Monthly Archives: July 2008

Why is the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel supporting West Bank settlements?

Green Prophet writes:

“…a recent article by Zafrir Rinat published in Ha’aretz (Green beyond the Green Line, too) posed the awkward as to why SPNI’s campaigns appear to stop at the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border: Why don’t they oppose Israeli construction in the West Bank for environmental reasons?”

Mossi Raz of the Life and Environment group has a petition (Hebrew) condemning tours and visits by SPNI to illegal outposts because they are easy to interpret as expressions of support.

This is a bit muddled but I’m in a rush. I want to pick up on what I take to be Michael Green’s point – that there’s a case for opposing the Israeli settlements from an environmental position.

I would have thought that if you oppose building in a place from an environmental perspective, you oppose it whether the builder is Israeli or Palestinian.

If Palestinians proposed to build over or move into evacuated illegal outposts or settlements, taking advantage of the infrastructure, the same environmental reasoning would apply as applied to the illegal Israeli dwellers. Just because the new residents are Palestinian, it doesn’t mean that they have mastery of pollution control. The ongoing neglect of the pollution of Palestinian land is absolutely unacceptable. Beitar Illit, the settlement mentioned by Green, is partly responsible for polluting the Palestinian village of Wadi Fukin further down and depleting its springs. The thing is, Tsur Hadassah, an Israeli town west of Jerusalem, may also be responsible. Springs and streams don’t respect human boundaries.

Friends of the Middle East set up its Good Water Neighbours project involving both Tsur Hadassah and Wadi Fukin. They are twinned, despite being separated by the Green Line, the armistice line of 1949 and the internationally recognized border between the two regions:

“Massive urban development, especially in Beitar Illit, has disrupted the feeding system for the springs, already drying up two of them. Soil and earth from the building process has been dumped over the slopes, covering much of the area, and occasionally wastewater from Beitar Illit flows into the fields, rending them unusable. Continued development is expected to worsen the damage. This unique landscape is being eaten away slowly”

The point is that the outposts, waste, depletion of vital Palestinian water, and the failure to do anything about them are disgusting and an affront to peace, but they are different problems. For example, Beitar Illit is in a bloc which according to active peace plans may remain with Israel in final status agreements, exchanged for Israeli land elswhere – this is subject to negotiations (important to note the ongoing expansion there, despite the Annapolis agreement to cease settlement work).

I agree with Green and Rinat that visits to the outposts and settlements are easy to be interpreted as tacit support – Zafrir (author of a Haaretz article linked from Green Prophet) points out at the end that the SPNI can speak out independently against the occupation (but she doesn’t give examples). The SPNI is likely to issue a response soon.  Zafrir is right to challenge the SPNI’s insistence that it is apolitical, while also claiming to be a social-environmental group (although I can’t immediately see on the SPNI site where it claims this – but to try to isolate the environmental from the social seems wrong anyway). (Incidentally, Greens Against the Boycott are right to challenge Caroline Lucas about sharing a platform with senior Hamas members while also claiming to support peace.) Often environmental interests butt up against social interests, and then organisations have to bite the bullet.

Opposing the dumping of waste on, and depletion of water from, Palestinian agricultural land is to do with the environment and is also to do with far more than the environment. Opposing settlement by one group and not another can’t be done on environmental grounds alone.

Hat tip: Richard at Engage.