Resisting Greenwashing in the Naqab: Intifada Unity Continues | Israelo-Palestinian conflict
This month, the Israeli regime again made aggressive attempts to seize Palestinian Bedouin lands in the Naqab (commonly known in English as the Negev).
The Naqab is the largest historic district in Palestine, covering some 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 sq mi). It has faced relentless colonization since the establishment of the State of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.
Prior to the formation of the Israeli state, between 75,000 and 90,000 Bedouin Palestinians lived in the Naqab and owned land under a clearly defined indigenous system. But after the ethnic cleansing of 1948, only about 13,000 survived and remained on the land. Today, the descendants of these Bedouins number 200,000 to 300,000. Over the decades, they were crowded into designated townships, denied building permits, had their lands appropriated, deprived of basic services, imprisoned and much more.
The latest escalation in the Naqab began in mid-January, after bulldozers belonging to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a quasi-governmental agency, arrived with heavy police protection in the village of al-Atrash and razed Bedouin farmland “in order to plant trees”. While local Bedouin families insisted the land was theirs privately, Israeli officials alleged that the land belonged to the state and ignored their ownership. Bedouin in and around the village protested the decision and the resistance continued for days. Many, including children, were beaten and violently arrested. After destroying the protest tents set up by the families, the Israeli police blocked access to villages and the JNF provocatively organized for far-right Israeli politicians to be photographed planting ar ber on stolen land.
This charade was specifically orchestrated to promote the racist trope that, through its various reforestation projects, Israel “makes the desert bloom.”
Of course, the main purpose of Israel’s tree planting projects is not to help the environment, but to steal and ethnically cleanse Palestinian land.
Indeed, the JNF has been using this tree-planting narrative to further the theft of Palestinian land for decades. Founded before the State of Israel, the JNF was tasked with acquiring land in Palestine for Jewish settlement by any means possible. After the establishment of Israel, it worked in tandem with the state to appropriate Palestinian lands across the so-called Green Line, often designating large swathes of land as national parks and preventing Palestinians to return to these lands. Palestinians have long called the JNF’s so-called reforestation efforts “greenwashing” – a term that refers to a state or company claiming to be environmentally friendly in order to distract attention from criminal activity.
In Palestine, the Israeli regime has long passed off its ethnic cleansing efforts as environmental action, and greenwashing has been a tenet of Zionism from the very beginning. It is a principle that affirms that Zionist settlers are better stewards of the land than native Palestinians.
The Naqab, in particular, has long been at the center of this greenwashing propaganda.
Since 2011, for example, Israel has built huge fields of commercial solar panels in the region. Israeli authorities have promoted these fields as an important part of the state’s green agenda – tools to help it reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and produce clean energy.
Of course, in reality, this is just another blatant example of greenwashing.
The electricity produced by the solar panels placed on Bedouin land is sold to the Israeli Electric Corporation (IEC), a state-owned public company. The IEC allocates most of this electricity to rapidly growing industrialization projects in the Naqab that displace Palestinians, as well as to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Ultimately, the “green” electricity produced on Bedouin land ends up directly supporting Israel’s colonial projects that seek to permanently displace Palestinians. Meanwhile, many Palestinian Bedouin communities, who should be the first to benefit from the land and the energy it produces, remain without basic access to electricity.
Palestinians are not silent about the rapidly accelerating land theft and Israeli greenwashing efforts in the Naqab. They demonstrate in large numbers, organize sit-ins and sometimes prevent the Israeli regime’s invading forces from entering their villages and townships. In return, they face tear gas and skunk attacks, arrests and beatings. Dozens were arrested in the latest crackdown. Those who have been arrested for resisting Israeli oppression know they will not have adequate access to legal resources and will face mock courts designed specifically to intimidate and victimize them. Yet the Naqab Palestinians have no intention of giving up and allowing the theft, use and abuse of their ancestral lands without resistance.
And the Bedouin Palestinians of the Naqab are not alone in this fight. Despite Israel’s relentless attempts to do so, what is happening in the Naqab cannot be dissociated from events in the rest of Palestine. And the Palestinians know it.
Israel has long tried to convince the Bedouins that they are not part of the Palestinian people or the Palestinian struggle. To achieve this goal, among other attempts at manipulation, Israel has recruited young Palestinian Bedouins into its army. The Israeli regime has also cemented the narrative that the Bedouins are a landless people – wandering from region to region with no attachment or private ownership of land. This narrative has been a key tool in the continued displacement of Palestinians in the Naqab. Yet this is a mistake – before the establishment of Israel, the Palestinian Bedouin officially owned and successfully cultivated the lands of the Naqab for a long time. Moreover, they have always been and still are an integral part of the social and cultural fabric of Palestine and the Palestinian people.
The integrity of the Naqab in Palestine was beautifully showcased in May 2021, when Bedouins joined the Unity Intifada alongside other Palestinians. Today we see the continuation of that flame of unity that was lit more than nine months ago – Palestinians in Haifa, Jerusalem and Jaffa stand in common struggle with those in the Naqab.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Unity Intifada was a game-changer for Palestine. Indeed, since then, Palestinians throughout historic Palestine have seen fragmentation as the greatest obstacle to liberation and have mobilized in unison against Israeli oppression. Israel can continue its efforts to whitewash its land theft and ethnic cleansing in Naqab and beyond. But he can no longer divide the Palestinians.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.