Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Making The Desert Green

Here is another of the short pieces I've been working on for Div III. Even though it's only a few pages, and doesn't look as intense or important as some of the other stuff I've written, it took me weeks to write for some reason. Also since my last Div III update, I wrote up all my interviews with the students of the Arava Institute as short narratives, but it turned out to be 23 pages, so I'm not posting that. Anyway, enjoy this piece.

“What is a Jewish state?” (From interview with Rebecca)
The Zionist mission of “making the desert green” or “bloom” has become so engrained in the rhetoric that its origins are now difficult to trace. In reading Theodor Herzl’s The Jew’s State, Old New Land, and both volumes of his collected “Zionist Writings,” I found no use of this phrase, and only vague references to sending Jews to toil the Ottoman sands of Palestine. Herzl also suggests establishing Jewish settlements in Argentina or various places in East Africa, and makes other comments that completely contradict the idea of agricultural settlements in Palestine. Herzl’s political Zionist thesis, The Jews’ State, was published in 1896. On page 141, he declares that “Whoever wants to turn Jews into agricultural producers is really making a strange mistake.” He explains that agrarianism is an outdated peasants’ occupation, and is beneath today’s (of the turn of the twentieth century) common Jew. His novel, Old New Land, a fictional story and more illustrative version of his political thesis, was completed in 1902. On page 158, about halfway through the novel, the Zionist pioneer Steineck expounds on how effectively the colonization project of Palestine “drained the swamps as if by magic.” This myth of the early Zionist settlers draining the “swamps” of Palestine directly contradicts the rhetoric of making the barren desert green, but Herzl never addresses these contradictions, nor does he ever seem to explain his apparent change of heart regarding Jewish farming.
Despite his various contradictions, Herzl seems sure that Palestine is the right place for Jewish settlement. This is not only because of the biblical and historical significant of the land for the Jewish people, but also because of the benefits he foresees for the Ottoman Empire. In “The Solution of the Jewish Question,” published in English for The Jewish Chronicle in February 1896, Herzl proposes that the Jews of the world “regulate all the finances of Turkey” (Zionist Writings, Vol 1, 31) in exchange for the land of Palestine from the Ottoman Sultan. He reiterates this idea multiple times, in various ways. He says that the Jews have “no more magnanimous friend than His Majesty the reigning Sultan” (Zionist Writings, Vol 1, 39), but that the “Turks … have the best qualities – except those needed for the modern development and cultivation ofa land” (Zionist Writings, Vol 2, 73). He describes the land of Palestine as being at a “low point of neglect and dilapidation” (Zionist Writings, Vol 2, 73). Herzl suggests that the Jews could fix it up, so to speak, although how he could really make that assessment, knowing nothing of the environment or history of the region other than a nine days’ visit at the end of the year 1898, and perhaps some bible verses, is a mystery.
In his nine days there, Herzl visited the early settlements, and saw how they worked the land. He was impressed especially by the “settler Brozie…[who] started out as a simple day laborer in the Rehovot settlement” (Zionist Writings, Vol. II, 33). Herzl goes on about how the settler moved out of the Rehovot settlement on his own, and began a vineyard which was so immediately successful that other settlements provided him with loans to improve his vintage. Herzl reports that Brozie’s yield is ever-increasing, and that though the “well-kept vineyard is still surrounded by a desert… industrious people could turn that desert, too, into a garden.” In his whopping nine days in Palestine, Herzl seems to think he understands the ecology, and feels certain of the agricultural potential of a desert that has been inhabited and utilized by other people in the Jews’ thousand year absence, despite its apparent barrenness to the European eye.
Herzl compares this proposed colonizing in Palestine to the colonization process in the Americas and to the independence movement in South Africa. At first he rejects both of these models. In The Jews’ State, he lays out how he thinks the land should be toiled in order to establish the home for the Jews, starting with scientific exploration of the “natural characteristics of the land” (The Jews’ State,193). At this time, however, there was not a great understanding of environmental assessment, and the idea of trying to establish a viable settlement based on scientific exploration of the land does not really allow for great environmental sustainability. Herzl’s proposition is to auction the land off by achievement: those that work hard to establish the general necessities for a community (bridges, roads, water installations, government institutions, etc), will be given better plots of land. He accuses the settlers of the Americas of colonizing in “the most na├»ve way,” being taken by force, and instead envisions a utopia wherein the local groups are into account. Of the South African example, he says, “we don’t want a Boer [farmer] state, but a Venice,” (according to Jacques Kornberg, who translated into English and wrote the introduction for Old New Land), but at some point the Zionist movement changed their minds on that front. They felt empowered by the idea of “hardy independent warrior-cattle-farmers who had carved out the Boer republics in a hostile and threatening environment” (Kornberg, xvii). Herzl foresaw a utopian community that would not require the death and oppression of the local populations, and would be built up in an environmental paradise. Although I admire his vision, it is unfathomable to me how he actually believed it possible, given the history of colonization.
Though Herzl expresses these interests in establishing agricultural settlements in Palestine, I still feel there is not a satisfactory answer to how “making the desert green” became such a central part of the Zionist rhetoric. In addition to the practicality of using agricultural production as a means of laying claim to land (as was Ottoman law), I believe that there is also the symbolic need for the Jewish people to plant their roots in the land. Although I know I am probably not the first to make this connection, in my readings so far I have found no other explicit expression of this idea. The roots of the settlers’ fruit trees, and later the JNF evergreens, were also roots Jewish heredity in their biblical land, a way of proving that they [we?] are not all the proverbial “Wandering Jew” that Europeans so distrusted. It was the sign to the end of the Diaspora. For the first time, the Jews were not only allowed to own land, but also felt secure enough in this land that they would not be forced out or stripped of their rights to live self-sufficiently again. The roots the Jews felt to this land, the roots that had been mourned since the Babylonian exile, could be planted in the most visible way, by establishing the Jewish agricultural societies in Palestine. Although there were suggestions for the Jews to migrate to other countries, some of which Herzl himself supported, the symbolism of planting roots back in Eretz Yisroel is likely the reason that Palestine was the only choice that gained enough support to launch large-scale migration.

Works Cited
Herzl, Theodor. Old New Land. Translation and Introduction by Jacques Kornberg. Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. 1997.
Herzl, Theodor. The Jews’ State. Translation and Introduction by Henk Overberg. Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. 1997.
Herzl, Theodor. Zionist Writings, Volumes I & II. Translation by Harry Zohn. Herzl Press, Library of Congress Card Number 73-76668. 1973 – 1975.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jobs for Next Year Update

I'm on the "alternate list" for Avodah. I guess that means if one of their chosen candidates doesn't get matched with a non-profit or drops out of the running, then I'm in. Like a waiting list.

On March 22nd, American Hebrew Academy is flying me down to NC to be interviewed, check out the program, hang out with this year's fellows, etc. That job looks pretty signed and sealed, but I'm not so sure.

No news from the Religious Action Center.

No job for the summer.

No plane tickets for Turkey yet.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why Settlers and the Separation Barrier are Cancerous in Relation to Environmental Peace

The essay below is one of five short pieces that I am currently working on for Div III. Each essay is something that I have touched upon or footnoted for my thesis thus far, and have been avoiding actually writing, out of anxiety as to where it should go, how essential it is to the overall thesis, etc. My committee told me to just pump 'em out, and then figure out where they go/how to chop them up into the thesis later. So here's the first. Enjoy.

“The duality of intelligence and stupidity has been part of the Zionist project from the beginning” – Mourid Barghouti
The sole goal of the settler movement is to expropriate increasing plots of land from Palestinians. The motives behind this vary by settler, or more likely, settlement, and the processes by which this is accomplished are many. For the Israeli government and military, supported by Zionist organizations, the impetus for this settlement process is to establish a “demographical balance” (Weizman, 126) between Jews and Arabs in the Occupied Territories in an effort to suppress and thus more easily control Palestinians, under the guise of security needs. For the ultra-Orthodox, the goal is to settle “Judea and Samaria” (the biblical names for the area now encompassing the West Bank, adopted officially as the Zionist term for the West Bank in 1967 as a part of rhetoric of the Occupation) to be closer to the places of biblical importance in the West Bank. These ultra-Orthodox settlers are actually anti-Zionist and often cause more trouble for the Israeli government and military than the Arab residents of the region that the government chooses to vilify.
The majority of these settlements are built on the West Bank’s hilltops. Though this is highly strategic for Israel – in that, from the hilltops, the civilian settlers are safer from potential terrorist attacks from the Palestinians living in the valleys below and the military settlements are a point that makes constant surveillance of the Palestinians living in the valleys below for further security – this utilization of the high grounds actually turned out to be legally convenient for Israel. In the 1979, the Israeli High Court of Justice called shenanigans on the use of the language of “temporariness” surrounding the early settlement building, as it was clear to Palestinian farmers and Israeli and international human rights organizations that these settlements were not intended to be temporary, nor did they solely fulfill the requirement of military necessity. Having lost this loophole, the Israeli government looked to history for another way to legitimize their land-grabbing. According to Ottoman Law, any land that had not been cultivated for three consecutive years automatically became public land, called “makhlul”. Public land that was cultivated for ten consecutive years by a particular farmer automatically became privately owned by that farmer. Israeli law allows the state to claim any public land as its own to use as it sees fit. The Israeli state declared any land that the Palestinians could not prove ownership to, and even land that could be proven as private but could not be proven as being cultivated for three consecutive years, state land, and claimed such “state land” for settlement building. Most often, these were plots of land that were unsuitable for farming, such as the tops of the hills, where soil is too rocky and water does not collect. By the 1990’s, if one were to draw a horizontal line a few hundred meters above the sea level across the West Bank, almost all of the land above the line would be Israel-owned, about 38% of the total land mass of the West Bank.
Sometimes, the Israeli government would find pieces of land that were “unused” and could claim for settlement, with islands of Palestinian-owned orchards inside them. For the first thirty years of the Occupation, these Palestinian farmers were able to get permits to cross through the Jewish settlements to get to their orchards. In 2000, however, at the start of the Intifada, these permits were revoked, forcing Palestinians to leave these plots of land unfarmed for three consecutive years, and allowing the settlements to move in to these islands.
Furthermore, some of the so-called uncultivated plots of land were actually used for other purposes, such as grazing lands, and were indeed important to Palestinian livelihood. The confiscation of these lands illustrates Israel’s environmental condescension toward Arabs, as described in relation to leftist Israeli politician Alon Tal, in the assumption that the Palestinians did not know how to properly use their land. Not only did the Zionists not understand that there could be different ways to properly utilize a desert environment without planting or developing extensively, by taking away grazing lands, and pushing Arab herders into increasingly small areas, they opened up the issue of over-grazing in other areas, creating entirely new environmental problems.
The Separation Barrier (also known as the Apartheid Wall or the Security Fence) serves similar purposes as the settlements. Also under the guise of “security needs,” the Barrier allows the Israeli government and military to limit Palestinian movement, access to cultivatable land, and to expropriate lands for Israeli use. The Barrier was built within the crafty policy-makers’ tool of “constructing inevitability,” meaning that the possibility of the project was framed in such a way that made the wall sound like the only possible answer to the question of violence and tension coming from the Palestinians living under Occupation. The general Israeli public supported the building of the Barrier before the route was actually mapped out, due to the construction of inevitability surrounding the project debate.
There were two theoretical notions of building inevitability employed in the building of the Barrier. The first is the Constructionist heuristic (the truth of a theory or the success of a project is the result of – not the reason for – its stabilization and acceptance), which is to say, the Barrier was proposed as the only answer for keeping so-called terrorists out of Israel and only after it is built could results be seen. This plays into the canonization process of building inevitability, the framing of a “project box” such that debate is made impossible, and convincing the public that it already approves (i.e. the Israeli public has always approved of reducing terrorist attacks, and the Barrier is the only way to keep out terrorists, ergo, the public has always approved of the Barrier). The Constructionist heuristic moves along this canonization process by eliminating debate through the claim that only after the Barrier is built and stabilized will Israelis see the decrease in terrorist attacks and fully accept the Barrier. The second notion employed by the constructionists responsible for the Barrier is the use of a “Whig history,” or the use of rewriting a storyline after the project is built to establish its success. Statistics, according to the Israeli government, do show that terrorist attacks within Israel have decreased since the building of the Barrier. So, according to the Israel government, the Barrier was clearly the only answer, as promised.
The third notion of building inevitability, clearly not employed in building the Barrier, is the act of putting enough resources and support into a project, such that overturning it becomes more expensive than the building of the project itself (for example of how this notion works: the American people depend on oil, and due to the amount of investment already put into oil companies, the financial resources for developing a cleaner fuel source are not readily available, and ceasing oil use would cost more money than continuing to build new oil rigs or buying foreign oil). The Barrier has been the most expensive project in the history of the State of Israel, costing $3 billion (a great deal of which was borrowed from the United States). It seems that almost any solution to the problems of violence coming out of the West Bank, even if begun after beginning the building of the Barrier, would have been more financially feasible.
But how do these awful and seemingly separate symptoms of the Occupation play into the water crises and the hope for environmental paths for peace? First of all, it is important to note how the Barrier and the settlers are intertwined with one another. The Barrier does not follow the Green Line, an act on which Israeli public opinion is not as unified as the building of the Barrier itself. Much of where is zigzags over the Green Line into Palestinian Territory, is in areas where settlements are, or are planned to be, built. Though this is done, again, for “security reasons,” to protect the settlers, it is done extravagantly to allow for further settlement growth and further expropriation of Palestinian resources.
More to the point of the environmental misappropriation, the settlements, as they are built on high grounds, often rest upon water extraction points on the hilltops. In some areas where the settlements are not so directly on top of a water extraction point, the Barrier is built around the nearest one, so as to still allow the settlers access to Palestinian water. The settlements themselves were largely constructed to be Zionist farms or a utopian “Garden City,” in the case of Ma’ale Adumim, one of the early settlements in the northern area of the West Bank. Though, as was already mentioned, the hilltop land was largely unsuitable for farming, thus making it legally possible for Israel to claim, this did not stop the settlements from trying, and using a lot of water in the process. Even now, in the recruitment of new settlers, this image of “greening the desert” is used, though most of the panoramic images used to entice Zionists to move into West Bank settlements are actually pictures of Palestinian orchards in the valleys below the settlements themselves.
In addition to the settlements and Barrier being an excuse for Israel to expropriate land and water resources, the settlements also add to the large problem of waste water treatment that Palestinians face. Both in Gaza and the West Bank, due to the Israeli Occupation’s pressure on the Palestinian economy, infrastructure is poorly maintained. Particularly near the refugee camps, effluence runs over ground, untreated, and damages the environmental stability of the surrounding areas. Despite the fact that the settlements could get the means from Israel to build waste water treatment facilities in their camps, they often do not. It is unclear if this is the choice of the settlers or the government, and I suspect it is because land is limited (legally speaking), and they (the settlers or the government) do not want to use it for such facilities when they could be using it to add more Jews to the demographics of “Judea and Samaria.” Because of their strategic placement on hilltops, however, this problem often just runs down into the Palestinian valleys below, and has little affect on the settlers themselves.
A lot of the Zionist rhetoric in settling and developing desert lands involves the condescension toward Arab use of land. In the first decade of the Occupation, Moshe Dayan’s Likud government used a process of “enlightened colonialism… [leaving] orchards and culture” in Palestinian regions around the settlements. In this time, Israel provided advanced agricultural tools, genetically modified seeds that grew better in the tough desert soil and money for Palestinian farmers, and agricultural productivity increased 16 percent annually on Palestinian farms, until the Likud government realized that this was counter-intuitive to increasing settlement growth. Although the productivity did not immediately cease after Israel stopped providing farming paraphernalia, as the water quotas for Palestinians continuously decreased in the subsequent thirty years, so did productivity, eventually leaving more lands uncultivated for Israel to take.
In some places around the borders of the West Bank and Israel, the Barrier has been rerouted without the need of settlements and the pretext of security. In many areas, the environmentalist movements within Israel lobbied for rerouting the Barrier in order to preserve “special and sensitive areas like cliffs and springs or eagle nests” (Weizman, 169) or in one particular case, a wild grove of rare irises that grow close to the Green Line, again the implication being that Arabs are uncultured and do not know how to take care of the wildlife if left on their side of the Barrier.
Beside using the Barrier to separate Palestinians from their cultivated lands and wells in the effort to expropriate the resources for Israeli use, there are also families separated by the Barrier. There are still currently many Palestinians between the Green Line and the Barrier within the West Bank and in the disputed Jerusalem area, totally a staggering 250,000 people who are caught in closed military zones, or No Man’s Land, and cannot access their families, jobs, or farms.

Weizman, Eyal. Hollow Land. Verso, 2007.