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A few weeks ago I drove to see my grandchildren in Tel Aviv. The route that connects Jerusalem to the coastal plain is called "the corridor", a remnant of the era when this was a narrow route surrounded by Jordan territory. With Israel's occupation of the West Bank in 1967 there was no corridor anymore.

Alongside the road I saw hundreds of hectares of scorched earth and charred trees: the Jerusalem region endured an immense fire lasting over fifty hours and ravaging over 2,500 hectares of forests.
All over the world fires are part of nature, and some experts affirm they often have positive consequences for regeneration of the land. Several years ago I had the experience of walking with my grandson in the Carmel, one year after a large fire that ravaged this magnificent region near Haifa. The flora was growing back quickly, more beautiful than ever.

But fires are also often the result of criminal acts, and I am not talking about pyromaniacs but, for example, multinationals that burn thousands of acres of Amazonian forests to extract precious mines or mine oil wells.

With the climate emergency, fires are multiplying. In Israel, the situation risks being truly catastrophic, following political choices as old as Zionism. For the settlers who came to this land, it was a question of creating a small Europe in the middle of the Arab East, "a wall of civilization in the face of barbarism" said the founding father of the Zionist movement. So it was decided, among other things, to plant coniferous forests in an area completely unsuitable to them. The first consequence of this was to make the soil acidic, and thus destroying all other forms of flora. The second, and we have just experienced it on a large scale, is to facilitate fires.

When I was a young man in Strasbourg, we had a custom before the Sabbath to put some coins in the blue box of the KKL-JNF - the Jewish National Fund, whose objective was to plant trees in the "wasteland" that was Palestine. Like all colonialism, Zionism was willfully blind to the indigenous reality: "the land was empty", they said, and people came "to make the desert bloom." Thus killing off the terraced agriculture, the orchards in the valleys, the oranges of Jaffa (long before the Israeli label of the same name), a thousand-year-old local civilization with its modern cities like Jaffa and Haifa.

For the European settlers, civilization was to resemble Germany (breeding ground for our era's genocide of European Jewry), and the Swiss landscape. 80 million conifers were planted with money from the blue box, and they regularly burn because they are unsuitable to the local ecology. Yossi Sarid, Minister of the Environment in the early 1990s, understood this well and following a large forest fire then, decided not to replant conifers and to allow nature to take its course.

I imagine the old Palestinians from the villages near Jerusalem, divided between the sadness of seeing the country, their country, ravaged by flames and the desire to tell us, the Israelis, `` we warned you, but your colonial arrogance rendered you deaf and blind. More modesty would have been good for you." But colonialism and modesty are incompatible, and nature knows how to take revenge on colonial hybris.

29 August 2021

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