The non-human in Israel and Palestine
Since its origin in 1917, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has looked to ‘set roots’ in its new homeland (Bardenstein 1999). Planting a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees not native to the region, the JNF has attempted to reconstruct the European landscapes they left behind (Bardenstein 1999; Said 1992). Doing so upon the ruins of former Palestinian villages, the JNF altered the topography of the nation.
One of Israel’s great claims to environmental ingenuity has been its socialist-modelled communes known as kibbutzim. Israeli leaders from Golda Meir to military commander Moshe Dayan were born in them. Nevertheless, Kibbutzim have historically relied on inexpensive Arab labour to maintain and cultivate their land and operations (Bardenstein 1999; Said 1992).
The mass destruction of Palestinian olive groves occurred in direct relation to losses associated with human life. Numbers of Palestinian refugees presently total 4.7 million human beings; 45 per cent of the remaining population in Palestine relies on olive harvests for their income. From 2001 to 2005 alone, Israel destroyed 465,945 olive trees. Eighty per cent of Palestinian farmers have been denied access to their olive trees. In 2000, one million olive trees in the occupied territories were inaccessible to Palestinian farmers due only to the separation wall (Makdisi 2008: 65).
Israeli discourse is a primary concern in writing on Palestine (Chomsky and Pappé 2015; Masalha 1992; Pappé 2004, 2006; Said 1992, 1997). Israel’s self-presentation to the West as a democratic, environmental/agricultural pioneer and long-standing victim in the Middle East has relied on such discourse. A chief agent of this discourse is also, of course, the arts.
Israeli rhetorical strategies also compliment Euro-American discourse about Islam and the Arab world. Where ‘terrorism’ is a generalised threat to Israel and democracy itself, ‘anti-terrorist’ measures also serve American and European oil interests in the Middle East. The figure of the veiled Muslim woman is used by Western feminists and the Western right alike to confirm rhetorically the backwardness of the Middle East and, in turn, Western superiority (Ahmed 1982). Since 9/11 (and before) these strategies have benefited European and American anti-immigration interests, preventing the Palestinian, Syrian, Afghani, and Iraqi refugees of American wars and European settler colonialism from accessing the benefits of any nation’s citizenship. In the face of these conflicts of interest, it has been specifically difficult for Palestinian resistance, activism, and peace-making to take hold. Despite recent tensions between Israel and their closest ally, the United States, the Israeli military government was funded twenty-five billion dollars by the Obama administration alone (Bruck 2015).