Earth and trees are scorched from wildfires in the Jerusalem mountains, Aug. 17, 2021. (AP/Ariel Schalit) (Ariel Schalit)
forest fire

In a world where trees serve no environmental purpose, as claimed by an anti-Zionist columnist, it would be perfectly reasonable for Palestinians to start forest fires in Israel.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

In the annals of Israel-bashing rhetoric is a curious accusation called “greenwashing.” It’s an allegation claiming that Israel pretends to be environmentally friendly in order to distract attention from its alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians.

Israel’s alleged use of nature to “whitewash” so-called human rights abuses is described as greenwashing.

The latest greenwashing accusation comes from Inside Arabia, a US-based website dedicated to news and analysis of the Mideast and North Africa. Sami Erchoff, a Beirut-based freelance writer, uses the summer’s wildfires outside Jerusalem to spin an unconvincing narrative.

In Erchoff’s world, Israeli tree-planting is done in order to deliberately “erase the Palestinian presence and hide villages forcibly depopulated by the Nakba.” Israeli forestation, he claims, is political and serves no environmental purpose.

Proof of the perfidy is that the wildfires exposed what Erchoff claims are ancient Palestinian agricultural terraces.

Erchoff wrote, “While the Israeli media unanimously lamented this apparent ecological disaster, the wildfires revealed an unexpected treasure: ancient Palestinian agricultural terraces, dating back to the 13th century, which had been utilized until the Zionists’ arrival. The planting of the forest had served to conceal the ruins of Palestinian villages and crops, feeding the myth of a land without people. A myth that the purifying fire completely debunked.”

Anyone who has ever hiked in the Jerusalem hills knows the early Zionists did not do a very good job of hiding those terraces. Regardless of who built them or when, the fires exposed nothing that had not already been in plain view for decades.

The article makes other baseless assertions. Among them: FIrst Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion’s “Make the desert bloom” slogan was a propaganda campaign. Planting trees prevents the Palestinian “right” of return. Forests are planted to reinforce the Green Line and Gaza borders.

Erchoff also quotes Palestinian environmental activist Abeer Butmeh, who draws an implicit and ugly and fictional parallel between European Jews displacing indigenous Palestinians with European trees displacing native species:

“‘Israeli settlers usually uproot the original, local trees to plant foreign species originated from Europe,’ Butmeh explained, and it has been estimated that indigenous species only makes up 11 percent of Israeli forests. ‘Olive trees are the symbol of Palestine, whereas pines are seen as Israeli trees.’ One in three trees in Israel is a pine, she said.”

Inside Arabia may not be a major website, but the rhetoric has implications beyond the online publication.

In a world where trees are utilized for land grabs, reinforce Israeli lines, prevent displaced people from returning to their villages and serve no environmental purpose, it would be perfectly reasonable — maybe even imperative — for Palestinians to start forest fires.

Erchoff doesn’t overtly incite arson. But by describing the Jerusalem forest fire as “purifying,” he and Inside Arabia show they’re comfortable playing with fire.