[The Essential Readings series is curated by the Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI) team at the Arab Studies Institute. MESPI invites scholars to contribute to our Essential Readings modules by submitting an “Essential Readings” list on a topic/theme pertinent to their research/specialization in Middle East studies. Authors are asked to keep the selection relatively short while providing as much representation/diversity as possible. This difficult task may ultimately leave out numerous works which merit inclusion from different vantage points. Each topic may eventually be addressed by more than one author.Articles such as this will appear permanently on www.MESPI.org and www.Jadaliyya.com. Email us at info@MESPI.org for any inquiries.]
Things are dire in Palestine. Not only politically, but also environmentally. Palestinians are so continuously forced to live inundated by wastes and a sense of their own wastefulness, that waste and the environment have collapsed to form a single ecology. This ecology shapes much about social, political, and economic life there. Palestine’s waste siege is only worsening. Israeli domination over the Palestinian territories it occupies is the primary culprit of continuing environmental degradation, which is in turn critical to the reproduction of that domination. Environmentalism, including a discourse of “environmental friendliness” and “good neighborliness,” has become a political currency among occupier and occupied, factions therein, the people who live there, and more geographically distant actors such as international donors. Palestinian Authority (PA) employees, for instance, must perform environmental custodianship before Israeli and international audiences in order to be considered for support to fund Palestinian sanitary infrastructures. In doing so, these employees (and the PA more generally) are forced to claim responsibility for West Bank waste flows and toxicities, despite knowing that Israel is largely responsible for those flows and their toxicities. Understanding the bi-directional flow of effects—from land, waste, and water, to the opening up and foreclosing of social and political possibilities, and vice versa—is therefore essential to understanding occupied Palestine.
A Short History of Land, Water, and the Environment in Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territories
While land, water, and the environment have been crucial to the survival of human and nonhuman beings living in Palestine, they increased in significance as matters of government regulation, scientific research, and political claims-making in the nineteenth century. The broader contexts of this period were Ottoman reforms and the rise of national identities. The post-World War I period saw an emergent Palestinian national identity attached to markers of rural and agricultural life, highlighting the powerful sustaining and symbolic qualities of trees (the olive tree especially), water and land as property. Within the growing Zionist movement, including among its supporters in the British Empire that came to govern Palestine in 1918, the idea that the territory that the indigenous Palestinian population inhabited was a wasteland prior to colonization animated and legitimized European settlement in Palestine.
Zionist leaders and British administrators promoted the idea that a desolate Palestine needed the Jews to come save it through settlement. They envisioned Palestine’s desolation both as an absence of inhabitants and as variations on the theme of absent or problematic land use. Zionist ‘environmental imaginaries’ (Davis and Burke 2011) relied on visions of parts of Palestine as alternately empty and uninhabitable, wild, and socially and culturally barren (Kedar, Amara, and Yiftachel 2018). These depictions mirrored logics of European colonization in the Americas, Africa, and the Pacific.
In the twenty-first century representations of land, water, and the environment continue to be as important to social and political conditions in the OPT—and to the potential for justice there. The idea that Palestinians lack “environmental awareness" or are unqualified and uncommitted custodians of their environment continues to underpin Israel’s ongoing expropriation of Palestinian lands for its Jewish citizens—for instance, through the creation of Israeli-controlled nature reserves in the West Bank. Equally important are changes and continuities in the material conditions of the land, water, and environment themselves. The people with the power to represent Palestine’s environment have also been the people with the greatest ability to control the territory and the people on it. These dynamics organize and motivate this Essential Readings contribution.
The Scope of this List
There has been increased, and increasingly critical, attention to questions of the environment in the Israeli-occupied territories over the past several years. This Essential Readings could have looked very different in terms of its organization, what it includes, and what it excludes. Perhaps most evident, I offer below a primer on English-language scholarship. A list of texts in Arabic, Hebrew, and other languages could—indeed should—be compiled and would be worthy of (ideally comparative) analysis in its own right.
In constructing this list, I have tried to prioritize scholarship by Palestinian academics and those based in the OPT. The objective is simple: to offer opportunities for (self)representation of scholarly voices that are generally less heard, especially in English-speaking fora. So while critical work has been produced by Israeli scholars, very little of it is represented here because, overall, Israeli understandings of the environment and what constitute its challenges and solutions have dominated both the occupied landscape and people occupied within (or exiled outside). I also absent perspectives that emphasize land and water’s symbolic and economic significance, diplomatic disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians around its allocation, and specifically as sources or underpinnings of nationalist positions in the so-called “conflict.” Mainstream scholarship overrepresents those perspectives. Alternatively, I prioritize perspectives that are critical of occupation, militarism, settler colonialism, and capitalism. These perspectives are what one finds least readily available in mainstream representations of environment, land, and water in the OPT.
Territory: This is also a list that takes “occupied territories” in a narrow sense to describe the territories that Israel occupied in 1967, not including the Golan Heights or the Sinai Peninsula. This decision is pragmatic for the list and not ideological. Israel’s establishment in 1948 also constituted an occupation. And Israel’s own “internal” environmental history and dynamics are powerfully tethered to, and influence, how environment, water, and land in the West Bank and Gaza are managed and represented. Yet the environmental trajectory within Israel’s 1948 borders has increasingly departed from that in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. After the signing of the Oslo Accords in the mid-1990s and the separation of Palestinian residential areas from Israeli settlements (in the West Bank) and Gaza from Israel, then after the 2005 removal of settlements from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Gaza became zones of increased Israeli destruction, including toxic dumping, obstruction of sanitary infrastructures, and lower environmental standards. Meanwhile, Israeli resource extraction continued, for example through exertion of control over the West Bank’s water sources and through control over Gaza’s sea spaces. The most richly represented depictions of Israel’s relationship to the environment, land, and water today focuses on the “clean” and “green” policies and technologies that Israel develops (and exports, with lucrative gains) within its boundaries. It would have been possible to include in this list some of the important critical work that complicates this narrative by documenting the contested environmental imaginaries (e.g., McKee 2016) and legal and other coercive modes of displacement off the land (e.g., Braverman 2009), especially in the Negev Desert (e.g., Amara, Abu-Saad, Yiftachel 2012).
A critical contemporary understanding of land, water, and environment in Palestine can only be gained by reading across disciplines. Geographers, architects, political scientists, legal scholars, historians, and anthropologists make up this critical landscape. Useful work has also been done on the history of environmental governance. That includes less critical work that tells a story of Israel’s coming-into-being as inventor of a unique (and superior) Israeli mode of environmentalism and more critical work on the governance of nonhuman animals, both on the lands that were to become the OPT. I have omitted these historical works in order to focus more squarely on the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, whose land, water, and environment were until the 1990s largely overlooked in favor of scholarly analysis of topics deemed more important at the time, such as rural lives and livelihoods, memory, violence, gender and, of course, nationalism.
The spatial features of the occupation have also come under enhanced scrutiny (e.g. Abu-Lughod et al. 1999; Azoulay and Ophir 2012; Hanafi 2009; Peteet 2017; Tawil-Souri 2011; Weizman 2008; Zureik et al. 2010) with the tightening of Israeli permit and checkpoint regimes as well as the erection of the Israeli Segregation Wall. The way that the occupation arranges and manages space and its use largely determines how what we think of as “the environment” is able to exist and change, and how it is experienced. Indeed, the territory that the occupation manages through practices like installing walls and roadblocks is superimposed upon the same territory that constitutes “the environment.” Attention has more recently also turned to the politics and socialities of infrastructure in Palestine, including roads, electric grids, communications and sanitary systems (e.g. Salamanca 2014; Meiton 2019; Stamatopoulou-Robbins 2018, 2020; Tawil-Souri 2012). Infrastructure is important for the ways in which it can reorganize, clean and pollute space, for the scales of management and claims-making it can enable, and for the temporalities it can generate or foreclose. All of these implications of infrastructure’s stories have implications for land, water, and the environment. Therefore, a different version of this list could have prioritized infrastructure. Yet I have omitted such works here using the somewhat artificial criterion: much of that work does not explicitly integrate ideas about the environment and land, even as it does grapple directly with territoriality, the livability of the land (via infrastructural provisioning, neglect or destruction), and water.
A Disclaimer: I do “cheat” on my own organization when it comes to history and territory. The first two texts in this list are geographers’ historical accounts, both of which extend beyond the borders of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. But I allow myself to include them because they are both histories of the present that are key to understanding the specific conditions of the 1967-occupied territories today. Both scholars have also greatly influenced my own thinking and therefore offer a window into how I conceive both of my research and of the exercise of creating this list.
Omar Tesdell. “Wild Wheat to Productive Drylands: Global Scientific Practice and the Agroecological Remaking of Palestine,” Geoforum 78 (2017): 43–51.
Omar Tesdell is a US-trained geographer, with long-term fieldwork experience in the West Bank, whose research focuses on landscape and agroecological change in the Middle East and the Americas. He is based at Birzeit University in the West Bank. Drawing on ethnographic and archival research, his work is uniquely generative for exploring the relationship between science, the materialities of plant-life, colonization, and the possibilities for resilience in Palestine. This piece argues that agricultural research plays a crucial role in placemaking in general, and must be examined to understand Palestine’s colonization in particular. Tesdell demonstrates that during the twentieth century, technical cooperation between researchers in the U.S. and Palestine partook in a shift in the plant sciences from research in taxonomy to plant breeding. This reframed Palestine from an arid region into a promising dryland agricultural region. It made Palestine a felicitous object of colonization. The major implication of this historical argument for thinking about the West Bank and Gaza today is that this argument challenges a prevailing scholarly perception that agricultural expansion and the research that goes into it are outcomes of colonization. This piece, and Tedell’s other works, helps to show the imbrication of “nature”—and scientific and developmental practices that seek to understand and manage it—in what we tend to think of as pure politics. In doing so it decenters the role of politicians and diplomacy in the making of a colonial environment, while also opening up the possibility that people including scientists—who may not be frontline nationalists are nevertheless on the frontlines of materializing nationalist-colonialist dynamics on a territory.
Samer Alatout. “States of Scarcity: Water, Space, and Identity Politics in Israel, 1948-1959.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26 (2008): 959–82.
Another geographer whose work has become influential among Science and Technology scholars of the Middle East and beyond is Samer Alatout, based at the University of Wisconsin. I teach his “States of Scarcity” article in a course on “Nature and Power in the Middle East” and it leaves a huge impression on students. What they take away: one, that water scarcity is a socio-scientific, historically contingent construct; not an ontological truth. Two, that at the dawn of the Israeli state’s existence a switch occurred, almost overnight, whereby the same territory that had until then been perceived to be water-abundant instead came to be perceived as water-scarce. The idea that Israel/Palestine is water-scarce is today taken for granted as a scientific truth and underpins dominant narratives explaining why Israelis and Palestinians are in conflict with one another. The dominant line: there is too little water for the two peoples to survive. An implication: because water is scarce, gestures offering to “share” the precious resource become markers of generosity, civilization and deservingness to be on the land (see also Stamatopoulou-Robbins 2019, 172-206). Alatout’s analysis stems from research on the scientific practices of water measurement. It argues that among the immediate effects of the shift to a water-scarcity discourse was the assumption that centralized policy-making institutions were most efficient for Israel. Centralization helped scale up the Israeli territory into a single national space both for water management and as a source of identification for Israelis emerging as citizens of the state. Like Tesdell, Alatout troubles the ontological divide between scientific and political practice and suggests that this divide has been especially powerful in the study of water politics in Israel/Palestine.
Nayrouz Abu Hatoum. “For “a no-state yet to come”: Palestinians urban place-making in Kufr Aqab, Jerusalem,” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0): 1-24 (2020).
An anthropologist to whom we should all be paying attention is Nayrouz Abu Hatoum, based at the Concordia University in Canada. Abu Hatoum’s work brings us to the contemporary boundary zones between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Her recently published piece on urban practices in Kufr Aqab considers the processes of place-making in Palestinian dispossession and displacement. Crucially, it also raises questions about the temporalities through which Palestinians experience their environment. This text presents complexities of the spatial, social and legal arrangements in the way that Israel has carved up Jerusalem. It foregrounds place-making as a practice in which Palestinians take part even in contexts that appear to be dominated entirely by Israel. Kufr Aqab technically lies within the Israeli-administered Jerusalem municipality. But it has been cut off from Jerusalem by the Israeli Separation Wall. Kufr Aqab’s spatio-jurisdictional positioning allows Abu Hatoum to examine place-making within what she calls “the gap in settler-colonial governance and the Palestinian future of no-state.” Drawing on fieldwork among Kufr Aqab residents, Abu Hatoum shows among other things how Palestinians’ experiences of land and the built environment is always also temporally fraught. Kufr Aqab dwellers live in a state of suspension and uncertainty both about when and whether they will receive services from the Israeli municipality across the Wall, and about how long they will even be permitted to remain where they are—that is, in suspension.
Amahl Bishara, Nidal al-Azraq, Shatha Alazzeh, and John L Durant, “The Multifaceted Outcomes of Community-engaged Water Quality Management in a Palestinian Refugee Camp,” Environment and Planning E 0(0): 1-20 (2020).
This article is the result of a unique collaboration among a US-based anthropologist (Bishara), the executive director of a US-based organization that focuses on water, food, health, and environmental work in Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank (al-Azraq), the Coordinator of the Environment Unit of a community-based grassroots creative cultural center based in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank (Alazzah), and a civil and environmental engineer (Durant). It draws on the coauthors’ diverse fields of expertise to examine how the problem of drinking water supply in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem in the West Bank relates to water scarcity. The collaboration entailed conducting water quality testing, point-of-use water treatment, rooftop gardens, awareness work around water problems, political advocacy on both sides of the Atlantic and environmental education. One of the article’s unique contributions to our thinking about environment, land and water in the West Bank is that it provides firsthand accounts of the scientific processes of apprehending environmental conditions in contemporary Palestine, while also offering analysis of how they were are obstructed by the occupation. It also reflects on the gap created by settler colonialism between apprehension of environmental threats and effecting structural change. The authors demonstrate, moreover, how such projects of “data-gathering” are also often projects of worlding. In doing so, the authors make a case for understanding people’s perceptions of their environment as susceptible to change. In Aida camp, the collaboration impacted how members of the refugee community thought about justice and the environment, for example. This case offers a helpful corrective to framings that view the populations impacted by environmental harm as holders of static perceptions of their own conditions.
Raja Shehadeh. Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape. London: Profile Books, 2008.
Human Rights lawyer Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape, has become a classic representation of Palestine. It is usually read for its lyricism and for the way that it guides the reader through an intimate and simultaneously soaring journey through the occupied landscape. Those alone are certainly reasons for it to be included in this list. But there are others as well. Palestinian Walks subtly places under the microscope the (settler) colonial but also classed character of local nature appreciation that has as its practical manifestation the nature hike. The nature hike familiar to the North American or to the Israeli is the process of exploring an ontologically alien world called “nature,” thereby making it available for future domination or exploitation.
The sarha around which this book is organized, by contrast, is a walk (usually beyond residential space) that allows a person to “roam freely, at will, without restraint: to go where the spirit takes you.” Like the hike, the sarha affords self-discovery. But the sarha, at least as it is depicted by Shehadeh, allows the walker to observe trees and rivers as natural, political and cultural phenomena at the same time. The boundaries between nature, society, and politics dissolve in this book as Shehadeh memorializes and mourns elements of the landscape that have been damaged or destroyed by settler colonial encroachment. The book takes the reader on six sarha walks in Palestine that also span a period of twenty-six years. This broad timeframe allows Shehadeh to depict changes he observed in the land as he walked, amounting finally to what Shehadeh calls a “vanishing landscape.” Yet one of the most important contributions this book can make to our understanding of environment, land, and water in Palestine are precisely the rich and vivid observations of the changed landscape that he makes visible to us. Presented in historical relief, these observations take on a palimpsestic relation to that history, a relation that leaves the reader with a greater understanding of how Palestine’s long-term residents intimately experience the environment discussed so often at the diplomatic level of political negotiations.
Julie Trottier. (PASSIA: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, 1999).
Julie Trottier’s book on hydropolitics in the West Bank and Gaza has become a mainstay for anyone interested in how water is and has been distributed across groups in Israel/Palestine and in particular in the context of military occupation. Completed just as the Oslo negotiations were beginning, the work captures a particular moment. It captures the cusp of what was at the time thought to be a new era, and what arguably may have become one. Trottier is a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) with long-term fieldwork and archival experience in the West Bank and interests, especially in transboundary water management.
I include Trottier’s work here for a number of reasons. One, it questions some of the “unquestionable truths” about water that underpinned the political dynamics and effects of Oslo. Two, Trottier examines the mechanisms that allow for water control in the first place rather than assuming that water control is the automatic achievement of the party with the greatest military might. Her interest in the mechanisms of water control allows her to see complex stratifications of social control over water within Palestinian society as control had persisted, at the time of writing, for three decades under occupation. Such stratifications and the resulting contestations among different groups of people in Palestine are typically lost in depictions of water politics in the region, especially when the overarching frame is the so-called “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict.
For example, Trottier identifies “oral” Palestinian institutions of water management that function and determine water distribution and use “from hundreds of wells and springs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in spite of Israeli Military Orders which prevail to this day notwithstanding the emergence of the Palestinian Authority.” In paying equal attention to Israeli structures of domination and to Palestinians’ own processes for accessing water, Trottier provides a nuanced depiction of Palestinian experiences of the environment as a source of natural resources. Specifically, she avoids the trap of flattening representation of Palestinians solely to victimhood, while not losing sight of the structurally discriminatory—and eliminationist—conditions that shape their overall access and relationship to water.
Eyal Weizman. Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. New York: Verso, 2007.
Eyal Weizman is an architect who teaches spatial and visual cultures and who is founding director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London. His book, , was one of the first book-length texts to explore Israeli spatial policies in the West Bank and Gaza in the post-Oslo period. It should be read for insight into the spatial logics of the occupying authorities and of the occupation’s architects—rather than as a window onto the nuances of Palestinian experiences of those logics. Drawing among other things on unique access to internal conversations among the occupation’s bureaucrats and information about what they read for inspiration (Deleuze and Guattari!), Weizman explores Israel’s micro-methods of transforming the occupied landscape and built environment. One of the greatest analytical pivots this work offers for the study of environment, land, and water in Palestine is its argument that, far from being only a resource over which Israelis and Palestinians are in an existential struggle, the environment becomes itself a weapon in Israel’s arsenal, a tool of domination and control. As an architect, Weizman also offers social scientists who may think of the environment as “nature” as an abstract, ideally pristine object of concern a way of reconsidering it as a changing and palpably material outcome of spatial practices. The book captures such practices as they relate to, and shape, Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, checkpoints, the wall, what Weizman calls “urban warfare—walking through walls,” and targeted assassinations of Palestinians. This book is interested in what Weizman calls “Israel’s mechanisms of control.” For that reason it is particularly interesting to read alongside texts like those by Trottier and Bishara et al., which present ways in which Palestinians also exercise and contest control of their environment despite Israeli efforts to erase them.
Molavi Shourideh. “Herbicidal Warfare in Gaza” Forensic Architecture, 17 July 2019. .
Shourideh Molavi is a political scientist and the dedicated Israel-Palestine researcher for Forensic Architecture (founded by Eyal Weizman), a research agency at Goldsmith’s, University of London that undertakes advanced spatial and media investigations into cases of human rights violations, with and on behalf of communities affected by political violence, human rights organizations, international prosecutors, environmental justice groups, and media organizations. Molavi, who also teaches at American University in Cairo, links Forensic Architecture’s investigations to the work and research of civil society groups and organizers in the field. A recent project on which Molavi worked is called “Herbicidal Warfare in Gaza.” The project tracks Israel’s aerial spraying of crop-killing herbicides along the Gazan border since 2014 and investigates its environmental and legal implications. The project features incredible images of plants destroyed by herbicides. It also includes analysis of firsthand video documentation and comprehensive time-lapse mapping.
“Herbicidal Warfare in Gaza” is significant for demonstrating productive ways of combining methods such as remote sensing, ground-truthing, fluid dynamics, and fieldwork in trying to understand environmental politics in Palestine. It also offers a set of conceptual tools for thinking about the environment, land, and water. It shows how the Israeli military “weaponized the wind,” for example, in waiting for the wind to be blowing in Gaza’s direction before spraying toxic herbicides along the border. Molavi links this to what she calls “farm warfare,” by which she means that Israeli damage to Palestinian agriculture is a mechanism for damaging Palestinian lives more broadly. Both of these points break down the boundary between the environment and land, on one side, and politics and society, on the other side. It forces observers of plants or animals, or even air and the underground, in a place like Gaza, to consider how they might have looked, felt, smelled, or functioned, differently in the absence of a brutal occupation. Molavi urges us to think about the relationship between “slow violence” (Nixon 2011) and “eruptive violence”: as herbicides slowly kill the plants they touch, they desertify large swaths of once covered in lush vegetation. Desertification clears a path along the border that thickens the border by making larger areas unlivable for Palestinians, on the one hand, and by making that cleared zone into a more amenable (because visible) space for attacks on Palestinians by the Israeli military, on the other hand. As Molavi argues: “The slow violence of spatial degradation through the mobilization of environmental elements thus accelerates into an eruptive violence.”
Kali Rubaii. “Concrete and Livability in Occupied Palestine,” Engagement: A Blog Published by the Anthropology and Environment Society, 20 September 2016, .
Kali Rubaii is an anthropologist with fieldwork experience in Palestine and Iraq, and based at Purdue University. This piece focuses on Al Aqaba village in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank, where she lived at intervals between 2011 and 2016. Al Aqaba’s homes and animal shelters are constantly demolished by the Israeli military. The article focuses on two themes essential to understanding the topic at hand. The first is materiality and the second is multi-species sociality. In terms of materiality, Rubaii paints a complex and nuanced picture of concrete, which she dubs “‘dual-use’ and indiscriminate.” It is used by the Israeli civil administration to alter the occupied landscape, facilitating the “vanishing” that Shehadeh documents in his book, by building Jewish-only settlements and bunkers. It is also used by the United Nations to build partial or temporary structures for refugees. But, even more importantly perhaps, it is used by Palestinian villagers themselves as they rebuild their homes each time they are demolished. By foregrounding the material promiscuity of concrete, Rubaii also points to its polysemy. Concrete can evoke presence and temporariness simultaneously, just as it can connote Jewish environmental dominance (or damage) or resistance by the oppressed.
Yet Rubaii also pays attention to the ways in which its physical properties open certain possibilities while foreclosing others. For example, she highlights the fact that, once demolished, a concrete structure cannot be entirely disappeared. Concrete rubble is bulky, taking up space and rendering new spatial formations inevitable in its wake. The second important concept that Rubaii’s piece is relatively unique in inserting into an analysis of the occupied environment is “multispecies sociality.” This comes up for her as she considers the ways in which concrete interrupts some lifeways and gives others their shape. Rubaii encourages us to think of how the connections between people and other species and things create lifeways. She reminds us that animals—in this case as providers of sustenance and life forms needing shelter, for example—must be part of an analysis of environment, land (and water), not as part of “nature” to be preserved but instead as participants in the shifting human and nonhuman assemblages that make up life on the territory.
Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins. . Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2019.
Human-produced garbage and sewage are what we typically think of when we think of the term “waste.” And waste thought in these terms tends to be considered ontologically distinct from the environment. That distinction is, in fact, the basis for prevailing concepts like “environmental pollution” and its opposite, environmental protection. Waste is matter that offends, harms, or threatens the environment and that poses challenges partly because it stands apart from the humans who produce it, gaining lives and afterlives of its own that humans attempt to control. argues that Palestinians in the West Bank have become forcibly inundated by unprecedented volumes and types of waste and have experienced intensified concerns about being wasteful over the past two decades. The book examines the social, political and economic effects of toxic waste dumping and untreated sewage flows but also of formal sanitary landfilling and wastewater treatment projects on land, air and water in the occupied landscape. It argues that wastes that span cheaply-made imports that travel from far-flung countries to local Palestinian markets, unwanted bread, sewage flows across the Green Line into Israel, and municipal trash, together form what I call a “waste siege.” Wastes in waste siege besiege because they are both the problem—at varying scales, to different actors, and for various reasons—and, at the same time, they are the materials with which Palestinians must engage in order to mitigate wastes’ effects. I propose that because wastes are omnipresent and unavoidable, they have become a part of the very environment usually thought of as distinct from them. Waste siege is thus a feature of the occupied environment’s ecology. And, importantly, its omnipresence and the variability of its sources (e.g. Israeli settlements, Palestinian households, donor-funded infrastructures, China) can play a dangerous role in masking the ways in which the Israeli occupation is crucial to creating the conditions of possibility for waste siege.
Readers should think of this list as a primer for how to critically think through, past, and around dominant perspectives. The works in this list encourage us to think beyond more mainstream narratives about Palestine that center diplomacy, international relations, and rights-based frameworks of the occupied Palestinian Territory, wherein land is viewed as primarily symbolic or utilitarian.
There is an inherent tension in this list. I have underlined how important it is to attend to critical perspectives on the topic of the environment in the West Bank and Gaza, by which I have meant perspectives that question the structures of domination of which the environment is a part. To this end, this list is made up of texts that largely challenge normative and proscriptive frameworks for understanding environmental justice. That includes rights-based frameworks. Palestinian environmentalists, including activists, lawyers, scientists, agroeconomists, anticapitalists, scholars, and NGO researchers, have been tirelessly documenting changes to the occupied landscape, including, most recently around climate change. Israeli and international NGOs, government agencies, activists, economists, and lawyers have more recently added their voices in the form of reports and legal cases. This important knowledge production is absent from this list not because it is not critical in the way that I have defined “critical”—much of it is—but because, for better or worse, I have compiled this list around work informed by the sensibilities of anthropology and its kin disciplines. What do I mean by that? I have privileged less solution-oriented analysis in favor of work that troubles the concepts and assumptions that underpin such analyses. The principle here is that even frameworks that advocate for environmental justice take for granted what “the environment” is, for example, just as they may advocate for rights-based on nationalist futurities that also takes for granted, or at least do not trouble, who belongs to the nation or how the marginalized within the nation experience it.
I have therefore used this list as an opportunity to create space for the complications that ensue when we question just how scarce water sources are (Alatout 2008), when we conceive of materials like cement as simultaneously environmental pollutants and tools of resilience (Rubaii 2016), or waste as part of, rather than opposite to, the environment (Stamatopoulou-Robbins 2019). In the spirit of questioning the universal good of mainstream environmentalism, helpful work has been done on Israeli “greenwashing” practices whereby Israel pursues projects purportedly aimed at conservation and ecological improvement that actually disguise settler colonial dynamics, including settler colonial dynamics of the projects themselves. This list can in part be understood as a contribution to efforts to reveal greenwashing processes. But this list is centered more on examining the unexpected and complex ways of being, thinking, and relating to the environment that are generated out of Palestine’s environmental dynamics than it is on uncovering the known—and well-documented—forms of domination that Israeli practices conceal.
Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim, Roger Heacock, and Khaled Nashef, eds.. The Landscape of Palestine: Equivocal Poetry. Birzeit: Birzeit University Publications, 1999.
Amara, Ahmad, Ismael Abu-Saad, and Oren Yiftachel, eds. Indigenous (In) justice: Human Rights Law and Bedouin Arabs in the Naqab/Negev. Vol. 4. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.
Azoulay, Ariella, and Adi Ophir. The One-state Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2012.
Braverman, Irus. Planted Flags: Trees, Land, and Law in Israel/Palestine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Davis, Diana K., and Edmund Burke. Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011.
Hanafi, Sari. ”Spacio‐cide: Colonial Politics, Invisibility and Rezoning in Palestinian Territory." Contemporary Arab Affairs 2,1 (2009): 106-121.
Julie Trottier. Hydropolitics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Jerusalem: PASSIA: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, 1999.
Kedar, Alexandre, Ahmad Amara, and Oren Yiftachel. 2018. Emptied lands: A legal geography of Bedouin rights in the Negev. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
McKee, Emily. Dwelling in Conflict: Negev Landscapes and the Boundaries of Belonging. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011.
Meiton, Fredrik. Electrical Palestine: Capital and Technology from Empire to Nation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018.
Peteet, Julie. Space and mobility in Palestine. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.
Salamanca, Omar Jabary. ”Road 443: Cementing Dispossession, Normalizing Segregation and Disrupting Everyday Life in Palestine." In Infrastructural Lives, pp. 128-150. London: Routledge, 2014.
Shehadeh, Raja. Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape. London: Profile Books, 2008.
Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Sophia. 2018. "An Uncertain Climate in Risky Times: How Occupation became like the Rain in Post-Oslo Palestine." International Journal of Middle East Studies 50(3): 383-404.
Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Sophia. 2020. "Failure to Build: Sewage and the Choppy Temporality of Infrastructure in Palestine." Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0): 1-15.
Tawil-Souri, Helga. "Qalandia Checkpoint as Space and Nonplace." Space and Culture 14, 1 (2011): 4-26.
Tawil-Souri, Helga. "Digital Occupation: Gaza's High-tech Enclosure." Journal of Palestine Studies 41,2 (2012): 27-43.
Zureik, Elia, David Lyon, and Yasmeen Abu-Laban, eds. Surveillance and Control in Israel/Palestine: Population, Territory and Power. London: Routledge, 2008.