[News] JNF plants trees to uproot Bedouin

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 19 12:08:11 EDT 2010

JNF plants trees to uproot Bedouin

Arwa Aburawa, The Electronic Intifada, 18 October 2010

Israel has exploited the country's natural environment for its own 
political ends for decades. Since 1948 olive trees have been 
uprooted, quarries mined, the most fertile lands taken for 
settlements and water illegally extracted. However, in the Naqab 
(Hebraized as Negev) desert and the Galilee this ecological 
occupation takes on a very different form. Instead of uprooting 
trees, they are planted in huge numbers by the Jewish National Fund 
(JNF), a Zionist organization setup in 1901 and which displaced 
Palestinians during the 1948 dispossession or Nakba, and has since 
planted more than 24 million trees covering more than 250,000 acres 
of land in the country.

Although the JNF states that it is working to improve the environment 
by making the regions "green and prosperous," a recent incident in 
the Naqab desert where the local Bedouin population was accused of 
damaging 1,600 JNF trees tells a different story. The Israeli mayor 
Pini Badash of Omer, a small town bordering Beersheba where the 
alleged attacks took place this September, told the Israeli daily 
Haaretz that he believed that more than 10,000 trees had been 
uprooted by the Bedouin in the last year alone. If the allegations 
are true, they suggest that the local Arab Bedouin object to the 
JNF's afforestation projects and also see them as symbols of 
occupation that need to be resisted.

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. The largest JNF forest is the Yatir 
forest located in the northern Naqab which covers 30,000 dunams and 
is in fact Israel's largest planted forest. Inspired by Zionist 
mythology to make the desert bloom, the JNF's forestation schemes now 
includes the "Blueprint Negev" project -- a ten year and $600 million 
initiative which includes program for water conservation and further 
afforestation in the Naqab. None of these facilities, of course, will 
be for the benefit of the Bedouins living in "unrecognized" villages 
which Israel states are illegal although the Bedouin have lived there 
for generations.

By 2003 the JNF had acquired more than 2 million dunams of 
Palestinian land, although trees were planted and around 100 parks 
were built to obscure the sites of the Palestinian villages.

Consequently, it is not difficult to understand why trees planted by 
the JNF are seen as part and parcel of the Israeli occupation and 
therefore as legitimate targets of resistance and protest. As the 
Israeli historian Ilan Pappe states in 
<http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11078.shtml>a report on the 
JNF released by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign in 2010, 
"The 'green lungs' of Israel have been created as part of the 
colonization of the country and the dispossession of the Palestinian 
people -- and not out of care for ecology and nature."

Although the JNF continues its work as an environmental charity, its 
efforts to green the Naqab have come under scrutiny by environmental 
experts who state that the afforestation in the Naqab is actually 
causing "serious and irreparable damage to nature and the 
environment." Other critics such as Alice Gray, an environmental 
expert living in the West Bank, believe that the JNF uses 
afforestation as a means to control Bedouin land. "Trees are used by 
the JNF to actualize their control over tracts of land and prevent 
the Bedouin from using it. Are the Bedouin allowed to plant trees? 
No," she says.

"The state has repeatedly destroyed Bedouin crops of all sorts -- 
they used to spray them with Round-Up [a broad-spectrum herbicide] 
out of helicopters until too many were hospitalized with chemical 
poisoning and the [high court] forbade it ... Between that practice 
and frequent house demolitions, the Bedouin of the unrecognized 
villages are subjected to continuous harassment and abuse by the 
Israeli state. Their entire way of life is delegitimized while at the 
same time the JNF is able to move with impunity," Gray says.

Bedouin leaders have also refuted the tree-cutting allegations made 
by mayor Badash as completely unfounded, adding that damaging trees 
goes against the Bedouin culture of caring for the environment. Ra'ed 
al-Mickawi, a Bedouin from the Naqab who works with Bustan, a 
nongovernmental organization promoting environmental justice in the 
region, added, "Bedouins practice sustainability as a default -- we 
are self-sufficient and consume very little, both in the past and 
now. We lead very humble lives and live on the things that we produce 
and I think that is a major factor in shaping the way that my 
community sees nature ... In fact, many Bedouin practices are aimed 
at supporting and protecting nature."

While the accusations against the Bedouin remain unconfirmed 
allegations, the trees the JNF plants are not symbols of a 
mutually-shared environment. They represent a form of Israeli 
oppression that has taken root in Palestinian land and which is 
constantly damaging the Bedouin way of life. As Gray remarks, "if the 
Bedouin did cut the trees -- unproven but not entirely unlikely -- 
they did so in resistance to an ongoing campaign of delegitimization 
and exclusion that is being waged against them by the State of Israel 
in collusion with the JNF."

In early May 2010, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to 
hold Israel accountable launched a campaign highlighting the JNF's 
greenwashing which activists say obscures its colonizing and 
apartheid activities. The Stop the JNF campaign is also working to 
challenge the organization's charitable status in more than fifty 
countries and to document the JNF's ongoing role in the ethnic 
cleansing of Palestine. An open letter signed by 26 organizations was 
issued ahead of the JNF's annual meeting in October, urging it to 
stop forestation activities in areas of existing Bedouin villages and 
to end their complicity in the dispossession of Israel's Bedouin community.

Arwa Aburawa 
is a freelance journalist based in the UK who writes on the Middle 
East, the environment and various social issues.

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