Postdoctoral research - Geopolitical Ecology: 'Greenwashing' the Israeli Occupation of Palestine and Environmental Statecraft in Settler Colonization

Organic farming in Tekoa, eastern Gush Etzion. July 2014.

Organic farming in Tekoa, eastern Gush Etzion. July 2014.

I am a political and cultural geographer who studies land – both societies’ connections to land and control over it – in settler colonial contexts. My dissertation research investigated what I call “Suburban Occupation,” offering a close and detailed explanation of how Israeli settlers are domesticating the violent project of occupation and dispossession in the West Bank. While conducting this research, described below, I found there is a significant ecological dimension to the occupation that is underrepresented in the literature. Large portions of land in the West Bank, particularly in Area C, are being appropriated for Israeli agricultural use, in addition to being cleared of inhabitants and set up as nature reserves. In fact, more land is claimed for these uses than for settlement built-up areas. So while debate about the occupation largely ignores Israeli agricultural activity in the Palestinian territories, the phenomenon has far-reaching territorial implications, including humanitarian repercussions and risks to Palestinian state-building and civil society. When this activity is noted, it is in reference to fighting global warming, natural resource management, environmental protection, and sustainability.

In my postdoctoral project, “Geopolitical Ecology: 'Greenwashing' the Israeli Occupation of Palestine and Environmental Statecraft in Settler Colonization,” I am interested in how cutting-edge Israeli agricultural techniques – for instance organic farming, grey water, and drip irrigation – feed into age-old settler colonial discourses of “proper use” of indigenous lands. I am also interested in how land appropriation is being legitimized as climate change mitigation and natural resource management, and how Israel is positioning itself as a global leader in sustainability, afforestation, water efficiency, and desalinization, without reference to the wider geopolitical context. I currently envision this project at the intersection of political geography, political ecology, and comparative settler colonial studies, and through it I explore the use of agricultural innovation, nature reserves, and “green” technology – ostensibly aimed at sustainable resource management – as tools of land appropriation and dispossession in settler colonial contexts. I am interested particularly in how states (in my case, settler states) manage their territorial environments to strategic effect. 

Dissertation research - Suburban Occupation: contradictory impulses and outcomes of life in the occupied West Bank

In my research I employ a critical ethnographic approach to examine how Jewish Israeli settlers are constructing ‘home’ in the military-occupied West Bank—in effect domesticating the violent project of occupation and dispossession of Palestinian land. My dissertation—Suburban Occupation: contradictory impulses and outcomes of life in the occupied West Bank—analyzes the considerable material and discursive work required to construct and maintain settlements as desirable places to live; the ways in which territoriality is utilized to make the occupation possible and sustainable; and how settlers are responding to and shaping their physical and social environment in relation to the Palestinian ‘other.’ Funded by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, the UCLA International Institute, the Cultural Geography Specialty Group, and the American Geographical Society, I conducted seven months of ethnographic fieldwork, over 100 in-depth interviews with settlement residents and local council officials, participant observation at community events, and document analysis of settlement periodicals and other written sources. My findings revealed that the tension between constructing home as domesticity (a safe, peaceful sanctuary from the world) and home as diasporic homeland (a contested territory to fight and sacrifice for) in the occupied territories leads Israeli settlers to make compromises between the ideal of security and the drive for national territory. This produces incongruous impulses and outcomes where the imperative of security and the need to place oneself in danger for the good of the nation are held in constant tension. I am currently revising the dissertation as a book manuscript for academic press.