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The Middle East contains the nation of Palestine. Four areas that parallel the Mediterranean Sea make up its division. Palestine underwent a number of geographical and environmental shifts in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Palestine witnessed significant alterations to the flora and fauna of its wetlands, woodlands, and other habitats during this time. The changes were a consequence of changes in land use brought about by political and legal reforms as well as significant immigration to Palestine. Despite Palestine's extensive environmental past, most studies have ignored it in favor of focusing on its social, political, and administrative history. However, some scholars such as Tai, Reifenberg, and Margalit have attempted to focus their studies on Palestine’s environmental history. For instance, Tai focused on how Palestine’s environment was shaped by the Zionist Movement since World War I while Reifenberg and Margalit focused on reviewing Palestine’s environmental history during the 19th century (kark and Levin, 1).
Palestine gained its independence from the British mandate in 1947. By 1949, Israel had extended its boundaries beyond the UN partition plan and recruited more Jews to settle along its borders making Palestine more of a Jewish state in spite of a few Arab Palestinians. Following the Jewish predominance in Palestine, the Zionists drafted new plans to develop the country and therefore declared to make the country more of a modern industrialized nation than agricultural. Following the industrial declaration by the Zionists, by 1950, Palestine transformed its established ideology of agrarian investment to an ambitious construction program through its master plan known as the Sharon plan. The program oversaw the construction of an urban network that included metropolitan regions, regional cities, development towns and villages set in the countryside. The Sharon plan assumed that most of the Jewish population, about 80% preferred living in urban areas than in rural areas. Studies show that Zionists master plan assumption that majority of the Jews will prefer living in cities was influenced by the Europe and Japan’s modern and technologically advanced society (Troen, 167).
In addition to urbanization of Israel, the Zionists also promulgated the industrialization ideology in Palestine. The Zionists industrialization ideology extended past the coastal cities where they developed commercial industries. The Zionists constructed industries in places such as the Jordan River where raw materials and other essential assets were readily available. For instance, a hydroelectric plant was established near the Jordan River. Another notable industrial development of the Zionists was the creation of two settlements, Kibbutz and Beit Ha’ravah on the northern shore of the Dead Sea. The settlements drew water from River Jordan for human consumption and the purification of the soils by removing chemicals hence making it suitable for agricultural use. Following the cleaning of the soil and the availability of water, the ones inhospitable desert became an agricultural hub due to its production of various foodstuffs such as bananas, grapes, tomatoes, and potatoes. Studies also show that the Zionists also build a technologically and sophisticated industry and a company town in ones isolated towns of Sodom and Gomorrah located at the southern end of the Dead Sea (Troen, 128)
Upon Palestine gaining independence, it attracted a large number of immigrants. The immense immigration led to Israel’s adoption of the British white paper that determined Palestine’s holding capacity and how many of the immigrants could be Jews. The interpretation of Israel’s holding capacity and on who could be allowed to seek refuge in Palestine heavily relied on historical findings that blamed Arabs for the depletion of the country’s soil and the negligence of the Ottoman Empire to maintain the Holy land’s fertility leading to its takeover by the Jews (Troen, 171). According to studies, Israel is considered as a rocky and semi-arid land that has been affected by erosion due to negligence, ignorance and unfavorable agricultural methods hence creating a manmade desert (seligan, 30). In spite of the depletion and negligence of the Palestine’s soil, researchers, however, forecasted a resurgence of a productive and fertile Palestine that will be rich in corn, vine, and olives.
Woodlands majorly occupied Palestine's ancient land due to its Mediterranean climate that is attributed to shorter and sparsely distributed shrubs such as oak trees. However; according to studies, Palestine is considered a holy land, its environmental history can be traced to the biblical times during creation. According to the Bible, vegetation was created on the third day. Despite Israel being a desert country, it was soon filled with trees. It can also be noted that in the bible an important noun such Yaar, a Hebrew word meaning forest is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. It is also evident that the Bible uses woodland synonymously with geographical locations. For instance, the book of 1 Chronicles 5:16 and 27:17 refers to Sharon a region located between Taninim and the stream of Yarkon as the thick oak dominated stand. It is also important to note that trees provided important landmarks in the Bible hence playing an important role in the Israelites mythology. For instance, trees describe Abraham encounters of his life path. For example, the book of Genesis describes him erecting a camp alongside the oak of Moreh near Nablus. The Bible further states that Abraham received the news of his wife Sarah making him a father at the age of a hundred years near a groove trees in Mamre (Tal, 12)
Archeological evidence proves that the land of Canaan was initially settled before the Israelite’s settlement from Egypt. The evidence shows that there were human activities that led to the destruction of Palestine’s forests. Studies show that warfare was the most common salient driver of deforestation of Palestine’s forests. According to studies, nature was abused during warfare, and vegetative destruction was a used as a combat strategy. The accounts of deforestation of Palestine’s forests during war are also evident in the biblical commandment of Deuteronomy 20:18 that enjoined Israelites with the destruction of fruit trees during war (Tal, 19). It is also notable that the deforestation of Palestine was due to the influx of Jews who cut cleared the existing forests in search of cultivating land and for the construction of hospitable structures (Shehdah, 88).
In spite of the deforestation and degradation, Israel started its journey to reforestation of its land. During its entire sixty-five year history, Israel’s forest cover expanded by eightfold. Studies show that both planted and natural woodlands covered less than two percent of Israel’s land in 1948. Due to Israel’s aggressive forestation campaign, approximately 8.5 of Israel’s land were occupied by both natural and planted woodlands by 2005, and this figure is expected to rise to 10 percent in less than a couple of decades. Israel’s forestation campaign has seen its land that was synonymous with desertification, erosion and human neglect to enjoy a complete environmental makeover (Kark and Levin, 21)
It is important to note that the ecological restoration of Israel was backed by new approaches and policies for managing woodlands and political goodwill to transform a country that was initially considered a dry land. Among the policies that have had a significant impact towards the ecological restoration of Palestine include the environmental protection regulations and the prohibition of logging hence ensuring that the surviving woodlands remain intact. Besides the policies, it is notable that Israel cares more about trees compared to its neighbors. For instance, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN estimates that 1.5 percent of Palestine’s land is forested and despite the population increase in the past twenty years the average forested area of Palestine’s land has not reduced. Studies, however, show that more than half of the trees in Palestine were planted during the British mandate and the other half are considered to have naturally regenerated (Tal, 7).
Palestine, therefore, being a desert country it has a rich environmental history that is traceable to the biblical times. Despite Palestine being a desert, it supports life and has become the world’s focal point due to its ecological transformation that has seen it transform from a desert country to a country that more than a half of its land is covered by forests both man-made and natural woodlands. The ecological transformation of Palestine can be attributed to reforestation policies and protective regulations that prohibit logging thus ensuring that the existing woodlands remain intact and ensuring that the country’s forest cover is not reduced as result of urban and industrial development.
Kark, Ruth, and Noam Levin. "The Environment in Palestine in the Late Ottoman Period, 1798–1918." Between Ruin and Restoration, pp. 1-28.
Seligman, No’am G. "The Environmental Legacy of the Fellaheen and the Bedouin in Palestine." Between Ruin and Restoration, pp. 29-52.
Shehadeh, Raja. "In PursuIt of My Ottoman Uncle: Reimagining the Middle East Region as One." Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 40, no. 4, 2011, pp. 82-93.
Tal, Alon. "Degradation and Restoration." All the Trees of the Forest, 2013, pp. 1-8.
Troen, S. I. "Imagining Zion." 2003.
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