Forging Indigeneity Through the Transformation of (Food) Environments

            The destruction of food systems as a means to physically erase Palestinians from the land that Zionism lays claim to parallels Grey and Patel’s (2014) discussion of the techniques European settlers employed to achieve an “indigeneity without Indians” in North America (p. 427). The authors argue that the supplanting of indigenous plant and animal species for colonial species was crucial for the European settlement project. In addition to yielding buffalo hides for revenue, the hunting of plain bison to near extinction drove numerous Indian nations into starvation whilst making way for the now iconic American cattle ranch (Grey & Patel, 2014, p. 437). A similar transformation of the food environment is also visible in Palestine, where olive trees have been uprooted by Israel since its establishment, and increasingly so in the past decades (Braverman, 2009, p. 246). Recently framed as a “national security” measure rather than a “punitive” one, the Israeli government has uprooted the trees to clear landscapes for its Separation Barrier in the West Bank, and to increase visibility of roads and build watchtowers, checkpoints and fences around settlements (Braverman, 2009, p. 247). Independent Zionist settlers have also played a role in this “tree warfare”, uprooting, stealing, burning and chopping olive trees in Palestinian landscapes (Braverman, 2009, p. 250). This fact has material significance to Palestinians, and can therefore be seen as another indirect means towards elimination: the olive industry has been and continues to be a crucial agricultural vegetation for natives, providing not only produce to the populations but also a seasonal source of income for many (Braverman, 2009, p. 240). Parallel to this uprooting runs a mass planting of pine trees, argued to be the “Zionist equivalent to the olive tree”. Beginning in 1901, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has planted more than 240 million trees in Israel, of which most are pines (Braverman, 2009, p. 237). This large-scale enterprise has significantly transformed the regional landscape, in the process the pine tree becoming a “symbol” of the Zionist project: “through its rooting, the land of Israel has transformed into a European-looking landscape” (Braverman, 2009, p. 237). Apart from the material significance of uprooting olive trees to Palestinians, this symbolic dimension of changing the landscape cannot be ignored as it is part and parcel of colonial settler projects. This idea can also be understood through the lens of Fanon’s The Wretched of The Earth (1963), in which he argues that as colonisation occupies both populations and territory, it requires the transformation of both–not just of the former (Clare, 2013, p. 73). Transformation of the territory leaves “remnants” of the self, and as a consequence “the earth comes to refer to the subject who transformed it” (Clare, 2013, p. 73). In line with Fanon’s understanding of colonization, it appears agents of the Zionist project understand that removing Palestinian populations from a territory and the undermining of their means of subsistence to do so is not enough for its completion–it also requires a transformation of the territory itself in order to appropriate it as its own and reset the “national clock” so that the “newcomer becomes the native” (Grey & Patel, 2014, p. 437).