Open Brief: Israeli Violations of Palestinian Food Sovereignty
Visualizing Palestine is publishing this open brief to share some of the research behind our latest visual with Growing Palestine on Palestinian food sovereignty. If you are an artist, designer, data storyteller, or creative and interpret this brief for your own piece, we’d love to know. You can reach us at email@example.com.
This visual will look at Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid through the lens of Palestinian food production as defined by Via Campesina. The story will be grounded in principles of food sovereignty and will build on Visualizing Palestine’s series on environmental justice in Palestine.
2. Key messages
- Israel denies Palestinian food sovereignty: Israeli policies make Palestinians dependent on food they are unable to produce, in violation of principles of food sovereignty.
- Food sovereignty is an environmental and human rights issue: Protecting small holder farmers, rural communities, and local agricultural practices is key to reducing food insecurity, poverty, and environmental harms perpetuated by industrialized agriculture.
3. Title and Introduction
Title Ideas (Brainstorm)
Apartheid on a Plate: The Colonization of Palestinian Agriculture
The Colonized Table: Israel’s Denial of Palestinian Food Sovereignty
Under Israel’s system of apartheid, Palestinian food producers face expropriation of their land, forced displacement, denial of the right to water, denial of freedom of movement, attacks by Israeli military forces and settlers, and restricted access to markets, leading to food insecurity and the destruction of generations of Palestinian agricultural heritage in the Fertile Crescent.
Definition of Food Sovereignty
Food Sovereignty, a pillar of environmental justice, is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems (Via Campesina). Food sovereignty is key to ending hunger, food insecurity, poverty, and environmental harms perpetuated by colonialism and industrialized agriculture.
4. Food Restrictions List
This information was collected with the concept of a plate or table in mind, where each food item represents a fact or story about how Palestinian agricultural heritage and food sovereignty is disrupted by Israeli policy.
Every item on this table is affected by Israeli restrictions on Palestinian food sovereignty.
Glass of water (all areas)
Israelis have access to 4x more water than Palestinians due to Israel’s centralized state control over all major water resources and infrastructure permits (source). From 2012–2021, Israeli authorities demolished at least 572 Palestinian water, sanitation, and hygiene structures in the West Bank, including rainwater cisterns(source). Most Gaza water is unsafe for drinking or agriculture, since 97% of water from Gaza’s main aquifer is contaminated (source).
Grapes, Eggplants, Tomato, Onion (West Bank)
Israeli military orders 1015 and 1039 require Palestinians to get permission to plant certain fruits and vegetables in the West Bank (source). Discriminatory policies cripple Palestinian farmers’ ability to compete with produce from illegal Israeli settlements (source).
Seeds (all areas)
Israeli agricultural policies promote commercial seeds, threatening Palestinian heirloom seed varieties adapted for traditional dew & rain-fed baal agriculture. In 2021, Israel criminalized the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which maintains a Palestinian seed bank (source /source)
Wheat, barley, millet (all areas)
75% of agricultural land in Palestine was devoted to growing grains (barley, millet, wheat) prior to Zionist colonization (source). Today, Israel imports 90% of local wheat demand, critically threatening crop biodiversity and local heirloom varieties adapted over thousands of years for rainfed, low-input systems (source).
Jadu’i Watermelon (West Bank)
Example of a baal plant that has been eradicated by hybrid varieties favored by Israeli seed companies. Vivien Sansour describes how the Jadu’i watermelon was “known for its disease resistance and adaptation to the microclimate.” (source)
Black Goats (Israel/1948 Territory)
In 1950, Israel banned black goats, the most common type of livestock kept by Palestinian Bedouin pastoralists. A “Green Patrol” paramilitary unit slashed herds by 64% in three years, decimating a key subsistence base of the Bedouin community. (source)
Zaatar, Sage, and Akoub (Israel/1948 Territory and West Bank)
Israel banned the collection of wild zaatar and sage in 1977 and akoub in 2005, making foraging for staples of the Palestinian diet punishable by fines and up to 3 years in prison (source). At least 61 people have been charged in Israeli courts for “possession or trade of a protected plant” from 2004–2016, all Palestinian (source).
Milk and eggs (Israel/1948 Territory)
Palestinian farmers who hold Israeli citizenship were completely excluded from the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture’s quota system until 2012, when 0.02% of the milk quota and 0.03% of the egg quota were licensed to Palestinian farms (source). Israeli products dominate market in West Bank & Gaza (source/source/source).
Various vegetables (Gaza)
13,000 dunams of crops in Gaza were damaged due to aerial spraying of herbicides by the Israeli military from 2014–2018 (source). 35% of Gaza’s farmland is inaccessible due to Israeli military measures (source).
Olives (West Bank)
Up to 1 million olive trees have been uprooted by Israeli authorities since 1967 (source). Israeli settlers vandalized or stole the harvest from 1,600 olive trees during the 2021 harvest season (source).
Field crops (West Bank)
In the Jordan Valley, the Israeli military uses Palestinian farmland for military drills. From 2014–2018, at least 3 Palestinians were killed and 5 injured from explosives left in fields and pastures during these drills (source, source)
Mushrooms (West Bank)
In 2016, Israel forced a successful Palestinian mushroom farm in the West Bank to halt operations by holding up essential imports and charging the farm thousands in port storage fees (source).
Israel controls all Gaza imports and exports, barring Gaza produce, such as strawberries, from being sold in the Israeli market and restricting access to the West Bank market (source).
Israeli authorities force Gaza farmers to remove the crowns of tomatoes prior to exporting, costing farmers an estimated $17.8 million (source).
Apples (Golan Heights)
95% of land in the occupied Golan Heights is controlled by Israeli settlements. Syrians are restricted to 5% of their land and are being dispossessed from their remaining distinctive terraced fruit orchards (source).
5. Other Research and Information
Loss of Palestinian Agricultural Land
Palestinian food insecurity is rooted in Israeli discriminatory land policy across historic Palestine and all areas under its control.
- Prior to Zionist colonization, Palestinians were cultivating around 85% of cultivable land in historic Palestine. “When Britain received the Mandate for Palestine most of the cultivable land was already under cultivation” by Palestinians (source / source)
- In 1948, Palestinian refugees lost approximately 4.6 million dunums of farmland. “Of the 370 new settlements established in Israel in the 1948–1953 period, no less than 350 were located on refugee property” (source)
- Israel has expropriated 85% of Palestinian Bedouin land in the Naqab as state land (source)
- 35% of agricultural land in Gaza is inaccessible due to Israeli military measures (source)
- 63% of agricultural land in the West Bank is under complete Israeli control, with Palestinian rural communities in Area C being some of the most vulnerable to Israeli policies of forced displacement (source)
- 10% of the West Bank has been expropriated to build Israel’s wall, which separating thousands of farmers from their land (source)
- In 2020, Israeli authorities denied 73% of farmer permit requests to access their farmland beyond the wall (source)
- Under Ottoman laws, ownership of land was derived from cultivating it continuously. (Collective rights were also recognized for grazing.) Israel manipulates these laws to justify stripping Palestinians of land rights if they cultivate only part of an area of their land or if they stop cultivating an area of land due to Israeli restrictions or other factors (source)
- 45% of the Palestinian population worked in agriculture in 2003, including forestry and fishing. By 2017, that percentage had dropped to 14% (source)
- Palestinian agricultural area dropped from 240,000 hectares in 1980 to 183,000 hectares in 1996 and to around 103,000 hectares in 2010. The United Nations described the chief causes as: Israeli settlements, restricted access to water, urban expansion at the expense of agricultural land, and construction of the wall (source)
69% of Palestinians in Gaza and 33% in the West Bank are food insecure as of 2021 (source)
Definition of Agroecology
Agroecology is farming that “centers on food production that makes the best use of nature’s goods and services while not damaging these resources.” It is an integrated, socially-responsible, environmentally-friendly approach that builds on ancestral, indigenous, and scientific knowledge of local ecosystems to promote healthy, diverse, nutritious, and sustainable food systems. As such, it grants local communities the autonomy to manage their agro-ecosystems in a manner that centralizes their local needs (source)
La Via Campesina’s Seven Pillars of Food Sovereignty
- Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right.
- Agrarian Reform: A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people — especially women — ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it.
- Protecting Natural Resources: Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals.
- Reorganizing Food Trade: Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
- Ending the Globalization of Hunger: Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed.
- Social Peace: Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.
- Democratic control: Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decision-making on food and rural issues.
Visualizing Palestine’s visual on Israeli restrictions on Palestinian food sovereignty: