Greenwashing The Naqab

While the international attention is diverted to Russia’s possible annexation of Ukraine, Israel is striving to exploit the situation by silently trying to expel the people of the Naqab from their land.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) is carrying out a colonial forestation program in the Naqe al-Sabe area of the Naqab, home to an estimated 30,000 Palestinians, to dispossess the natives from their land and plant trees.

Recently, the JNF brutally injured and violently arrested hundreds of Palestinian Bedouins, including minors, protesting injustice, ethnic cleansing, and dispossession. It sent bulldozers to raze Bedouin farming lands even as some 500 protesters faced hundreds of heavily armed Israeli forces who fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades to suppress the protest.

There is a clear escalation. It is unprecedented that JNF bulldozers are arriving with this amount of protection – hundreds of police, special forces, and mounted police – this has never happened here before. Police blockaded villages, placed checkpoints and stopped traffic – prevented people from going home and school buses to enter and exit,” Marwan Abu Freih, a field coordinator with the Adalah (a human rights organization), told.

Cruel history of atrocities

The Naqab is Palestine’s largest district. It has faced unrelenting colonization since the establishment of the state of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.

Around 300,000 Bedouins living in the Naqab, are the descendants of families who remained after an estimated 80,000-90,000 Bedouins were forced to flee the area in 1948.

Though many of the families had lived on these lands before the creation of Israel in 1948, it does not recognize the area of Naqe al-Sabe or their ownership over the land. 

In fact, Israel views the residents as trespassers and refers to their villages as illegal clusters, despite the fact that many of the Bedouins are living in their ancestral homelands. They are also denied basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity, and health centers.

Between 2013 and 2019, Israeli forces demolished more than 10,000 Bedouin homes in the Naqab.

“The area of the Naqab desert was historically inhabited by Bedouin Palestinian tribes, with social, cultural and economic ties to the Palestinian urban society as well as to Bedouin communities in Sinai, Jordan, and the Arabian Peninsula. Taxation documents prior to the establishment of the State of Israel prove that Bedouins legally owned lands and property,” Dr. Yaara Benger Alaluf, historian and education coordinator of Zochrot Benger Alaluf, told TRT World.

Relentless land theft in the Naqab 

Recently, Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vowed to accelerate its expansionist plan in the Naqab, making his intention to settle European Jews in the area through the JNF clear.

How can an “ecological organization” raze Palestinian farmland, violently beat children, arrest dozens of unarmed protestors, and make residents lose their homes and livelihood just to plant trees?

The truth is the JNF is an Israeli government instrument. The primary aim of Israel’s tree-planting projects is not to help the environment but to steal the Palestinian land, notes Al Jazeera. Palestinians often call the JNF’s so-called forestation efforts “greenwashing” – a term that refers to a state or company pretending to be environmentally friendly to deflect attention from criminal activity.

In occupied East Jerusalem, it is alleged that the JNF often buys Palestinian homes and turns them over to Israeli settler groups. In 2006, the JNF signed a 49-year lease agreement with Israel to develop over 30,000 hectares of land in the Naqab for forests. In addition, the ‘Israel 2040’ plan is set to relocate 1.5 million Jewish settlers to the north and south over a period of 20 years.

The Israel Land Authority, which administers the JNF, plans to plant some 45,000 dunams in the Naqab with trees “to conserve open spaces and nature from illegal control,” according to official Israeli statements.

Many historians insist the JNF was established as the principal tool for the colonization of Palestine.

“By falsely marketing itself as a benign tree-planting organization and portraying Palestine as uninhabited, JNF was able to appeal to the Jewish Diaspora for donations to fund its colonial operations, and perhaps more significantly, rally support for Zionism. While JNF boasts of having planted over 240 million trees, most are non-Native conifers, which are not suited to the Palestinian environment, regularly bursting into fires due to their high flammability, producing needles that acidify the forest floor and kill Indigenous species and reduce biodiversity,” Ghada Sasa, a Ph.D. student in International Relations at McMaster University, told. 

The Higher Follow Up Committee of Arabs in the Naqab, a local umbrella resistance group, has called for further protests and vigils in the region. They also called for a #save_naqab campaign on social media to make the protests international. Moreover, Palestinians in the occupied territories of West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as in the United States, have also organized similar protests in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Naqab.

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