Green Colonialism in Palestine

by Afeef Nessouli

Forest fires rage in the north of Occupied Palestine — a side-effect of Hezbollah rocket fire from southern Lebanon. The strikes are mostly aimed at military sites, but rocket impacts also sparked fires in the area. Scholar Ghada Sasa points out that it is no surprise that the rocket fire is igniting huge forest fires because over the past century Zionists have “converted Palestine into a tinderbox” by planting over 250 million trees since 1948– a large percentage being invasive pines and eucalyptus.

Not only are these forests destructive for local ecosystems, which dry out the Land and become hazards for fires, they were actually planted with a more sinister purpose: to cover the ruins of Palestinian villages destroyed and emptied during the 1948 Nakba, where 95% of the Indigenous population was massacred or forcibly expelled from Palestine.

Israeli historian Ilan Pappé explains that the Birya forest, for instance, Israel’s largest man-made forest in the north, was strategically planted over the ruins of 6 different Palestinian villages.

The problem of Zionist organizations planting invasive species in Palestine has been dubbed “green colonialism.” Under the guise of environmental conservation and “turning the desert green”, this type of colonialism is a way Israel appropriates environmentalism in order to displace Palestinians, destroy the remains of their lands, and make it impossible for Palestinians to return to the villages of their grandparents and ancestors.

Planting trees is arguably the most insidious form of Palestinian erasure, and a lot of times it appears as protected parks, forests or natural reserves. Some call this an attempt to greenwash their theft.

One of the worst perpetrators of this scam is the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a global Zionist organization which owns around 13% of the occupied Land in Palestine. It was founded in 1901 by Theodore Hertzl to buy and develop Land in Ottoman Syria for Euro-Russian Jewish settlement. This area later became Mandatory Palestine which was subsequently settled through organizations like JNF, to become “Israel”.

Much like the Birya forest, places like Canada Park in the West Bank (which was funded by JNF) lies on the ruins of three Palestinian villages: Beit Nuba, Imwas, and Yalu.

Visualizing Palestine, an organization that “uses data and research to visually communicate Palestinian experiences,” highlights that it’s not just villages that the trees are planted to replace and destroy. “Israeli” authorities have uprooted over 800,000 Palestinian olive trees since 1967. In place of the olive trees, Israel has planted invasive species and has destroyed the source of both livelihood and sustenance as well as culture for Indigenous Palestinians.

Eucalyptus trees, a favorite import of colonialism, can be found throughout the world in the former British Empire. This extremely “thirsty” tree has been responsible for disrupting ecosystems

But which is it? Drying out the swamps, or greening the desert? Even the propaganda is contradictory.

JNF’s website reads, “Eucalyptus trees are one of the most familiar sights on the Israeli landscape. This tree was originally brought to Israel from Australia to help dry out swamps, which were breeding grounds for malaria-spreading mosquitoes.”

They go on to say that “Eucalyptus trees are often chosen by KKL-JNF foresters because they grow rapidly, thrive in various types of soil, are very advantageous for bee keepers, produce lumber and ethereal oils, and more.” Although the trees did dry up swamps, they dried up a whole lot more. Eucalyptus is a thirsty tree that increases the effects of water scarcity in areas like the West Bank or other parts of Palestine. The tree has no natural predators. In Australia, where the tree species originated, mammals evolved to feed and digest the trees’ nutrient-poor and often toxic leaves and bark. In non-Australian ecosystems, the Eucalyptus tree can become an invasive species that poses a threat to wildlife and biodiversity. Additionally, the tree resin is highly flammable.

At a moment when Gazawis (and other Palestinians who were already forcibly displaced to Gaza) are being forcibly displaced, their homes decimated and each one forced to either face death or evacuation, it is important to point to this particularly “green” machination of Zionism’s colonial growth. One thing we should clock in real time is how “Israel” could try to plant their way into settling Gaza. Ghada Sasa writes about the violence of “protected areas” in her article “Oppressive pines: Uprooting “Israeli” green colonialism and implanting Palestinian A’wna.” She argues that many protected areas like parks, forests and natural reserves not only justify Land grabs and dispossess Palestinians of the right to return but are also established to “dehistoricize, Judaise, and Europeanise Palestine.” She says they are meant to erase Palestinian identity and suppress resistance to “Israeli” oppression.

While Israel has already killed tens of thousands of Palestinians, and is continuously displacing hundreds of thousands more, they are also destroying the Land. Nilo Tabrizy of the Washington Post used satellite imagery analysis comparing Gaza’s green Land from April 2023 and April 2024. The before images found a sprawling amount of green cultural fields in the north of Gaza city and in the center. When she looked at the same images from a year later in April 2024, a lot of those green fields were gone. Looking at the Gaza strip, Tabrizy says that close to half of Gaza’s olive and fruit trees have been destroyed. She says in the north it is closer to 71 percent. The Post reports that agriculture accounted for nearly half of Gaza’s total Land area before the war, according to UNOSAT, the United Nations’ satellite center; 45 percent of that agricultural land has now been damaged.

Now, the worry is that “Israel” will swallow Gaza up, and erase it like it has nearly every other part of Palestine. By November 2023, outlets started reporting that Zionist soldiers had raised an Israeli flag and sang their national anthem on a beach in Gaza. In January, CNN wrote an article headlined “Israel’s far-right wants to move Palestinians out of Gaza. Its ideas are gaining attention.” By February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized Israel would keep security control over Gaza. And then in April, Reuters reported that the Israeli cabinet approved a $5 billion plan to bolster and develop Gaza border towns. In fact, new ads have been launched in Israel to plant trees in Gaza’s settlements.

Ultimately, Israel has always been a development project, and it very much seems like its next acquisition is Gaza.