Book Review: How Green Is the Jewish National Fund?
by Sylvia Schwarz
31 May 2011
Original review at Monthly Review Zine
Greenwashing Apartheid: The Jewish National Fund’s Environmental Cover Up. JNF eBook (Volume 4). May 15, 2011
The 63-year old State of Israel has had overwhelming success at hiding its true intentions and purposes, effectively whitewashing actions which, if properly understood, would be extremely disturbing to most people. Thus the passage of laws discriminating on the basis of ethnicity, if mentioned at all, is framed as preserving the Jewish character of the state. The massacre of Deir Yassin is said to have saved the lives of many Palestinians by encouraging them to leave to avoid a similar fate. The destruction of Palestinian homes is bureaucratic and therefore mundane — just a lack of proper building permits, hardly anything that a foreigner should be concerned with. Examples of whitewashing of Israeli wrongdoings are numerous and pervasive: nearly everyone in the United States has heard the myths perpetuated by them.
What is new is Israel’s turn to greenwashing, i.e. the use of deceptive words or actions to cover up wrongdoings by couching them in environmentally friendly terms.
The Jewish National Fund is an organization founded in 1901 to procure land in Palestine for the benefit of Jews only. Having purchased some land at the beginning of its existence, the JNF proceeded to acquire it through expulsion of indigenous inhabitants of Palestine and expropriation of their land. It continues this practice today, grabbing thousands of dunums (a dunum is 1,000 square meters) of land, forcing the Palestinian owners into homelessness and destroying their history.
The goal of the JNF has not changed since its founding. It remains an organization to procure and hold land in perpetuity for Jews only. Thus the JNF is a tool of ethnic cleansing, which can only be accomplished if the fund’s actions and their consequences are withheld from the world. To cover up its crimes, the JNF has planted forests where once villages stood. Who could be against planting forests — trees, the lungs of the world, a carbon sink, habitat for birds and wildlife? This is greenwashing, the act that the contributors to Greenwashing Apartheid: The Jewish National Fund’s Environmental Cover Up are attempting to expose.
This eBook contains eleven essays (and other related materials) from scholars, historians, anthropologists, biologists, and activists, discussing some of the various aspects of the JNF and its effects on the environment in Israel/Palestine, on the indigenous people of Palestine, and on Jews both within Israel and around the world.
The case study of Beer Sheba (“The Denied Inheritance: Palestinian Land Ownership in Beer Sheba”) by Salman Abu-Sitta presents photocopies and translations of original documents showing land ownership and the legal system of usufruct in the Ottoman Empire. The land in the Beer Sheba district was continuously cultivated for many centuries prior to the 1948 ethnic cleansing, known as an-Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when more than 750,000 Palestinians, including the residents of Beer Sheba, were driven from their lands. The government of Israel then claimed that the land had been an uncultivated wasteland and, through its own interpretation of Ottoman laws, expropriated the land. Aerial photographic and documentary evidence still in existence, however, shows that the land had been cultivated and taxes had been paid on its proceeds for hundreds of years. This evidence was not sufficient to prove to the Israeli authorities that the land belonged to the previous residents who became homeless refugees.
The history of Lake Huleh is told in another essay, “Drying and Re-Flooding of Lake Huleh: JNF’s Colonial Designs in Indigenous Landscapes” by Akram Salhab. The essay first describes the JNF’s professed goals concerning Lake Huleh: to redeem the land under the lake for use in farming and settlements, and to rid the country of mosquito breeding grounds. However, the JNF project, as the essay reveals, created an environmental disaster, including underground peat fires, eutrophication of Lake Tiberias, and the extinction of several species of flora and fauna which had been unique to the region. Because of these problems, and also because the drained lake never became productive agricultural land, the JNF attempted to re-flood and restore the lake in 1994. It would be a stretch to claim this disaster as an environmental “success,” yet that is exactly what the JNF, in its propaganda, does.
The environment is unlikely to recover from the Lake Huleh project. The destruction and erasure of hundreds of Palestinian villages from 1948 through today is equally catastrophic in environmental and agricultural as well as human costs. Max Blumenthal’s piece “Burning All Illusions: the Carmel Wildfire” is one of the several essays in this collection which describe the effects of a non-native species introduced to the region. When villages were cleansed of their inhabitants, Israel sent in bulldozers and dynamites to destroy the buildings the Palestinians left behind. But even destroying the buildings wouldn’t ensure that Palestinians would stay away from their former homes. Their land was thus transferred to the JNF, which planted fast-growing, non-native pine trees over the ruins of the villages. Not only would the trees erase all signs of the expelled inhabitants, the land would become useless for the previously grown crops, since the acidity of the pine needles would change the species which could thrive there. Ironically, in 2010 the largest wildfire in Israel’s history engulfed Mount Carmel, destroying many of those non-indigenous trees, which were not suited for that climate.
Colonizers, for all their vaunted “superiority” of their “modern” agricultural methods, often failed at their own projects. Still, their condescension to the colonized knows no end. Jesse Benjamin’s essay “Orwell’s ‘Green Patrol’ and the Relentless Racialized Illogic of Ethnic Cleansing in the Name of Environmentalism” shows stark examples of the distain in which indigenous peoples are held by their colonizers. As we read this eBook, similarities between the ethnic cleansings in Israel and in the Americas begin to stand out. Coya White Hat-Artichoker sums them up in her “First Nations-Palestinian Solidarity Statement”: “As a First Nations person, I believe I can call genocide when I see it.”
The ethnic cleansing of Palestine, begun in the early part of the 20th century, continues today. Photographic evidence of that is seen in “Canada Park: Canadian Complicity in a War Crime” by Ismail Zayid. His article reminds us of the fact that this project of ethnic cleansing is a multinational enterprise: contributions to the JNF are tax deductible in 50 countries around the world. The JNF may not be a friend of environmentalists, but it is certainly a friend of accountants in service of the rich looking for tax savings.
The JNF has been thus far successful in leading people around the world to believe they are part of a grand scheme to “redeem the land” and to “make the desert bloom.” But, for how long will it be able to continue ethnic cleansing while posing as a tax-exempt Green charity? There is now a new campaign, Stop the JNF, to challenge the fund’s propaganda, including its greenwashing. Visit the website <stopthejnf.org> to find Greenwashing Apartheid and three previous JNF eBooks, along with fact sheets and suggested actions.
Sylvia Schwarz is a water and wastewater engineer in St. Paul, Minnesota, and studies water resources and water justice issues. She is a member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN).
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