Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish National Fund

Let Them Drown

The Violence of Othering in a Warming World

Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’.[*]

In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor.

The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated.

Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil?

The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Fascinating explanation of the intersectionality of settler colonialism and environmentalism through the lens of Edward Said.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet.

Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics.

This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification.

A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century.

And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth.

Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos.

And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads.

It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region.

In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again.

A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations.

A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands.

Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that.

Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’

As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too.

In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world.

*

He was and remains among our most achingly eloquent theorists of exile and homesickness – but Said’s homesickness, he always made clear, was for a home that had been so radically altered that it no longer really existed. His position was complex: he fiercely defended the right to return, but never claimed that home was fixed.

What mattered was the principle of respect for all human rights equally and the need for restorative justice to inform our actions and policies. This perspective is deeply relevant in our time of eroding coastlines, of nations disappearing beneath rising seas, of the coral reefs that sustain entire cultures being bleached white, of a balmy Arctic.

This is because the state of longing for a radically altered homeland – a home that may not even exist any longer – is something that is being rapidly, and tragically, globalised.

In March, two major peer-reviewed studies warned that sea-level rise could happen significantly faster than previously believed. One of the authors of the first study was James Hansen – perhaps the most respected climate scientist in the world. He warned that, on our current emissions trajectory, we face the ‘loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history’ – and not in thousands of years from now but as soon as this century. If we don’t demand radical change we are headed for a whole world of people searching for a home that no longer exists.

Said helps us imagine what that might look like as well. He helped to popularise the Arabic word sumud (‘to stay put, to hold on’): that steadfast refusal to leave one’s land despite the most desperate eviction attempts and even when surrounded by continuous danger.

It’s a word most associated with places like Hebron and Gaza, but it could be applied equally today to residents of coastal Louisiana who have raised their homes up on stilts so that they don’t have to evacuate, or to Pacific Islanders whose slogan is ‘We are not drowning. We are fighting.’ In countries like the Marshall Islands and Fiji and Tuvalu, they know that so much sea-level rise is inevitable that their countries likely have no future.

But they refuse just to concern themselves with the logistics of relocation, and wouldn’t even if there were safer countries willing to open their borders – a very big if, since climate refugees aren’t currently recognised under international law. Instead they are actively resisting: blockading Australian coal ships with traditional outrigger canoes, disrupting international climate negotiations with their inconvenient presence, demanding far more aggressive climate action. If there is anything worth celebrating in the Paris Agreement signed in April – and sadly, there isn’t enough – it has come about because of this kind of principled action: climate sumud.

But this only scratches of the surface of what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world. He was, of course, a giant in the study of ‘othering’ – what is described in Orientalism as ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’.

And once the other has been firmly established, the ground is softened for any transgression: violent expulsion, land theft, occupation, invasion. Because the whole point of othering is that the other doesn’t have the same rights, the same humanity, as those making the distinction. What does this have to do with climate change? Perhaps everything.

We have dangerously warmed our world already, and our governments still refuse to take the actions necessary to halt the trend. There was a time when many had the right to claim ignorance. But for the past three decades, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created and climate negotiations began, this refusal to lower emissions has been accompanied with full awareness of the dangers. And this kind of recklessness would have been functionally impossible without institutional racism, even if only latent.

It would have been impossible without Orientalism, without all the potent tools on offer that allow the powerful to discount the lives of the less powerful. These tools – of ranking the relative value of humans – are what allow the writing off of entire nations and ancient cultures. And they are what allowed for the digging up of all that carbon to begin with.

*

Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change – there is industrial agriculture, and deforestation – but they are the biggest. And the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coal mines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills.

As recently as the 1970s, scientists advising the US government openly referred to certain parts of the country being designated ‘national sacrifice areas’. Think of the mountains of Appalachia, blasted off for coal mining – because so-called ‘mountain top removal’ coal mining is cheaper than digging holes underground.

There must be theories of othering to justify sacrificing an entire geography – theories about the people who lived there being so poor and backward that their lives and culture don’t deserve protection. After all, if you are a ‘hillbilly’, who cares about your hills? Turning all that coal into electricity required another layer of othering too: this time for the urban neighbourhoods next door to the power plants and refineries.

In North America, these are overwhelmingly communities of colour, black and Latino, forced to carry the toxic burden of our collective addiction to fossil fuels, with markedly higher rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers. It was in fights against this kind of ‘environmental racism’ that the climate justice movement was born.

Fossil fuel sacrifice zones dot the globe. Take the Niger Delta, poisoned with an Exxon Valdez-worth of spilled oil every year, a process Ken Saro-Wiwa, before he was murdered by his government, called ‘ecological genocide’. The executions of community leaders, he said, were ‘all for Shell’.

In my country, Canada, the decision to dig up the Alberta tar sands – a particularly heavy form of oil – has required the shredding of treaties with First Nations, treaties signed with the British Crown that guaranteed Indigenous peoples the right to continue to hunt, fish and live traditionally on their ancestral lands.

It required it because these rights are meaningless when the land is desecrated, when the rivers are polluted and the moose and fish are riddled with tumours. And it gets worse: Fort McMurray – the town at the centre of the tar sands boom, where many of the workers live and where much of the money is spent – is currently in an infernal blaze. It’s that hot and that dry. And this has something to do with what is being mined there.

Even without such dramatic events, this kind of resource extraction is a form of violence, because it does so much damage to the land and water that it brings about the end of a way of life, a death of cultures that are inseparable from the land. Severing Indigenous people’s connection to their culture used to be state policy in Canada – imposed through the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families to boarding schools where their language and cultural practices were banned, and where physical and sexual abuse were rampant.

A recent truth and reconciliation report called it ‘cultural genocide’. The trauma associated with these layers of forced separation – from land, from culture, from family – is directly linked to the epidemic of despair ravaging so many First Nations communities today. On a single Saturday night in April, in the community of Attawapiskat – population 2000 – 11 people tried to take their own lives.

Meanwhile, DeBeers runs a diamond mine on the community’s traditional territory; like all extractive projects, it had promised hope and opportunity. ‘Why don’t the people just leave?’, the politicians and pundits ask. But many do. And that departure is linked, in part, to the thousands of Indigenous women in Canada who have been murdered or gone missing, often in big cities.

Press reports rarely make the connection between violence against women and violence against the land – often to extract fossil fuels – but it exists. Every new government comes to power promising a new era of respect for Indigenous rights. They don’t deliver, because Indigenous rights, as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, include the right to refuse extractive projects – even when those projects fuel national economic growth.

And that’s a problem because growth is our religion, our way of life. So even Canada’s hunky and charming new prime minister is bound and determined to build new tar sands pipelines, against the express wishes of Indigenous communities who don’t want to risk their water, or participate in the further destabilising of the climate.

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones: they always have. And you can’t have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from Manifest Destiny to Terra Nullius to Orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians. We often hear climate change blamed on ‘human nature’, on the inherent greed and short-sightedness of our species.

Or we are told we have altered the earth so much and on such a planetary scale that we are now living in the Anthropocene – the age of humans. These ways of explaining our current circumstances have a very specific, if unspoken meaning: that humans are a single type, that human nature can be essentialised to the traits that created this crisis. In this way, the systems that certain humans created, and other humans powerfully resisted, are completely let off the hook. Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy – those sorts of system.

Diagnoses like this erase the very existence of human systems that organised life differently: systems that insist that humans must think 7 generations in the future; must be not only good citizens but also good ancestors; must take no more than they need and give back to the land in order to protect and augment the cycles of regeneration.

These systems existed and still exist, but they are erased every time we say that the climate crisis is a crisis of ‘human nature’ and that we are living in the ‘age of man’. And they come under very real attack when megaprojects are built, like the Gualcarque hydroelectric dams in Honduras, a project which, among other things, took the life of the land defender Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in March.

*

Some people insist that it doesn’t have to be this bad. We can clean up resource extraction, we don’t need to do it the way it’s been done in Honduras and the Niger Delta and the Alberta tar sands. Except that we are running out of cheap and easy ways to get at fossil fuels, which is why we have seen the rise of fracking and tar sands extraction in the first place.

This, in turn, is starting to challenge the original Faustian pact of the industrial age: that the heaviest risks would be outsourced, offloaded, onto the other – the periphery abroad and inside our own nations. It’s something that is becoming less and less possible.

Fracking is threatening some of the most picturesque parts of Britain as the sacrifice zone expands, swallowing up all kinds of places that imagined themselves safe. So this isn’t just about gasping at how ugly the tar sands are. It’s about acknowledging that there is no clean, safe, non-toxic way to run an economy powered by fossil fuels. There never was.

There is an avalanche of evidence that there is no peaceful way either. The trouble is structural. Fossil fuels, unlike renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, are not widely distributed but highly concentrated in very specific locations, and those locations have a bad habit of being in other people’s countries. Particularly that most potent and precious of fossil fuels: oil.

This is why the project of Orientalism, of othering Arab and Muslim people, has been the silent partner of our oil dependence from the start – and inextricable, therefore, from the blowback that is climate change.

If nations and peoples are regarded as other – exotic, primitive, bloodthirsty, as Said documented in the 1970s – it is far easier to wage wars and stage coups when they get the crazy idea that they should control their own oil in their own interests. In 1953 it was the British-US collaboration to overthrow the democratically elected government of Muhammad Mossadegh after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP).

In 2003, exactly fifty years later, it was another UK-US co-production – the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The reverberations from each intervention continue to jolt our world, as do the reverberations from the successful burning of all that oil. The Middle East is now squeezed in the pincer of violence caused by fossil fuels, on the one hand, and the impact of burning those fossil fuels on the other.

In his latest book, The Conflict Shoreline, the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman has a groundbreaking take on how these forces are intersecting.[†] The main way we’ve understood the border of the desert in the Middle East and North Africa, he explains, is the so-called ‘aridity line’, areas where there is on average 200 millimetres of rainfall a year, which has been considered the minimum for growing cereal crops on a large scale without irrigation.

These meteorological boundaries aren’t fixed: they have fluctuated for various reasons, whether it was Israel’s attempts to ‘green the desert’ pushing them in one direction or cyclical drought expanding the desert in the other. And now, with climate change, intensifying drought can have all kinds of impacts along this line.

Weizman points out that the Syrian border city of Daraa falls directly on the aridity line. Daraa is where Syria’s deepest drought on record brought huge numbers of displaced farmers in the years leading up to the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, and it’s where the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011.

Drought wasn’t the only factor in bringing tensions to a head. But the fact that 1.5 million people were internally displaced in Syria as a result of the drought clearly played a role. The connection between water and heat stress and conflict is a recurring, intensifying pattern all along the aridity line: all along it you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temperatures and military conflict – from Libya to Palestine, to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But Weizman also discovered what he calls an ‘astounding coincidence’. When you map the targets of Western drone strikes onto the region, you see that ‘many of these attacks – from South Waziristan through northern Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Gaza and Libya – are directly on or close to the 200 mm aridity line.’

The red dots on the map above represent some of the areas where strikes have been concentrated. To me this is the most striking attempt yet to visualise the brutal landscape of the climate crisis. All this was foreshadowed a decade ago in a US military report.

‘The Middle East,’ it observed, ‘has always been associated with two natural resources, oil (because of its abundance) and water (because of its scarcity).’ True enough.

And now certain patterns have become quite clear:

first, Western fighter jets followed that abundance of oil; now, Western drones are closely shadowing the lack of water, as drought exacerbates conflict.

*

Just as bombs follow oil, and drones follow drought, so boats follow both: boats filled with refugees fleeing homes on the aridity line ravaged by war and drought. And the same capacity for dehumanising the other that justified the bombs and drones is now being trained on these migrants, casting their need for security as a threat to ours, their desperate flight as some sort of invading army.

Tactics refined on the West Bank and in other occupation zones are now making their way to North America and Europe. In selling his wall on the border with Mexico, Donald Trump likes to say: ‘Ask Israel, the wall works.’

Camps are bulldozed in Calais, thousands of people drown in the Mediterranean, and the Australian government detains survivors of wars and despotic regimes in camps on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus.

Conditions are so desperate on Nauru that last month an Iranian migrant died after setting himself on fire to try to draw the world’s attention. Another migrant – a 21-year-old woman from Somalia – set herself on fire a few days later. Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister, warns that Australians ‘cannot be misty-eyed about this’ and ‘have to be very clear and determined in our national purpose’. It’s worth bearing Nauru in mind the next time a columnist in a Murdoch paper declares, as Katie Hopkins did last year, that it’s time for Britain ‘to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.’

In another bit of symbolism Nauru is one of the Pacific Islands very vulnerable to sea-level rise. Its residents, after seeing their homes turned into prisons for others, will very possibly have to migrate themselves. Tomorrow’s climate refugees have been recruited into service as today’s prison guards.

We need to understand that what is happening on Nauru, and what is happening to it, are expressions of the same logic. A culture that places so little value on black and brown lives that it is willing to let human beings disappear beneath the waves, or set themselves on fire in detention centres, will also be willing to let the countries where black and brown people live disappear beneath the waves, or desiccate in the arid heat.

When that happens, theories of human hierarchy – that we must take care of our own first – will be marshalled to rationalise these monstrous decisions. We are making this rationalisation already, if only implicitly. Although climate change will ultimately be an existential threat to all of humanity, in the short term we know that it does discriminate, hitting the poor first and worst, whether they are abandoned on the rooftops of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina or whether they are among the 36 million who according to the UN are facing hunger due to drought in Southern and East Africa.

*

This is an emergency, a present emergency, not a future one, but we aren’t acting like it. The Paris Agreement commits to keeping warming below 2°c. It’s a target that is beyond reckless. When it was unveiled in Copenhagen in 2009, the African delegates called it ‘a death sentence’. The slogan of several low-lying island nations is ‘1.5 to stay alive’. At the last minute, a clause was added to the Paris Agreement that says countries will pursue ‘efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°c’. Not only is this non-binding but it is a lie: we are making no such efforts.

The governments that made this promise are now pushing for more fracking and more tar sands development – which are utterly incompatible with 2°c, let alone 1.5°c. This is happening because the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries in the world think they are going to be OK, that someone else is going to eat the biggest risks, that even when climate change turns up on their doorstep, they will be taken care of.

When they’re wrong things get even uglier. We had a vivid glimpse into that future when the floodwaters rose in England last December and January, inundating 16,000 homes. These communities weren’t only dealing with the wettest December on record.

They were also coping with the fact that the government has waged a relentless attack on the public agencies, and the local councils, that are on the front lines of flood defence. So understandably, there were many who wanted to change the subject away from that failure. Why, they asked, is Britain spending so much money on refugees and foreign aid when it should be taking care of its own? ‘Never mind foreign aid,’ we read in the Daily Mail. ‘What about national aid?’ ‘Why,’ a Telegraph editorial demanded, ‘should British taxpayers continue to pay for flood defences abroad when the money is needed here?’ I don’t know – maybe because Britain invented the coal-burning steam engine and has been burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale longer than any nation on Earth? But I digress.

The point is that this could have been a moment to understand that we are all affected by climate change, and must take action together and in solidarity with one another. It wasn’t, because climate change isn’t just about things getting hotter and wetter: under our current economic and political model, it’s about things getting meaner and uglier.

The most important lesson to take from all this is that there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatisation, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all. The connections and intersections between them are glaring, and yet so often resistance to them is highly compartmentalised.

The anti-austerity people rarely talk about climate change, the climate change people rarely talk about war or occupation. We rarely make the connection between the guns that take black lives on the streets of US cities and in police custody and the much larger forces that annihilate so many black lives on arid land and in precarious boats around the world.

Overcoming these disconnections – strengthening the threads tying together our various issues and movements – is, I would argue, the most pressing task of anyone concerned with social and economic justice. It is the only way to build a counterpower sufficiently robust to win against the forces protecting the highly profitable but increasingly untenable status quo.

Climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills – inequality, wars, racism – but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice and against militarism. Indeed the climate crisis – by presenting our species with an existential threat and putting us on a firm and unyielding science-based deadline – might just be the catalyst we need to knit together a great many powerful movements, bound together by a belief in the inherent worth and value of all people and united by a rejection of the sacrifice zone mentality, whether it applies to peoples or places.

We face so many overlapping and intersecting crises that we can’t afford to fix them one at a time. We need integrated solutions, solutions that radically bring down emissions, while creating huge numbers of good, unionised jobs and delivering meaningful justice to those who have been most abused and excluded under the current extractive economy.

Said died the year Iraq was invaded, living to see its libraries and museums looted, its oil ministry faithfully guarded. Amid these outrages, he found hope in the global anti-war movement, as well as in new forms of grassroots communication opened up by technology; he noted ‘the existence of alternative communities across the globe, informed by alternative news sources, and keenly aware of the environmental, human rights and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny planet’.

His vision even had a place for tree-huggers. I was reminded of those words recently while I was reading up on England’s floods. Amid all the scapegoating and finger-pointing, I came across a post by a man called Liam Cox. He was upset by the way some in the media were using the disaster to rev up anti-foreigner sentiment, and he said so:

I live in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, one of the worst affected areas hit by the floods. It’s shit, everything has gotten really wet. However … I’m alive. I’m safe. My family are safe. We don’t live in fear. I’m free. There aren’t bullets flying about. There aren’t bombs going off. I’m not being forced to flee my home and I’m not being shunned by the richest country in the world or criticised by its residents.

All you morons vomiting your xenophobia … about how money should only be spent ‘on our own’ need to look at yourselves closely in the mirror. I request you ask yourselves a very important question … Am I a decent and honourable human being? Because home isn’t just the UK, home is everywhere on this planet.

I think that makes for a very fine last word.

“You see this hilltop?”

It all belongs to your grandfather”

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“You see this hilltop? It all belongs to your grandfather.” This phrase was a recurring one on our family drives from Abu Dis to Jericho.

I heard it from the first moment that I could comprehend words.

I cannot even remember who said it first. But it has been a constant refrain since childhood.
Even today however, at 34 years old, my mother, father, aunt, and grandmother repeat the statement as if they are saying it for the first time”.
Dana Erekat posted on Dec. 12, 2012 on Jadalyya under “Colonial Planning of My Grandfather’s Hilltop
[The Hilltop. Image by the author.]
[The Hilltop. Image by the author.]

Today, I walked onto an Israeli settlement for the first time in my life. One where most of the land it stands on once belonged to my grandfather. I needed the settlers’ permission to walk onto this soil.

As I walked down the sidewalk, I felt alienation and content all at once. The first for the utter disconnect between this land and I. The second for finally being able to set foot in a place that is rightfully mine.

The repetition of “You see this hilltop? It all belongs to your grandfather”is an assurance, a call, to never forget. They refuse to forget.

And even after so many years, I still respond with a perplexed “all of it?”

“All of it.”  Today, when I travel alone with no one to remind me, I repeat: “This land belonged to my grandfather.”

Still, despite this historical bond with the land, despite the assurance of that history, despite the will to never forget,  all that lies on that  hilltop is as foreign to me as is the North Pole.

Today the settler at the gate only allowed me to enter a mere 200 yards to the police station, which sits on the settlement’s periphery, and back. The gate settler made it clear I could only spend the time necessary to finish my paperwork.  I could not explore. I could not become familiar with my land.  And therefore, I continue to construct my familiarity with my ancestral heritage from a distance.

As I drive by, the settlement resembles the gorgeous green fields of the luxurious Napa Valley in California. Those fields too, are compelling, and those fields too are often off limits, fenced off with a sign:“Beware. Electrical Fence.”

In my daydreams, I run up the hilltop of Ma’ale Adumim just as I imagined transgressing the Napa Valley fences and reveling in the green fields. In my California daydreams, I may get a citation for trespassing.

In my Palestine daydreams, I may be killed or at the very least detained. There are no signs that tell me so. It is knowledge, like so many Palestinians, I do understand viscerally.

There are other reminders of California here on my grandfather’s land.

Those red-tiled pitched roofs mimic the houses in suburban Fremont where I lived for part of my adolescence. I used to sneak out the window with my cousins onto the steep roof. We gazed up at the stars and giggled about our latest crush.

The possibility of being caught or sliding down and falling, made it all the more thrilling.

Glimpsing those same roofs lining Ma’ale Adumim, I have the urge to dismember the red tiles, one at a time, and toss them into the valley. This is not Fremont. It is my grandfather’s land.

From a distance, Ma’ale Adumim appears perfectly planned, each house a replica of the next. The homogeneity is in direct contrast to Palestinian towns, where homeowners, unbridled by urban plans, each add a bit of inconsistency to create the irrational landscape.

Perhaps this homogeneity is only true for the part I can see from the road, the settlement’s oldest quarter dating all the way back to the late 1970s. Regardless of its prevalence, the pre-planned homogeneity, meant to give the sense of communal coherence, is the epitome of settler colonialism. It is colonial hegemony.



[Top: Ma’ale Adunim.  Bottom: Silwan.  Source: AP.]

Theodor Herzel wrote: “Everything must be systematically settled beforehand,” in The Occupation of the Land section of his 1896 treatise, The Jewish State.  The implications of Herzl’s earnest are at the root of Israel’s planning strategy.

In 1948, only a few weeks following the Nakba, Arieh Sharon (not to be confused with former Ariel Sharon PM who is in coma for the last 7 years), a Bauhaus graduate and architect, began working on a comprehensive master plan for Israel.  Sharon, who was the head of the Government Planning Department at the time, worked with David Ben-Gurion and a team of European and Jewish planners, architects, and mapping experts to produce a single plan (scale: 1:20,000) for the entire state of Israel.

Within a single year, Sharon and his team produced a master plan that became known as The Sharon Plan. Such scale and scope were unprecedented, as countries tend to grow over a longer period of time as opposed to cities, which are planned with such rapidness.  However, Israeli leadership needed the plan quickly in order to forge the physical and developmental vision for Israel, and to ensure its control over Palestine.

The political agenda, including its time constraint, drove the development of the master plan. Thus, the outcomes of the Sharon Plan can be summarized as three-fold:

First, it is an agglomeration of borrowed ideas and models, some of which were developed during the British Mandate and others taken from Europe “as ready made and abruptly naturalized.” [1]

Second, the plan answered the urgent need of providing fast housing for new Jewish immigrants, especially on the borderlands in order to prevent the return of Palestinian refugees.

Third, the Plan divided Israel into a number of districts that were planned mathematically, with modular neighborhoods, to house an equal number of residents.

Thus, the Sharon Planlaid the foundation for the Israeli Apartheid state today: architecture that echoes European designs, peripheral settlements that enclose Palestinian towns, and “New Towns,” which are pre-planned and built in modules to facilitate rapid construction.

Less than twenty years after the Sharon Plan laid the foundation for Israel’s design, the Israeli government augmented its vision for territorial expansion. Following Israel’s victory of the Six-Day war in June 1967, the Israeli government passed legislation incorporating East Jerusalem and adjacent parts of the West Bank into Israel, thus expanding its land expropriation project and settlement expansion.

In order to meet this goal, Israel pursued a number of systematic policies that would help expand Jerusalem and secure Israel’s hegemony over the City through demographic and physical control.

While Israel enacted The Land Acquisition For Public Purpose Ordinance and the Absentee Property Law, in 1967, in order to legalize the confiscation of Palestinian land and limit Palestinians spatially, Israel also put into effect a set of urban and design guidelines aimed at attracting European Jewish settlers and further displacing Palestinians. To meet these goals, Israel placed much of the land annexed in 1967 under the jurisdiction of the Israel-Lands Administration (ILA) whose management had been merged with the Jewish National Fund.

The charter of the Jewish National Fund restricted the developments and use of the land to the exclusive benefits of Jews, the ILA land, constitutionally, could not be “sold or leased or used” by or for Palestinian Arabs.

Second, following the vision of the Sharon Plan for Jerusalem, the Israeli Municipality began a project of “evacuation and building,” under the pretext of “modernization”, which constituted the demolition of old Palestinian buildings, the construction of new streets, and the widening the Jaffa Street in the heart of Jerusalem. The widening of the street meant more demolitions of old Palestinian buildings. Thus, in its claim to “renew” the City, Israel erased the narrative of its Arab inhabitants.

Third, the Municipality produced design guidelines that catered to the immigrating Jewish population. For the development of many of the neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the Israeli Municipality set the height limit of buildings at six to eight stories, and required the buildings to be multi-units and “modern” looking. By modern here, I solely refer to the architectural era marked by the simplification of buildings. In other neighborhoods,Garden City patterns, borrowed from European designs of the Sharon Plan, were implemented.

These designs consisted of red tiles, pitched roofs, green spaces, and intended to give the sense of a “planned community.”


[Modern Jerusalem.  Source: jewishpostcardcollection.com, used here with permission.]

Based upon these design guidelines intended for Jewish colonial settlement of the West Bank, the Israeli Municipality rejected most plans submitted by Palestinian residents. The Israeli Municipality, considered the latter plans,  usually characterized of stone-built one to two story single-family homes, as unacceptable for being “Arabic style.”

Even when the Israeli Municipality approved design plans for Palestinians, a permit could take up to four years to be issued. The Israeli authorities used this prolonged waiting period to determine if the land proposed for development could be useful for future Israeli projects. If they saw it as useful, they would apply the Public Ordinance Law, and confiscate the land for state use. [2]

I doubt my grandfather ever applied for a permit. He never had the chance.


[Traditional Palestinian Home.  Image by Marcy Newman.  Used here with permission.

In addition to the territorial expansion in 1967, Yigal Allon, the Minister of Labor at the time, drafted The Allon Plan to “secure” Israel’s borders.  The Allon Plan proposed that Israel would hand over the Arab populated areas of Palestine to Jordan, while no Jordanian troops would be allowed to cross the Jordan River westward.

In addition, the Plan proposed the creation of a “security belt” [3] of Israeli settlements along the Jordan Valley as well as  a road connecting Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. In 1975, during Allon’s tenure as Foreign Minister under the first Rabin government, Israel moved to a new stage of planning and began designing the “security belt.”

Israel carried out the  “security belt” urban planning strategy to preclude the expansion of any Palestinian housing construction, to implant a Jewish-Israeli population into the predominantly Palestinian population, and to further separate and segregate the Arab towns from one another. The former Director of Jerusalem District of the Ministry of Housing, Shmaryahu Cohen, summarizes the process:

“We have made enormous efforts to locate state lands near Jerusalem and we decided to seize them before…the Arabs have a hold there. We all know that they remove rocks and plant olive trees instead in order to create facts in the fields. What is wrong with trying to get there before them? I know this policy is harmful to Jerusalem in the short run, but it guarantees living spaces for future generations. If we don’t do it today, our children and grandchildren will travel to Jerusalem through a hostile Arab environment [4]

My grandfather’s olive trees, on the hilltop, were creating facts in the fields.

The process of creating the security belt included building settlements on hillsides, peaks, and near important roads in the municipal areas surrounding Jerusalem. The Israeli government planned to build three settlements within this belt:  Ma’ale Adumim in the east, Givon in the north, and Efrat in the south [5].  With the help of the Israeli government, twenty-three Israeli families took over my grandfather’s hilltop, marking it an Israeli settlement.

Michael Dumper, a Professor in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, eloquently explains the location of Ma’ale Adumim in his book The Politics of Jerusalem Since 1967:

Adumim was purposely situated on an exposed hilltop overlooking the Jericho road for both security reasons and to prevent the creation of a land corridor for Jordanian access to East Jerusalem in the event of a peace agreement. [6]

The decision to build Ma’ale Adumim on the hilltop was purely political. The land of Ma’ale Adumim did not lend itself to building a town settlement, as the morphology was uneven, and a great deal of excavation and flattening would need to take place. It was, on the other hand, ideal for the building of small villages. [7]

When Thomas Leitersdorf, the lead architect and planner of Ma’ale Adumim expressed these concerns regarding the site to Gideon Patt, the Minister of Tourism at the time, he was told that “with all due respect, this was a government decision and that in one hundred and twenty days the bulldozers had to begin work on the site.” [8]

When Leitersdorf presented location alternatives to the Ministerial Committee of Settlements, the only questions his government audience posed were: ‘Which of the alternative locations has better control over the main routes?’ and ‘Which town has a better chance to grow quickly and offer qualities that would make it competitive with Jerusalem?’ [9]

Thus, Israel’s political decision to “grab the hilltops” overrode any site, architectural, or planning considerations.

In 1979, Israel began the construction of Ma’ale Adumim.  In following with Israel’s planning strategy of producing “instant cities,” Leitersdorf and his team designed and developed the first phase of Ma’ale Adumim within three years, which included 2,000 apartments, all built on “one system of construction and infrastructure.” [10]

In October of 1991, the Israeli government declared Ma’ale Adumim, with 15,500 inhabitants, “the first and largest Hebraic city in Judea and Samaria,” [11] despite the fact that it falls within the 1967 Green Line.  Despite the fact that it cuts across, and onto, my grandfather’s land. The population of Ma’ale Adumim has grown from twenty-three families in 1975 to around forty-thousand people today. And it is growing.

On 30 November 2012, less than twenty-four hours after Palestine gained non-member status at the United Nations, and five days after I set foot on my grandfather’s land for the first time, Israel announced its plan to build an additional three-thousand settler units. The E-1 Plan, as it is known, intends to expand Ma’ale Adumim from the west and connect it to Jerusalem thereby accomplishing Israel’s long-term vision.

It must be noted here that the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim on the east to the Jordan Valley, is an ongoing process. While Israel only made the E-1 plans announcement following the UN bid, it would be naive to believe Israel came to this decision within twenty-four hours and only as retaliation to Palestinian “unilateralism.” Israel approved the E-1 plan in 1999, but shelved it due to US and international pressure.

Israel seized the moment of the UN bid to implement a plan that dates back much further than 1999.


[The E1 Plan.  Source: PASSIA]

Through examining the plans and maps that Israeli leaders had drafted over the last sixty-four years, it become evident that the historical processes of settlement and road construction lead to the deliberate creation of Greater Israeli Jerusalem.  The boundaries of the Greater Jerusalem Israel is currently implementing are larger than those of the Greater Jerusalem under the 1948 UN Partition Plan, which declared Greater Jerusalem a corpus separatum.

The expansion of settlements, both eastward and westward, as well as the creation of bypass roads, all serve to connect Israeli settlements with Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, while further dividing the Palestinian areas into pockets of lands.

 
[Left: Jerusalem and the Corpus Separatum, 1947.  Right: Projection of Israeli Proposal for Jerusalem’s Final Status, Camp David, 2000.  Source: PASSIA Palestine.]

By comparing the Palestinian land classified as Area ‘C,’ and therefore under Israeli control, under the 1993 Oslo Agreement to the Allon Plan, it becomes apparent that Area ‘C’ fulfills Allon’s vision of Israeli territory within the 1967 borders. This further puts into question the viability of the US-brokered “peace process” and Israel’s good faith to establish a two-state solution.

The building of E-1, which covers around 12,000 dunams, will be another step in fulfilling the Allon Plan, as it would divide the West Bank into two areas: north and south, and seal off East Jerusalem from other Palestinian cities.


[Left: The Allon Map, 1967.  Source: Middle East Maps.  Right: Palestine today, 2012.  Source: Map by Suhail Abushosha.]

Israel refuses to leave Ma’ale Adumim isolated, unconnected, and within the Palestinian territories.  Perhaps, the only way for Ma’ale Adumim to be returned to its original owners is through a one state solution. However, I know that no Israeli leader will voluntarily dismantle Ma’ale Adumim during my lifetime. It is a fortress guarding the occupiers. It is a watchtower overlooking the Jordan Valley. It is a symbol of colonial modernity. It is hegemony.

But I also know that I will never forget that the land on which this settlement stands belongs to my grandfather. A land I could have called my own. A land my children could have called their own. And I look forward to the day that I tell a daughter “You see all this hilltop? This is all your mama’s grandfather’s.”

——

[1] Efrat, Zvi, “The Plan,” A Civilian Occupation: the Politics of Israeli Architecture, Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman, ed. (London: Babel, 2003) Chapter 4.

[2] Maguire, Kate, “The Israelization of Jerusalem,” Arab Papers, 7 (July 1981).

[3] Dumper, Michael, The Politics of Jerusalem Since 1967 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1997)

[4] (Dumper, 1997).

[5] Following the concepts of the Allon Plan, the Israeli governments built 21 settlements along the Jordan Valley and Eastern plains between 1967 to 1977

[6] (Dumper, 1997).

[7] Tamir-Tawil, Eran, “To Start a City From Scratch: An Interview with Architect Thomas M. Leitersdorf,” A Civilian Occupation: the Politics of Israeli Architecture, Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman, ed. (London: Babel, 2003) Chapter 9

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ma’ale Adumim Official Website

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