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.