An organization that demands universal compliance with the law and ecological norms has become part of a complex that perpetually abuses principles of law and justice.
By Zafrir Rinat

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel recently released its annual report, outlining a list of threats posed to open spaces around the country. Among other problems, the report probes the issue of communities and farms being established in the heart of rural areas. These buildings are put up without proper permits and cause damage to nature.

Were SPNI members to take a look over the Green Line, they might supplement their report with a series of examples of illegal outpost building and the paving of roads, which cause considerable ecological damage.

Unfortunately, the new report has no reference to planning and construction issues on the other side of the Green Line. It does not refer to legislative initiatives designed to give retroactive authorization to crass land grabs by outpost settlers on privately-owned areas. In contrast, SPNI officials proudly assert that they helped prevent illegal construction by Bedouin in the Negev.

Israel’s largest environmental organization, which invests considerable effort toward the preservation of water sources within the Green Line, does not refer to the array of building offenses around springs on the West Bank. Nor does it relate to settler land grabs in areas designated for agriculture, under the pretext that these locales are important to Jewish heritage.

SPNI officials are wary of dealing with politically controversial areas, and so don’t dare to criticize occurrences on the other side of the Green Line. They claim there is a problem influencing planning and building issues in areas under army control; this, however, is precisely the work that an environmental organization should undertake. SPNI is guilty of double standards, as it does not hesitate to tackle planning issues connected to lands controlled by the security establishment within Israel.

While its report does not relate to West Bank ecological damage, SPNI operates ongoing activities in the territories, via field schools. Activity leaders and nature guides in these schools are usually settlers who are SPNI members. By dint of their location, these schools confer legitimacy to the occupation, and to distorted planning and construction trends in the territories.

In this way, SPNI becomes yet another organization enlisted in the strengthening of the occupation. It helps conjure the continuing illusion that the territories are simply more areas containing nature sights and nature tour routes, and that there is no difference between these sites and nature reserves and gardens within Israel. Accordingly, SPNI has come to resemble the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which recently put its signature to a tourism ministry advertisement calling on the public to tour “colorful farms” in Samaria, and enjoy “rural hospitality in a number of forms.”

SPNI’s slogans about ecological justice appear ridiculous in light of the fact that its work stops right on the edge of the West Bank. Field-school guides tour among trees and flowers, and even make reports about ecological threats. Yet they − and the SPNI in general − are loathe to refer to the continuing plunder of nature resources for the benefit of Israel’s economy, the destruction of the agricultural landscape, or the fact that facilities for sewage purification were established illegally on private land.

An organization that demands universal compliance with the law and ecological norms has become part of a complex that perpetually abuses principles of law and justice.