Greenwashing- Part 1: Control of the Land
A series about solidarity and intersectional justice.
“Greenwashing is the practice used by Israeli apartheid to hide its crimes and violence under a fake narrative that presents the regime as if it cared about the environment.” (BDS 2022)
Greenwashing is a tactic used by companies, institutions, or this piece argues- States, to deceive or mislead consumers into thinking that the product they are being sold has a greater environmental impact than the truth. For instance, Shell, the oil industry, ran a campaign in the Netherlands which saw their oil tankers say ‘I am CO2 neutral’ on them. This distracts from the purpose of the company and also spreads an untruth as proved by nine students from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and agreed by the Advertising Code Commission. (Red Monitor, 2011)
The most vivid example of Greenwashing in Israel was a BBC interview where it was reported a young female Israeli soldier commented that; ‘Her diet is so important to her that had the army not been able to provide conditions that had harmed no living creatures, she might not have enlisted in a combat unit where she would not have been able to provide her own food’ (BBC, 2016). This statement, of course, glosses over the army’s deliberate and relentless violence shown towards Palestinians. Or perhaps they are not regarded as creatures, let alone humans.
Greenwashing for Israel however, alongside co-opting the “trendy” Greenwashing campaigns such as Veganism, attendance at the COP conference series (most recently November 2022 Cop27 in Egypt), and advertising their research into solar energy (conducted in the occupied Palestinian territories without benefit to the Palestinian population in the West Bank), Greenwashing is also at the heart of Israel’s justification for the occupation of Palestine and the Apartheid regime.
Greenwashing Embedded into the History of the State
Ilan Pappe in his seminal book ‘Ten Myths About Israel’ discusses how the narrative that ‘the promised land was empty, desolate and barren before the arrival of Zionism’ spread through the Israeli education system, the media, scholarship and eventually the United States- who still cling on feverishly to this myth Pappe, 2017, (p.6). Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview with Jordan Peterson on December 8, 2022, exclaimed that before the establishment of the Israeli State the land was barren, exclaiming: ‘Nobody else did anything with it. There was nobody else’- interview here. These myths erase the Palestinian people and their continuing legacy of the protection and cultivation of their land, and also paint Zionists as green-fingered saviours.
Greenwashing v Environmental Reality
The reality however is that Israel does not have a continuous, shiny, environmentally friendly track record, and the one it perpetrates on the media is built on lies.
Over 70 acres of ‘National Parks’ in the occupied West Bank for instance, in Area C, are often previous farmland or walking routes cultivated by Palestinians for centuries. There are instances of the Israeli government uprooting planted olive trees, and arresting Palestinians for putting up signs to guide hikers. Settlers however, in similar National Parks, are not prosecuted for building houses, roads, or discharging their waste into the environment. The rhetoric of the Parks overshadows the brutal reality of the occupation where Palestinians are not granted access to their own land and have multiple restrictions which we will explore below.
The Tent of Nations is a good example of how a long-standing farming family is struggling to cultivate their land due to the pressure of urban settlements being built around them. The Tent of Nations has been attacked; with over 1,000 fruit trees being destroyed in May 2021, and the Israeli military has brought bulldozers to the farm and destroyed trees in the process. The aim being to use the land for roads and checkpoints for the settlers- removing this center of cultivation. The Nassar family remind their supporters that, ‘When we plant an olive tree and watch it grow from the ground and up, we believe that there is hope for a better future’ and encourage international guests to volunteer with them to help safeguard the land for the future.6
A further irony of this National Park myth is the reality that the natural forest/farming landscape of Palestine was proactively destroyed. In 1948, and following years, to uphold the above explored myth of a ‘land without a people’, Israel uprooted native trees and agricultural crops- ‘such as carobs, hawthorns, oaks, olives, figs and almonds’ and replaced them with non-native trees that have damaged the balance of the environment. Report: Institute for Middle East Understanding
A recent documentary The Village Under the Forest tells the story of Lubya, just one of the many destroyed Palestinian villages that have been covered with the JNF forests funded by overseas donations. On google maps these areas are described as forests that have reviews that praise their beauty and use of land. An action that can counter this Greenwashing could be to leave a 1 or 2 star review that describes the original purpose of this land and the forced removal of indigenous citizens.
Watch the Village Under the Forest Here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/villageundertheforest/78181601
The case of inequalities over water is also well known. Amnesty International records that,
“Palestinians consume on average 73 litres of water a day per person, which is well below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended daily minimum of 100 litres per capita” Amnesty Report. In many herding communities in the West Bank, the water consumption for thousands of Palestinians is as low as 20 litres per person a day, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, published in 2021 that explored water resources in the occupied Palestinian territory found that in Gaza, ‘It is estimated that 97 per cent of the population rely on informal and unregulated private water tankers and small-scale informal desalination plants for drinking water’ which are not subject to hygiene tests/practices, (UN Report).
Not only is water restricted to Palestinians, but in Gaza 96% of the water available is undrinkable (World Bank). In fact, access to fresh water is close to zero. Mekorot, Israel’s State-owned water company, was created to perpetrate water apartheid and discriminate between Palestinians and Israelis. Building permits in the West Bank for instance stop Palestinians building or fixing infrastructure for their water supplies, meaning they are dependent on this network produced for settlers. They have to buy back water at a much-raised cost. The World Council of Churches, in partnership with the Environmental Education Center and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, met in Bethlehem in 2016 to discuss water inequalities and climate change mitigation. In response, ‘Many of the WCC representatives were detained, interrogated and confined for several days by the Israeli government, some were deported and others were not allowed into Bethlehem,’ (S. Awad, ‘Ecological Justice for Palestine,’ 2019).
Agricultural practices in many parts of the West Bank have had to be changed, swapping the growth of fruits for instance for less water intensive products like cucumber or squash. The unreliability of water however has made this a precarious business. The village Ein al-Beida has gradually seen its spring dry up by Mekorkot who are relocating the water to a nearby settlement- Mehola, (Amnesty Report). The over extraction of water in the occupied territory by Israel has resulted in the area becoming prone to environmental disasters such as flooding and droughts. The Apartheid wall was also deliberately constructed to take water-rich resourced Palestinian land. The inaccessibility of this area has now seen the loss of fruit-bearing trees.
Waste management is also a huge problem. Palestinian land is contaminated by sewage from settlements and Palestinian Authorities are denied construction to advance their waste collection infrastructure. In 2016 all chemical factories inside Israel were moved to the West Bank in Tulkarm. These factories send their waste without treatment to Palestinian towns and villages ‘regardless of any ethical, humanitarian, human rights or environmental standards’ (Awad, 2019). Notwithstanding the danger of these toxic gases to neighboring communities.
Since the 1967 war the environment in Gaza has been destroyed. Over-population from refugee status’, building restrictions, lack of water and freedom of movement has created ‘noise pollution, air pollution, groundwater pollution, soil salinization, high-voltage electricity, possible radioactive hazards, and the spread of Norwegian rats’ (Al-Agha, ‘Environmental Management in the Gaza Strip’). More recently, the increase in population has seen huge waste management issues, with inadequate sewage provisions which feeds into the larger water system and increases the need for harmful chemical processes, (World Bank Document, 2022).
To conclude, these examples have shown how imbedded land separation and extraction are to the Israeli apartheid regime. Whilst Israel can attend the COP conference, boasting its provisions in environmentally energy research, it is destroying the land, and indigenous ownership and protection of the land in its occupied territories. This is not only affecting the health of Palestinians, through chemical waste, the removal of their natural forestry, water restrictions and recollections, and the ability to create effective waste management, but is also damaging the larger eco-system, and feeding back into Israeli society- increasing the need for harsher chemical treatment of water for instance.
The next blog explores theologically why environmental justice cannot be separated, and how our faith calls us to truthfully honour the integrity of our world.