The essence of colonialism
exposes the implications of thriving Israeli agriculture in the wake of continuous measures to annex or colonise Palestinian lands and efface the Palestinians
Last month, internationals from across the globe flew into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport to attend the Israeli-led, worldwide agricultural business and technology fair, "Agritech". Driving leisurely on a Palestine spring day towards the coast, ministers, businessmen, researchers and farmers praised "Israeli agriculture and technology", all the while just minutes away from the land-devouring separation wall and the refugee camps of those whose lands were confiscated and upon which was built the airport, road and conference centre, and the countless agricultural farms, kibbutzim and moshavim, greenhouses, packaging and storage facilities, marketing agencies, agro-tech businesses, R&D centres, agricultural training institutes, and universities that together ensure that across the globe "Palestine" is replaced by "Made in Israel".
Nearly 60 years have passed since the occupation successfully usurped the Palestinian name "Jaffa", along with the city, for its economic and policy interests. Today the "Israeli" name -- a colonial brand that continues to thrive in the 21st century -- is present worldwide in supermarkets and households on produce born of Palestinian land (and labour). In this way, we see the link between the 1948 expulsion and takeover of Palestinian lands, the establishment of agricultural settlements in the 1967 occupied areas, the annexation of the lands of nearly 300 villages for the apartheid wall, the suffocating closure of Gaza as produce rots away at sealed "crossings", and the signing of peace and agricultural agreements for a thriving Israeli agro-industry.
Since the 1967 naksa, or "setback", and particularly after the Oslo Accords, large- scale confiscation and settlement expansion, together with closure and checkpoints, have sought to make certain the demise of the West Bank agricultural industry and thus the final dispossession of the Palestinian people from their land. Today, the final link in the chain of confiscations is the wall slicing through, razing to the ground and/or annexing over 50 per cent of the West Bank, particularly its westernmost parts (the Palestinian "fruit basket") and the Jordan Valley. The wall demarcates the built-up, landless ghettos upon which Israel wants to bestow Palestinian "statehood", while virtually all agricultural land is annexed to Israelis.
The relationship between Palestinian land and Israeli agriculture epitomises the injustice and intertwined link of land theft, dispossession and ideological dissimulation. From the start, the Zionist project has utilised agriculture in its quest to erase Palestine -- its history and people -- by usurping physically, as well as through mythology, the land, landscape, production and industries of Palestine.
AGRITECH: OPEN FOR BUSINESS: As build-up to the 2006 Agritech convention, Ehud Olmert last year, during his tenure as Israeli minister of industry, trade and labour, announced: "Agritech Israel is regarded as one of the most important agro technological exhibitions in the world, a fact proved by the thousands of visitors from around the world at previous exhibitions. Israel enjoys an excellent reputation as a technologically advanced economy. Agriculture in its purest form, food production, was the original basis of Israel's economy. At the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, our main exports were citrus fruits under the label Jaffa... The success of the Israeli agro-technology industry is demonstrated by impressive exports of more than $1.5 billion of agricultural inputs."
Taking place every three years, the 9-12 May 2006 event was said to have been the most successful and largest ever, with a number of Israeli commentators and officials marking its high attendance as a sign of an upsurge in Israel's international acceptance, particularly with non-Western publics. With an estimated 30 per cent increase in international participation compared to the last Agritech in 2003, the 6,000 in attendance included official delegations from some 40 countries, as well as a record-breaking 17 agriculture ministers from around the world. Israeli Trade Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), who opened the Agritech exhibition, welcomed agriculture ministers from India, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Latvia, Angola, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kenya, Macedonia, Nigeria, Turkey, South Africa and Mongolia.
Meetings before, during and after the conference took place on various levels -- official, business and "civil society" -- enhancing coordination and conference success. According to the Israeli business and trade website Port2Port, prior to the convention's commencement, some 1,200 meetings had already been organised between Israeli companies and various international delegations. Meanwhile, there were a number of parallel events including a water technologies conference, tours to various agricultural farms and sites, and a peace and regional cooperation forum. Some 250 Israeli companies working in agricultural technology were present at the exhibition, with organisers announcing sales from international visitors expected to reach $50 million, not including future business generated.
Co-organised by the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, and the Israeli ministries of agriculture, industry and trade, and the Foreign Ministry, the wide scale involvement by Israeli companies, research institutes, universities, trade councils, government funding agencies and settlement "agricultural laboratories" merged to intensify the buzz around the event.
HIGH-LEVEL HANDSHAKES: In November 2005, Indian Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar visited Tel Aviv to lay the foundations of a work plan to be signed by him and his Israeli counterpart during Agritech. The plan, based on a 1993 agreement between the two ministries, was made official on the second day of Agritech, in hopes of revitalising current projects and initiating new ones. As reported in a number of Indian dailies, the two parties laid out a three-year timetable to strengthen cooperation, marked by joint work in India between the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and MASHAV (the Israel Centre for International Cooperation). The plan outlined the development of agri-business projects, collaboration in research and development, farmer-level exchanges and trainings, mutually supported academic degree programs, and cooperation in dairy farming and "gene bank resources".
The official Indian delegation to Agritech comprised of a number of ministers, including agriculture officials from seven Indian states. A seminar entitled "Israel-India Business Forum", jointly organised by the Tel Aviv-based Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) was one of a number of meetings and exchanges that took place during Agritech to strengthen India-Israel relations.
Also in attendance was Turkish Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Mehdi Eker. Representing Turkish business were some 20 Turkish companies, with an agreement signed between the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce (FICC) and the Turkish Chambers of the Aegean Region for further cooperation. Angolan Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Gilberto Lutucuta declared the success of the conference due to the planned Israeli aid of Angolan agriculture, in particular the Israeli backing of large Angolan business-run farms with Israeli agro-technologies. Angola also signed a $1 million deal with an Israeli pesticides company.
Such meetings and agreements were expected. And while attendees benefited from the conference, potential scepticism back in home countries was assuaged by concurrent governmental expressions of support for the Palestinian people. On 12 May, coinciding with the conclusion of Agritech and one day after media coverage of the Israeli-Indian agreement, the Indian government announced it was giving $2 million in medical aid to the Palestinians. China, whose delegates were provided a Mandarin-language Agritech website in preparation for the conference, days later invited Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Al-Zahhar to visit Beijing. While there is no necessary link between the Agritech visit and such announcements, at the least they functioned to alleviate public concern on the fate of Palestinians and at most perpetuate the notion that "peace" is possible through normalising relations with Israel, a position backed by images of a simultaneous relationship with occupier and occupied.
ABSOLVING THE OCCUPATION: Shimon Peres's Peres Centre for Peace played an important role in this year's Agritech. Peres (Kadima), the current Israeli deputy prime minister (also remembered as a Nobel peace prize laureate, the "Butcher of Qana", and founder of the Dimona nuclear reactor/weapons factory), set up his centre in 1996 to support the Oslo Accords, negotiations, and New Middle East plans under the banners of "people-to-people" projects and regional cooperation. The Peres Centre together with the Hansen Centre for Peace at the University of San Diego, and with the financial backing of the Andreas Agricultural Development Trust put together Agritech's regional "peace" conference under the heading of date production.
Israeli officials, scientists and businessmen were in attendance at the Peres Centre conference, including, as reported by The Jerusalem Post, the Hadekalim Date Growers Association, which prides itself in its sales of some 65 per cent of Israeli- labelled dates (according to Hadekalim, "dates produced in Israel"), some four- fifths of which are sold abroad, mostly in Europe, with highest sales during the month of Ramadan. With dates being the leading Israeli fruit export in 2005, we are reminded of the magnitude of the market success of "associations" (massive businesses trying to give the impression of being down-to-earth Israeli farmers; a Zionist tool) like Hadekalim and the extent to which Israeli agriculture seeks to negate the Palestinian lands and markets they have usurped.
In attendance were interested parties from Morocco, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, Abu Dhabi, Cyprus and France. The Israeli business daily Globes announced that a trilateral agreement was signed at the Peres Centre conference between Israel, Egypt and Morocco to "develop the global date market". Also mentioned was that the Peres Centre has maintained an agricultural research centre in Egypt thus "providing the region's date farmers with tools to combat the Red Palm Weevil".
For years, the Peres Centre for Peace has focussed on agriculture as a central gateway into regional cooperation, having, according to its website, "identified a host of opportunities for cooperative agriculture in the Middle East and Mediterranean Region... Agriculture is a genuine and unique peace-producing activity and agricultural cooperation in the Middle East in the last 20 years has created a prototype of cooperation between former enemies."
The Peres Centre event was one of the more covered meetings at Agritech, seeking to present an image to Israel's international supporters that "joint projects" are a "success story" and that Israelis are intent on "peace", steering attention away from the reality of Israeli expansionism and control which has been ever-more prevalent since Oslo.
MASHAV: ISRAEL'S PRO- DEVELOPMENT MASK: Of the over 6,000 international attendees, it was reported that the majority were from Africa, South America and Asia (including parts of the Middle East), focal points of Israeli agricultural business and the central part of the work of MASHAV, the Israel Centre for International Cooperation -- part of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs which focuses on widening Israel's diplomatic network through strengthening development programmes, particularly in providing agricultural training and courses in the "South" as a form of so-called "development aid".
Established in 1958, MASHAV currently has projects in more than 140 countries. According to information disseminated by MASHAV, through classes held in various countries as well as distance learning and seminars in Israeli universities, much of its projects focus on training for professionals from all over the world in "agriculture, dairy farming, desert ecology, early childhood education, emergency and disaster medicine, refugee absorption and water management", with over 200,000 participants in MASHAV sponsored courses to date. With the madness of Israel supporting "refugee absorption" all the while it is the culprit of the largest and longest standing refugee tragedy/ expulsion today, we are reminded of how callous is an ideology that uses "aid" and "humanitarianism" as slogans supporting a policy of occupation.
Last month, in the Israeli Embassy in Guatemala -- one of countless MASHAV project headquarters across the globe -- an Israeli-sponsored celebration of the 5,000th Guatemalan participant in a MASHAV-run course took place at the same gathering convened to "rejoice" the 58- year anniversary of the Zionist declaration of the independence of the "Jewish state". In a gathering at the Israeli Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya's minister of agriculture was invited to join similar festivities just days before heading to Tel Aviv for Agritech.
The creation of MASHAV by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, with the focus on development aid, information sharing and technological expertise, has provided Israeli policy an additional niche in the UN- sponsored development world. While the UN acts as a central forum for meetings and exchanges -- particularly of elites -- it has provided a platform for cooperative relations with the Israeli government, as MASHAV builds links with southern governments and civil societies. UN agencies also work hand-in-hand with MASHAV through various programmes. As an example, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) co- sponsors a fellowship with the Israeli government through MASHAV providing 10- month training courses (and scholarships) in Israeli institutes, with the application process open to select African, Asian and Pacific, Latin American and Eastern European states, including Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania.
One of MASHAV's funding sources is the US Agency for International Development (USAID). According to its 2000 annual report, MASHAV seeks cooperation with other development agencies in order to offer expertise in areas where it has "comparative advantage". MASHAV focuses on "scale activities aimed at bottom- up development" and seeks "to be active throughout the Middle East, wherever and however possible, regardless of the political climate".
Under slogans of sustainable development, capacity building and supporting "emerging nations", MASHAV represents a clear example of how Israel attempts to set an image for itself not only distant from its policies and measures but an astounding inverse of what it actually imposes in Palestine on a daily basis: destruction, forced impoverishment and expulsion. After all, the Zionist project has succeeded in gaining ideological support for a myth and a theology in which an invented nation -- "the Jewish people" -- takes the place, in exultation no less, of a real one, the Palestinian people.
NOT-SO-SLOW "TRANSFER": Slogans of "worldwide agricultural development" and "cost-saving production" are heard at worldwide Israeli-sponsored trainings and conferences. But just 12 kilometres away from the Agritech Convention Centre are occupied West Bank lands -- agricultural lands -- being razed to the ground for the construction of the separation wall and Israeli annexation. Wall-encircled Palestinian ghettos are being finalised, Jerusalem is sealed from the rest of the West Bank and Gaza, and confiscated Palestinian lands being used as platforms for draconian, racist and murderous Israeli measures. Just moments away from Agritech's hotels, conference rooms and tour buses are occupation bulldozers, military jeeps, missiles and Apache helicopters pushing forward on a daily basis the Israeli aim of eliminating the Palestinian struggle.
As Israelis express publicly their so- called commitment to livestock and land, they simultaneously highlight their racism and dehumanisation of the Palestinian people who are caged in their own homes and built-up residential areas due to the wall and its gates, unable to move, work or feed their children.
A link between genetic engineering, the invention of a "Jewish race," and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people surfaces once again. Agritech was meant to be another lesson that Israel can thrive both in business and in colonial expansionism throughout the West Bank, Gaza, Galilee and the Naqab (with Shimon Peres as minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee), as Israeli "agricultural know-how" along with displacement and land confiscation on both sides of the Green Line seem to co-exist not just for the occupation but for many of its international supporters.
An integral part of Zionist ideology from the start was agricultural production, starting with the colonial/racist/invented ideology of "liberating the land". Today, the most horrific measure in land confiscation and destruction is the apartheid wall -- also referred to as the "final borders" project -- which consistently ensures the occupation takes over the "best" lands and expansion potential of the West Bank (the western parts of Jenin, Tulkarem and Qalqiliya villages; northwest Jerusalem and western Ramallah, and the eastern Bethlehem countryside). This, together with the near complete control of the Jordan Valley, leaves little land in the hands of Palestinians, with the wall based on the Zionist tenant of "maximum land, minimum Palestinians".
ISRAELI PROWESS FROM PALESTINIAN MISERY: Agriculture may represent the most twisted element in Zionist propaganda. With the quest to erase Palestine from the map taking place under sinister Zionist mottos like "making the desert bloom" in a "land without a people for a people without a land", reality surfaces, on the contrary, with production taking place on rich lands stolen from Palestinians for the benefit of the colonial project. While in 1948 the majority of Palestine was expropriated by the newly founded "Jewish state", the next major wave in 1967 saw an explosion of settlements and the parallel targeting of the Palestinian West Bank agricultural industry.
Thus, land confiscation, destruction, the diversion of water resources, the dumping of settlement produce and the lure of jobs within the Green Line all worked together as part of the Israeli plan of wiping out Palestinian agriculture production, marketing and distribution that had been thriving in the West Bank. The great leap forward of Oslo in 1993 was marked by the closure of crossings and checkpoints, leaving Palestinians unable to distribute produce within the West Bank, Gaza, inside the Green Line, and worldwide. Palestinian produce would regularly rot at the border crossing with Jordan as the Israeli army prevented produce from passing for "military reasons" while settler/Israeli-labelled produce flourished in the global market as well as in the West Bank, all the while preventing "Made in Palestine" from making a mark on international consciousness.
With agricultural production having historically underwritten the economic self- sufficiency of Palestinian villages, the annexation to Israel of Palestinian agricultural lands forces Palestinians to become cheap labour for Israeli industrial settlements or otherwise be completely unable to survive and choose exile. Since 1993 -- and now even more so with the apartheid wall -- a fast-paced and parallel process of land confiscation and tightly sealed ghettos, with no ability to move physically or have economic trade and a flow of goods, is reality for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. This policy seeks once and for all to ensure that Palestinian communities are unable to sustain themselves, paving the final path towards Palestinian transfer.
In this monstrous equation, "peaceful" wings of the Zionist movement push forward proposals of "benevolent enslavement" to back the occupation's master-slave relationship, trying to bring Palestinians to their knees by making reality so unbearable that providing a cheap supply of labour for Israelis is presented as a better scenario than forced starvation, an injustice packaged within the discourse of "peace", "negotiations" and "regional cooperation".
More clearly than ever, we see today the continuous build-up towards, on the part of Jewish colonisers, controlling Palestinian land and expelling or annihilating the Palestinian people, with agriculture a focal point of this catastrophic scheme. In other words, at the core of the drive towards a thriving Israeli agro-tech sector is the ethnic cleansing of Palestine's people.
* The writer is a US researcher based in occupied Jerusalem.