UPDATE 3/16/2022: Sierra Club has since reinstated its greenwashing trips to apartheid Israel. Read the progressive coalition’s new statement condemning this decision here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 15, 2022—In a positive step forward for environmental justice and Palestinian freedom, the Sierra Club’s Board of Directors has suspended planned March 2022 nature “Outings” to Israel. One canceled trip was scheduled to start today. The Sierra Club’s decision followed discussions with a broad coalition of racial, social and Indigenous justice groups. The Sierra Club has since removed the planned trips to Israel from its website.
After being contacted by individuals whose concerns about the Israel outings were dismissed by the Sierra Club, the coalition of groups wrote to Sierra Club leadership and members of the Board on February 22. The coalition’s letter explained that the trips as planned would promote “a false image of Israel as environmentally-friendly,” “erase both the existence of the Palestinian people and Israel’s systemic racism and discrimination against them, and greenwash Israel’s system of apartheid and its illegal colonization of occupied Palestinian and Syrian lands.” The groups that signed the letter to the Sierra Club included: Adalah Justice Project, Adalah-NY: Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, Jewish Voice for Peace, NDN Collective, Palestinian Youth Movement-NYC, The Movement for Black Lives, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and Visualizing Palestine.
Israel’s apartheid and colonization are not green, and exacerbate environmental injustice. Israel uses parks, nature reserves and forests to conceal ruins of depopulated Palestinian villages, appropriate land and curtail Palestinian access and development, including in Bedouin Palestinian villages in Al-Naqab (Negev) today. 182 Palestinian villages that Israel depopulated are concealed in Israeli parks and forests, preventing refugees from returning. Only 11% of trees in Israeli forests are indigenous species due to Zionist groups planting with non-native species, while Israel has uprooted over 800,000 native olive trees owned by Palestinians. The Israeli state purposely redirects water away from Palestinian communities for the use of Israeli settlers.
Responding to the Sierra Club’s decision to heed the coalition’s call, Sandra Tamari, Executive Director at Adalah Justice Project, said, “We welcome the Sierra Club’s principled decision to do no harm to Palestinians by canceling these outings that greenwash Israeli apartheid. We will continue to engage with Sierra Club leadership to support their internal processes to bring their outings programs in alignment with their stated commitments to upholding racial and social justice. We are grateful to our Indigenous and Black siblings for their support in securing this positive step for Palestinian freedom and environmental justice.”
The coalition’s February letter to the Sierra Club said the planned trips reinforced “racist Israeli myths that European Zionsts established a state on ‘a land without a people’ and ’made the desert bloom,’” and would “contradict the Sierra Club’s stated commitment to environmental justice, and undermine the struggle of Indigenous Palestinians for freedom.”
Krystal Two Bulls, Director of the LANDBACK Campaign, NDN Collective, said, “We, as Indigenous people in the so-called US, know intimately the crimes of dispossession, displacement, and violences of settler-colonialism. We also know how these crimes were covered up through the narrative of conservation, which helped to invisibilize Indigenous Peoples from the landscape by claiming that the land was untouched or without relationship. We know conservation, to this day, aims to preclude Native Peoples from the present and separate us from reclaiming our power through demands such as LANDBACK. Conservancy contributed to the greenwashing of US settler colonialism and the cover up of the connected violences of European settlement; Sierra Club, unfortunately, has a role in and connection to this history. Land is not separate from the People who build their livelihoods upon it nor are Indigenous people separate from their land. Sierra Club canceling these “international outings”, that will contribute to the greenwashing of israeli aparthied and israel’s oppression of the Palestinian People, shows us that they are learning the tough lessons from the mistakes that they have made to Indigenous People on Turtle Island. We resolutely confirm that people of conscience cannot disconnect “outings on land” from the people who make their livelihood and have had relationship to the land since time immemorial, nor can they shirk the responsibility and accountability to uplifting the demands of those people for liberation, freedom and return.”
On top of the planned trips’ greenwashing and erasure of the Indigenous Palestinian people, the trips’ descriptions avoided any mention of Israel’s military occupation and illegal colonization of Palestinian and Syrian lands, and its system of apartheid rule over the Palestinian people. These omissions were particularly glaring given that Amnesty International had just solidified a growing global consensus by joining Palestinians, South Africans, Human Rights Watch, and Israel’s leading human rights organization B’Tselem in confirming that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people.
Elena Stein, Senior Organizer at Jewish Voice for Peace, said, “For decades, Palestinians have invited all people of conscience to join them in ending the daily nightmare of living under Israeli apartheid and the violent theft and colonization of Palestinian lands. This urgent and righteous call for a boycott echoes the South African anti-apartheid movement’s call to visitors: to do no harm to their struggle for basic rights under international law. We applaud the Sierra Club’s principled decision to suspend nature outings that would have greenwashed Israeli apartheid and to respect the picket line of the growing global movement for Palestinian freedom.”
Ahmad Abuznaid, Executive Director at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said, “The fight for environmental justice has no borders. We must oppose colonization, militarism, land theft, and environmental destruction everywhere, in order to stop settler states from stealing native land and expelling the Indigenous people protecting it. The Sierra Club’s decision to cancel trips to apartheid Israel is a welcome step forward as together we struggle toward justice for the Palestinian people and liberation for all.”
U.S. foreign policy and militarism, including its maintenance of over 800 military bases across the globe, contribute in disastrous ways to climate change and rob the U.S. of valuable resources that should instead be invested in green technologies and life-giving programs, like healthcare and housing. Climate justice is rooted in anti-militarism, including the demand that the U.S. stop funding Israeli apartheid with massive arms packages and military funding.