February 7 and 8, 2019

Environmental Justice in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank

Presentation Abstracts

(Alphabetical order by author's name)

Dwelling in the Gap of Informality:
Palestinian Jerusalemites Claiming the City
Nayrouz Abu Hatoum

My essay explores Palestinians’ strategies of claiming Jerusalem under the constant threat of dispossession. I center my focus on Kufr Aqab, which was cut off from Jerusalem by the Wall, while remaining inside the borders of the city’s municipality. Prior to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and The Gaza Strip in 1967, Kufr Aqab was a village inhabited by 10,000 Palestinians, located 14 kilometers North of Jerusalem’s Old City. The borders of Jerusalem’s municipality expanded with the occupation of the West Bank, and Kufr Aqab became annexed inside Jerusalem’s newly formed borders. Since its occupation, a matrix of dispossession and neglect consisting of policies and practices was put in place to oversee domination of the Palestinian population and lands. A key policy that threatens Jerusalemites is the 1995 “center of life,” which puts the burden of maintaining access to Jerusalem on Palestinians’ constant proof of dwelling within the city. Palestinians, like those in Kufr Aqab, who were pushed to live out of the city—behind the Wall and in degenerated infrastructure—fell in extraterritorial gap outside the control of the municipality. Palestinian Jerusalemites increasingly begun to resort to unregulated and unlicensed construction in Kufr Aqab, which resulted in a landscape of dusty concrete, vanishing greenery, and accumulated garbage. These constructions, despite being unsafe and clogging an already deteriorating infrastructure, play a critical role in reclaiming existence in Jerusalem when threats of revoking residency to those who are unable to dwell in the city have been real. In order to contest their ongoing dispossession, Palestinians have to claim spaces through informal and risky spatial strategies, within the assigned territories of citizenships, even at the expense of living in a liminal zone of legality and under constant threats of environmental catastrophe.

Indigenous Sustainability?
Bedouin Displacement and Open Spaces in Dqaiqa, the West Bank
Netta Amar-Shiff and Oren Yiftachel

In this essay, we use the prism of forcible displacement to examine the mutual impact of law and geography on indigenous sustainability and open spaces in the militarily occupied West Bank. We focus in particular on the growing administrative and legal limitations on the Bedouin natural environment and on their traditional practices, which rely on grazing zones and agricultural cultivation of lands. The Bedouins living in Dqaiqa in the southern Hebron Hills serve as a case study for our project. In 1948, this community was forcibly displaced across the Armistice Line and since then it has been residing on the West Bank part of its historical lands. Starting in the 1990s, the Israeli Civil Administration has been taking measures aimed at the forcible displacement of this community northwards, but Dqaiqa has remained in place, while also executing limited local development. Dqaiqa is hence found in a conundrum of protection and development on the one hand, and displacement and destruction on the other hand. Forcible displacement as both a geographical phenomenon and a legal construct calls for an interdisciplinary empirical legal geographical study and, indeed, Bedouin space is constituted by the interface between strong legal and spatial components. For this study, we have used mixed legal geographical methodologies such as spatial discourse and mutual impact of legal proceedings and spatial development through doctrinal legal analysis and geographical methods (maps and aerial photos). Building on a settler colonial framework, our essay will highlight the existence of two main paradigms: protection and development. We will explore the interplay between the two paradigms as applied domestically and analyze its contribution to the “greying” process of Bedouin space. “Grey spacing” leaves Bedouin sustainability for indefinite periods as “temporary”—that is, neither fully legalized and included, nor completely criminalized and destroyed. We observe in the West Bank a potential “greying” process where protection becomes temporary and uncertain and Bedouins are deprived of their right to traditional habitat, lands, territories and culture. The indefinite “greying” of Bedouin space under the current local and international legal regimes raises the specter of an apartheid system striking deeper roots in the studied area.

Exploring Environmental Justice in Aida, A West Bank Refugee Camp
Amahl Bishara
The residents of Aida Refugee Camp have lived under military occupation for over fifty years. While they struggle against the more legible concerns of the separation wall, unemployment, military violence, and high rates of incarceration, residents are also acutely aware of environmental crises. First among these has been a lack of adequate drinking water supplies. This led one young filmmaker working at a small NGO to make a documentary in 2011 called “Everyday Nakba,” suggesting that water scarcity was a continuation of the historical crisis of dispossession that began for Palestinians in 1948. This documentary helped to motivate an interdisciplinary collaboration among an environmental engineer (Durant), an environmental lawyer, and an anthropologist (Bishara), and a small Boston-based NGO to investigate problems of water quality related to water scarcity. This essay chronicles how small NGOs and interdisciplinary groups of community-engaged scholars can creatively approach multifaceted environmental problems and also examines the limits of such approaches to environmental justice. While this collaboration has catalyzed water quality testing, point-of-use water treatment, rooftop gardens, awareness about water problems, and environmental education, it has not been able to address the structural problem of inadequate supply of water, nor has it yet addressed other community environmental problems. While data from the water testing helped the Boston team contribute to the literature on water intermittency, other problems such as high rates of tear gas and skunk water use in Aida are more challenging to address because there are fewer available templates for action on these unusual problems. This essay presents data from our water-testing program and considers how environmental activism has shifted how members of a refugee community think about justice and about science.

The Nature of Occupation:
Nature Reserves, National Parks, and Archeological Sites in the Occupied West Bank
Irus Braverman

“It is unfortunate that our efforts to protect this ancient landscape [nof kdumim] get turned into something political, instead of the nature protection efforts that they truly are.” This sentence, which I recorded on February 16, 2018 from one of the top planning officials in the Jerusalem and Judea region, conveys much of the tensions around nature protection in this contentious region. On the one hand, Israeli authorities and environmental organizations attempt to do what many such agencies do across the world: allocate uses, maintain and manage green spaces, and protect natural and cultural heritage. On the other hand, these efforts are portrayed by many as immensely political and as intended to deprive the local Palestinian population access to land and resources. Indeed, as it has been in many colonial contexts before, protecting land, plants, animals, and archeological sites, the legal designation of nature reserves, national parks, and archeological sites is at the same time also a way to both erase and remake ties to land and connections to place. This is especially the case because of the enhanced role of Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank in the administration of nature reserves in the area. Telling nuanced and up-to-date stories about specific nature reserves, national parks, and archeological sites in the occupied Palestinian territories, my essay will unveil the everyday administration of the occupation and the mundane legal strategies enacted through the deployment of seemingly benevolent and apolitical ideas of natural and cultural heritage.

Bodies that Count:
Multispecies Populations Management by the Israeli Administration in the West Bank
Natalia Gutkowski

Environmental history has shown that animal bodies and plant species have been a central tool of Western colonization and imperialism across the globe. In scholarship on Israel-Palestine the most renowned symbol of Zionist multispecies colonization and settlement project is the pine and the pine forest which became a central actor in Zionist land control. Historical multispecies scholarship on Israel-Palestine predominantly focused on the British mandate and early Israeli State and provided evidence of non-human actors facilitating the Zionist project such as the mosquito eradication, the replacement of local herders’ black goats with white goats and the settlement of European dairy cows. Yet in social sciences’ scholarship of Israel-Palestine, there is a dearth of research on the contemporary administration of non-human bodies as integral to Israeli rule of the Palestinian West Bank. While mechanisms of human population management through the permit regime and the checkpoints’ system are becoming more publicly and scholarly known, I aim to shed light on contemporary multispecies management aspects of Israeli control. In this essay, I examine the last decade’s chronicles of the Israeli Civil Administration’s agricultural activity in the West Bank. These records include enumeration charts of working animals and their veterinary treatment, regional pest management, plant production and plants’ pesticides residues management as well as the fate of Palestinian animals in Israeli quarantine. By reading through the bodies that count, the words that are told, and the silences that speak out of the record, I tell the story of a multispecies political ecology and biopolitics record of the West Bank. This inventory both indicates the similarities between human and non-human population management methods as well as the power of agro-techniques of care to expand colonial control.  

Environmental Determinism in Early Zionist Agricultural Settlement
Gabi Kirk

Scholars of environmental racism/justice have argued that race is a fundamentally spatial relation. Yet most scholarship on the history of a Zionist split between “Jewish” and “Arab” identities tends to focus on cultural products or social relations, with less work on spatial elements, particularly race and the environment. Inspired by work on the scientific history of Zionism and ideas of biological race, I ask: How did ideas of environmental determinism shape pre-state Zionist ideas of productive agricultural settlement, and lead to scientific theorizations of the split between the bodies of “Jewish workers” and those of “Arab workers”? An important scientific theory in geography and related fields in the late 19th and early 20th century, environmental determinism posited that environmental and climatic factors determined social development, resulting in a hierarchy which posited European climates, people, and civilizations at the top. I will analyze in particular field reports, scientific and popular publications, and personal letters (c. 1900-1935) from early Zionist agricultural planners and agronomists as well as non-Zionist “outside experts.” Zionist agronomists felt that strong attention to scientific training, emphasis on intensive agriculture, and site choice of valleys instead of hillsides would not only result in more economically productive settlements but would also overcome the biological limitations of the Jewish body, thereby forming a “New Jew.” They also believed that Palestinian laborers were inherently more suited to the “inferior” indigenous methods of cultivation. Non-Jewish and non-Zionist scientific experts advised a U.S. model of settler-colonial development underway in California at the time: capital growth through exploitation of racialized labor. Understanding the environmental history of racialization in Israel-Palestine will help unpack contemporary structures of colonial segregation and environmental inequality.

Eggs, Freedom, Dispossession:
Organic Agriculture in the West Bank and the Ethics of Violence
Hagar Kotef

This essay unfolds the story of the development of one extreme outpost in the West Bank called Givo’t Olam. Givo’t Olam is the forerunner of the new settlement movement called “hilltop youth,” whose explicit goal is to move beyond the borders of existing settlements as a massive project of land-grab. It is also a major supplier of organic produce in Israel, and the largest supplier of free-range eggs in the country. Examining both the ethics of organic food and the material conditions of organic agriculture (land resources, waste and water), I show how a home is created as a dispositional tool within an ethical scheme. The story of the farm is reconstructed from a spatial analysis based on data collected by human rights activists, interviews with the founder of the farm, Avri Ran, and interviews with Palestinians from the village Yanun, who have lost their lands as Ran expanded his mini-scale empire by means of intimidation, harassment, and physical violence. The essay moves between several possible frameworks to explain the links between organic agriculture and this reality of violence, in order to question some of the more dominant paradigms accounting for settler colonialism in existing literature. Whereas local in nature, this story is also an allegory—to the settlement movement in Israel, to the Zionist project, and to settler colonialism more broadly. It allows us to see a concrete process of homemaking which takes place via the ruination of other homes, and thus serves as an analysis of colonization in-the-making. At the same time, organic agriculture is itself an allegory, or a methodological parable, as it is a way of moving between the ideological level of justification mechanisms and material articulations and prerequisites of settlement.

The Ends of Infrastructure:
Toxic Ecologies of Settler Colonialism
Omar Jabary Salamanca

Last year, amid ongoing power cuts and blistering summer heat, Mohammed al-Sayis, five, died days after swimming in the sewage-polluted waters of Gaza city’s coastline. Diagnosed with Ekiri syndrome, he was reportedly the first death caused by sea pollution in the Gaza Strip. This tragedy put under the spotlight the complicit relation between a protracted water and sanitation crisis and the continuous disruption of electricity. Yet it also made visible the violence and long-term effects of weaponized and exploitative relations of infrastructure on public health and the environment. This essay takes the ends of infrastructure, understood both in terms of its telos and as its terminal limit (Ty, 2015), as an entry point to explore the ways settler colonialism is invested in waging a war not only on indigenous bodies, but also on the natural and built environment that ensures their biological and social reproduction, their survival (Collins, 2010). Focusing on the ways infrastructures and the environment are entangled in the expansive and eliminatory logics of settler colonialism, the essay considers the lived experiences of people and environments (land and sea) exposed to complex ecologies of toxicity. Ultimately, the essay foregrounds the idea that settler colonialism does not just cause environment injustice, it is environmental injustice (Whyte, 2016).

Envisioning Justice in the Valley
Emily McKee

Environmental justice claims in contexts of settler colonialism are necessarily contentious. Not surprisingly, many Palestinians and Israelis vehemently contest claims of environmental injustice in the West Bank. Less discussed are the disagreements among Palestinians about what constitute the most pressing environmental injustices and what remedies are most urgently needed. Yet these disagreements can be influential in shaping and stymying cooperation. This essay takes the case of one village in the Jordan River Valley to engage in intersectional analysis of environmental justice visions. The village of Auja has experienced dramatic changes in its waterscapes. The Jordan River, which flows just seven kilometers from the village center, is a polluted and meager trickle compared to its voluminous flow a century ago. The once-perennial spring that supplied generations of Auja farmers has become seasonally dry in recent decades. And the water levels of irrigation wells have dropped, while salinity levels rise. Villagers have been denied permits from the Joint Water Committee to repair or dig new wells. Most of Auja’s unwatered fields are now cracked expanses of scattered weeds. Meanwhile, nearby Israeli settlers are able to irrigate and harvest abundant produce. Residents, local government officials, and staff members of a transborder nongovernmental organization all make justice-based protests against these changes. However, while some emphasize the lack of Palestinian sovereignty over natural resources, others concentrate on the obstruction of villagers’ opportunities to pursue agricultural livelihoods, and others focus on water pricing. This essay examines social positioning along lines of class, gender, rural/urban residence, and occupation to consider how various constituents mobilize experiences of place and different temporal and spatial scales to reckon justice. In so doing, the essay contributes to recent broadenings within environmental justice literature from a focus on distribution to considerations of procedure and recognition.

Hope in the Ruins:
Seeds, Plants, and Possibilities of Regeneration
Anne Meneley

The environmental effect of the occupation has become increasingly central to West Bank activists over the last decade. For olive activists, the olive tree is a kind of co-producer of its own product—olive oil. This productive capacity has made the olive tree a kind of actor in agro-resistance. On my last two fieldtrips in 2017, I noticed a flourishing of creative, generative, fruitful projects by which my interlocutors attempt to reclaim their plants and lands from the environmental damages of the ongoing occupation. I situate these re-generative practices in anthropological discourses about imperial ruins (Stoler 2013) and the blasted landscapes of capitalist ruins (Tsing 2015). In Palestine, the debris of Israeli military incursions, and the ruination of the environment with “security” infrastructures like the Wall, are not only imperial ruins but ongoing occupation ruins. As one man told me “we live in between,” in between settlements, checkpoints, violence, with a dominant “structure of feeling” of claustrophobia. In Tsing’s work, ruins are presented as productive of new possibilities. A similar hope seems to underpin my interlocutors’ projects of planting, saving, and regeneration that are happening at this moment of most serious containment. Their projects involve preserving and propagating Palestinian heritage seeds; eco-farming initiatives to conserve water resources; farming cooperatives which encourage shared labor; walking seminars to teach children how to forage for edible plants; and food marketing initiatives which encourage Palestinian food consumption to facilitate boycotting Israeli agricultural products, often produced on illegal settlements. With their activism, olive farmers attempt to regenerate a sense of value in themselves as they attempt to reclaim their landscapes in a very embodied way rather than giving into ruination.

Environmentalism and Infrastructural Failure:
Lessons from Waste in Palestine
Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins

What constitutes infrastructural “failure”? And what do infrastructural failures have to do with environmentalism or environmental justice? Based on long-term fieldwork in the West Bank, this essay attempts to answer these twin questions by examining moments of purported failure, breakdown and dysfunctionality in infrastructures for managing wastes in occupied Palestine. It borrows from critical studies of development and governance the idea that the so-called “failure” of projects or bureaucratic systems is also always productive to explore what moments read as infrastructural failures make possible, on the one hand, but also to understand how social lives are made through the identification of certain processes and materials as signs of failure, on the other hand. In Palestine, the stakes are high all around: as Israeli settlers, human rights organizations, ordinary Palestinians or Palestinian Authority officials point to Palestinians’ raw sewage flows as variously defined signs of failure, for example, they advance ways of thinking “environmentally” that underpin broad visions of a just future. This essay will offer its own view of how ethnographic work on infrastructure in the Middle East can help anthropologists think failure in its most obtrusively material iterations.

Urban Green Space, Development, and Arboriculture in Wadi Dilib Valley, Ramallah
Omar Imseeh Tesdell

My essay explores how the landscape of urban green space has shifted in the Palestinian West Bank in recent years. Cities such as Ramallah have experience a fevered pace of urban development over this period. A result of this expansion has been a significant contraction of urban green space and tree cover. However, the connection between urban development and the arboreal landscape in Palestine has not be sufficiently explored. To explore this relationship, I investigate the contested landscape history of Wadi al-Dilib valley, which lies to the northwest of Ramallah. Over the past eighty years, the valley has been transformed from an important agricultural area to a popular, yet unofficial, urban green space for Ramallah residents. Composed of small privately-held parcels, today Wadi al-Dilib is covered in olive trees reaching out of the same terraced hillsides where Ramallah’s former subsistence farmers once grew grapes and figs. With the decline of subsistence agriculture, the valley has for decades become the main urban green space for people in Ramallah who spend their afternoons lounging and enjoying food together as though it were a public park. Except in a significant rain event, the small stream that runs through the base of the valley is produced by the new Ramallah municipality wastewater treatment plant. It is also the scene of an expanding road network connecting Ramallah with the West Bank to the north. Palestinian urban development and Israeli settlements chew at its edges. Most importantly, it falls within a complex weave of political-spatial categories and Oslo-era classifications including the Ramallah Municipality, Israeli settlements, various Israeli jurisdictions, and rapid Palestinian urban development. This political geography both constrains and enables the park’s liminal existence as an urban green space. Using field research, analysis of aerial photography, oral histories, and geo-visualization tools, I will investigate the shift of Wadi al-Dilib from an agricultural to an urban green space, with particular attention to its arboreal landscape. Wadi al-Dilib’s transformation occurred within spatial and juridical regimes of Israeli military occupation and Palestinian economic expansion. Therefore, through the case of this valley, the essay will show how spatial justice and environmental justice are interrelated within the rapidly urbanizing Palestinian West Bank.

Displaceability in the Occupied Palestinian Territories:
Farmland and Environmental Justice in a Settler Colonial Context
Erez Tzfadia

Avner Faingulernt’s new documentary diptych In the Desert presents “Omar’s Dream” and “Avidan’s Dream”—two films that portray the daily realities of shepherds who live close to each other in South Mount Hebron/Khalil in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). One is about a Palestinian family; the other is about Jewish family. Both live there informally, thus are displaceable. In February 2017, Israeli police officers evicted 250 Jewish settlers who lived in Amona—an informal outpost situated a few miles north of Jerusalem and founded in 1995 on privately-owned Palestinian farmland. Despite the eviction, the land has not been returned to its original Palestinian owners, and it seems that nobody intends to re-cultivate the land. Seven months later, the State of Israel declared in its High Court of Justice (HCJ) that the 1,500 Bedouin-Palestinians living in one of the Khan Al-Ahmar informal shepherd communities, located 10 miles south of Amona, will be evicted by mid-2018. In January 2018, Israel authorities demolished a school in Khan Al-Ahmar. These acts followed years of preventing shepherding in the area. The two diptychs, “Omar’s Dream” and “Avidan’s Dream,” and their respective Amona and Khan Al-Ahmar stories, are about displaceability, i.e. the potential of being displaced. Moving beyond ethnic cleansing, displaceability will serve in my essay as an analytical framework of environmental justice in the settler colonial context, and particularly in relation to farmlands in the OPT. The focus on environmental justice is essential here, for two main reasons. The first reason, which focuses primarily on the word “justice,” assumes that justice is not absolute, but relative. The diptych emphasizes both the similarity and the contrast between the two shepherding cases, thus exploring the proposition that displaceability is not equal to all. Instead, displaceability is ranked according to typical hierarchies of rights in settler colonialism. The second reason focuses on the word “environmental,” with an emphasis on farmland. Farmland is often imagined as open, unfenced, and at the same time as private or communal property. However, settler colonial societies have developed ambivalent perspectives on farmland: if the land serves indigenous communities, then colonizers seek to “develop” the land by displacing these local communities. If it serves the colonizers, it represents the success of colonization. Thus, displacement and displaceability are linked to the hierarchies of rights to land in general and farmland in particular. The diptych setting of farmland and displaceability proposes a new perspective on the meaning of environmental justice in the settler colonial landscape of the occupied West Bank.