to describe “the system of racial segregation and
subjugation of the African and other non-white population of South Africa by white settlers from
1948 to 1994”. Apartheid not only inevitably harmed blacks, who became marginalized
economically and politically in their own country, but also the environment, (McDonald 2002).
For example, the apartheid government marginalized black South Africans, who made up 70% of
the population of the country, by moving and confining them to a meagre 13% of South Africa’s
land, (pg. 134). This act of displacement “inevitably led to environmental degradation”, as it
perpetuated the spiritual and physical estrangement of blacks from their land and it led to
overpopulation, poverty, and a lack of access to basic services, (pg. 21). Poverty, coupled with
estrangement from their land, ensured that few black South Africans had the means, the
inclination, or the leisure to engage in conservation activities. Meanwhile, an inferior education
system, introduced for blacks by the apartheid regime, resulted in widespread illiteracy and semi-
literacy, obstructing the development of an aware and informed public, able and willing to
participate in environmental decision-making. By artificially overcrowding land designated for
blacks, the land also quickly became one of “the world’s most degraded”, (Durning, 1990, n.p.).
Like colonialism, I argue apartheid is not only inherently harmful to the people it oppresses, but
also the environment, due to its exploitative character.
Apartheid South Africa was also capitalist. As a racist and capitalist state, it heavily
exploited the labour and natural resources of black South Africans for the profit of the white
colonial elite, (Soske and Jacobs 2015, pg. 69). This exploitation severely harmed the
environment. For example, the apartheid government deregulated mining and industry to finance
the military superstructure that upheld minority rule, (Durning 1990, n.p.). According to
McDonald (2002), mining and industry under apartheid were “virtually immune to effective
environmental regulation”, allowing them to harm the health of people, (especially black
workers), and the environment, (pg. 63). The consequences of such environmental degradation
were meanwhile largely confined to areas designated for blacks.
Apartheid South Africa also poorly managed landfill sites and heavily used agricultural
pesticides and fertilizers, which polluted soil, air, and water, (pg. 71). In addition, apartheid dried
water sources for the poor due to heavy water consumption by the formal sector. White residents
also used more than two thirds the amount used by the black township residents for swimming
pools, gardens, and white domestic consumption, (pg. 245). It will take decades, if not centuries,
to erase Apartheid South Africa’s environmental legacy, (pg. 103). Apartheid devastated black
South Africans and their environment due to its exploitative nature and its prioritization of profit
for the white elite above the interests of black people and the environment.
Yet, as colonial regimes that preceded it, Apartheid South Africa implemented
environmental policies. The apartheid government used these policies to perpetuate its
oppression. For instance, thousands of black South Africans were forcibly removed from their
lands to make way for game parks and national parks during the apartheid era, (pg. 1). In 1969,
Apartheid authorities forced 3,000 Makuleke people to leave and burn their homes at gunpoint in
Kruger National Park, which is the second oldest national park in the world, (pg. 136). Apartheid
South Africa also used this park to train its soldiers, secretly supply material to Renamo in
Mozambique, and even launch a chemical weapons attack on Frelimo troops in 1992, (pg. 136).
Thus, national parks helped Apartheid South Africa expand its territorial control, dispossess
locals, and advance its military objectives.
On the other hand, the archaeological record of the park and the contribution of black
labour were completely neglected, (pg. 132). Blacks were also excluded from power, authority,
and influence in decision-making and policy formulation within national parks. Meanwhile,
whites-only policies in national parks and draconian poaching laws kept rural poor from
desparatetly needed resources. The only blacks allowed to remain in the parks were paid
labourers. Hence, black South Africans came to see environmental policy as an “explicit tool of
racially-based oppression”. Like colonialism, apartheid harmed people and the environment. And
like colonists, apartheid authorities used environmental policies to maintain their oppressive
hold. Both colonialism and apartheid also worked hand in hand with capitalism.
2. ISRAEL’S COLONIAL AND APARTHEID LEGACY
“We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it
in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country... expropriation and
the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly".
— Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, (Tolan 2015, pg. 18)
Zionism and colonialism
Israel uses environmental policy in order to advance its colonial and apartheid agenda,
as oppressive regimes that preceded it. This legacy, which has devastates Palestinians and the
environment, can be traced back to the emergence of Zionism in the late 19
Zionism is a European colonial ideology. It emerged in Europe, as a movement that
sought to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, (Mayamey 2010, pg. 2). While Zionists
argued that the establishment of a Jewish state was the only way to end anti-Semitic persecution
in Europe, they sought to establish it in a state that was already inhabited. Palestine was
inhabited by the Palestinian people, the vast majority of whom were Muslim, not Jewish.
Robinson (1973) notes that Zionists knew from early on that Palestine was populated, but they
were indifferent to this fact due to European supremacist views, (pg. 39). Europeans viewed any
territory outside of Europe as open to European colonization, (pg. 40).
Not only were Zionists indifferent, Palestinian presence was seen as an obstacle to their
goal of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. Indeed, leading Zionists advocated for the
“transfer” of Palestinians in order to get rid of this obstacle, (pg. 16). For instance, Joseph Weitz,
who was the director of the Land and Afforestation Department of Israel’s JNF, wrote in 1940:
We shall not achieve our goal of being an independent people with the Arabs in
this small country. The only solution is Palestine, at least Western Palestine [west
of the Jordan River] without Arabs ... And there is no other way but to transfer the
Arabs from here to the neighboring countries; to transfer all of them; not one
village, not one tribe should be left.
“Transfer” is a euphemism for ethnic cleansing, (Institute for Middle East Understanding 2013,
n.p.). Weitz sought to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their lands in order to establish a
Jewish state. Other leading Zionist figures, such as Ussishkin, (head of the JNF), Ben Gurion,
(Israel’s would be first prime minister), and Herzl, (the founder of Zionism himself), also openly
advocated for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, (Robinson 1973, pg. 16). Zionism emerged as
a European colonial phenomenon, seeking to create a Jewish State in Palestine through a process
of ethnic cleansing.
Zionism, as a colonial project, was soon achieved through an alliance with the colonial
power of Britain, (Massad 2012, n.p.). Britain began to occupy Palestine in 1917 and it provided
Zionists strong army support, (Rodinson 1973, pg. 20). Britain also gave Zionists the opportunity
to develop fundamental social, political, and economic infrastructure, (Mayamey 2010, pg. 12).
This opportunity was denied to the non-Jewish Palestinians. It was in 1917 that Britain also
passed the Balfour Declaration, which recommended the “establishment in Palestine of a
national home for the Jewish people”, (UN Information System on the Question of Palestine
1978, n.p.). Koestler (1949) succinctly describes the Declaration as “the promise by one nation
[Britain] to a second [Zionists] of the country of a third [Palestine]”, (pg. 22). Characteristic of
colonialism, this promise was made without authorization or consultation with the indigenous
inhabitants of Palestine, (Mayamey 2010, pg. 2). Meanwhile, Britain facilitated mass Jewish
immigration, so Zionists could consolidate a Jewish majority. Mattar (2000) documents how the
Jewish community, yishuv, rose from 6 percent of Palestine's population, in 1880, (pg. 558), to
33 percent by 1946, (pg. 550). The vast majority (87.5 percent) of all Jewish immigrants to
Palestine between 1919 and 1948 were European (Ashkenazi) Jews. As argued by Rodinson
(1973), Britain played the role of mother country for the Jewish colony being settled in Palestine
by protecting its formation and growth, just as it had once “protected British colonization in
North America, and as France had protected French colonization in Algeria”, (pg. 64). In return
for British support, Herzl promised: “For Europe, we would constitute a bulwark against Asia
down there, we would be the advance post of civilization against barbarism. As a neutral state,
we would remain in constant touch with all of Europe, which would guarantee our existence”. In
essence, Herzl agreed that Israel would act as an arm for European imperialism in the Middle
East. Aided by colonial Britain, Israel was born out of the colonization of Palestine and within
the framework of European imperialist policies, (pg. 43).
Palestinians began to be displaced by Zionists long before the establishment of Israel,
(Kershnar et al. 2011). The JNF played a key role in this process of ethnic cleansing, which is
discussed in the fourth part of this paper. However, large-scale expulsions of Palestinians did not
begin until December 1947, in what came to be known as the Palestinian Nakba, meaning
catastrophe, (Pappé 2006 pg. 171). While there is no precise definition of ethnic cleansing, it is
defined in one UN report as "… rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or
intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area". It is similarly defined in another
UN report as “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent
and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from
certain geographic areas”. Both definitions of ethnic cleansing apply to the Zionist expulsion of
Palestinians. Palestinians were ethnically targeted, as non-Jews, and forced to leave their lands,
through “violent and terror-inspiring means”, to make way for the establishment of an ethnically
homogenous Jewish state.
Between 1947 and 1949, more than 800,000 Palestinians – over half of the indigenous
Palestinian population – were expelled from their lands by Zionists, (Pappé 2006 pg. 21).
Zionists also destroyed half of Palestine’s villages (over 531 villages) and 11 urban
neighbourhoods and emptied them of their Palestinian inhabitants. As Pappé notes, the
depopulation and destruction of Palestine was planned. Plan Dalet, which was formally approved
by the Zionist leadership on March 10, 1948, designated areas to be ethnically cleansed, (pg. 96).
It instructed Zionists to start “destroying villages (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up,
and by planting mines in their debris…)”, acting as a “blueprint” for Israel’s ethnic cleansing,
(pg. 113). The plan manifested in numerous massacres and atrocities against Palestinians, the
most notorious of which is Deir Yassin. Deir Yassin was designated in Plan Dalet to be
ethnically cleansed, and in 1948, Zionist soldiers attacked the village, massacring about 100
men, women, and children. Zionist atrocities sparked fear and caused many Palestinians to flee,
facilitating the process of establishing Israel. On May 14, 1948, the Zionist leadership declared
an independent state of Israel. This new state comprised 78% of historic Palestine. Israel was a
state founded on a process of colonialism, terror, and ethnic cleansing.
In 1967, Israel occupied the remaining 22% of historic Palestine, (Sayigh 1979, pg. 150).
This land included the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, which came to be known as the
Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). While Israel could have easily annexed these territories
and included them as part of its boundaries, it did not, because Palestinians would have had to be
integrated into Israeli society, (Sabawi 2011, n.p.). Israel would have had to grant these
Palestinians equal citizenship rights and the Palestinian population would have made up half of
the total population of Israel. Occupying the territories rather than annexing them allowed Israel
to control Palestinian land and resources without having to give any rights to the Palestinians
who came with the land or to alter its demographic Jewish majority.
Israel oppresses Palestinians living in the OPT in different ways. Since Israel conquered
the West Bank from Jordan in 1967 and it occupied it since, Israel continues governing the area
using Jordanian law, just as it existed that year, (Human Rights Watch 2016, n.p.). While Israel
can amend the law at its own will, it rarely does. After all, old Jordanian law provides the West
Bank significantly fewer labour and environmental protections than those offered by Israeli law,
to the benefit of the Israeli economy. For example, as of 2014, roughly half of Israel’s
environmental laws did not apply in the West Bank, encouraging Israeli polluting factories to set
up in the West Bank, (Rinat 2016, n.p). These factories escape Israel’s stronger environmental
and labour laws, by forming concentrations in or near the West Bank, (Chaitin, Obeidi, Adwan,
and Bar-On, 2004, pg. 532). These concentrations are referred to as Israeli industrial zones. They
connect to Israeli settlements, providing an industrial base for Israel’s illegal colonial
development in the West Bank.
To boost this development, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) (2016), successive
Israeli governments have “actively encouraged the migration of Israeli and international
businesses to settlements by offering a variety of financial incentives that they do not provide to
Palestinian businesses in areas of the West Bank under its control”, (n.p.). For instance, most
Jewish settlements and almost all settlement industrial zones were categorized as National
Priority Areas (NPAs). As NPAs, they were offered reductions in the price of land, preferential
loans and grants for purchasing homes, grants for investors and for the development of
infrastructure for industrial zones, indemnification for loss of income resulting from custom
duties imposed by European Union countries, and reductions in income tax for individuals and
companies. Israel also draws businesses to settlements by investing in public infrastructure.
In addition, Israeli employers were not required by Jordanian law to pay the minimum
wage to Palestinians working in Israeli settlements until 2007. That year, the Israeli Supreme
Court held that Israeli labour law should also apply to Palestinian workers in settlements.
However, Israel has not yet implemented this decision, creating legal ambiguity. According to
HRW, Israeli government authorities actually exploited this legal ambiguity by moving to
“completely halt what little enforcement they had previously conducted to ensure settlement
employers at least complied with the military orders that Israel applies to Palestinians”, (n.p.).
Besides operating, and polluting in the West Bank, in order to exploit the lack of environmental
and labour protections provided by Israel in the area, many Israeli companies also set up to
extract West Bank natural resources. For example, Israel has licensed eleven settlement quarries
in the West Bank. These quarries literally carve out Palestinian land, to supply about a quarter of
Israel’s gravel market. In sum, Israel profits off its occupation of the West Bank and the lack of
labour and environmental rights in the West Bank Israel’s occupation entails.
On the other hand, Israel claims that it no longer occupies Gaza, since it pulled its
military and settlements out of Gaza in 2005, (Hasan 2013, n.p.). However, as Hasan highlights,
Israel is the only country in the world to claim this. All other countries, in addition to the UN,
still consider Gaza occupied by Israel. The reason there is majority consensus on this matter is
because Israel has enforced a siege on Gaza, since 2007. Israel has effectively controlled Gaza’s
air, water, and land, since, turning Gaza into “the world’s largest open-air prison”, (Abu Salim
2016). Today, thanks to Israel’s siege (2014), Gaza, which is only 5 miles long and four miles
wide, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, (New Internationalist 2014). In
addition, Israel regularly bombs Gaza, as I explain in the third part of this paper. Overall, 1967
marked a new chapter of Israeli occupation, apartheid, and colonialism.
While some argue that colonialism is now obsolete, (such as Murphy 2009), there are
numerous studies that find Israel guilty of colonialism. One notable study, commissioned by The
Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (2009), was conducted by an international
team of scholars and practitioners of international public law. The team conducted a
comprehensive review of Israel’s practices in the OPT, concluding that Israel is colonizing the
OPT. Israel’s policy to fragment the West Bank into cantons and annex part of it permanently to
Israel is also provided as an example of Israel’s colonialism, (pg. 16). Israel also appropriated
land and water in the OPT, merged the Palestinian economy with Israel’s economy in order to
annex it, and imposed a system of domination over Palestinians. Through these measures, Israel
has denied Palestinians their right to self-determination, a hallmark of colonialism, (pg. 13).
Figure 2 presents a series of maps next to each other, sourced from Americans for Middle East
Understanding, (Driver 2013). Edited to show three maps instead of four, this picture depicts
how Palestinian land shrunk from 1946 to 1967 to 2011, as Israel continues to build more Israeli
settlements in the West Bank, colonizing Palestine.
Figure 2. The Colonization of Palestine, (Driver 2013).
It is important to note that while Palestinians living in the OPT do not have any Israeli
citizenship rights, Israel is responsible, as an occupying power, for the welfare of Palestinian
residents and the environment of the OPT, under international law. These responsibilities are
spelled out primarily by the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention,
(International Committee of the Red Cross n.d., n.p.). Article 55 of the 1907 Hague Regulations
“The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of
public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the
hostile State, and situated in the occupied territory. It must safeguard the capital
of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct”,
(n.p., my italics).
According to the Hague Regulations, Israel, as an occupying power, must protect the capital of
property of the OPT, which includes natural assets, such as forests. The Diakonia International
Humanitarian Law (IHL) Resource Centre (2013) further explains Israel’s obligations, as a
usufructuary, towards the environment, stating:
Under the rules of usufruct the Occupying Power may […] and enjoy the use of
real property for the purposes of meeting the needs of the army of
occupation. However they cannot use any resources in a manner which decreases
its value or depletes the resource. The classic example of usufruct would be to
take the apple of an apple tree to feed the occupying army, but it would be
unlawful if the tree was chopped down, (n.p.).
Under international law, while Israel, as an occupying power, may benefit from the OPT’s
natural resources “for the purposes of meeting the needs of the army”, Israel must protect these
resources. Israel’s extraction of natural resources from the West Bank, for the benefit of the
Israeli economy, is illegal under international law. Machlis, Hanson, Špirić, and McKendry
(2014) also stress that the onus is on Israel to protect people and the environment in the OPT
“both legally and practically”, (pg. 165).
The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (2009) also finds Israel guilty of
apartheid. The study concludes that Israel’s laws and policies in the OPT fit the definition of
apartheid found in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime
of Apartheid, (pg. 21). Israeli law privileges Jewish settlers and disadvantages Palestinians in the
same territory on the basis of their respective identities. Israel’s formation of “reserves” in the
West Bank, to which Palestinian residence is confined, and which Palestinians cannot leave
without a permit, is also noted to be very similar to Apartheid South Africa’s policy of “Grand
Apartheid”. Apartheid South Africa operated three pillars. The first pillar separated South
Africans into racial groups and accorded superior rights, privileges, and services to white people,
(pg. 21). The second pillar segregated the indigenous black population into different geographic
areas, which were allocated by law to different racial groups. The third pillar employed a matrix
of draconian ‘security’ laws and policies that suppressed any opposition to the regime and
reinforced a system of racial domination, by providing for administrative detention, torture,
censorship, banning, and assassination. Overall, the report finds that Israel practices all three
pillars of apartheid in the OPT that were practiced by Apartheid South Africa.
A new landmark UN report also finds Israel guilty of apartheid. While the UN
Secretary-General has ordered the withdrawal of the report after heavy backlash from Israel and
its supporters, it is credible, well-researched, well-argued, and rooted in international law. This
report is written by two internationally renowned US scientists: Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley
(2017). They demonstrate that Israel operated as an apartheid state not only in the OPT, as the
South African report demonstrates, but also within Israel.
Falk and Tilley argue that Israel’s apartheid began with the foundation of Israel. As a
“Jewish and democratic State”, Israel “established Jewish-racial domination as a foundational
doctrine”, (pg. 32). In order to ensure a Jewish demographic majority, Israel colonized and
ethnically cleansed Palestine. It also passed a series of apartheid laws. For example, Israel passed
the Law of Return and Citizenship Law in 1950. It granted Jews from anywhere in the world the
right to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen, while Palestinians, who were displaced by
Israel and had a documented history of living in the country, were denied their right of return.
Israel also enshrined British Emergency Regulations into its law, (pg. 28). These laws were used
to govern Palestinians who remained in the West Bank and Gaza after they were occupied by
Israel in 1967, (pg. 4). These laws denied Palestinians any basic human or civil rights, such as
the right to vote. In 1950, Israel also passed the Absentee Property Law, which allowed Israel to
appropriate land that belonged to what it referred to as "absentees", (Davis, 2003, pg. 101). The
term “absentees” applied to Palestinians who became refugees during the Nakba and were denied
their right of return. Additionally, 93 percent of the land within the internationally recognized
borders of Israel was by law closed to use, development, or ownership by non-Jews. Adalah
(2012), an independent human rights organization and legal centre, also found more than 50 laws
enacted by Israel since 1948 that “directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens
of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land,
education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures”, (n.p.). By colonizing and ethnically
cleansing Palestinians from their land, and discriminating against them, Israel operates
colonialism and apartheid.
It is also important to note that Israel operates as a capitalist state for two reasons. First,
as explained in the first part of this paper, capitalism is closely linked to colonialism. The
obliteration of capitalism is, thus, an important step to ending colonialism and achieving social
and environmental justice for the Palestinian people. Second, as capitalism inherently contradicts
environmentalism, Israel cannot be a country that cares for the environment if it runs a capitalist
economy, which is based on the exploitation of people and the environment.
While numerous analyses have claimed that Israel was a “socialist-type” economy prior
to the mid-1980s, Hanieh (2003) demonstrates how Israel operated as a capitalist state since its
birth. Israel’s economy, which was state-controlled and directed for decades by the Labour
Zionist movement, was not a reflection of socialist ideology. Rather, he argues that the absence
of a strong indigenous Jewish capitalist class during the Zionist colonization of Palestine led the
state or proto-state to control investment. This investment was not antagonistic to private capital.
To the contrary, from 1948 on [Israel] pursued policies aimed at nurturing a
capitalist class by encouraging a few key families to undertake joint projects and
investment with state and quasi-state enterprises. The turning point in this state-
led class formation was the 1985 Economic Stabilization Plan (ESP), which led to
the emergence of private capital as a class independent from the state (pg. 6).
Israel was founded as a capitalist state. However, with the expulsion of most of the indigenous
Palestinians in 1948, Israel lacked a readily exploitable working class traditionally found in
colonial situations. Therefore, Israel led a massive immigration program aimed at bringing
Mizrahi Jews to settle in the new state who were able to constitute a working class on which the
economic foundations of the country could be built. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and
Gaza Strip (WBGS) in 1967 increased the size of Israel’s domestic market and provided a new
cheap and highly exploitable source of labour in the Palestinian population. By 1985,
approximately one third of the WBGS labour force worked in Israel, (47 percent in the
construction industry), (pg. 7). Thus, Palestinians came to occupy “the lowest rungs of the labour
market”. Overall, Israel operates colonialism and apartheid, but also capitalism, as it exploits
Palestinian labour and the environment for the profit of the Israeli elite. Since capitalism is
inherently harmful towards the environment, due to its emphasis on infinite consumption, Israel
can not be the environmental steward it claims to be.
3. ISRAEL’S DEVASTATION OF THE ENVIRONEMNT
Zionism and the environment
Colonialism, capitalism, and apartheid intersect to make Israel particularly destructive
toward Palestinians and the environment. Zionism, since its birth, launched an assault on nature
by regarding it as “an obstacle to be overcome”, (Levi-Faur, Sheffer, and Vogel 1999, pg. 247).
After all, industrialization and urbanization, which were achieved through the exploitation of
natural resources, were seen as necessary parts of Zionist plans to accommodate large-scale
Jewish immigration, (pg. 247). While Tal (2002) argues that “development” is not necessarily
synonymous with environmental devastation, he adds that “Zionist development” has “always
been of the particularly aggressive, environmentally unsustainable variety”, (pg. 26). A popular
pioneer song in Israel during the 1950s captured the Zionist domineering perception of nature, as
it goes: “We shall build you, beloved country … and beautify you … We shall cover you with a
robe of concrete and cement.” The Zionist vision of improving Palestine, by building it and
making it more beautiful, mirrors ideas espoused by past European colonists. Europeans sought
to “improve” colonized territories with their superior technology and society, (Murphy 2009, pg.
However, like past colonial empires, Zionists destroyed rather than improve much of the
land they colonized. Israel harmed the environment, in addition to Palestinians, through a
number of ways, such as the formation of industrial zones, war, water pollution and
appropriation, deforestation, settler violence, and Israel’s apartheid wall. Israel’s occupation
harmed the environment of the OPT in particular ways. The lack of control Palestinians have
over their own natural resources, due to Israel’s occupation, leaves their environment, (and
associated factors, such as their health, economy, and culture), completely vulnerable to
corporate and Israeli abuse.
Israeli occupation’s impact on the environment
Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories harms Palestinian residents and their
environment in many ways, directly and indirectly, (Machlis et al. 2014, pg. 157). Directly,
Machlis et al. highlight how “the unique structures and practices of the occupation have
negatively affected biodiversity”, citing examples of Israel’s extensive settlement building,
Israel’s construction of its apartheid wall, and Israel’s associated construction of a parallel road
infrastructure for the settlers and the military, (pg. 165). These structures fragmented Palestinian
people, estranging them physically and spiritually from their land, and also fragmented wildlife
habitats, eroding the “rich agricultural biodiversity built over centuries by Palestinian famers,
from crop varieties to domesticated bees”. In Gaza, the south agricultural lands also underwent
accelerated desertification due to Israel’s imposition of a closed security area along the border,
which prevented farmers from accessing and taking care of their lands.
Besides reducing Palestinian access to land and water, Israel has placed restrictions on
Palestinian crop exports and irrigation, since 1967, forcing many Palestinians to abandon
agriculture for low-wage jobs provided in Israeli settlements, (Levidow 1990, pg. 26). Israel
further undermines Palestinian agriculture by subsidizing its own agricultural exports to the OPT
and restricting other countries’ exports, turning the OPT into a “captive market” for Israeli
goods, (pg. 25). Since 1982, Israel also integrated the West Bank’s entire hydrological system
into the Israeli national water company Mekorot. According to Levidow, Israel undermines
Palestinian agriculture and integrates the West Bank’s water system, as part of Israel’s ecological
imperialism. Palestinians are made more dependent on Israeli water services and food exports,
obstructing Palestinian independence, (pg. 25). Meanwhile, Israel draws surplus cheap
Palestinian labour into Israeli markets, (pg. 26).
Israel also regularly prevents Palestinians from building renewable energy infrastructure.
For instance, the Netherlands recently launched a complaint with the Israeli government after
dozens of solar panels that were donated by the Dutch government to a West Bank village were
confiscated by Israeli authorities, (McKernan 2017, n.p.). According to Israel, the panels were
not built with proper permits and permissions, justifying their confiscation. However, as
McKernan reports, building permissions for new Palestinian homes and infrastructure are almost
impossible to obtain. Machlis et al. (2014) highlight that military interventions do no necessarily
generate negative ecological consequences, citing the Korean and Cypriot demilitarized zones, as
examples of military intervention that benefitted landscapes and ecosystems, (pg. 162).
However, they state "in the Palestinian and Iraqi cases, the direct ecological effects of
occupations have been judged by international organizations to be overwhelmingly negative on
Indirectly – as with conflict more generally – occupation can harm natural resources and
ecosystems by damaging or constraining the adaptive coping strategies employed by the
occupied people. In the West Bank, Israel’s control of natural resources and movement
restrictions of the Palestinian population have increased environmental pressures, (pg. 166). For
example, rangeland was degraded in the south Hebron hills, located in the West Bank, by over-
grazing, since Palestinians were denied access to traditional pastures and other livelihood
opportunities. In Gaza, many Palestinians have been forced to use vegetable oils for fuel, due to
Israel’s reduction of fuel imports, causing local air pollution. Below, I explain in more detail how
Israel’s occupation harms the environment, in addition to Palestinians.
Industrial zones: West Bank
As of 2016, there are at least twenty Israeli industrial zones in the West Bank, (HRW,
n.p.). These industries deal with toxic materials and harmful waste, devastating Palestinian
health, in addition to fauna and flora. One example of such polluting industries is Geshuri
industries, a manufacturer of pesticides and fertilizers. Geshuri was ordered to move from Kfar
Saba, inside Israel, to an area adjacent to Tulkarem, inside the West Bank, by an Israeli court in
1982, because of the company’s negative environmental effects on Israeli land, public health,
and agriculture, (Chaitin et al. 2004, pg. 532). The health of Israelis was clearly deemed more
important than that of the Palestinian residents of Tulkarem. An empirical study showed that this
polluting industry may have devastated the environment and health of the Palestinian residents of
Tulkarem, (Qato and Nagra 2013). Tulkarem residents were found to have among the highest
rates of cancer, asthma, and eye and respiratory health anomalies compared to residents in other
districts in the OPT, (pg. 29). Chemical waste from the factory also harmed the farming land that
surrounds Tulkarem, causing trees to lose their leaves and destroying the fertile nature of the
soil. Vegetables, which were sold in Palestinian markets, grew not far from the factory.
Israeli industrial factories also exist in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. According to
Qumsieh (1998), some of the products are identifiable, but detailed information on quantities
produced, labour, and waste generated in these factories is not available, (n.p.). As the table in
Figure 3 demonstrates, aluminum, leather-tanning, textile-dyeing, batteries, fiberglass, plastics
are among the major industries within these Jewish settlements. The waste generated by them
contains toxic elements, such as aluminum, chromium, lead, zinc, and nickel.
Aluminum, fibreglass, plastic, electroplating
Aluminum, food canning & textile-dyeing
Fiberglass & leather-tanning
Fiberglass & plastic
Aluminum, cement, plastic, food-canning & others
Winery, building blocks, tiles & plastic
Plastic, cement, leather- tanning, detergents, textile,
printing dyes, aluminum & electroplating
Batteries, aluminum & detergents
Near the 1967 border inside
the West Bank
Pesticide, fibreglass & gas
Figure 3. Israeli Industries in the West Bank, (Qumsieh 1998, n.p.).
Wastewater from Israeli industrial zones regularly flows untreated to contaminate
Palestinian land and water, (B’tselem 2009). Wastewater from the industrial zone of Elon Moreh,
for example, flows through the center of the Palestinian village of Azmut, a few meters from
homes, contaminating springs and the groundwater of the Mountain Aquifer, (pg. 29). Olive
trees and other crops are destroyed by the wastewater flow. Due to the wastewater’s extremely
high level of acidity, which is liable to burn upon contact, it is causing “loss of life” and
“environmental and health disaster” in Azmut. In the long run, Israeli human rights organization,
B’tselem, warns that the flow of raw wastewater will diminish land fertility and land reserves.
Surely, an environmentally protective state would not allow, never mind encourage,
heavy polluting and cancer-causing industries to set up in the first place, nor to relocate and
spread pollution elsewhere. However, industrial zones play an important part in the Israeli
colonial economy, and are thus, accorded higher importance than Palestinian lives and the
Israel also fuels war, which is one of the most socially and environmentally destructive
industries in the world, (Safi 2015). Israel currently has the fifteenth strongest military in the
world – an astounding feat due to its small size as a state, (GlobalFirepower.com 2017, n.p.). In
addition, Israel is one of the world’s biggest war profiteers. In 2007, Israel became the world's
fourth largest defence arms exporter in the world, selling radar systems, drones, and anti-tank
missiles, (Copans 2007, n.p.). As a top arms exporter, Israel fuels and profits from war. Besides
devastating people, according to art. 24 of the UN Rio Declaration, “warfare is inherently
destructive of sustainable development,” (UN 1992, n.p.). Weapons and the hazardous waste
their manufacture and testing generate cause tremendous pollution, (Hynes 2014, pg. 2).
Meanwhile, militarism is the most oil-exhaustive activity on the planet, (pg. 3). Wars and the
related military industry are reportedly responsible for 6-10% of global air pollution and 10-30%
of universal environmental damages, (Safi 2015, pg. 15). Damages vary by type. For example,
the vast majority of the Israeli military’s camps in the West Bank discharge their wastewater,
untreated, into the environment, “creating a serious environmental hazard that pollutes
groundwater and rivers”, (Shapira 2017, pg. 9).
Israel has not only profited from war, it also led many wars, particularly against besieged
Gaza. In the last 10 years alone, Israel led three devastating wars against Gaza, with Operation
Cast Lead in 2008, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
It is argued that these wars may actually be used by Israel as a laboratory to test their weapons,
which are then taken by Israeli weapon manufacturers, such as Elbit Systems, to be marketed as
“battle proven” for international buyers, (Kennard 2016).
Israel’s wars on Gaza have not only killed thousands of Palestinians and injured
thousands more, they also devastated the environment. Palestinian environmental NGO,
PENGON, recently published an environmental impact assessment of Israel’s 2014 War on
Gaza, (Safi 2015, pg. 8). Gaza’s environment, the assessment recognized, was already devastated
by Israel’s siege, (pg. 7). Almost 95 percent of the water pumped in Gaza in 2010 was deemed
unfit for drinking due to severe pollution, (B’tselem, n.p.). The water was polluted by the
overpumping of the underground water of the Coast Aquifer and Operation Cast Lead, which
caused more than 600,000 tons of waste, including asbestos, oils, and fuels, to contaminate
Gaza’s water. And since Israel began its siege on Gaza in 2007, it forbade the entry of equipment
and materials needed to rehabilitate the water and wastewater treatment systems in Gaza.
However, Israel’s 2014 war further devastated Gazans and their environment. For
instance, the war almost completely halted wastewater treatment, (Safi 2015, pg. 16). Millions of
cubic meters of wastewater produced by the people of Gaza were consequently dumped
completely untreated into the sea. This dumping deteriorated the marine environment, turning
70% of Gaza seashore unfit for recreational activities, (pg. 17). The war also produced more than
2.5 million tons of demolition waste, causing particulate matter pollution throughout Gaza. The
heavy bombing also sparked fires, which caused air pollution with soot, chemicals, and
particulate matter. Moreover, Israel attacked the fuel stores of the Gaza power plant, openly
igniting two million litres of diesel, which further contaminated the air. Meanwhile, water and
soil infrastructure were damaged and farms, trees, crops, poultry, and livestock were destroyed,
(pg. 18). 3,450 hectares including more than 250,000 trees, mostly olive, citrus, and grape trees,
and more than a thousand greenhouses and tens of thousands of open lands cultivated for the
production of vegetables were directly damaged during Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza.
Israel’s siege and wars on the captive Palestinian population in Gaza have devastated the
Palestinian people and the environment. The fact Israel is one of the world’s biggest exploiters of
war, an industry that is “inherently destructive” of people and of “sustainable development”,
should alone negate any argument that Israel is an environmental steward.
Israel has also depleted water resources found in the OPT. Water is not historically scarce
in the region, as Koek (2013) notes, (pg. 16). There are three main sources of natural fresh water:
The Jordan River, the Mountain Aquifer, and the Coastal Aquifer, which are shared between
Israel and the OPT. However, Israel has controlled and exploited water resources in the West
Bank and Gaza, long before it even occupied them in 1967, (Levidow 1990, pg. 25). After 1967,
“looting” simply became easier and “Israel dug wells much deeper than the Palestinians’ existing
wells, which then became exhausted and/or more salty”. In fact, one of the first military orders of
Israel’s occupation was the confiscation of almost all West Bank wells, (Lowi 1993, pg. 123).
Since then, Palestinian drilling for new wells has been banned and quotas have been imposed on
the existing ones. Water that was allocated to the Palestinians was capped at 1967 levels, despite
the growth in population over the years. Israel uses 73% of the West Bank’s water, diverts an
additional 10% of it to illegal settlements, and sells to Palestinians the remaining 17%, of what in
fact is their own water, (Niehuss 2005, pg. 13).
Israel’s restriction of water in the OPT has harmed Palestinian health and agriculture.
Every year, Israel allocates just 83 cubic metres of water per Palestinian living in the OPT, less
than the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization for sanitary conditions
necessary for healthy living, (Niehuss 2005, pg. 13). The severe water restrictions force
Palestinians to use unclean water for their daily uses, or to put off daily chores, such as washing
food, cleaning dishes, and flushing toilets. Palestinians are exposed to water-borne diseases due
to a lack of sanitary drinking or bathing water. Estimates show that over 60% of Palestinians
living in the West Bank communities are infected with diarrhoea. Israel’s wars against Gaza,
coupled with Israel’s water appropriation and restrictions, demonstrate that Israel completely
disregards its obligation as occupying power to protect, rather than destroy, Palestinian lives and
their environment. Below, I demonstrate how Israel harms the environment and Palestinian rights
beyond the OPT.
“…when it comes to the common water resources shared with Palestinians and other Arabs,
Israel […] acts like a great sponge.”
— Sharif S. Elmusa 1992, (pg. 63)
Besides depleting water resources belonging to the OPT, Israel has also depleted water
resources within its internationally recognized boundaries, (Rabi 2014, pg. 4). Israel has diverted
most of the water from the Jordan River and from Lake Tiberias (located in the North) to the
central and southern parts of the country. This diversion was accomplished through the National
Water Carrier project. Note that the majority (60%) of Palestinians still living within what is now
called Israel live in the North, (Jewish Virtual Library 2017, n.p.). The diversion of water from
where most of the Palestinian population lives to the South is further indicative of Israel’s
apartheid policies that discriminate against non-Jews. In any case, this diversion massively
reduced the Jordan River’s flow, (Rabi 2014, pg. 4). The amount of water that historically flew
into the lower Jordan River reaching the Dead Sea was nearly 1.1 billion cubic meters per year in
1900. Now, barely 50 million cubic meters reach the river, mostly consisting of sewage water
from Israeli settlements, located in the upper Jordan Valley, and “the brackish water diverted
from the springs around Lake Tiberias into the lower part of the river”. The water levels are “so
low that the Jordan River can no longer replenish the Dead Sea”, (Abdulhawa 2016, n.p.). The
water level in the Dead Sea drops by 0.8 m every year, as a result. This drop has lead to the
development of sinkholes and an increased groundwater flow from surrounding Palestinian
aquifers towards the sea. Thus, surrounding aquifers have also become depleted. Meanwhile, the
relatively saline waters of Lake Tiberias contaminated groundwater used for irrigation of the
Negev, salinating the soil.
Elmusa (1993) also finds Israel guilty of overpumping Palestinian aquifers, which has
resulted in seawater intrusion and increased salinity levels, (pg. 63). Israel’s overpumping and
diversion of water has caused more droughts in recent years, (Sivakumar and Ndiang’ui 2007,
pg. 259). Wetlands and aquatic environments around Lake Tiberias and other regions of Israel
have been “practically dry for six consecutive years affecting fish-breeding and endemic aquatic
species”. The recent drought of 1998-2001 in the North was the most extreme during the last 130
years and affected Jordan River water flow, bringing the level of Lake Tiberias to its lowest
point in historical periods. This drought was connected to Israel’s overpumping, diversion of
water, and drainage of wetlands, (pg. 259). As a sponge, Israel appropriated the vast amount of
water inside and outside its boundaries for its intensive irrigation projects, drying the Jordan
River and the Dead Sea, and causing soil and water salinity, groundwater contamination, and
“Scattered around Israel’s towns and cities there may be thousands of ‘brownfields’ — polluted
and abandoned tracts of land, too contaminated for development. A considerable portion of the
landscape of Israel… lies decimated by careless development and sprawl”
— Tolan (2015, pg. 18)
Brownfields refer to areas that chemical companies used and abandoned without cleaning
up, (Laster and Livney 2015, pg. 93). Israel legally exempts companies from cleaning up, so
toxic chemical waste has been allowed to contaminate land, air, and water. This exemption had
devastating effects on the environment. For example, chemical waste contributed to the “death”
of Al Auja River, which Israel renamed the Yarkon, (Tal 2007, pg. 6). As the largest coastal river
in what is now called Israel, this river used to host a variety of endemic fish and rich vegetation.
However, chemicals and detergents from factories in the many industrial zones that lay along the
flood plain, discharges from the many solid waste dumps in the watershed, and runoff, carrying
residues of oils, from roads and industrial debris heavily polluted the river. The negative effects
of these chemicals were compounded with the flow of untreated sewage of the many
municipalities that made up the Central Israeli Dan and Sharon region. And since Israel diverted
most of this river’s natural 220 million cubic meters of annual flow to the Negev in 1955,
industrial waste and sewage effectively replaced the river’s freshwater. As a result of the
pollution, “habitats were destroyed and flora and fauna disappeared” from the river, (Canfei
Nesharim 2014, n.p.).
Al Mokatta River, which Israel renamed the Kishon, has also been polluted for decades
with acidic waste from Haifa’s petrochemical industry. One BBC article,
explains how the river that was “once the lifeblood of the region has turned to a stinking trench
of poison”, stating if you put your hand into the river for long enough, the acid will begin to burn
it, (Andersson 2000, n.p.). Not even bacteria can reportedly survive in the water anymore,
and tests show that fish die in less than three minutes of being in the water. This river is now
reportedly the most polluted river in Israel. However, as Shoshana Gabbay, editor of the Israel
Environment Bulletin reports:
With the exception of the upper Jordan River and its tributaries, the prognosis for
Israel's rivers has long been gloomy: a slow and painful death. Whether as a result
of industrial discharge, municipal sewage, overpumping or general abuse - rivers
have either dried up or become sewage conduits. Tel Aviv's Yarkon, Haifa's
Kishon, Ashdod's Lachish, Emek Hefer's Alexander, Lod's Ayalon, Jerusalem's
Soreq - these and other rivers are plagued by the same disease: pollution, (Canfei
Nesharim 2014, n.p.).
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (2011) also found
“several of Israel’s 15 rivers that empty into the Mediterranean” to be “highly polluted”, (pg. 86).
Meanwhile, Tal (2007) agrees with Gabbay that the pollution of Al Auja and Al Mokatta is not
exceptional. The pollution of these rivers “[fit] into an established pattern, as part of a long series
of inauspicious ecological delinquencies” in Israel, (pg. 12).
Israel has also devastated aquatic ecosystems due to its dumping of sludge in the sea.
Israel and Israeli advocacy groups regularly boast about Israel’s recycling of wastewater, as
proof of its environmental stewardship. Israel is reportedly the first country in the world to make
effluent recycling a central component of its water management strategy, (Tal 2007, pg. 241).
Over 60 percent of Israel’s sewage is recycled, considered the highest percentage of any country
in the world. By the beginning of the 21
century, effluents contributed roughly a fifth of Israel's
water supply and 50 percent of the irrigation supplied for agriculture.
However, the wastewater Israel reuses for irrigation is of environmental and health
concern, given its poor pre-treatment, inadequate oversight, and leniency of standards. Sludge is
also generated as a byproduct of wastewater treatment, which contains high concentrations of
pathogens, heavy metals, and organic pollutants. Israel dumps about half (46%) of this byproduct
directly into the sea, (Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection 2010, pg. 123). Israeli sludge
is now highlighted as “the major source of pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, significantly
larger than all other sources combined”, (Orenstein, Tal, and Miller 2013, pg. 231). As an
example of the toxic impact of sludge, Israeli sludge has been found to introduce mercury into
the marine environment, a chemical that can biomagnify along the food web, and cause serious
harm to people and fauna, (Shoham-Frider, Shelef, and Kress, 2007, pg. 2).
Zionists also drained most of Palestine’s swamps, “as part of the Zionist ethos”,
(Orenstein et al. 2013, pg. 12). Zionists imported eucalyptus trees from Australia and planted
them to help dry the marshes. Not only did the draining of these marshes contribute to droughts,
but their aquatic wildlife also largely disappeared, according to Orenstein et al.
Meanwhile, Israel almost completely eliminated Palestine’s sand dunes, between 1980
and the 1990s, due to Israeli urban sprawls. Their elimination reduced the distribution and
survival of the majority of the reptilian and mammalian species living there, (pg. 59). All
Mediterranean and most desert wildlife habitats in Israel have been affected or entirely destroyed
due to urban industrial and agricultural development, (pg. 56). In the 1950s and 60s, illegal
hunting carried out by Israeli soldiers and civilians, using 4-wheel drive vehicles and automatic
weapons, also led to a drastic reduction in some mammal populations, such as the mountain and
dorcas gazelles. Poaching stopped during late 1960s, but hunting became a serious conservation
problem again in the 1990s, as agricultural workers were brought by Israel from Thailand, as a
cheap source of labour. These workers brought with them new hunting habits, such as snares,
other types of traps, and slingshots. Hunting now constitutes “one of the greatest threats to
wildlife” in Israel, (pg. 56). From water pollution, to wetland drainage, to hunting, to urban
sprawl, Israel devastated aquatic and desert ecosystems rather than benefit them.
Palestinian agriculture is much less harmful to the environment than Israeli agriculture, if
at all, according to Orenstein et al. Palestinians irrigate small areas near springs mainly for
growing vegetables and citrus, (pg. 32). However, Palestinians generally rely on rainwater for
their crops, (pg. 39). In addition, Palestinians rotate their crops to maintain fertility of the soil
and control weeds. Palestinians also terrace and maintain slopes, relying on a local version of the
ancient plow to furrow land without turning the soil. This technology opens up dense woody
thickets, diversifying microhabitats, flora, and fauna. Besides, Palestinian agriculture only uses
livestock manure as fertilizer. Little floral and faunal extinction, if any, is attributed to
Palestinian cultivation or Palestinian Bedouin grazing, (pg. 47). After visiting an area south of
Jerusalem in 1967, Joseph Weitz of the JNF, (who was noted in the first part of this paper for
advocating for the “transfer” of Palestinians), admitted:
As I look more deeply into the landscape, I’m filled with shame when I compare
‘our’ hills of Jerusalem with ‘their’ hills of Hebron. We, with the power of steel
implements, extension services, enormous budgets, expensive water, have not
achieved such success”, (pg. 49).
In spite of Israel’s modern technology, Weitz notes, Israeli agriculture has failed in comparison
with Palestinian agriculture, which continues to be practised in Hebron, a city that is located in
the Occupied West Bank. Orenstein et al. also argue that “the fertility of Palestine was
unsurpassed” prior to the creation of Israel, due to the sustainability of Palestinian agriculture,
(pg. 10). Palestinian agriculture tends to protect the environment, rather than destroy it, (pg. 48).
Orenstein et al. paint a bleak picture of the environment after Palestinians were expelled
during the Nakba. Herbaceous vegetation on many uncultivated slopes were barely utilized,
product of woody vegetation was little used, and woodland in many cases developed into dense
thickets that “with the plentiful tinder of dry grass have become a fire hazard”, (pg. 49). All
smaller patches of cultivated land were abandoned. Israeli agriculture also heavily relied on
fertilizers, which spawned eutrophication in surface waters. The resulting nitrate concentrations
caused the closing of dozens of drinking water wells, (pg. 249).
Pesticides, insecticides, and other kinds of chemicals, have also been widely used in
Israeli agriculture, contaminating water and soil. Over 400 chemical compounds have been
permitted by Israel for agricultural use and offered in over 1,000 forms. These chemicals have
harmed many species, like almost all raptor species. And while some raptor populations
recovered after the banning of DDT, many have not. Insecticides also caused secondary
poisoning in insectivorous birds, significantly reducing their populations, (pg. 68). As Tal (2007)
concludes, Israel’s modern agriculture, “similar to that of the world's, is not sustainable, and
contributes significantly to the growing environmental crisis on our planet”, (pg. 251). Use of
chemicals, monocultures, and heavy machinery in Israel’s capital-intensive agriculture has
harmed the environment, unlike Palestinian agriculture.
Deforestation and Israel’s apartheid wall
According to Oxfam International (2017), Israeli authorities have uprooted around
800,000 olive trees to date, mirroring the number of Palestinians uprooted during the Nakba. In
addition, “entire tracts of productive citrus trees”, especially in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area, were
destroyed to make way for the construction of Israeli housing developments, (Benvenist 2000,
pg. 164). As Israeli journalist and historian, Benvenist, says, “Israel’s destruction of hundreds of
thousands of dunams of fruit-bearing trees does not fit Israel’s self-image as a society that knows
how to ‘make the desert bloom’”, (pg. 165). Palestinian olive oil production has dropped by 40
percent in the past decade alone, (Oxfam International 2017).
Israel also uprooted trees to construct its apartheid wall, (Sabawi 2011, n.p.). Israel began
to construct the wall in 2000, in order to separate Israel from the West Bank, (Stop the Wall
2011, n.p.). Rather than building the wall on the Green Line, which separates Israel from the
West Bank, however, 90% of the wall eats much into the West Bank, indicating the wall was
constructed as a tool for Israeli land grab. By annexing Palestinian land, the wall isolated,
separated, and dispossessed many Palestinian communities in the West Bank, leading many to
call this wall an apartheid wall.
Israel uprooted more than 100,000 trees and destroyed more than 36,000 metres of
irrigation works to construct this wall. In addition, heavy machinery and millions of tons of
concrete were used to construct it, consuming fossil fuels and water. The wall also interferes
with natural drainage systems in the West Bank. Wrapping itself entirely around Palestinian
towns, such as Qalqilia, the wall, thus, causes flooding and substantial environmental and
agricultural damage during times of high rainfall. In February 2009, heavy rain flooded 15
hectares of land planted with vegetables and 1.5 hectares of citrus tree orchards, in Qalqilia,
destroying the crops. Besides providing Israel a tool for land grab and control of Palestinian
movement, Israel’s apartheid wall devastates the environment, providing another example of
how social harm causes environmental harm and vice versa.
Figure 4: Israeli Apartheid Wall. A picture I took of the wall that separates Israel from the West
Bank, which has harmed Palestinian communities and the environment, (2015).
Israeli settlement building, as Qumsieh (1998) notes, has strained the environment,
“because of the associated problems of waste disposal, construction of road networks and
exploitation of natural resources”, (n.p.). Israeli settlements are built on confiscated Palestinian
agricultural or grazing lands, requiring Israeli uprooting of thousands of fruit trees. From
September 1993 until June 1996 alone, Israel uprooted over 32,500 fruit trees, confiscated
29,000 hectares of land, and bulldozed 3,250 hectares for the expansion of settlements and the
opening of new roads to serve them.
Meanwhile, Israeli settlements are six times more polluting than their Palestinian
neighbours, (Niehuss 2005, pg. 14). Israeli settlements located on West Bank hilltops also dump
sewage and wastewater into the Palestinian valleys below, (Niehuss 2005 pg. 15). As of 2007,
only 81 of 121 settlements in the West Bank were connected to wastewater treatment facilities,
resulting in the flow of Israeli raw wastewater into West Bank streams and valleys, (B’tselem
2009, pg. 7). In its report, B’tselem highlights several examples of bodies of water that were
polluted by wastewater flow from settlements. These include the Hebron stream, which also runs
into Israel, and the Mountain Aquifer, (pg. 8). For the few settlements that do have wastewater
treatment, treatment plants frequently break down, causing settler wastewater to pollute
tributaries of Al Auja River, and Abu Jamus stream. Six settlements – Qedar, Ma’aleh Amos.
Nokdim, Otni’el, Etz Ephraim, and Enav – dispose of their wastewater in septic tanks, from
which it seeps into the groundwater and pollutes it, (pg. 9).
Additionally, the wastewater of the 25 settlements in the Jordan Valley receives only
preliminary treatment, in sedimentation basins and oxidation ponds. This method is considered
outdated and does not meet the standard required inside Israel. While West Bank settlers are
almost unaffected by the water pollution, since they use Israel’s water-supply system,
Palestinians rely on water from natural springs, shallow drillings of the Mountain Aquifer,
streams, and rainfall reservoirs, (pg. 27). A Palestinian study conducted in the mid-1990s found
that crops and water sources of 70 Palestinian villages were contaminated by untreated Israeli
settler wastewater, (pg. 28).
Settler violence also contributes to environmental damage. In Madama, the village’s
spring is deliberately contaminated and its water supply system damaged by settlers from time to
time. Settlers often break the water pipes and the water wells in the area. They throw pollutant
debris into the water and smash the concrete encasing. Settlers also regularly burn or bulldoze
trees and attack Palestinian farmers, always under protection of the Israeli army, (Palestinian
Grassroots Anti-apartheid Wall Campaign 2014, n.p.). It is reported that settlers uprooted more
than 2,000 olive trees in the month of January in 2014 alone. If Israel were to be a country that
truly cares about the environment, surely it would not be building illegal settlements, granting
squatters impunity to attack Palestinian land and farmers, and would treat their waste. However,
as a colonial and apartheid state, Israel only seeks to serve the interests of its Jewish population,
including settlers, to the detriment of the Palestinian people and the environment.
Israel’s environmental record pales not only on a local scale, but also on a global scale.
Levi-Faur et al. (1999) politely describe Israel as an “environmental laggard”, (pg. 247). By
1979, they note, Israel had only four environmental associations, in spite of having a population
of three and a half million. In addition, it did not establish a Ministry of the Environment until
1988, becoming the 126th country in the world to do so. According to most recent findings,
Israel also has one of the biggest per capita ecological footprints in the world, ranking in the top
10%, (Global Footprint Network 2013, n.p.). As seen in Figure 5, it ranks 21
out of 192
countries. Ecological Footprint “measures the ecological assets that a given population requires
to produce the natural resources it consumes and to absorb its waste, especially carbon
emissions”. The bigger the ecological footprint, the bigger the toll a country takes on the
environment. The Ecological Footprint measured by the Global Footprint Network tracks the use
of six categories: cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, built-up land, forest area, and carbon
demand on land.
Figure 5. Countries Ranked by Ecological footprint per capita (in global hectares). (Global
Footprint Network 2013, n.p.)
Israel also ranks 47 out of 214 countries in the world, for most carbon dioxide emissions
produced per capita between 1980 and 2006, in about the top 20%, (Data Blog 2016, n.p.).
Carbon dioxide is a type of greenhouse gas, which has “contributed the most to climate change”,
(Union of Concerned Scientists, n.d., n.p.). In addition, Israel ranks 37 out of 212 countries for
biggest consumption of coal, (U.S. Department of Energy 2014), once again, in the worst 20%.
Coal is the dirtiest type of fossil fuel, as it pollutes more than oil, natural gas, and gasoline when
burned, (Green America 2014, n.p.). Israel is also the largest consumer per capita of water from
natural sources in the OECD, (Rinat 2016, n.p.). At 203 cubic meters of water per capita per
year, it is far higher than the OECD average of 126 cubic meters.
Measuring biocapacity deficit/reserve is another tool used to measure environmental
impact, (Global Footprint Network 2013). Biocapacity refers to the capacity of ecosystems to
produce biological materials used by people and to absorb waste materials generated by humans
under current management schemes and extraction technologies. When the ecological
footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the area available to that population, there is
biocapacity deficit. A national biocapacity deficit means that the state is importing biocapacity
through trade, liquidating national ecological assets, or emitting wastes into a global commons,
such as the atmosphere. Israel has the fifth worst ecological deficit in the world, with its
ecological footprint exceeding its biocapacity by a whopping 1,740%, as seen in Figure 6. Its
deficit is worse than any country in the Middle East. Therefore, not only does Israel have some
of the worst ecological impacts on the world, but its ecosystems are also overwhelmed and do
not have the capacity to keep up with the demands of its apartheid, capitalist, and colonial
operations, and regenerate.
Figure 6. Countries with Biocapacity Deficit (in percentage), (Global Footprint Network 2013,
Overall, the argument Israel cares about the environment does not hold up well
considering its devastating impact on the environment in its boundaries, the OPT, and the world,
due to its water appropriation, harmful agricultural practices, wars, settlements, industrial zones,
wetland drainage, marine pollution, high coal consumption, deforestation, apartheid wall, pine
plantations, and high carbon emissions production. These harms are connected to Zionism’s view
of nature as an obstacle, and to Israel’s apartheid, colonial, capitalist, and war-profiteering
apparatus. This apparatus places profit and Israel’s ethnocratic supremacy above all else,
benefitting from the exploitation of the indigenous Palestinians and the environment. The
devastation of the environment devastates Palestinian health, economy, culture, and identity. As
explained by Sabawi (2011), “Palestinians [are] mostly a population of farmers — fellaheen.” As
fellaheen, not only are their economic livelihoods directly tied to the health of the land, but “their
view of their identity is therefore defined by their connectedness to the stones, the earth and the
trees”. Israel’s continuing assault on Palestine’s environment is therefore an assault on
Palestinian identity, health, economy, and culture. In order to move towards a just and
environmentally sustainable society for Palestinians, and Israelis, Israel’s apartheid, colonial,
capitalist, and war-profiteering apparatus, must be dismantled.
4. ISRAEL’S GREENWASHING
In spite of Israel’s terrible environmental record on local and global scales, Israel and its
supporters regularly portray Israel as an environmental steward, in order to greenwash Israel’s
colonial, capitalist, and apartheid practices. See this excerpt from a document prepared by the
Israeli Ministry of Environmental protection (2008), which promotes a green image of Israel:
… Israel has faced major environmental and developmental challenges in the
fields of agriculture, rural development, and desertification and water
management. The success of the young, developing country in meeting these
challenges was due to a mix of innovation, technology and national commitment.
Israeli agriculture, for example, invented and made popular drip irrigation
technologies that resulted in prosperous local agricultural economies; its
agricultural products are exported worldwide with a reputation for uniqueness and
quality. Israel’s ability to make agriculture in the desert bloom is largely the result
of research and investment in salt and drought-resistant plant species, animal
husbandry for extreme climates, as well as green/hot house technologies and
aquaculture. The country’s long experience in managing limited water resources
along with the development of novel water technologies have made Israel a leader
in all aspects of the water sector. This expertise and these diverse solutions are
now being exported to countries worldwide for the benefit of growing populations
with scarce water and food resources. Israel’s afforestation and land reclamation
efforts in degraded drylands provide examples for countries with arid lands of
how to recreate forests and parks that provide multiple environmental benefits,
combat desertification and preserve open space, (pg. 5).
Making “the desert bloom” is a powerful colonial trope that had been propagated since the
founding of Israel. Organizations, such as the JNF, and Zionist leaders, such as David Ben
Gurion, used this trope to suggest that Palestine was a barren and deserted land that needed to be
greened, populated, and developed, (JNF website 2014). “Palestine was a land without people for
a people without a land”, Zionist leaders and advocacy groups claim, so Zionists could settle
without injury to anyone’s interests.
In this part of my MRP, I explain how Israel’s environmental policy helps sustain Israel’s
oppression, rather than the environment. This part also explains the many ways in which the JNF
and other Israeli environmental groups help entrench Israel’s occupation, through land
confiscations and the greenwashing of Israeli crimes.
‘Green Country’ propaganda
Israel intensified its greenwashing efforts in the 21
century, as people became more
conscious of human impact on the environment and of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. In
response to Israel’s sinking reputation, in October 2005, directors from the Israeli foreign
ministry, prime minister’s office, and finance ministry met to work out “a new plan”. This plan
was designed to “improve the country’s image abroad — by downplaying religion and avoiding
any discussion of the conflict with the Palestinians”, (Popper 2005, n.p.). The “Brand Israel”
initiative was launched the following year in an effort to “re-brand” Israel, or to reinvent the
country’s image in the eyes of both Jews and non-Jews. The rationale was that Israel “will win
supporters only if it is seen as relevant and modern”, rather than a rogue apartheid and colonial
state. In addition, Israeli think tanks, such as the Reut Institut (2010), feared that “the erosion of
[Israel’s] international image” posed an existential threat. It feared that the delegitimization of
Israel would contribute to its demise, as in the case of Apartheid South Africa, which fell due to
economic and political isolation, because of its delegitimization, (pg. 16). In 2008, the Israeli
Foreign Ministry hired British firm Acanchi “to craft the new image” and to rebrand Israel as a
“land of achievements”. Avanchi’s founder’s mission was specifically “to create a brand
disconnected from the Arab-Israeli conflict that focused instead on Israel’s scientific and cultural
achievements”, (Pfeffer 2008, n.p.). Rather than addressing the root cause of its delegitimization,
which lie in Israel’s colonialism, capitalism, and apartheid, Israel decided to intensify its public
relations (PR) efforts to hide these systems.
As part of its PR efforts, Israel spent considerable amounts of money into branding itself
as a “Green Country”, since 2012, (Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection 2012). That
year, the Israeli government bought hundreds of 10-second broadcasting spots on CNN
International, which narrated Israel’s “pioneering green technology for a better world”,
showcasing “photovoltaic panels, buds sprouting out of thick mud, a drop of water spreading
ripples through a pool and sprawling wheat fields”, (Udasin, S. 2012, n.p,). This propaganda
campaign was launched as a joint initiative of the Environmental Protection Ministry, the
Foreign Ministry, and the Prime Minister’s National Information Directorate. In 2015, Israel
participated in the Expo world’s fair in Italy, where it posted a series of propaganda videos,
promoting Israel’s commitment to peace and protection of the environment. Israel has invested,
and continues to invest, considerable resources into crafting its false green image in order to hide
its systems of oppression.
Meanwhile, there are many examples of how Israeli advocacy groups have promoted
Israel’s false green image as a tool to draw support for the apartheid state. StandWithUs (SWU),
which is a right-wing pro-Israel group, is one example, (Kane 2014, n.p.). Based in Los Angeles,
SWU has 16 branches in the United States, Canada, Israel, and Europe, (StandWithUs.com 2017,
n.p.). SWU also has close relations with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a “constantly
growing” multimillion dollar budget, (Guttman 2011, n.p.). Besides disseminating pro-Israel and
pro-Israeli settlement propaganda, SWU receives donations from “a web of funders who support
organisations that are accused of anti-Muslim propaganda and encourage a militant Israeli and
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East”, (Clifton 2009, n.p.). Clifton explains:
Some of these organisations [tie] the origins of Palestinian nationalism to Nazi
ideology, and [suggest] that a vast Muslim conspiracy – in a similar vein to the
anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion – is mobilising to undermine the U.S.
constitution and impose Sharia law.
In spite of SWU’s deep ties to the Israeli government and various Islamophobic groups, SWU is
allowed to operate as a non-profit organization, including on Canadian campuses,
(CanadaHelps.org). Indeed, SWU focuses its efforts and resources on campuses in order to
“[wage] a fight against those whom it believes delegitimize Israel”, (Kane 2014, n.p.).
StandWithUs promotes events, such as “I Heart Israel Campaign” and “hosting fun events”, such
as a “Buy Israeli Goods” action day, in order to combat pro-Palestinian events on campus.
Greenwashing plays a key role in this organization’s pro-Israel advocacy efforts. I regularly see
the SWU on York’s Keele campus distributing pamphlets on Israel and the Environment, so I
picked a pamphlet recently to see what sort of information it held. Sure enough, the pamphlets
promoted Israel’s supposed successes in forestation, combating desertification by “making the
desert bloom”, and water conservation, thanks to Israel’s wastewater recycling and “use of
innovation irrigation techniques”. Figure 7 demonstrates a couple of pictures from the pamphlet
to demonstrate how Israeli advocacy groups market a green image for Israel, in order to improve
its reputation, garner pro- Israel supporters, and help sustain its colonial and apartheid status quo.
Another example of a greenwashed pro-Israel group is Israel 21c. According to its
website, Israel21c “was founded in 2001, in the wake of the Second Intifada, to broaden public
understanding of Israel beyond typical portrayals in the mainstream media”. While the
California-based group claims to be “non-partisan”, it is working with the most powerful pro-
Israel lobby in the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to
generate collaborative content, (Popper 2005, n.p.). The Israel21c website has a whole section
devoted to the environment with most recent articles titled “Israel is the key to solving the
world’s water crisis” and “10 ways Israel’s water expertise is helping the world”.
Figure 7. SWU’s Israel Environment Propaganda Pamphlet, (n.d.).
Student campus groups, such as Hillel and Hasbara, have also played the environmental
card. Hasbara Fellowships, which according to its website, is “a leading pro-Israel campus
activism organization working with over 80 Universities across North America” initiated several
campaigns to showcase Israeli environmentalism. "People to People. Nation to Nations." and
“Think Green. Think Blue” are only a couple of examples. The latter focuses on the
environment, highlighting Israel’s achievements in water security, waste management, and
environmental peacebuilding. Many of Hasbara’s “Israel fact sheets” are also devoted to Israeli
successes in the environmental field. Israel and Israeli advocacy groups use Israel’s apparent
environmentalism as propaganda to legitimize Israel’s image and to greenwash Israel’s colonial,
capitalist, and apartheid legacy, which devastates Palestinians and the environment.
Unfortunately, as my personal anecdote demonstrates in this paper, many buy into
Israel’s green propaganda. For example, Scientific American recently published an article by
Jacobsen (2016), hailing Israel for how, as “one of the driest countries on Earth”, it “now makes
more water than it needs”, (n.p.). The article especially touts Israel’s desalination industry,
portraying Israel as technologically superior to the rest of the Middle East, making no mention of
Israel’s occupation or how the West Bank supplies at least a third of Israel’s water due to Israel’s
illegal water appropriation, (Levidow 1990, pg. 25). Nor does this article mention how Palestine
was not historically dry and how the rainfall of both major Palestinian cities of Ramallah and
Jerusalem exceeds that of London, but Israeli policies have contributed to increased droughts,
desertification, and water depletion, (Abdulhawa 2016, n.p.). This article also neglects the
negative environmental impacts of desalination, including the byproducts of pollution and
greenhouse gases, and its devastation of local marine life. Palestinian author Abdulhawa
responds to this article, debunking many of its myths. However, ignorantly biased articles like
this speak to the success of Israel and Israeli advocacy groups in actively promoting a false
image of Israel as an environmental steward. This image is used to greenwash and, thus, sustain
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) has played an instrumental role in greenwashing Israeli
crimes. The JNF claims to be the “leading environmental agency” in Israel and “the most
significant environmental organization in the Middle East”, (JNF website 2017). The JNF claims
to have had large successes in forestation, combating desertification, rehabilitating forests, and
preventing forest fires. The JNF says it has planted over 240 million trees, as the only
organization in Israel that is responsible for afforestation. But while these environmental feats
sound impressive and laudable, the JNF has harmed Palestinians and the environment in many
ways. Most of the trees the JNF planted were non-native European pine and cypress trees, for
example, (Orenstein et al. 2013, pg. 65). European pines that were planted were poorly suited to
the environment in Palestine and were much more flammable than native species. These pines
aged quickly, demanding more water, and were more prone to problems such as pests, disease,
and fire. In 2010, these pines easily ignited in a forest fire in the North, destroying about 8,000
acres of woodlands, burning homes and killing more than 40 people, (Greenberg 2010, n.p.).
Another journalist, Max Blumenthal (2010), says that “most of the saplings the JNF plants at a
site near Jerusalem simply do not survive and require frequent replanting.
The process of planting these non-native trees has also been described “as a series of
ecological disasters”, (Masalha 2012, pg. 181). Forest floor was burned and bulldozed to erase
any remnants of indigenous bushes, trees, and brush, (pg. 182). Plows prepared the soil for new
planting, (Tal 2002, pg. 94). Tal adds that toxic pesticides were used to ensure that “the new pine
seedlings would not be troubled by any other undesirable biological activity”. The soil suffered,
while “the surrounding ecosystem was irreversibly knocked off its balance” due to Israeli
plantation. Israeli-planted pine trees also grew acidic needles. These needles formed a highly
acidic ground that decomposed very slowly, resulting in a “sterile forest bed inhospitable to
additional undergrowth and to most animal populations”.
Indeed, Israeli-planted forests constituted an ecologically impoverished system with a
diminished ability to support wildlife, (Orenstein et al. 2013, pg. 65). They were inhabited by a
“meagre fauna” and were much less diverse than surrounding areas. General habitat structural
diversity, vegetative structural diversity, and abundance in native small mammals were all
reduced in Israeli plantation areas. JNF forests also contributed to the decline of bird populations,
such as raptors that used to forage in open habitats. Environmentalists coined Israeli plantations
as “pine deserts”, due to their severe ecological impoverishment. Since the 1980s, the JNF
changed its afforestation policy, decreasing planting density and planting native trees with pines.
However, the vast majority of trees the JNF boasts about planting remain non-native trees,
(Pappé 2006, pg. 400). In the land now called Israel, only 10 percent of forests date from before
1948, while its forests contain only 11 percent of indigenous species. This statistic attests to
Israel’s mass deforestation of Palestinian indigenous species, such as olive trees, the Turks’ mass
deforestation of Palestine during Ottoman rule, (as this paper details on pg. 73), and the JNF’s
mass plantations of non-native, toxic, and flammable pines.
Besides creating ecologically impoverished areas, the JNF also frequently destroyed the
environment in the name of development. In the 1950s, it drained the largest wetlands in
Palestine in order to gain land for agriculture, (Orenstein et al. 2012, pg. 174). The Hula
wetlands were rich in flora and fauna, some of which were endemic, (pg. 60). They were also
“vital in preserving ecological and limnological balance” of Lake Tiberias, (pg. 174). While the
JNF celebrated this accomplishment, as “part of national ethos”, the consequences of this
drainage were disastrous. Soil was heavily eroded and many of the species in the wetland went
extinct. This drainage was later recognized, even by the JNF, as a major ecological failure.
The JNF also degraded the Negev desert. Ottoman-era documents, aerial photographs
from World War I and post-World War II, as well as testimonies from inhabitants, demonstrate
that Palestinian Bedouins cultivated this area using terraces, dams, canals, wells, and cisterns,
(Pessah 2016). Between 1948 and 1953 however, Israel massacred Bedouins and destroyed
livestock and property. Israel expelled about 90 percent of the Bedouin inhabitants during this
period in what is referred to as the “Bedouin Nakba”. Bedouins continue to be displaced today
from their lands in a process of ethnic cleansing, in which the JNF plays a prominent role. For
instance, the JNF recently destroyed the Bedouin village of Atir to replace it with the man-made
forest of “Yatir”, forcing the Bedouin residents to move to the government-planned township of
Hura, (Iraqi 2014, n.p.).
The expulsion of Bedouins contributed to land degradation. While the JNF replaced them
with forests in order to “make the desert bloom”, ecological disaster followed. The earth mounds
built to irrigate the forests stopped most rainwater from reaching the valleys below, drying up the
ecosystem and increasing salinity, making them less suitable for grazing. The JNF-planted trees
absorbed heat and water and removed it from their immediate environment, leading to
overheating. Data on yearly increases in temperature of the area suggests a local effect of climate
change has taken place. The Negev was salinated and, ironically, desertified due to JNF
plantations. As Aytzim (2017), another Zionist environmental group, admits on its website:
“From draining the Hula wetlands to the planting of non-native mono-culture trees to the
unsustainable development of land, [the JNF] had a blemished record on the environment
throughout its history”, (n.p).
Racist, colonial history
How could the JNF have such a blemished environmental record as an environmental
organization? Founded in 1901 at the Fifth Zionist World Congress in Switzerland, the JNF’s
role was not to protect the environment, but to promote settlement and land purchase in
Palestine, (Kershnar et al. 2011, pg. 25). Land purchased by the JNF was exclusively reserved
for settlement by Jews and could not be leased or resold to non-Jews. Non-Jews were not even
allowed to work on JNF land. Many of the Palestinian tenant farmers, who initially cultivated the
land, found themselves landless after the change of ownership. Thus, the JNF was complicit in
land grabbing and was openly racist in its colonial operations. The UN Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights recognized the racist nature of JNF policies, noting:
“with grave concern that the Status Law of 1952 authorizes the World Zionist
Organization/Jewish Agency and its subsidiaries, including the Jewish National
Fund, to control most of the land in Israel, since these institutions are chartered to
benefit Jews exclusively. […] The Committee takes the view that large-scale and
systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and property by the State and the
transfer of that property to these agencies constitute an institutionalized form of
discrimination because these agencies by definition would deny the use of these
properties to non-Jews”, (Holmstrom 2003, pg. 309).
Although the JNF’s stated purpose was to purchase land, most of its land was confiscated. After
Israel passed the Absentee Property Law, all Arab property landed in the hands of the JNF and
the Israeli Land Administration (ILA), (Kershnar et al. 2011, pg. 44). Today, the JNF owns
approximately 13% of the land in Israel, (pg 6). The JNF also has almost half the seats on the
ILA Council which itself controls an additional 80% of the land base.
As a racist, colonial institution, the JNF contributed greatly to Israel’s colonization of
Palestine. It should be no surprise that the JNF contributed so, given how members of the JNF,
such as president, Ussishkin, and director of the Land and Afforestation Department of Israel’s
JNF, Weitz, have openly advocated for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, (Robinson 1973, pg.
16). The JNF has confiscated land, planted forests to claim territory from Palestinians, and
destroyed indigenous flora and fauna, due to destructive planting techniques. Meanwhile, the
JNF claims to be “the leading environmental organization in Israel and the Middle East”, helping
to greenwash its own colonial, racist, and environmentally destructive history, and that of Israel.
Aytzim and Arava
“Think of a desert: It looks barren — but a little bit of water completely changes everything.
That's a nice metaphor for what we are trying to do — be that little bit of change, the one drop of
water that makes all the difference.”
— Rabbi Michael Cohen, co-founder of the Aytzim
Aytzim and Arava are two large environmental organizations, which also greenwash
Israeli crimes. Meaning "trees", Aytzim was formerly known as the Green Zionist Alliance. This
is a New York-based Jewish environmental organization that is considered a U.S.-registered tax-
deductible non-profit charity, though it is active in Canada and Israel too. This organization is a
member of the American Zionist Movement who, according its mission statement, “Acts on
behalf of Israel… and defends Israel’s cause with vigor and confidence”. The American Zionist
Movement is a federation of Zionist groups affiliated with the World Zionist Organization,
which was founded by Theodor Herzl. Aytzim promotes itself as an environmental organization
that supports Zionism, a colonial ideology that is linked to human and environmental harm.
Aytzim also works in partnership with the JNF. And as the italicized quote, demonstrates above,
this organization propagates the Palestine was a desert myth. On its website, Aytzim also says
“Aytzim's Green Zionist Alliance has been embraced by all streams of the Zionist movement”.
Aytzim portrays Zionism as environmentally friendly, greenwashing its harmful legacy.
Aytzim has three sister organizations, according to its website: the Green Movement, the
Israel Union for Environmental Defense, and Arava. According to its website, Arava is “a
leading environmental and academic institution in the Middle East, working to advance cross-
border environmental cooperation in the face of political conflict”, (n.d., n.p.). Further, it states
its goal to prepare “future Arab and Jewish leaders to cooperatively solve the region’s
environmental challenges”. While the organization may sound neutral and its efforts laudable,
the Arava is funded by the JNF. Arava is also funded by a number of offices of the Israeli
government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Environment, the
Ministry of Science, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Regional Cooperation, and the
Ministry of Negev and Galil Development, as per its website. As a receiver of money from the
colonial JNF and the Israeli government, Arava profits off Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian
people. Arava also officially partnered with the JNF since 2002. Arava boasts of this partnership
on its website, noting how the JNF has funded the construction of Arava’s dormitories, academic
and research offices, and laboratory, and has provided $1 million for scholarships. Arava also
praises the JNF’s “heart and action” and the JNF’s work to “bring an enhanced quality of life to
all of Israel’s residents and translate these advancements to the world beyond”. Arava
conveniently omits the JNF’s racist and colonial legacy from its website, serving to greenwash
the organization and, by extension, Israel’s colonial history.
As per the History section of Arava’s website, Arava also has a partnership with Ben
Gurion University, “to give students the opportunity to study at two leading environmental
institutions and build upon the skills they developed at the Arava Institute”, (n.p.). Like other
Israeli universities, Ben Gurion is complicit in many human rights violations against
Palestinians, (Keller 2009). Ben Gurion University has protocols for helping army reservist
students, (pg. 36). In addition, it grants scholarships to students who participated in Israel’s 2008
military attack on the Gaza strip, which killed over 1,000 Palestinians. Ben Gurion University
also has a program for Israeli army pilots which grants a B.A. in a shorter than usual time of
study. Ben Gurion University’s security also regularly harasses political activists. Arava partners
with Ben Gurion University, an institution that willingly sustains Israel’s oppressive status quo
by privileging students who conscript to the Israeli army over other students and suppressing
student political activism.
Besides its disturbing ties to the Israeli government, Aytzim, Ben Gurion University, and
the JNF, and its role in greenwashing these institutions, Arava helps to normalize Israel’s
colonialism and apartheid. Officially known as the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies,
Arava opened in 1996 in Kibbutz Ketura, Israel, as one of the hundreds of people-to-people
(P2P) programs that were established around that time, (Rauch 2011, pg. 3). P2P programs are
based on “cooperative activities between Israelis and Palestinians to promote peace”, (pg. 14).
P2P activities vary from interfaith dialogue to environmental cooperation. So many P2P groups
were established in the 1990s that Omar Barghouti, who is a founding committee member of the
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and a co-
founder of BDS movement against Israel, says they became an industry, (Mustafa 2009, n.p.). He
calls it a “peace industry”, which helps many get rich while producing “absolutely nothing on the
ground”. Barghouti adds that P2P programs fail to achieve peace, at least a just and sustainable
peace, because they seek to normalize, rather than end Israel’s violent oppression.
According to PACBI (2011), P2P programs, like Arava, normalize Israel’s oppression of
the Palestinians, by building acceptance of this oppression as “the status quo that can be lived
with”, (n.p.). P2P programs build such acceptance by encouraging “coexistence” rather than “co-
resistance” against Israel’s oppression. By encouraging coexistence, within the reality of
colonialism and apartheid, P2P programs encourage a “master/slave type of coexistence” where:
“There is no war, no conflict, nobody is killing anybody, but a master remains a master and the
slave remains a slave”, (Mustafa 2009, n.p.). Besides serving to sustain Israel’s oppressive status
quo, P2P programs can allow Israelis to “feel their conscience is cleared for having engaged
Palestinians they are usually accused of oppressing and discriminating against”, (PACBI, 2011).
Indeed, every single article I read on Arava’s website casts Israel not as a colonial,
apartheid, or even occupying power, but as a country that is on equal grounds with the oppressed
Palestinians. For example, after Israel attacked Gaza in 2014, killing thousands of Palestinian
civilians and injuring thousands more, Arava published this statement on its website: “As the
ongoing tragedy of the Middle East continues to unfold, we at [Arava] remain committed to
dialogue and cross-border partnerships in order to resolve differences through non-violent
means and work together for a more sustainable and peaceful future”, (n.p., my italics). In a
follow-up article on the website, Arava states:
The enormous loss of innocent lives, the fear and the terror that Palestinians and
Israelis are subjected to and subject each other to, have left too many of us
stunned in silence. This blog is dedicated to giving a voice to those who reject
hatred and violence in search of trust and compassion as a means to repair the
broken world we live in.
Arava’s attempt to reduce Israel’s bombing of Gaza to a mere “tragedy” – or as Barghouti
(Mustafa 2009) put it, a “Rome and Juliet story” – in which Palestinians and Israelis “subject
each other” to “fear and terror” is maliciously deceptive, (n.p.). With such statements, Arava
glosses over the fact that the 2014 military offensive was launched by Israel against a territory it
occupies and a native people it oppresses. Arava places equal blame on Israel, which has one of
the most powerful militaries in the world, and the besieged and densely-populated Palestinian
population of Gaza, which lacks basic necessities, such as drinking water, (New Internationalist
2014, n.p.). Besides, Gaza does not have an army, air force, or navy. New Internationalist notes
Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza was more akin to Israel “shooting fish at a barrel”, rather than tragedy.
On the other hand, Arava does not encourage resistance against Israel’s oppression to
ensure Israel does not attack on Gaza again. Rather, Arava encourages Palestinians and Israelis
to “engage in dialogue, unity, and cross-border partnerships” in “search of trust and
“compassion”. Arava’s suggestion that Palestinian and Israeli dialogue can lead to a peaceful and
sustainable future” is as insulting and ridiculous as encouraging Black South Africans to sit with
beneficiaries of South African Apartheid during the apartheid era and engage in dialogue rather
than resistance. It is certainly not through dialogue that the violent South African apartheid
regime and certainly not how the apartheid system of Israel will fall.
By encouraging dialogue and environmental cooperation without recognizing Israel’s
oppressive role and the need to resist against this oppression, Arava serves to normalize, thus
perpetuate, Israel’s oppression, (PACBI 2010, n.p.). As a P2P program, Arava’s role in
perpetuating Israel’s oppression appears to have succeeded. Since it was founded over 20 years
ago, Israel has continued to steal Palestinian land, displace Palestinians, bomb Gaza, and inflict
other social and environmental harms on Palestinians, as illustrated by this MRP. PACBI adds:
More than twenty years of [P2P] projects in Palestine... have led to nothing but
further entrenching Israel's colonization and progressive denial of Palestinian
rights, while exonerating Israel on the international scene as a civilized entity
trying to bridge gaps with the native Palestinians. This important historical
experience has taught the Palestinians, as it did South Africans, crucial lessons:
false symmetry between the oppressor and oppressed only results in further
empowering the oppressor, hence prolonging the bloodshed and injustice, (n.p.).
For my concluding words on Arava, I’d like to highlight the following words by Alaa
Obeid, Palestinian alumna from Arava. Arava has several blogs on its website to demonstrate
how its alumni benefit from its program. Alaa clearly did not benefit from the program, stating:
The semester at the Arava Institute ended and we left the kibbutz to go back
home, back to reality — and what kind of reality did we find? One for which the
past 4 months in Ketura did not prepare me. The kidnapping of the 3 teens, the
Israeli Forces’ home raids in the West Bank and racist attacks on the street. The
same night I arrived in Ramallah, Israeli Forces entered the city for the first time
since the Second Intifada causing clashes with the residents and things escalated
from there. Now the conflict and occupation have never been harsher.
I did not have the time to digest the past 4 months, to settle down, I was
exhausted and stopped functioning normally. The time I spent at the Institute did
not seem to exist […]. Was it really helpful? […] In PELS, [Arava’s mandatory
Peace-building and Environmental Leadership Seminar], there were good and bad
sessions. It was not always clear to me what we achieved or if it had been done
the right way. Was it right to relocate us from our unequal realities, to adjust our
conditions and place us into a situation of equality? Was it right to put us in a
better but fictional framework in order for us to feel safe and communicate as if
we were equal? Why didn’t we talk about the current circumstances, about our
different realities, instead of repeating the differences in our history?
At the end of the semester, I felt equal, I felt empowered to change, I felt I
was a leader; I was ready to start my future with bigger hopes. However, the
harsh reality slapped me in the face. The skills I had gained in PELS have no
place in my current reality. I can’t practice them because there are gaps which
need to be filled; there are basics that don’t exist within our societies. At this time,
we cannot sit at the same table to work out our differences if one party is still
occupied and the other is the occupier.
Alaa notes how Arava’s peace and sustainability initiatives are condemned to fail, since they do
not challenge Israel’s colonialism and apartheid. Rather, Arava provides Palestinians a false
sense of empowerment and equality by engaging them in P2P programs, so they accept Israel’s
oppressive status quo. By normalizing Israel’s oppression and partnering with the JNF, while
presenting itself as “the leading environmental and academic institution in the Middle East”,
Arava greenwashes the injustices it, the JNF, and Israel perpetuate against the Palestinian people.
Overall, the JNF, Aytzim, and Arava all present themselves as environmental organizations
while greenwashing and perpetuating Israel’s oppression.
Environmentalism for Israeli political interests
While I already highlighted how Israel and groups, such as the JNF, Aytzim, and Arava,
use environmental image to advance political causes, such as legitimization and normalization of
Israel’s oppression, I now focus on more specific aspects of Israeli environmental policy, such as
cultivation, national parks, and forestation, demonstrating how they serve to advance Israel’s
colonialism and apartheid, linking these arguments back to the first part of this paper.
Cultivation and “making the desert bloom”
Many Zionist groups propagate the myth that Israel is “making the desert bloom”, as
highlighted in this paper. The JNF even claims: “Forests and parks were not always part of
Israel's landscape. The first Jewish pioneers who came to the land of Israel towards the end of
the twentieth century found a desolate land that provided no shade whatsoever,” (JNF website
2017). The JNF argued that there were no trees whatsoever in Palestine prior to arrival of the
first Zionist “pioneers”, painting an image of a desert. But while this paper highlighted how
Palestine was not deserted, as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians inhabited the land and were
expelled, was it truly a “desolate land”?
Much of Palestine’s forests were, indeed, decimated by the Ottoman Empire, which
occupied Palestine before the British, (Pappé 2004, pg. 64). Olives, cedars, and oaks were
destroyed by Jamal Pasha’s army to use the wood for railway lines. However, Palestine was
certainly not “desolate”, (Orenstein, et al. 2013, pg. 231). The Middle East is, after all,
considered “the cradle of agriculture”, (Kaniewski, Van Campo, Boiy, Terral, Khadari, Besnard
2012). The olive, which was one of the first fruit trees cultivated by man, has a long history in
the Mediterranean, and particularly in Palestine, (Liphschitz, Gophna, Hartman, and Biger 1991).
It is reported that cultivation of the olive began in Palestine during the Chalcolithic Period,
thousands of years before the arrival of the first Zionist settlers. As Qusner (1986) notes, olives
constituted “one of the primary agricultural branches in Palestine” for centuries, and by 1914,
there were 475,000 dunams of olive groves (47,500 hectares) across the area that is now Israel
and the Palestinian territories, (pg. 95). The Palestinian cities of Nablus and Bethlehem are most
renowned for olive production. Nablus’ “remarkable” number of trees and “luxuriant vegetation”
were noted by one traveller during the 19
century, in which he found a “very fair market, [with]
excellent apricots and large white mulberries in abundance”, (Thomas 1853, pg. 113). Thomas
goes on to explain how “it is almost everywhere cultivable, and is in fact highly cultivated”, (pg.
114). Another traveler, documents how flowers, such as anemones, convolvoli, and hollyhocks,
were “conspicuous” in Nablus, which was “beautifully situated in the midst of gardens”, (Crosby
1851, pg. 293). “Everywhere”, he added, “were running streams and fountains, by the side of
which grew pomegranates, magnolias, figs, olives, oranges, and apricots, in the greatest
luxuriance and profusion”, (295). From the late 16th
century to the early 19
(2000) also notes that Nablus “emerged as Palestine’s key centre for regional trade,
manufacturing, and the local organization of commercial agriculture”, (pg. 25). It also “played a
leading role in the growing trade with Europe, especially the export of cotton”.
These descriptions provide a very different image of Palestine than the “desolate” image
promoted by the JNF.
Nablus was not an exception for its greenery and agricultural production in Palestine.
Between 1856 and 1882, Palestine exported all sorts of produce via the ports of Haifa, Acre, and
Jaffa, to Egypt and Lebanon, as well as Europe, (Kamel 2015, pg. 77). The Palestinian cities of
Gaza (wheat), Jaffa (watermelons and citrus), Hebron (grapes), Galilee (tobacco and
watermelons), and others were all “intensively cultivated” by Palestinians and became reputed
for different produce. In December 1945 and January 1946, a Survey of Palestine was conducted
and published by British Mandate authorities, on behalf of the UN Special Committee on
Palestine. It revealed that during the 1944-1945 planting season, about 5 million pounds of
grains, 7 million pounds of vegetables, 4 million and a half pounds of fruits (excluding citrus)
and 3 million pounds of olives were produced, largely by Palestinian farmers. Furthermore,
crops, such as wheat, barley, lentils, peas, chickpeas, and bitter vetch were cultivated in the
region for more than 5000 years, (Orenstein et al. 2013, pg. 32).
Figure 8. Nabulsi soap. I took this image of Palestinian soap made out of olive oil while
visiting the Touqan soap factory, which opened in Nablus in 1894, (2015).
Three quarters of the Palestinian population was actually engaged in agriculture and animal
husbandry, prior to the foundation of Israel, not only to supply subsistence, but also a surplus,
“after tithes and taxes, for trading to obtain other necessities and for storage of reserves to be
used in years of poor harvest”, (pg. 39).
Besides flowers and fruit trees, dwarf shrubs, scrub forest, and oak woodlands, also
formed the Palestinian landscape. On the other hand, Canon Henry Baker Tritram described a
diverse fauna in Palestine. During his 1863-1864 tour of the region, he provided testament to the
existence of animals that have since disappeared, such as deer, Syrian bears, gazelles, and otters.
Therefore, the idea that the JNF made the desert bloom is nothing but a historical revisionist
myth, as Palestine had been already cultivated to support agricultural populations for centuries
and it did not require Zionist agricultural expertise in producing fruits, vegetables, and other
crops. The continued survival of olive trees that are hundreds or even thousands of years old
throughout Palestine/Israel should alone negate the desert colonial myth.
This myth continues to be propagated by Zionists, however, because by suggesting
Palestinians did not cultivate their land, Zionists seek to delegitimize the Palestinians’ claims to
land ownership. By denying Palestinians ever cultivated the land, Zionists can also erase
Palestinian history and grant Israel a sense of superiority as a country that was able to achieve
such an incredible technological and environmental feat in “making the desert bloom” in such a
short span of time. Besides, Zionists claiming it was they, not Palestinians, who cultivated the
land, helps them claim ownership of the land. The greening the desert myth also serves to
legitimize Zionism as an environmental movement, greenwashing its crimes against Palestinians
and their land. Therefore, while no amount of cultivation should justify colonialism and
displacement, Israel’s claim that it cultivated Palestine, “making the desert bloom”, is baseless.
Palestinians have cultivated Palestine for centuries. However, Israel uses this myth to grant Israel
a sense of superiority, greenwash Israel and Zionism, and help Israel claim ownership of
Israel also uses forest plantations to dispossess indigenous inhabitants, erase their history,
and to advance other political and economic colonial interests. The JNF, which is responsible for
Israeli forestation, literally planted the borders of Israel. As Manski (2010) explains, the JNF tree
line follows the Green Line, demarcating the border so distinctly that it is visible from space.
Tree plantations have been used by Israel and the JNF to lay claim to Palestinian territory. By
planting European pines and uprooting indigenous olive trees, JNF sought to demarcate Jewish
versus Arab space, (Manski 2010, n.p.). These plantations also helped Israel “de-Arabise”
Palestine and make it look more like Europe, (Masalha 2012, pg. 177). As Ben Lorber (2012)
“The pines helped evoke images of a European wilderness, creating a familiar ‘natural’
environment for the mostly European Jewish settlers, so much so that settlers
affectionately nicknamed Carmel National Park, planted partially over the destroyed
Palestinian village of al-Tira, ‘little Switzerland’ for its resemblance to the Swiss Alps”
The de-Arabisation of the landscape was vital to Israel’s colonial project, as it helped Zionists
claim ownership of the land and it created a more familiar environment for Zionist settlers. As
Ben Gurion, noted, about 90 percent of the original Second Aliyah immigrants left Palestine,
unable to overcome the enormous challenges of adaptation, (Tal 2002, pg. 28). The Second
Aliyah took place between 1904 and 1914, during which approximately 40,000 Jews immigrated
into Ottoman-ruled Palestine, mostly from the Russian Empire, (Jewish Virtual Library 2017,
n.p.). Tal (2002) reports that even Ben Gurion and the third Prime Minister of Israel, Eshkol, had
thoughts about going back to Europe due to nostalgia, a key element of which was the “lush
scenery of Eastern Europe”, (pg. 28). The JNF’s transformation of Palestine into a more
European landscape helped to make it more hospitable, or at least more familiar to the settlers.
The JNF forests helped settlers “overcome the sense of alienation and the resulting cognitive
dissonance”, (pg. 28). Forest plantations helped Europeanize Palestine, encouraging colonial
settlers to stay.
The JNF also planted forests over destroyed Palestinian villages in order to erase
Palestinian history. JNF plantations hid any physical evidence that Palestinian people used to live
in the area by covering the rubble of their homes, mosques, and schools with trees. Over 86
destroyed Palestinian villages lie beneath JNF forests. None of these villages are mentioned on
the JNF’s website. Palestinian history fades behind the website’s descriptions of the forests’
“wonderful charms, Jewish heritage, and archeological attractions of the region”, (Masalha 2012,
pg. 177). JNF-sponsored “Canada Park”, for example, is located in the West Bank, beyond
Israel’s internationally recognized borders. While the JNF claims this park was planted over
barren land, it was strategically placed over the ruins of the Palestinian villages of Imwas, Yalu,
and Beit Nuba, which were destroyed by Israel in 1967. JNF parks thus helped erase Israeli
crimes and erase the memory of Palestinians from the landscape, in a process described as
“memoricide”, (Pappé 2006, pg. 397). Meanwhile, JNF plantations rendered the landscape
unrecognizable, alienating Palestinian refugees, who became “foreigners, immigrants in their
own land, trespassers sneaking through the bushes just to get a glimpse at their old villages, or
thieves picking oranges from the fruit trees planted by their parents and grandparents”, (Tabar
2010, n.p.). Therefore, JNF forestation helped advance colonial interests of hiding indigenous
history and colonial crime, and creating a new landscape that alienated indigenous Palestinians
and encouraged European Jewish colonists to settle in Palestine.
More recently, the JNF also planted forests to limit Bedouin ‘incursion’ and to restrict
Bedouin herding, (Manski 2010, n.p.). For example, Omer, which is a wealthy town located in
the Negev region decided to plant a large forest in 2009. The council of Omer stated that it
decided to plant the forest partially “to assert control over the land within Omer's municipal
boundaries”, (Yagna, 2009, n.p.). By making this statement, Yagna says the council openly
expressed its intent to use the forest to “discourage the incursion of Bedouin in the area who
have been settling on open land in the town”. The JNF and Israel have used forests to displace
indigenous Palestinians, “assert control” over land, de-Arabise Palestine, make it easier for
settlers to adapt, and to hide Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people and land.
National parks and nature reserves
Israel has also established national parks and nature reserves to justify land grab and
Palestinian expulsion. Israel boasts of more than 70 national parks, (Isaac, Hall and Higgins-
Desbiolles 2015, pg. 70). Some of these parks are located in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and
the Golan Heights. Since 1967, many Palestinians have lost land to “Israeli national parks, nature
reserves, and other ‘green projects”, especially in the OPT, (B’tselem n.d., n.p.). Palestinians lost
land, because these protected areas closed Palestinian land out of use by Palestinians for the
supposed conservation of nature, (Isaac et al. 2015, pg. 70). In racist and colonial fashion,
Palestinians have been depicted as “threats” to nature. B’tselem, however, notes the difficulty of
attributing Israeli nature reserves to environmental concerns, since Israel strengthens rules
protecting reserves when they lead to Palestinian dispossession and relaxes them when they
accommodates the agenda of settlement expansion.
For instance, in 1983, the Nature Reserves and National Parks Unit of the Israeli Civil
Administration established the Nahal Qana Reserve, declaring a nature reserve on an area of
roughly 1,400 hectares along the valley floor of Wadi Qana and its surrounding slopes, (B’tselem
2017). Wadi Qana is located in the Qalqilia area of the Occupied West Bank. The declaration of
land belonging to local Palestinian residents as a nature reserve meant an absolute ban on
Palestinians tree plantation and farming, meaning the loss of an important source of income.
Some Palestinian residents have resisted the ban, since, by planting olive trees, but the Israeli
government regularly uproots and confiscates these trees. One Palestinian resident expresses his
anger at the ban and Israel’s confiscation of the trees by saying: “The olive trees don’t harm the
reserve in any way, they add to its beauty”. In contrast:
Israeli authorities turn a blind eye to illegal activities by settlers in the nature
reserve, such as massive construction, building roads, and discharging wastewater
into the wadi. Some 100 homes in the settlements of Yaqir, Nofim, and Karnei
Shomron were constructed within the area of the reserve and, in 2014, master
plans were submitted for them which include rezoning areas from a nature reserve
B’tselem argues that nature conservation in the West Bank ought to serve the Palestinian public
who is under occupation. Yet, Israel mostly declares natural reserves in order to dispossess
Palestinians, while allowing illegal settlers to make use of the land.
East Jerusalem, which is part of the OPT and is supposed to be the capital of a future
Palestinian state, has been particularly targeted by Israel for the establishment of national parks
in recent years, (B’tselem n.d., n.p.). Since 1967, Israel has established five national parks in
East Jerusalem, using the parks “as a ploy to take over Palestinian land and prevent the
development of Palestinian [neighbourhoods]”, (n.p.). The parks border populated Palestinian
neighbourhoods, and in some cases encroach on Palestinian property. Meanwhile, B’tselem
(n.d.) provides a humorous map of the national parks Israel established in East Jerusalem, noting
how several parks lack “any nature, landscape or heritage treasures” that might justify converting
them into national parks, (n.p.). Israel creates national parks merely to justify the theft and
control of Palestinian land, rather than protect the environment.
A representative from NGO Bimkom compares national parks with settlements, (Agence
France-Presse 2012). "These national parks, we call them green settlements, because it really
works like a settlement”, (n.p.). And like settlements, many national parks were founded through
the forced displacement of the indigenous Palestinian population. For instance, in 1986, Israel
declared the site of the original village of Susya, (located in the West Bank), a national park and
forcibly displaced all of the village’s 400 residents from their homes. Villagers quickly resettled
in caves, tents, and homes they built on land that they owned nearby, (American Friends Service
Committee 2013, pg. 1). The Israeli military completely destroyed this new community in 2001,
and conducted mass demolitions of rebuilt homes and structures since then. Nearly half of the
village population has been permanently forcibly displaced from their homes and village as a
result of these demolitions. Unfortunately, as past colonial empires and Apartheid South Africa,
Apartheid Israel uses national parks to justify the dispossession of indigenous people, the
Palestinians, and land annexation to advance its oppressive agenda.
Environmentalism for Israeli economic interests
Israel and Israeli advocacy groups also use environmental policy also to advance colonial
economic interests by attracting tourism (especially ecotourism) and financial support for their
colonial activities. For example, the JNF encouraged the Jewish diaspora to fund its colonial
activities through its Blue Box, since 1884, by growing trees and propagating the myth that it
was “making the desert bloom”, (Roberts 2013, p.115). There are testimonies to show many
believed this claim, as Israeli Lia Tarachansky (2011) says: "Some of my earliest Jewish
memories involve dropping spare change in the Jewish National Fund's iconic little blue boxes. I
was proud that my money would help plant trees in Israel. The JNF, I knew, was making the
desert bloom", (n.p.). The JNF used the coins collected in the Blue Box to fund its colonial
activities. The JNF’s avowed environmentalism thus helped greenwash its crimes, and to
establish political and financial support within the diaspora for the Zionist project. By donating
to the JNF, Jewish diaspora were not financing land grab, displacement, and racism, but
Under the FAQ section of the JNF website, the JNF also admits that it planted non-native
pines in Palestine “in the hope of developing a viable wood-based resource for Israel's young
developing economy in the 1950's-1960's”. As one of its primary objectives, the JNF also states
that it sought to plant to advance “the economic use of the forest for tourism” and pasture.
Forestation thus helped to advance Israel’s colonial economic interests by supporting tourism,
providing wood, etc. Indeed, according to the OECD (2011), tourism is one of the most
important sectors of the Israeli economy with 45 million tourist arrivals in 2010. Meanwhile,
ecotourism, which is in principle associated with more responsible tourism, is one of the biggest
niche tourism markets in Israel, (Isaac, et al. 2015, pg. 71). Ecotourists are often catered for at
Israeli nature parks. After all, national parks are described in Israeli legislation as being “first and
foremost intended for the enjoyment of the visitor” rather than protection of the environment,
(McNeely and Harrison, 1994, n.p.). Therefore, as the OECD (2011) notes, Israel’s conservation
of natural resources through nature reserves and other protected areas serve as a source of
economic growth in the ecotourist sector, (pg. 144). Forests planted by the JNF have also
“gradually become a main local tourism attraction, as they “include hiking trails, camping areas,
and areas for sports and recreation activities”. The use of tree plantation to draw financial
support for the JNF, the growth of forests as a “viable wood-based resource”, and the
establishment of national parks and forests to draw tourists are only a couple of examples of how
Israel uses environmental policy to advance its colonial economic interests. As an important part
of Israel’s PR efforts to improve its image, it is also safe to assume Israel promotes its false self-
image to drive Israeli tourism in general, Israeli trade, and other international interactions, but
the length of this paper is limited to exploring these examples.
CONCLUSION AND MOVING FORWARD
In his book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappé (2006) explains that the JNF
planted pine trees not only over bulldozed Palestinian homes, but also over fields and olive
groves. In the new development town of Migdal Hamek, for instance, “the JNF did its utmost to
try and cover the ruins of the Palestinian village of Mujaydil” by growing pine trees at the town’s
eastern entrance, (n.p.). However, “the pines failed to adapt to the local soil and, despite repeated
treatment, disease kept afflicting the trees”. Later visits by relatives of some of Mujaydial’s
original Palestinians villagers “revealed that that some of the pine trees had literally split in two
and how, in the middle of their broken trunks, olive trees had popped up in defiance of the alien
flora planted over them fifty-six years ago”.
This MRP demonstrates how Israel greenwashes its colonial, capitalist, and apartheid
legacy. I explain how Israel, like past colonial and apartheid powers, uses environmental policy,
such as cultivation, nature reserves, and national parks, to advance an oppressive agenda. Israel
cannot be a country that cares for the environment, as it operates as a colonial, apartheid, and
capitalist war profiteer, nor should environmentalism ever be used as a reason to justify
violations of human rights. From its water appropriation, to industrial pollution, to drainage of
wetlands, to monoculture pine plantations, to deforestation, to war, Israel also proves time and
time again that its environmental image is false. Israel, since its foundation, has devastated both
the Palestinian people and the environment.
However, just as Mujaydial’s original olive trees came back, despite being repressed by
decades by a colonial entity, Palestinians are too continuing to resist against Israel’s oppression
in various ways, whether they are located in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in Israel, or
abroad. Palestinians also engage diaspora and supporters of the Palestinian cause through a
variety of campaigns, such as BDS and the Stop the Wall Campaign.
Joining the BDS movement is the most significant way in which supporters of the
Palestinian cause can help from outside of Palestine, according to Palestinian civil society,
(Palestinian BDS National Committee n.d., n.p.). Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)
was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005. This movement calls for the application of
economic and political pressure on Israel until it complies with international law by:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and
dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their
homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
The BDS call was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions,
and movements. The BDS campaign was modeled after a similar international human rights
campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. BDS has proven to work in isolating the apartheid
regime in South Africa and leading to its downfall, so there is no reason why BDS should not
work in the case of Palestine. From student union to churches to cities, across all continents,
have already heeded the call for BDS and have boycotted or divested from Israel.
I am proud to say that both the undergraduate and graduate student unions of my own
York University have already endorsed BDS, for example. However, my university remains tied
to Israel. The York University Board of Governors continues to invest in arms manufacturers
that supply to the Israeli army. In addition, York's Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) had a
partnership agreement with Arava since 1999, which I only discovered upon completion of this
research, (YFile 2008, n.p.). There is a graduate level exchange program with the institute, as
part of this partnership, which sends Arava students to the York University for up to a year,
while York students go to “Israel”. The Lassonde School of Engineering at York University and
the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have also entered into a “strategic
partnership” as of 2014, (Technion Canada, n.p.). Technion is one of the most corrupt Israeli
academic institutions. It takes pride in cooperation with Elbit Systems — a major Israeli military
company that manufactures drones used in Israel's attacks on Palestinians and helps Israel build
its illegal Apartheid wall, BDS, (n.d. n.p.). Technion researchers also develop unmanned
vehicles that aid the Israeli army in destroying Palestinian homes, (Keller 2009, pg. 40). As a
student of York University and as a Palestinian, I am incredibly disappointed in my university’s
decision to continue supporting Israel’s oppression in the above-mentioned ways, and I hope it
considers ending its ties with arms manufacturers, Arava, and Technion.
In May 2010, the BDS movement actually launched a JNF campaign targeting the
greenwashing of Israel’s colonial and apartheid activities, (Manski 2010). On the ground,
Palestinian Bedouin organizers have also increasingly incorporated an environmental justice
analysis into their international advocacy efforts, holding a series of protests in front of the JNF
offices in the Negev.
The concept of environmental justice is essentially social justice, inclusive of the
environment. As noted by McDonald (2002), environmental justice lacks a coherent theoretical
framework, but it uses the widest definition of the environment, and it places people, rather than
flora and fauna, at the centre of the web of social, economic, political, and environmental
relationships. Environmental justice emerged as an integral part of the anti-apartheid struggle in
South Africa, as black workers in particular sought to end apartheid’s destructive impact on the
environment, and in extension, their health. I argue that the concept of environment needs to be
inclusive of people. After all, humans are impacted by environmental changes, as all species.
And as the cases of Palestine and South Africa demonstrate, social harm regularly cause
environmental harm and vice versa. In addition, I argue that environmental justice should be as
integral to the Palestinian anti-apartheid struggle as it was in South Africa, since a healthy
environment creates the basis for social, economic, and cultural well-being, especially for
Palestinians who continue to largely identify as fellaheen.
The Stop the Wall Campaign was founded in 2002 in Palestine, as “the main national
grassroots body mobilizing and organizing the collective efforts against Israel’s Apartheid Wall”,
(Stop the Wall 2011). It is based on the efforts of popular committees in the villages affected by
the Wall where people can meet, organize, strategize and mobilize. Its immediate goals are:
• The immediate cessation of the building of the Wall.
• The dismantling of all parts of the Wall and its related zones already built.
• The return of lands confiscated for the path of the Wall.
• The compensation of damages and lost income due to the destruction of land and
property in addition to the restitution of land.
The Stop the Wall campaign uses several strategies, including popular resistance action, NGO
and national mobilization, information and awareness raising, national networking, and youth
education and mobilization. Globally, the campaign targets public opinions and works towards
Besides social and environmental and justice, I argue that economic justice is vital in
moving forward to end Palestinian and environmental devastation. As this paper demonstrates,
capitalism generates inequalities and exploits people and the environment to maximize profit.
Capitalism also works hand in hand with colonialism and apartheid. Therefore, capitalism needs
to be dismantled and alternatives, such as socialism, need to be explored as replacement.
Socialism serves to “create economic development that [benefits] everyone rather than a wealthy
minority, and where the benefits of development are shared and used for social gain rather than
profit”, (Farah 2016, n.p.). The case of South Africa also demonstrates that the end of political
apartheid is not enough. After South African apartheid fell in the 1990s, environmental and
economic justice was not achieved. As McDonald (2002) explains, capitalism remained and its
associated large socio-economic inequalities and environmental devastation. The case of South
Africa teaches an important lesson. Capitalism needs to be abolished, along with colonialism and
apartheid, on the path to achieving social, economic, and environmental justice for the
Last but not least, I urge environmentalists to be more critical of greenwashing
techniques and environmental policy, such as national parks, as to how they can be used by
colonial states, such as Israel, to oppress people. While this paper highlights how
environmentalism has much of its roots in colonialism and how colonial countries used
environmental policy to advance their own oppressive agendas, it is worth noting that some of
the first environmentalists were radical anti-slavery and anti-colonial activists, (Grove 1995).
Grove states: “Quite consistently […] those who criticised colonial laissez-faire policies
pertaining' to deforestation, soil erosion and species extinctions tended also to be those who
deprecated colonial exacerbation of famine and disease patterns and the treatment meted out to
indigenous peoples”, (pg. 281).
For example, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre who is recognized as a pioneer of modern
environmentalism is also recognized as “a pioneering figure in the French anti-slavery
movement”. Conservationist Saint Pierre coupled “his pleas for ecological restraint with pleas
for the release of slaves”. In the West Indies, Alexander Anderson argued for forest protection,
while criticizing the treatment of the Caribs. In India, Colonel Kyd advocated for the production
of famine-resistant crops and opposed continued territorial expansion in areas west of Bengal.
Edward Balfour, who was a pioneering environmentalist India, was not only openly anti-
colonialist, but also “an equally strong feminist”, having “pioneered female medical education in
India, bringing about the opening of the Madras Medical College to women in 1875”.
Grove concludes that colonial scientists, such as Balfour, “are all are good exemplars of
the close connections between nascent environmentalism” and social reformism. Grove notes
that the fact that “the scientists employed by the British were frequently either Scottish or
Central European, and thus inherently peripheral to the imperial social establishment, only
served to strengthen this connection”, (pg. 282). In any case, concern for human rights and
concern for environmental rights have been clearly linked since the founding of
environmentalism. This duality of concerns has carried through the following centuries, as seen
in South Africa and now in Palestine. I believe it is important to remember the radical, human
rights, anti-colonial roots of environmentalism and to think environmental issues as human rights
issues moving forward. Indeed, we see today how many of the countries leading the fight against
climate change, are small, low-income countries, like the Maldives, which link their people’s
survival to environmental protection. I encourage environmental departments to stress this link
between human and environmental rights. Environmentalists, I argue, have a responsibility to
speak out and to deny the green platform to colonial, capitalist, and apartheid entities, like Israel,
which greenwash their oppressive practices, doing a disservice to the environmental movement
and to humanity.
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