Resisting greenwashing in the Naqab: Unity Intifada continues

Israel’s relentless land theft in the Naqab is serving to bring Palestinians closer together.

Israeli police intervene in Palestinian Bedouin protests against 'afforestation'
Palestinian Bedouins protest a Jewish National Fund 'forestation' project in the Naqab on January 13, 2022 [Mücahit Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]

This month the Israeli regime has once again made aggressive attempts to seize Palestinian Bedouin land in the Naqab (commonly known in English as the Negev).

The Naqab is historic Palestine’s largest district, covering some 13,000 square kms (5000 square miles). It has faced unrelenting colonisation 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 in 1948, only about 13,000 survived and remained on the land. Today, descendants of these Bedouins number between 200,000 to 300,000. Over the decades, they have been crammed into designated townships, refused building permits, had their land appropriated, been 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 farming lands “in order to plant trees”. While local Bedouin families insisted the land is privately owned by them, Israeli officials alleged that the land belongs to the state and ignored their ownership. Bedouins in the village and around the area protested the move, and resistance continued for days. Many, including children, were beaten and violently arrested. After destroying protest tents set up by the families, Israeli police blocked access to the villages and the JNF provocatively organised for far-right Israeli politicians to be photographed planting trees on the stolen land.

This charade was specifically orchestrated to promote the racist trope that through its various forestation projects Israel is “making the desert bloom”.

Of course, the primary aim 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 push forward 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 Israel’s establishment, it worked in tandem with the state to appropriate Palestinian land across the so-called Green Line, often designating large swaths of land as national parks and preventing Palestinians from returning to these lands. Palestinians have long dubbed the JNF’s so-called forestation efforts “greenwashing” – a term that refers to a state or company pretending to be environmentally friendly in order to deflect attention from criminal activity.

In Palestine, the Israeli regime has long been masquerading its ethnic cleansing efforts as environmental action and greenwashing has been a tenet of Zionism since the very beginning. It is a tenet that asserts Zionist settlers are better caretakers of the land than Indigenous Palestinians.

The Naqab, in particular, has long been a focal point of this greenwashing propaganda.

Since 2011, for example, Israel has been building huge commercial solar panel fields in the area. Israeli authorities have been promoting these fields as an important part of the state’s green agenda – tools to help it reduce its greenhouse emissions and produce clean energy.

Of course, in reality, this is nothing but 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 the rapidly increasing industrialisation projects in the Naqab which displace Palestinians, as well as illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In the end, 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 ones benefitting from the land and the energy it produces, remain deprived of basic access to electricity.

Palestinians are not silent in the face of Israel’s rapidly accelerating land theft and greenwashing efforts in the Naqab. They are protesting in large numbers, organising sit-ins and sometimes blocking the invading Israeli regime forces from entering their villages and townships. In return, they are facing tear gas and skunk attacks, arrests and beatings. Dozens have been arrested in the latest crackdown. Those who have been arrested for resisting Israeli oppression know that they will not be given adequate access to legal resources, and that they will be facing kangaroo courts designed specifically to intimidate and victimise them. Yet, Palestinians in the Naqab have no intention of giving up and allowing the theft, use, and abuse of their ancestral lands without resistance.

And Bedouin Palestinians in the Naqab are not alone in this fight. Despite Israel’s relentless attempts towards that, what is transpiring in the Naqab cannot be divorced from events in the remainder of Palestine. And Palestinians know that.

Israel has long been trying to convince Bedouins that they are neither part of the Palestinian people nor the Palestinian struggle. To achieve this goal, among other manipulation attempts, Israel has been recruiting young Palestinian Bedouins into its military. The Israeli regime has also cemented the narrative that Bedouins are a landless people – roaming from area to area with no attachment to or private ownership of the land. This narrative has been a key tool in the continuing displacement of Palestinians in the Naqab. Yet this is a fallacy – before the creation of Israel, Palestinian Bedouins officially owned, and have long been successfully cultivating, the lands of the Naqab. 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 to Palestine was beautifully highlighted in May 2021, when Bedouins joined the Unity Intifada alongside other Palestinians. Today, we are seeing a continuation of that flame of unity that was sparked more than nine months ago – Palestinians in Haifa, Jerusalem and Jaffa are standing in shared struggle with those in the Naqab.

It would not be an overstatement to say that the Unity Intifada was a game changer for Palestine. Indeed, since then, Palestinians across historic Palestine have been viewing fragmentation as the biggest barrier to liberation, and mobilising in unison against Israeli oppression. Israel can continue its efforts to greenwash its land theft and ethnic cleansing in Naqab and beyond. But it can no longer divide Palestinians.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.