Israel’s Forest Fires Reveal Hidden Past

This excellent piece by Max Blumenthal on what lies beneath Israel’s burning trees:

“Four days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to place thousands of migrant workers in a prison camp deep in the Negev Desert because, as he claimed, they pose a “threat to the character of [the] country,” a burning tree trunk fell into a bus full of Israeli Prison Service cadets, killing forty passengers. The tree was among hundreds of thousands turned to ash by the forest fire pouring across northern Israel, and which now threatens to engulf outskirts of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Over the last four days, more than 12,300 acres have burned in the Mount Carmel area, a devastating swath of destruction in a country the size of New Jersey. While the cause of the fire has not been established, it has laid bare the myths of Israel’s foundation.

Israelis are treating the fire as one of their greatest tragedies in recent years. A friend who grew up in the Haifa area told me over the weekend that he was devastated by the images of destruction he saw on TV. His friend’s brother was among those who perished in the bus accident. Though he is a dedicated Zionist who supported Netanyahu’s election bid in 2008, like so many Israelis, he was furious at the response — or lack of one — by the government. “Our leaders are complete idiots, but you already know that,” he told me. “They invested so much to prepare for all kinds of crazy war scenarios but didn’t do anything to protect civilians from the basic things you are supposed to take for granted.”

On 3 December, Netanyahu informed the country, “We do not have what it takes to put out the fire, but help is on the way.” To beat back the blaze, Bibi has had to beg for assistance from his counterpart in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and Israel’s American and British patrons. Israel is a wealthy country which boasts to the world about its innovative spirit — its US-based lobbyists market it as a “Start-Up Nation” — but its performance during the forest fire revealed the sad truth: its government has prioritized offensive military capacity and occupation maintenance so extensively that it has completely neglected the country’s infrastructure, emergency preparedness and most of all, the general welfare of its citizens.

Beyond the embarrassing spectacle of Turkish supply planes landing in Tel Aviv just six months after Israeli commandoes massacred Turkish aid volunteers on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, or the confessions of impotence by the hard-men Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, the fire exposed a terrible history that had been concealed by layers of official mythology and piles of fallen pine needles…

…By now, both Ein Hod and Ayd Hawd are nearly empty. Most of their residents have fled for safer ground while the thousands of pine trees planted to provide Ein Hod’s artists with a sense of solitude are reduced to ash. As the trees burn, the fire exposes another dimension of Israel’s foundation that it has attempted to bury.

The pine trees themselves were instruments of concealment, strategically planted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) on the sites of the hundreds of Palestinian villages the Zionist militias evacuated and destroyed in 1948. With forests sprouting up where towns once stood, those who had been expelled would have nothing to come back to. Meanwhile, to outsiders beholding the strangely Alpine landscape of northern Israel for the first time, it seemed as though the Palestinians had never existed. And that was exactly the impression the JNF intended to create. The practice that David Ben Gurion and other prominent Zionists referred to as “redeeming the land” was in fact the ultimate form of greenwashing.

Described by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe as “the quintessential Zionist colonialist,” the first director of the JNF, Yossef Weitz, was a ruthless ideologue who helped orchestrate the mass expulsion of Palestinians in 1948. Weitz notoriously declared “It must be clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples … If the Arabs leave it, the country will become wide and spacious for us … The only solution is a Land of Israel … without Arabs … There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer all of them, save perhaps for [the Palestinian Arabs of] Bethlehem, Nazareth and the old Jerusalem. Not one village must be left, not one tribe.”

After Weitz’s wishes were fulfilled, the JNF planted hundreds of thousands of trees over freshly destroyed Palestinian villages like al-Tira, helping to establish the Carmel National Park. An area on the south slope of Mount Carmel so closely resembled the landscape of the Swiss Alps that it was nicknamed “Little Switzerland.” Of course, the nonindigenous trees of the JNF were poorly suited to the environment in Palestine. Most of the saplings the JNF plants at a site near Jerusalem simply do not survive, and require frequent replanting. Elsewhere, needles from the pine trees have killed native plant species and wreaked havoc on the ecosystem. And as we have seen with the Carmel wildfire, the JNF’s trees go up like tinder in the dry heat.

But it seems that nothing can stop the JNF’s drive to “green” the land. Even in the parched Negev desert, the JNF is advancing plans to plant one million trees in a plot called “GOD TV Forest.” To accomplish the highly unusual feat of foresting a desert, the Israel Land Administration has ordered the expulsion of the Bedouin unrecognized village of al-Araqib, home to hundreds of Israeli citizens who have lived in the area for more than 100 years and who have served in the army’s frontline tracker units.

The Israeli government has tried time and again to force the people of al-Araqib into an American Indian reservation-style “development town,” but they have refused. The village has been razed to the ground by bulldozers on eight occasions, but each time the residents have rebuilt their homes, hoping to outlast a ruthless campaign to destroy their way of life.

What about the strange name for the proposed forest? It is a reference to GOD TV, a radical right-wing evangelical Christian broadcasting network that hosts faith-based fraudsters like Creflo Dollar and rapture-ready fanatics like Rory and Wendy Alec.

And why is GOD TV bankrolling the JNF’s ethnic cleansing campaign in the Negev desert? According to its website, “GOD TV is planting over ONE MILLION TREES across the Holy Land as a miraculous sign to Israel and to the world that Jesus is coming soon.”

In his 1970 short fiction story “Facing the Forest,” the famed Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua portrayed a mute Palestinian forest watchman who burns down a JNF forest to reveal the hidden ruins of his former village. Forty years later, as the JNF forests around Mount Carmel burn, right-wing Israeli lawmakers have demanded a search for the Arab who must have sparked the blaze, even though there is no firm evidence about the cause of the fire. Michael Ben Ari, a extremist Member of Knesset from the National Union Party, called for “the whole Shin Bet” — Israel’s domestic intelligence agency — to be mobilized to investigate what the right-wing media outlet Arutz Sheva said “may turn out to be the worst terror attack in Israel’s history.”

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2 thoughts on “Israel’s Forest Fires Reveal Hidden Past

  1. For one second I thought you cared for the people and animals that were killed in this terrible fire but ofcourse all you wanted is to blame Israel for something . With all the respect there was war in 1948 that was forced on Israel by the Arabs in it and in the countries around it , they lost and Israel won , end of story . The forest were planted to renovate the country , there is nothing to hide . By the way your `democratic country w still occupies Northern Ireland , what about people that had to escape there homes there .. two face people some people are ..

  2. What a load of tosh, with the emphasis on tosh. I’m ashamed of you Dr. Phillips, having been to your lectures, you always came across as well informed, fair-minded Intellectual How can one turn what was a minor environmental disaster in Northern Israel against the legitimacy of Zionism and the Israeli, Jewish National State. Clearly, the author is an Arabist of notorious fantasist delusions, of whom only has eyes for a narrow minded Middle-East, rather than a diverse, democratic and most importantly, representative one. I wonder has the Author, instead of lifting this article from a blog which clearly has a hidden socio-political agenda (and a self-hating, ambiguous Jewish one too), has actually ever pondered about the Arab Palestinian holdings of Stolen Jewish Assets in Nablus, Rammlah, Hebron et al., which have been held in a age-old moratorium of ‘being in possession of stolen goods’; land upon which such houses have been built on Israelite, specifically, Judean Homes by which Jews were forced out by some of your Roman Forbearers, into the exile. Add to that, Israel won a war against the Arab World and can do what it likes with it’s Sovereign, as well as acquired territorial assets, including reducing the Arab Minority which is a big plus (The Ashkenazi Jews were pretty much indigenous to Eastern Europe, but where were the Chatham House-esque Dons in the 30s to force the British Army to bomb the Infrastructure of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews? Not there! Let Israel have it’s moment in contemporary history, sit tight and enjoy the white knuckle ride, instead of putting Arabism first? Also give Judaism and Zionism equal deference! Hebrew, like Maltese and Arabic, is beautiful Semitic language too; did I forget to mention that it is native to Palestine, being the last remnant of the Canaanite Languages to be known and spoken in the contemporary era! And where is Canaan? Ancient History Maps of the Near-East, show it to be where Israel and the West Bank currently are, so therefore why make out that Jews are foreign to the area, when in fact they are native to it, or at least equal to Levantine Arabs. Hmm….I wonder if the good author at QMUL, is aware? Do they not teach Ancient History at Oxford these days, or has the History Dept. gone through the Floor, likewise with many of the Arts Programmes at the distinguishable institution?

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