Can Planting Trees Really Solve the Israel-Palestine Conflict?

by Arwa Aburawa

There is this strange place where the green environmental movement and the Israel-Palestine conflict meet which I find simultaneously inspiring and problematic.

Inspiring because some good must come out of the tree-planting co-existance stuff even if it is hard to quantify and mostly seems to be feel-good vibes for international funders. Problematic because there are sinister undertones to some of the ‘green’ actions that, for example, diminish the gulf of inequality between Palestinians and Israelis, ignore the political dimension (causes) of the ecological conflict or fail to see that some tree-planting is just plain old ‘greenwashing’.

I guess the reason I struggle with the issue (as fellow freelancer Sarah Irvingonce pointed out to me) is that I see the green movement as something which is pretty lefty, anarchistic and anti-state but the green movement in Israel is not that at all. In fact, it can be quite nationalistic, far right politically and very much part of the national agenda. Think the average Israeli Kibbutz. Nothing represent Israel’s green national movement like the the Jewish National Fund whose major green aim seems to be planting lots and lots trees on any land they can get their hands on. According to their website that’s more than 24 million trees covering more than 250,000 acres of land. Impressive, I guess.

The only one problem is that the JNF is a pretty nasty piece of work. As I’ve written before on Electronic Intifada with regards to the JNF planting trees to uproot Bedouins;

“Since 1948 the JNF has played a key role in the colonization of Palestine, working with the State of Israel to disposes Palestinian Arabs and create Jewish-only communities. Following the destruction of 500 Palestinian villages during the Nakba, the JNF purchased more than a million dunams of land (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters) for the exclusive use of the Jewish state which it later shared with the Israel Land Authority. The dispossession continued into the 1960s in the Galilee region where destroyed villages were planted over by the JNF with pine trees. The West Bank was also targeted through a subsidiary group called the Hemnuta, which illegally acquired lands and houses, focusing on occupied East Jerusalem.

In the Naqab, JNF trees are planted row after row, cutting off Bedouin communities from their land, constricting their nomadic movements and pushing them into the poor urban townships. Entire Bedouin villages such as that of al-Araqib, Karkur and Twail Abu Jarwal have been destroyed and their populations made homeless simply to make way for JNF forests …”

You could say that the ‘green’ aspect of the JNF isn’t really about saving the environment, well maybe it is, but it’s about saving the environment for Israel/Israelis to the detriment of Palestinians. Even organisations such as the Arava Institute, which appear to be more open to the need for Palestinians and Israelis to work together, have connections with the JNF. For example, the founder Alon Tal is a member of the JNF Board of Directors. The chair of Friends of Arava Seth Morrison also recentlypublished an article in the Jerusalem post stating that the JNF should stop planting trees on lands that are in dispute with Bedouin (okay, that makes sense) but only to improve it’s reputation, adding that they must provide ‘more services in a culturally sensitive way’ (not sure culturally sensitivity is the problem here- the real issue is the total denial of rights to Bedouin living in Israel as well as dispossession by trees).

So to answer the questioned raised in the title, planting trees probably won’t solve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Well not JNF-style tree planting which displaces Bedouins and Palestinians or plants over demolished villages anyhow.

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