Arab–Israeli eco-normalisation Greenwashing settler colonialism in Palestine and the Jawlan

Israel's portrayal of pre-1948 Palestine as a barren desert transformed into a blooming oasis post-establishment is a narrative used to greenwash its settler colonialism and apartheid policies. The Abraham Accords, seen as environmental superiority, bolster Israel's image while reinforcing ties with Arab states for collaborative projects in renewable energy and agriculture, which the Palestinian BDS movement views as normalisation of Israeli oppression. 

This long-read examines eco-normalisation in Palestine and the Jawlan, questioning its impact on Palestinian anti-colonial struggle and just agricultural and energy transition, introducing 'eco-sumud' as resistance to Israel's greenwashing. It is featured in the book “Dismantling Green Colonialism: Energy and Climate Justice in the Arab Region,” published by Pluto Press.


Longread by

Manal Shqair
Illustration by Othman Selmi

Illustration by Othman Selmi

Israel has portrayed pre-1948 Palestine as an empty, parched desert, and has suggested that after the establishment of the state of Israel that parched desert became a blooming oasis.1 For Israel and its supporters, what surrounds that oasis is a fearsome, degraded and arid Middle East that is sinking in primitiveness and backwardness.2 Israel’s green image, which is set in contrast to a savage and undemocratic Middle East, has been central to its efforts to greenwash its settler colonial and apartheid structure. Israel uses its expertise in agribusiness, afforestation, water solutions and renewable energy technology as constituents of its greenwashing efforts and narrative globally.3

The assertion of the environmental superiority of Israel over the rest of the Middle East (and North Africa) was reinforced after it signed the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan in 2020. The Abraham Accords are a US-brokered normalisation deal that also seeks to reinforce (already existing) normalising relations with other Arab countries which are not officially part of the agreement, including those that have not yet formalised their long-standing relations with Israel, like Saudi Arabia and Oman, and those that have, like Egypt and Jordan. The coalition of these Arab states formed under the umbrella of the Abraham Accords has vowed to increase their collaboration with Israel on issues related to security, the economy, health, culture and the environment, among others.4 In the last two years, under the deal, Israel and these normalising Arab states have signed a number of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) to jointly implement environmental projects concerning renewable energy, agri-business and water.5

The Palestinian National Committee of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BNC), which is working to end international complicity with Israeli oppression,  defines normalisation as ‘participation in any project, initiative or activity, local or international that brings together (on the same platform) Palestinian (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (individuals and institutions).’6 The BNC elaborates that spaces of normalisation do not meet the conditions set by the BNC concerning the Palestinian right to self-determination, dismantling Israel’s three-layered system of oppression (settler colonialism, apartheid and military occupation), and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194.7 Israel uses normalisation to naturalise its apartheid settler colonialism. In this vein, the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka observes that so-called environmentally friendly collaborative projects between Israel and Arab states are a form of eco-normalisation.8 Eco-normalisation is presented in this article as the use of ‘environmentalism’ to greenwash and normalise Israeli oppression, and the environmental injustices resulting from it in the Arab region and beyond.

This article investigates eco-normalisation both in Palestine and in the Jawlan (the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights),9 and pursues two questions: 1) How does eco-normalisation as a tool of greenwashing undermine the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle? 2) In what ways does eco-normalisation hamper a just agricultural and energy transition in Palestine, which is inextricably linked to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination? The article also introduces the concept of eco-sumud (steadfastness) in the face of  Israeli oppression, and its role in countering the greenwashing function of eco-normalisation.

Illustration by Othman Selmi

Eco-normalisation projects

On 8 November 2022, during the 27th United Nation Climate Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt,10 Jordan and Israel signed a UAE-brokered MoU to continue a feasibility study on two interlinked projects, called Prosperity Blue and Prosperity Green, which together constitute Project Prosperity. According to the terms of the agreement, Jordan will buy 200 million cubic metres of water annually from an Israeli water desalination station, which will be established on the Mediterranean coast (Prosperity Blue). The water desalination station will use power produced by a 600 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic plant that will be constructed in Jordan (Prosperity Green) by Masdar, a UAE state-owned renewable energy company. The parties to the agreement intend to submit more concrete plans regarding the implementation of the projects at COP28, to be held in the UAE in 2023.11

The idea of Project Prosperity was first proposed by Eco-Peace Middle East, an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian non-governmental organisation that promotes environmental normalisation between the three parties, within the framework of the ‘Green Blue Deal for the Middle East’, an initiative that claims to address water and energy issues in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Although Palestine is a party to this deal it has no role in Project Prosperity.12

In another development, a few months ahead of COP27, in August 2022, Jordan joined Morocco, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and Oman in signing an MoU with two Israeli energy companies to implement renewable energy projects in these countries. Enlight Green Energy (ENLT) and NewMed Energy (henceforth ENLT-NewMed), the two Israeli companies involved in this enormous energy project, will initiate, finance, construct, develop and operate renewable energy plants on Arab lands. These ‘green’ energy projects will include wind and solar energy production and energy storage. While ENLT specialises in renewable energy projects, NewMed is a natural gas and oil company, and both, though particularly NewMed, play a key role in strengthening normalisation ties with Arab states through both fossil fuel-based and green energy deals.13

Illustration by Othman Selmi

Prosperity Blue: Israel quenches parched Jordan

A decades-long water crisis in Jordan has deepened in recent years. Mainstream media suggest the reason for this is the increasing number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees Jordan hosts, in addition to the climate crisis. Indeed, the influx of refugees who have fled imperialist wars waged against their countries has rendered Jordan incapable of meeting the rising demand for water.14 However, placing the blame solely on Syrian and Iraqi refugees for the worsening water shortage without highlighting the root cause of that shortage – Israeli usurpation of Jordan’s water – is racist and xenophobic. It also deflects attention from Israel’s role in making Jordan a parched country. For decades, Israel has depleted Jordan’s water resources to achieve economic and political gains in the region. The greenwashing framings of Prosperity Blue in Israeli and Western media outlets absolve Israel of its responsibility for the water crisis in Jordan.15

Following the signing of the MoU for Project Prosperity in 2022, Times of Israel commented that “Jordan is one of the world’s most water-deficient nations. The nation […]  faces dire water prospects as its population expands and temperatures rise. Israel is also a hot, dry country, but its advanced desalination technology has opened opportunities for selling freshwater.16 This statement reflects the core of Israel’s greenwashing narrative of environmental benevolence and stewardship.17 Israel has always depicted itself as a dry country which, despite this, and unlike its (Arab) neighbours, has developed the technology needed to efficiently manage its scarce water resources and mitigate the climate crisis. In the last two decades, Israel has exalted its advanced water technology and celebrated its success in water desalination.18 According to this narrative, as an ‘environmental altruist’, Israel always seeks to put its technology at the service of its parched neighbour (Jordan), even during times of tension between the two countries. This view is reflected in a 2021 comment published in The Hill, apropos of Project Prosperity: ‘Israel and Jordan have a long history of collaboration on water, even amid political tensions. Ever since the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, Israel has been storing some of the kingdom’s Jordan River allocations in the Sea of Galilee and discharging the supplies as needed’.19 This is false. Israel has not been ‘storing’ some of the Kingdom’s ‘allocations’ in the Sea of Galilee: rather, it has been plundering Jordan’s share of water from the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers, against the expressed will of Jordan (and this was especially so in the past). Nor has Israel discharged ‘the supplies as needed’ – rather, it continues to hoard Jordan’s usurped water.20

Historically, the Jordan River was one of Jordan’s main sources of water and also supplied water to the rest of Bilad Al-Sham (the Levant region): Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. After the creation of Israel in 1948, this changed dramatically. In the 1950s, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an Israeli parastatal organisation, drained Lake Hula and its surrounding swamps in the north of Historic Palestine (present-day Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories).21 The Israeli government claimed this was necessary to increase farmland as part of the nascent state’s efforts to ‘make the desert bloom’. The project not only failed to expand ‘productive’ agricultural land for newly arrived Jewish settlers from Europe, it also caused substantial environmental damage, destroying the natural habitats of numerous animal and plant species.22 It also severely affected the quality of water flowing to the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias), one of the largest sources of freshwater in the country. Furthermore, the deteriorated water quality in the Sea of Galilee disrupted the flow of water in the Jordan River.23

In the same period, Mekorot, the Israeli national water company, started the construction of Israel’s national water carrier, which was built to divert the water of the Jordan River from the West Bank and Jordan to serve Israeli settlers along the coast and Jewish settlements in the Naqab desert.24 Following the Israeli occupation of the rest of Palestine (the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – together, the Occupied Palestinian Territories) in 1967, Israeli plundering of water from the Jordan intensified. The Jordan River, and especially its lower part, is now no more than a creek full of dirt and sewage water.25

The Lower Jordan River is particularly affected by Israeli practices because it is fed by the outlet of the Sea of Galilee and the Yarmouk River. The Yarmouk is equally negatively affected by the Israeli plunder of Palestinian and Arab water resources. It has its source in Syria and is the largest tributary to the Jordan River. Syria, Jordan and occupied Palestine/Israel are the three co-riparian parties which draw on the Yarmouk, with Syria retaining the largest share and Jordan and Israel sharing the rest. Palestinians are totally denied access to the Yarmouk by Israel. Before 1967, Israel had limited access to the river, but after the occupation of the Jawlan in that year, it extended its direct territorial control by a further two miles of the river and began to exploit more of its water. The Israel-Jordan peace agreement signed in 1994 maintained Israeli control over the amount of water Jordan can utilise from the river. Israel has forced Jordan to accept the construction of infrastructure that ensures Israeli capture of the excess flows of the Yarmouk.26

The infrastructure of dams and wells built by Syria (whose share in the Jordan River Israel totally denies) ensures that most of the Yarmouk is utilised by Syrians. Syria claims that this infrastructure was built so as to limit Israel’s exploitation of the Yarmouk, especially as the latter refuses to withdraw from the Jawlan. This, along with Israeli exploitation of the Yarmouk, Jordan’s acceptance of an unfair agreement, and a myriad other bureaucratic issue, has decreased the amount of water from the Yarmouk that Jordan can access. The deterioration of the river flow due to the decline in precipitation will reduce Jordan’s share even more in the upcoming years.27

It is thus clear that the innocent and benevolent rhetoric behind Prosperity Blue hides Israel’s role in looting Palestinian and Arab water. Instead of appropriating and commodifying water, in the form of selling it to Jordan, Israel should give the usurped water it continues to hoard back to Jordan. Far from doing so, through Prosperity Blue, Israel denies its responsibility for water scarcity in Jordan and claims to be offering a solution, portraying itself as an environmental steward and a regional waterpower.

Illustration by Othman Selmi

Vanquishing the (Arab) heart of darkness: An Israeli greenwashing trope

The two renewable energy projects on the eco-normalisation agenda, Prosperity Green and ENLT-NewMed, bolster the image of Israel as a hub for creative renewable energy technologies. In upraising Israel in this regard, the mainstream narrative omits that its innovations in the energy sector are predicated on (green) energy colonialism in Palestine and the Jawlan. Energy colonialism refers to foreign companies and countries plundering and exploiting the resources and land of countries and communities in the Global South to generate energy for their use and benefit. Perpetuating the North/South dichotomy, energy colonialism also wreaks havoc on the socioeconomic life of local populations in the South, along with their environments. Green energy colonialism includes the appropriation and plunder of green sources of energy while maintaining the same political, economic and social structures of power asymmetry between the North and the South. Energy colonialism is ingrained in the colonial capitalist paradigm of power, exploitation, dehumanisation and otherness, and persists decades after many parts of the world entered the post-colonial era.28 In Palestine and the Jawlan, energy colonialism, including through green sources of energy, is one facet of Israeli settler colonialism. Israel employs it as a means, among others, to dispossess and ghettoise Palestinians and Jawlanis (the 26,000 Syrians currently living in the Israeli-occupied Jawlan) in ever-smaller enclaves, while expanding Israeli-Jewish supremacy on their land. Both Prosperity Green and ENLT-NewMed can also be seen as energy colonialist projects that enable Israel to continue its settler colonial project and geopolitical power in the Middle East and North Africa, under cover of a greenwashing narrative.

Prosperity Green

According to the terms of Prosperity Green, Jordan will sell to Israel all the electricity generated from the solar farm to be built on its land, for $180 million per year. The proceeds will be split between the Jordanian government and Masdar, the Emirati firm that will build the solar farm. The rationale is that Israel will not need to use its energy to operate the water desalination station that will supply Jordan with 200 million cubic metres of water annually. This is part of the Israeli goal of strengthening both its energy and water desalination sectors. Water desalination, which Israel seeks to rely on as its main source of water by 2030, is energy-intensive, accounting for 3.4 percent of its energy consumption.29  Israel is thus seeking to increase its access to alternative sources of energy, with Prosperity Green offering one such source.30

The deal does not allow Jordan, whose imports of fossil gas account for 75 percent of its energy sources, to receive energy from the project and to leverage its own energy sector.31 Thus, while the country’s solar energy will be extracted, its heavy reliance on imported fossil gas will remain. Jordan will continue to receive gas from Israel, which since 2020, after the infamous 2014 gas agreement was struck between the two countries, has become a major exporter of fossil gas to the country. According to the $10 billion deal, Leviathan, a natural gas field in the Mediterranean over which Israel exercises control, will supply Jordan with 60 billion cubic metres of gas over 15 years.32 Thus, Jordan will remain hostage to imports of natural gas (particularly from Israel), while it exports its own green energy in order to receive desalinated water from Israel!33

In the way it is designed to empower Israel’s renewable energy sector while maintaining Jordan’s reliance on Israeli fossil energy sources, Prosperity Green is a form of energy colonialism – or, more specifically, green colonialism. This is clear in the fact that the solar farm will be built in Jordan rather than in Israel. Consider this 2021 quote from Axios, an American news website: ‘The logic was that Israel needs renewable energy but lacks the land for massive solar farms, which Jordan has’.34 This is echoed by Karine Elharrar, previously Israeli energy minister: ‘Jordan, which has abundance of open spaces and sunlight, will help advance the state of Israel’s transition to green energy and to achieve the ambitious goals we have set, and Israel, which has an excellent desalination technology, will help tackle Jordan’s water shortage’.35 This hierarchical categorisation of the land, where the desert is perceived as inferior to (superior) cultivated/green land, is informed by the Zionist discourse, which portrays the creation of Israel on the ruins of hundreds of destroyed Palestinian villages as redeeming the land.36 Such discourse seeks to legitimise and moralise Israel’s actions: it depicts Israel as a moral and progressive steward of land efficiency, rather than an immoral settler colonial and apartheid regime.

In line with this discourse of greenwashing and redeeming the land, the construction of the solar plant is considered a favour to Jordan: under the beneficent Abraham Accords, barren, ‘unproductive’ land in Jordan will become productive thanks to Israel’s environmental development and benevolence.  In effect, Prosperity Green moralises and legitimises green grabbing and green colonialism as progressive acts that deserve praise rather than condemnation.


ENLT-NewMed is also portrayed as demonstrating Israeli environmental and moral superiority over its Arab neighbours, including Jordan. After reaching an agreement to develop energy projects with Jordan, Morocco, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and Oman, ENLT stated that the project ‘will bring to light the great experience and expertise of the two Israeli companies in the field of energy.’37 Bringing to light the ‘experience’ and ‘expertise’ of Israel keeps in the dark the experiences of Palestinian and Jawlani struggles against Israeli energy colonialism. Although ENLT-NewMed presents itself as helping to meet the energy needs of seven Arab countries, it too should be understood as an act of energy colonialism, for two main reasons. First, ENLT-NewMed aims to further integrate Israel in the Arab region’s economic and energy spheres, in a dominant position, thereby creating new dependencies (via energy access and control) that further the normalisation agenda and position Israel as an indispensable partner. Second, it will allow ENLT and NewMed, two companies that are deeply involved in Israeli energy projects, to normalise and finance their colonial activities in occupied Palestine and the Jawlan. ENLT operates several renewable energy projects in the Jawlan, with the support of the Israeli government, including Emek Habacha, Ruach Beresheet and Emek Haruchot. ENLT has a 41 percent and a 60 percent stake, respectively, in the first two of these,38 which are funded by a consortium led by Hapoalim Bank, listed in the United Nations database of businesses and companies that are complicit in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.39 ENLT is also involved in renewable energy projects in illegal West Bank settlements. It is developing a 42 MW wind turbine project (in which it holds a 50.15 percent stake) in Yatir Forest, which is located in the Naqab desert and parts of the West Bank.40

The wind farm projects in the Jawlan and in parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories are a part of Israel’s plans to increase its renewable energy sources. The Jawlanis have protested to assert their sovereignty over their land and resources for years, and they consider these projects another Israeli tool to take over their land.41 Israel already controls 95 percent of the Jawlan, which it manages in favour of around 29,000 illegal Israeli settlers living in 35 settlements in the area.42 The wind turbines, as a green colonial project, are  further disrupting the sustainable relationship between the Jawlani people and their land: since their construction started, the Israeli authorities have restricted Jawlanis’ access to their agricultural land. The projects will affect 3,600 dunams (890 acres) of apple, grapes and cherry orchards belonging to Jawlanis. The fight of the Jawlanis against these wind farms is part of decades-long resistance to settler colonial expulsion, plunder of resources and denial of their indigenous sovereignty and identity in relation to the land.43

NewMed Energy, which specialises in the extraction of natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean, is as complicit as ENLT in entrenching Israeli apartheid and settler colonialism. Formerly Delek Drilling, in 2022 it changed its name following its growing business in Arab countries, primarily Jordan, the UAE and Egypt.44 NewMed Energy has pioneered the Israeli natural gas sector in the Eastern Mediterranean and was involved in most of the Israeli discoveries of gas in the Mediterranean in the last 30 years. One of these, and the most remarkable, was the 2010 discovery of the Leviathan field, the largest natural gas reservoir in the Mediterranean, in which NewMed Energy holds a working interest of 45.3 percent.45 A year earlier, in 2009, the company, jointly with Chevron, discovered the Tamar natural gas reservoir, also in the Mediterranean.46 Together, these two gas reservoirs hold an estimated 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and have elevated Israel’s status in the regional and global energy market, representing a source of geopolitical and economic might in the region and beyond.47 They are expected to meet Israel’s electricity needs for 30 years and to allow it to be a regional exporter of gas (including to the European Union (EU) – especially now, in the context of the war in Ukraine). Both Egypt and Jordan (as mentioned earlier) currently import Israeli gas from the Leviathan and Tamar fields.48

For years, Israel has denied Lebanon’s declaration that a portion of the Leviathan reservoir falls within its Exclusive Economic Zone.49 Israel has also denied Lebanon’s share in Karish, another gas field discovered by NewMed Energy in 2013.50 In 2022, the two sides reached an unfair US-brokered agreement through which Israel retains full access to the Karish field.51 Lebanon is only able to develop the Qana field, another disputed gas reservoirs in the Mediterranean which could contain nearly 100 billion cubic metres of natural gas, while paying some agreed royalties to Israel. The agreement reflects the asymmetrical power relations between Lebanon, Israel and its staunch supporter, the US.52 Meanwhile, and in response to Lebanon’s claims, Israel has been intensifying its militarisation of the Mediterranean, increasing the presents of its warships.53 Even as it fuels dispute over these gas fields and strengthens the position of a highly militarised settler colonial power both regionally and globally, NewMed Energy nevertheless emphasises its commitment to developing green energy sources.54

The main operator and negotiator with Israel on its share in Qana is TotalEnergies, a French company, which holds a 35 percent stake in the field. TotalEnergies is part of a consortium operating Qana that includes Italian ENI and also the state-owned Qatar Energy, which holds a 30 percent share in the project (Qatar Energy replaced Novatek, a Russian company that was excluded due to the sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine).55 Qatar Energy’s role in the development of the Qana field was approved by the Israeli government56, and makes Qatar complicit in normalisation with Israel in the field of energy. This overt normalisation by Qatar, which from the 1990s had been engaged in under-the-table normalisation, is to the detriment of the Palestinians57 and reflects a pattern seen in relation to other Arab countries as well: the fact that Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and the UAE are involved in various energy projects (including green ones) with Israel or Israeli companies shows that this normalised relationship is no longer considered scandalous for Arab leaders.

In regard to Egypt, another important point is the fact that the Israeli Leviathan gas bought by the Egyptian government is extracted and transferred via Israel’s violent and illegal exercise of control over the Palestinian Exclusive Economic Zone,58 which is manifested in systematic attacks on Palestinian fishermen by the Israeli navy.59

Egypt’s relations with Israel concerning natural gas go beyond electrifying Egyptian households. Egypt and Israel, along with Cyprus and Greece, are part of a consortium that aims to supply Europe with gas from the Mediterranean, now as part of EU efforts to end reliance on Russian gas. The consortium aims to build a new pipeline system that will carry gas from Israel and Cyprus to liquefication facilities in Egypt, to be liquified and then transported to Europe by ships/tankers. The project also includes building a liquification facility on the eastern shore of Cyprus, and constructing ‘a floating liquefication facility as part of the expansion of the Leviathan field’.60 It is not clear yet if the proposed pipeline and liquefication system will replace the planned construction of the Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) Pipeline, but it seems that it is being considered as an alternative to EastMed, whose feasibility has been questioned.61

No matter what forms the energy projects in the Mediterranean take, two important facts remain. First, the suffering under siege and traumatic experiences of violence and dehumanisation endured by Palestinian fishermen and people in the Gaza Strip cannot be dissociated from the highly militarised gas reservoirs Israel controls in the Mediterranean, and the projects linked to them. Two, the EU is once again showing its hypocrisy: treating Palestinian and Jawlani peoples as less human than Ukrainians by importing Israeli gas as part of efforts to hold Russia accountable for its invasion of Ukraine. As for Egypt and the other normalising Arab states, by entering into dirty energy deals in the Mediterranean they are now openly taking part in the systematic dehumanisation of Palestinians and Syrians at the hands of both Israel and the EU. The dehumanisation of the colonised, and the complicity of Arab states in this, are greenwashed by the EU and Israel as they collaborate in what is portrayed as a transition to a greener future and lower-carbon economy. In this respect, portraying fossil gas as a clean source of energy is misleading to say the least.62

Illustration by Othman Selmi

Eco-normalisation: a violent onslaught on the Palestinians’ right to self-determination

Eco-normalisation allows Israel to re/configure its position in both the energy and water sectors regionally and globally, thereby reinforcing its political and diplomatic power in the region and worldwide. With the exacerbating climate and energy crises, countries reliant on Israeli energy and water (as well as technology) may start to see the Palestinian struggle as a matter of less importance than their water and energy security. This makes eco-normalisation reinforce the role of Israeli greenwashing as a money-making machine for Israeli companies while undermining a just agricultural and energy transition in Palestine, inextricably linked to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.

Mekorot, a major player in Israeli water desalination, has been able to position itself as a leader in water desalination and solutions globally, partly through Israel’s greenwashing narrative. For example, Mekorot is responsible for 40 percent of Cyprus’s seawater desalination.63  Its technology and ‘expertise’ generate millions of dollars in revenue from water solutions projects developed across the world, particularly in the global South.64 This money finances its, and the Israeli government’s, practice of water apartheid against the Palestinian people, with Mekorot playing a significant role in building Israeli water apartheid infrastructure, controlling most of the Palestinian water resources in the West Bank and diverting them to illegal Israeli settlements  (In addition to the company’s role in usurping the Jordan River).65 The company’s infrastructure of wells and bypass pipelines is built in such a way as to ensure that Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank have no access to water,66 while, at the same time, it helps the Israeli military to confiscate Palestinian water pipelines and other alternative means to access water in Area C.67 By practising water apartheid, Mekorot creates a coercive environment that aims to force Palestinians from their land and expand Israeli illegal settlements. Mekorot’s active enforcement of Israeli water apartheid policies disrupt the function of the land as a source of subsistence through which Palestinians can sustain their life and identity in relation to land. It threatens the Palestinian agricultural sector and food sovereignty, which are essential components of a just agricultural transition. For instance, Palestinian farming communities in the Jordan Valley are no longer able to rely on agriculture for their livelihoods due to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to water and land.68

The same story is seen in the blockaded Gaza Strip, where, for decades, Israel has been destroying the agricultural sector. Since 2007, the siege of Gaza has restricted Palestinian farmers’ access to their agricultural land and has exacerbated the severe water crisis in the strip.69

This entrenching of Israeli energy colonialism and apartheid is also evident in the greenwashing functions of Prosperity Green and ENLT-NewMed. Israel denies the colonised Palestinians (and Jawlanis) sovereignty over their energy resources and perpetuates their captivity to its energy market. Israeli control over Palestinian and Jawlani energy resources is an effective tool of settler colonial dispossession and oppression. At the same time, the Gaza Strip, lying not far away from the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields, has been living in darkness for years due to Israel’s denial of Gazans’ full access to electricity. The electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip is further exacerbated during regular Israeli assaults and massacres.70 Electricity, water, violence, and a myriad of other tools are part of the Israeli settler colonial mechanisms that are used to ‘manage’ and control Palestinians in the designated ghettos. Eco-normalising and greenwashing energy projects provide Israel with financial aid to consolidate its ghettoisation policies in respect of millions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and beyond.

The Palestinian energy market more widely is held captive by Israel. Palestinians inhabiting Area C of the occupied West Bank bear the brunt of Palestinian energy dependence on Israel: they are denied access to the electricity grid in the area, which has been developed by Israel to serve Israeli illegal settlements. Israel also refuses to issue Palestinians with permits to construct solar panels, which could provide an alternative source of energy. Palestinians are thus forced to build solar panels (often funded by NGOs and the EU) without Israeli permits, which Israel then uses as a pretext to confiscate and demolish them.71 Between 2001 and 2016, Israeli policies and practices in Area C caused Palestinians an estimated loss of 65 million euros, in relation to EU-funded support, including solar installations.72 The solar energy sector in Area C has been established by Palestinian civil society in order to reinforce the steadfastness of communities in the area, and Israel uses its de-development as a tactic to forcibly displace them.73

Even as this is taking place, the Israeli solar energy sector is flourishing, due to expanding illegal settlements and solar farms across the West Bank. In 2016, Israeli revenue from electricity generated from solar farms located in both the West Bank and inside Israel reached ILS 1.6 billion (approximately US$ 445 million). As at 2017, Israel operated four large-scale solar fields in the West Bank. All of these farms are connected to Israel’s national grid, which provides electricity to Israeli households in illegal settlements in the West Bank and within Israel.74 It is worth pointing out in passing here that the strength of the Israeli solar energy sector sits in stark contrast to the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinian (second-class) citizens of Israel living in 35 ‘unrecognised’ villages in the Naqab desert have no access to electricity (or water, healthcare and education), as part of the discriminatory Israeli policies that are designed to force them from their land and replace their villages with Jewish-only settlements and JNF-planted pine trees.75

Illustration by Othman Selmi

Eco-sumud: A vision for a just transition in Palestine

While the word sumud (steadfastness) has multiple definitions, in this chapter it is defined as a pattern of everyday practices of resistance to, and adaptation to, the daily difficulties of life under Israeli settler colonial rule.76 Sumud also refers to the Palestinian people’s persistence in staying on their land and maintaining their Palestinian identity and culture in resistance to Israeli dispossession and claims that posit Jewish settlers as the only legitimate inhabitants of the land.77 Eco-sumud, a term introduced in this chapter, combines Palestinians’ everyday practices of steadfastness with environmentally friendly ways of maintaining a strong attachment to the land of Palestine, covering the indigenous land-based knowledge, cultural values, tactics and tools Palestinians employ to fight back against the violent Israeli settler colonial disruption of their sustainable relationship with the land. The concept of eco-sumud is premised on the understanding that the only sustainable solutions to the ecological and climate crises are those that support the quest of the Palestinian people for a just agricultural and energy transition.

One case study we can use to understand what eco-sumud means in concrete and empirical terms is the rainfed agriculture practised by the Palestinian inhabitants of the village of Dayr Ballut.78 Dayr Ballut, inhabited by more than 3,000 people, is in the district of Salfit in the central West Bank and has a total area of approximately 11,898 dunams (2,940 acres), of which 5,985 (1,479 acres) is arable land. Only 5.2 percent of the village’s land is classified as Area B, under mixed Palestinian and Israeli control with the rest, 94.8 percent, falling within Area C, which is under full Israeli security and civil control. Dayr Ballut faces myriad settler colonial policies and practices that aim to remove the villagers from their land. This includes confiscation of its land to build Israeli bypass roads, illegal settlements and the Apartheid Wall. Israel has established a military checkpoint at the entrance of the village, where it harasses and humiliates Palestinians from Dayr Ballut and nearby villages. The checkpoint also restricts the movement of goods and agricultural produce from Dayr Ballut to be sold in the West Bank markets.79

Like in other parts of Area C, Palestinians in Dayr Ballut have limited access to water and electricity as compared to the needed consumption, even as Israeli authorities control an underground water well in the village.80 Despite the ongoing Israeli water apartheid and land grab practices, Palestinians in Dayr Ballut continue to preserve their agricultural land. This has been made possible primarily through adhering to the practice of rainfed agriculture. Rainfed agriculture in Palestine (known as Ba’li in the vernacular Arabic) is defined as ‘a suite of planting, tillage, and plant protection strategies that exploit soil moisture for growing crops without irrigation’.81 Ba’li agriculture also includes the knowledge and techniques Palestinians use to capture water during the rainy season, such as the use of cisterns and terraces. The captured water is used by farming communities to water crops during the long dry season. Ba’li farming has a spiritual dimension, as the word Ba’li is derived from Baal, the god of fertility and rain worshipped by the Canaanite ancestors of the Palestinian people. Despite the ongoing Israeli control of land, water, borders, movement and markets, Ba’li agriculture continues to persist in Palestine, as the main form of farming on most of the agricultural land in the West Bank.

What makes rainfed agriculture in Dayr Ballut stand out from the rest of the West Bank is the flexibility of farmers in adapting to the changing political, economic, social and environmental circumstances over a century of colonialism. Two key qualities characterise the dynamism of rainfed farming in Dayr Ballut: the diversification of crops to respond to the challenges facing them, and the centrality of women in farming. Understood through the lens of eco-sumud, shifting the cropping system and labour structure in Dayr Ballut is a part of the tactics, techniques and knowledge the villagers apply to sustain their relationship with the land.

After Israel’s 1967 capture of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and the resulting opening up of Israel’s labour market to thousands of Palestinian men, the labour structure of Palestinian society was transformed, including in the form of an increased role of women in the agricultural sector.82 Dayr Ballut saw an even greater role of women in agriculture than other areas of the West Bank, and since 1967 women have been the main cultivators of the Dayr Ballut plain (known as marj in the vernacular Arabic) and hilly areas. This shift was accompanied by a shift in the cropping system, to adapt to different challenges. Until 1948, the plain and hills of Dayr Ballut had cultivated local wheat, barley, sesame, tobacco, sorghum and olive trees. Following the creation of Israel in 1948, new crops, all suitable for Ba’li farming, started to be cultivated in the village, influenced by the arrival of refugees who were displaced from the nearby coastal towns and who brought with them different seeds as well as expertise in planting the new crops, which they shared with local villagers. The new cropping system included garlic, okra, tomato, onion, watermelon and cantaloupe, and allowed the villagers to diversify the crops they plant and depend on for subsistence. Then, in the 1970s, women in Dayr Ballut replaced wheat and other small grains with olive trees in the hilly parts of the village. One of their advantages for Palestinians is that olive trees do not require a constant presence by the farmer. Indeed, Palestinian farmers facing Israeli hurdles to access their land use olive trees as a weapon to maintain their existence on the land. Moreover, olive trees are more resilient and adaptable to climatic changes compared to other crops. By planting olive trees, women were able to reduce the cultivation burden on them in the absence of men and to continue to make profits, especially as olive oil began to be more demanded amid the shrinking of olive groves due to Israeli settlement expansion.

Palestinian women continue to introduce new crops to the valley, to respond to the changing circumstances, including the profitable Faqqous (Armenian cucumber). Every year in May, Palestinians from across the West Bank overcome the Israeli imposed spatial fragmentation and gathering in the Dayr Ballut plain to celebrate the Faqqous harvest festival.

Although Israel floods the Palestinian market with its agricultural produce as part of the dependence of the Palestinian economy on the Israeli one, the crops grown in Dayr Ballut are highly competitive in the Palestinian market. Unlike Israeli agriculture, which heavily depends on synthetic fertilisers, Ba’li farming in Dayr Ballut is chemical-free, so the village’s crops have a superior taste and quality.

In charge of cultivating and harvesting the land since 1967, the women of Dayr Ballut have been able to protect it from both Israeli confiscation and unsustainable Israeli cultivation and land management, through their creative diversification of crops that are suited to rainfed farming. Dayr Ballut thus represents a model of eco-sumud that should inform the wider vision of decolonisation in Palestine (including in the energy sector). This model of a just transition in Palestine is predicated on five main elements. First, the rejection of the internalisation of the systematically constructed inferiority of Palestinians to their colonisers in terms of knowledge and culture, which is a prerequisite for anti-colonial transformation. The women in Dayr Ballut are an exemplar of the Palestinians, who see themselves as true stewards of and carers for their ancestral land. In this sense, eco-sumud is significant as a counter-narrative to Israeli greenwashing discourse, which, as highlighted above, seeks to legitimise and naturalise Israeli settler colonial dispossession and violence. Second, the relationship with the land and its natural resources should be based on reciprocity and interdependence. Third, land, water and knowledge should be collectively shared, rather than monopolised and commodified as a luxury for the few. Fourth, women are primary rather than secondary actors in the anti-colonial struggle for sovereignty and self-determination. Finally, practising eco-sumud is ingrained in a belief in the possibility of defeating Israeli settler colonialism, and in the invincibility of the burning desire of the colonised to determine their own destiny.83

Illustration by Othman Selmi

Illustration by Othman Selmi


There is an abiding connection between Israeli greenwashing, which is reinforced through eco-normalisation, and the consolidation of apartheid and settler colonialism in Palestine and the Jawlan. As demonstrated above, eco-normalisation is socially and environmentally unjust and unsustainable as it obstructs energy democracy and food sovereignty, and any attempt to achieve a just energy and agricultural transition in Palestine and the Jawlan. With increasing Israeli violence and settler colonial expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle is at a critical juncture. The dark tunnel that is Palestinians’ life under Israeli oppression is getting darker. Yet a glimpse of light can be seen that illuminates the Palestinians’ long path to liberation: that light is the increasing resistance of the Palestinian people, who refuse to be isolated, dehumanised and obliterated. The struggle to topple Israel’s oppressive regime is also part of the wider struggle for self-determination and emancipation of other peoples across the world. Colonial attempts to further isolate Palestine from the rest of the (Arab) world through (eco)normalisation can be thwarted by the collectively enacted power of Arabs and other peoples. To this end, social movements, environmental groups, trade unions, student associations and civil society organisations in the Arab region and beyond must intensify their protests against their governments until they end their normalisation ties with Israel. Alternative media outlets should challenge mainstream media, which render Palestine invisible and irrelevant to the struggle of Arab (and non-Arab) peoples. Both individuals and institutions, especially in the Arab region, should be more vigilant regarding cultural, academic, social and environmental projects and initiatives: before engaging in them, they should investigate their sources of funding, their participants, and their agenda. Environmental movements can also support the Palestinian struggle for self-determination by centering and valuing eco-sumud as an indigenous knowledge that can inform solutions to, and strategies to mitigate, the climate crisis. Finally, international grassroots movements should increase their support for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.


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