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  • Emily McKee (a1)

As activists frame campaigns, their region's broader cultural and political context intercedes. In Israel and Palestine attempts to work across national lines and undertake activism that links ecological, economic, and social issues have long been stymied. This article examines how the fraught historical and contemporary relationships of Israelis and Palestinians with land bestow both flexibility and limitations on their framing of campaigns. In particular, it ethnographically analyzes the framing of two projects—the building of an “eco-mosque” and a Jordan River restoration effort—to examine how activists grapple with frame flexibility and its limits. It finds that an Israeli tendency to deterritorialize environmental issues and curb environmental campaigns that are “too political” conflicts with Palestinian criticism of apolitical frames because they euphemize violence and domination. These cases demonstrate how local connotations can make or break environmental campaigns. The eco-adage, “Think global, act local” is not enough. One must think local, too.

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Author's Note: I appreciate the gracious guidance and openness of the EcoPeace staff members and other research participants and hosts in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan who made this research possible. I am grateful for the comments of J. Peter Brosius, Mandana Limbert, and the participants of a Brandeis University Schusterman Center seminar on early iterations of the arguments in this article, and for the critical feedback from Mikaela Rogozen-Soltar, Kathryn Graber, and three anonymous reviewers that helped me improve this final version. Funding for some of the research included in this article came from the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Institute of International Education, the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, and the Palestinian American Research Center.

1 See ck, “Bedouin Enviro-Mosque to be Knocked Down,” Jewlicious (blog), 19 November 2008, accessed 23 October 2013,; Lazarus, Dana and Schindler, Lisa, “Mosque Demolition in Israel,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2008, accessed 26 November 2008,; Legg, Sonia, “Israel Eco-Mosque,” Reuters, 2 December 2008, accessed 4 December 2008,; Vilkomerson, Rebecca, “Land Use and Home Demolitions in Israel,” Jewish Peace News (blog), 18 November 2008, accessed 23 October 2013,; and Cole Krawitz, “Call To Action: Stop the Demolition of a Mosque in the Negev,” JVoices, 19 November 2008, accessed 22 October 2013,

2 To protect the confidentiality of research participants I use pseudonyms for most individuals throughout the article.

3 “Israel” refers to the State of Israel within armistice lines demarcated in 1948. “Palestine” refers to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

4 Gordon, Uri, “Olive Green: Environment, Militarism, and the Israel Defense Forces,” in Between Ruin and Restoration: An Environmental History of Israel, ed. Orenstein, Daniel E., Tal, Alon, and Miller, Char (Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013), 242–61; Shmueli, Deborah F., “Environmental Justice in the Israeli Context,” Environment and Planning A 40 (2008): 2384–401,

5 Alatout, Samer, “Towards a Bio-Territorial Conception of Power: Territory, Population, and Environmental Narratives in Palestine and Israel,” Political Geography 25 (2006): 601–21.

6 Orenstein, Tal, and Miller, Between Ruin and Restoration. Simultaneously, environmental analysis has been sidelined in scholarship; Davis, Diana, “Power, Knowledge, and Environmental History in the Middle East and North Africa,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42 (2010): 657–59.

7 Tal, Alon, Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2002); Twite, Robin and Isaac, Jad, eds., Our Shared Environment: Israelis and Palestinians Thinking Together about the Environment of the Region in Which They Live (Jerusalem: IPCRI, 1994).

8 See, for example, Orenstein, Tal, and Miller, Between Ruin and Restoration.

9 Alatout, “Towards a Bio-Territorial Conception of Power”; Daniel Orenstein and Emily Silverman, “The Future of the Israeli Environmental Movement: Is a Major Paradigm Shift Under Way?,” in Between Ruin and Restoration, 357–81.

10 Orenstein, Tal, and Miller, Between Ruin and Restoration.

11 Orenstein and Silverman, “The Future of the Israeli Environmental Movement,” 360, 376.

12 See Goffman, Erving, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974); and Bateson, Gregory, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (New York: Ballantine Books, 1972), 177–93.

13 For alternative applications of framing analysis, see Lakoff, George, “Why It Matters How We Frame the Environment,” Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture 4 (2010): 7081; Shmueli, Deborah F., “Framing in Geographical Analysis of Environmental Conflicts: Theory, Methodology and Three Case Studies,” Geoforum 39 (2008): 2048–61; and Brewster, Bradley H. and Bell, Michael Mayerfeld, “The Environmental Goffman: Toward an Environmental Sociology of Everyday Life,” Society & Natural Resources 23 (2009): 4557. As in anthropological notions of performativity, this analysis recognizes both the power of framing to set the conditions necessary to make communication “felicitous” for those directing a campaign, as laid out by J. L. Austin (How to Do Things with Words, ed. J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975]), and the difficulty of controlling those conditions over the duration of a campaign addressing heterogeneous audiences. See Robinson, Shira, “Local Struggle, National Struggle: Palestinian Responses to the Kafr Qasim Massacre and Its Aftermath, 1956–66,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 35 (2003): 393416.

14 Goffman, Frame Analysis.

15 Snow, David A. et al., “Frame Alignment Processes, Micromobilization, and Movement Participation,” American Sociological Review 51 (1986): 464–81.

16 Emery, Steven B., Perks, Matthew Thomas, and Bracken, Louise J., “Negotiating River Restoration: The Role of Divergent Reframing in Environmental Decision-Making,” Geoforum 47 (2013): 167–77.

17 Callon, Michael, “An Essay on Framing and Overflowing: Economic Externalities Revisited by Sociology,” The Sociological Review 46 (1998): 244–69.

18 Briggs, Charles L. and Hallin, Daniel C., Making Health Public: How News Coverage Is Remaking Media, Medicine, and Contemporary Life (New York: Routledge, 2016); Tsfati, Yariv and Nir, Lilach, “Frames and Reasoning: Two Pathways from Selective Exposure to Affective Polarization,” International Journal of Communication 11 (2017): 22.

19 Kosek, Jake, Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006); Holifield, Ryan, Porter, Michael, and Walker, Gordon, Spaces of Environmental Justice (Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011); Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005).

20 For a discussion of Goffman's “natural” frames, see Brewster and Bell, “The Environmental Goffman,” 51.

21 McKee, Emily, “Performing Rootedness in the Negev/Naqab: Possibilities and Perils of Competitive Planting,” Antipode 46 (2014): 1172–89.

22 Goffman, Frame Analysis.

23 Lakoff, “Why It Matters How We Frame the Environment.” See also Brewster and Bell, “The Environmental Goffman.”

24 Capek, Stella M., “The ‘Environmental Justice’ Frame: A Conceptual Discussion and an Application,” Social Problems 40 (1993): 524.

25 Doane, Molly, “The Political Economy of the Ecological Native,” American Anthropologist 109 (2007): 452–62; Heatherington, Tracey, Wild Sardinia: Indigeneity and the Global Dreamtimes of Environmentalism (Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 2010).

26 de-Shalit, Avner, “From the Political to the Objective: The Dialectics of Zionism and the Environment,” Environmental Politics 4 (1995): 7087; Zerubavel, Yael, “Desert and Settlement: Space Metaphors and Symbolic Landscapes in the Yishuv and Early Israeli Culture,” in Jewish Topographies: Visions of Space, Traditions of Place, ed. Brauch, Julia, Lipphardt, Anna, and Nocke, Alexandra (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing, 2008), 201–22; McKee, Emily, Dwelling in Conflict: Negev Landscapes and the Boundaries of Belonging (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2016).

27 Benstein, Jeremy, “Between Earth Day and Land Day: Palestinian and Jewish Environmentalisms in Israel,” in Palestinian and Israeli Environmental Narratives, ed. Schoenfeld, Stuart (Toronto: Centre for International and Security Studies, York University, 2005), 5174.

28 Cohen, Shaul E., The Politics of Planting: Israeli–Palestinian Competition for Control of Land in the Jerusalem Periphery (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); Tal, Pollution in a Promised Land.

29 Alatout, “Towards a Bio-Territorial Conception of Power.”

30 Ibid.; Shmueli, “Environmental Justice in the Israeli Context”; Hussein Tarabieh, “Environmental Challenges Facing Arab Society in Israel,” in Between Ruin and Restoration, 190–208; Tal, Pollution in a Promised Land.

31 Shmueli, “Environmental Justice in the Israeli Context,” 2398.

32 Orenstein and Silverman, “The Future of the Israeli Environmental Movement.” Deborah Shmueli argues that a widespread “security” paradigm strongly frames issues that are common in environmental justice campaigns elsewhere, such as access to open lands, participation in land-use planning, and the geographic distribution of toxic military and industrial facilities, as security issues instead; Shmueli, “Environmental Justice in the Israeli Context.”

33 Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Sophia, “Occupational Hazards,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34 (2014): 476–96.

34 Cohen, The Politics of Planting; Mitchell, W.J.T., “Holy Landscape: Israel, Palestine, and the American Wilderness,” Critical Inquiry 26 (2000): 193223; Zerubavel, Yael, “The Forest as a National Icon: Literature, Politics, and the Archaeology of Memory,” Israel Studies 1 (1996): 6099.

35 McKee, “Performing Rootedness in the Negev/Naqab”; Alatout, Samer, “Hydro-Imaginaries and the Construction of the Political Geography of the Jordan River: The Johnston Mission, 1953–56,” in Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa, ed. Davis, Diana K. and Burke, Edmund (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2011), 218–45. Likewise, colonial powers across the Middle East and North Africa have often used calls for rehabilitation of landscapes purportedly abused by local inhabitants to buttress their rule; Davis and Burke, Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa.

36 This industrial park has since been renamed Neʾot Hovav.

37 The town's Arabic name is Sgib as-Salaam, but Mahmud most commonly used this Hebrew name for it.

38 McKee, Dwelling in Conflict.

39 “Binaʾ Masjid Mikun min al-Tin wa-l-Qash fi Quriyat Wadi al-Naʿm al-Ghayr Muʿtarif biha,” al-Shams, 9 December 2008, accessed 21 November 2008,

40 ck, “Bedouin Enviro-Mosque to Be Knocked Down,” Jewlicious, 19 November 2008, accessed 2 March 2018,

41 ck, “Bedouin Enviro-Mosque to be Knocked Down”; Lazarus and Schindler, “Mosque Demolition in Israel”; Legg, “Israel Eco-Mosque”; Vilkomerson, “Land Use and Home Demolitions in Israel.”

42 See “Israel Orders Demolition of Mosque in Negev Bedouin Community,” Maan News Agency, 25 August 2008, accessed 2 March 2018,; ck, “Bedouin Enviro-Mosque to Be Knocked Down”; Lazarus and Schindler, “Mosque Demolition in Israel”; Krawitz, “Call to Action”; and Bustan mass emailings.

43 “Binaʾ Masjid Mikun min al-Tin wa-l-Qash”; “Mutaliba bi-Manaʿ Hadam Masjid min al-Tin,” Al-Arab, 16 September 2008, accessed 2 March 2018,

44 E-mail sent to RCUV's mass mailing list, 1 January 2009.

45 Goffman, Frame Analysis, 8.

46 The organization was founded in 1994 as EcoPeace, became known as both EcoPeace and Friends of the Earth Middle East (or FoEME) simultaneously until 2015, then dropped its affiliation with Friends of the Earth. For simplicity, I use “EcoPeace” throughout the article.

47 EcoPeace's website, accessed 2 March 2018,

48 Recognizing Jordan's relative water poverty (including the rising demand due to waves of refugees), Palestinians’ lack of access to Jordan River waters, and Israel's large share and its increased reliance on coastal desalination, EcoPeace recommends that the vast majority of fresh water flow be returned to the Jordan River from Israel's current withdrawals. Royal HaskoningDHV and EcoPeace Middle East, “Regional NGO Master Plan for Sustainable Development in the Jordan Valley,” June 2015, accessed 2 March 2018,

49 Israeli staff members reported the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa and the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Movement as key turning points in public sentiment against left-leaning Israeli organizations. In addition to public rhetoric, restrictive new legislation has been passed. Chaim Levinson, “Israel Deals Blow to Human Rights Groups with National Service Bill,” Haaretz, 11 December 2016, accessed 2 March 2018,

50 This small area of land where the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers converge is symbolically important, as it has joint control status under the Jordan Israel Peace Treaty.

51 Keck, Margaret E. and Sikkink, Kathryn, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998).

52 Shmueli, “Framing in Geographical Analysis of Environmental Conflicts.”

53 SEED is a joint initiative of the UN and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

54 See Zeitoun, Mark, Eid-Sabbagh, Karim, Talhami, Michael, and Dajani, Muna, “Hydro-Hegemony in the Upper Jordan Waterscape: Control and Use of the Flows,” Water Alternatives 6 (2013): 86106.

55 Alatout, “Hydro-Imaginaries and the Construction of the Political Geography of the Jordan River.”

56 Ibid., 222.

57 Zecharya Tagar, “Nature, Agriculture and the Price of Water in Israel,” Friends of the Earth Middle East, November 2010, accessed 2 March 2018,

58 EcoPeace did create linked Arabic and Hebrew versions of their website, but by 2017 their updated site was once again in English with some reports linked to translations.

59 Stamatopoulou-Robbins, “Occupational Hazards.”

60 Royal HaskoningDHV and WEDO/FoEME, “Integrated Transboundary Regional NGO Master Plan for the Lower Jordan River Basin,” January 2013, accessed 2 March 2018,$%5E~RHDHV_Inception_Report_January_2013.pdf.

61 Consultants include Royal HaskoningDHV, Levant Consulting, CORE Associates Palestine, MASAR, and DHV MED.

62 The three toolkits were published by EcoPeace in 2014: “Nahar min al-Janna: al-Maʾ wa-l-Biʾa wa-Nahr al-Ardun fi al-Taqalid al-Misihiyya,”$%5E~River_Out_of_Eden_Chrisitan_Arabic.pdf; “Nahar min ʿAdan: al-Maʾ wa-l-Biʾa wa-Nahr al-Ardun fi Iman al-Muslim,”$%5E~River_Out_of_Eden_Islam_Arabic.pdf; “Nahar Yotseʾ Me-ʿEden: Mayim, Ekologiyah, ve-Nahar ha-Yarden ba-Masoret ha-Yahudit,”$%5E~Sourcebook_Judiasm_Hebrew_Final.pdf. All accessed 2 March 2018.

63 Edelstein, Mira, “Demise of the Jordan River,” Israel Horizons (2006): 89, accessed 30 August 2016,

64 Tal, Pollution in a Promised Land; Orenstein and Silverman, “The Future of the Israeli Environmental Movement”; Benstein, “Between Earth Day and Land Day”; Schoenfeld, Palestinian and Israeli Environmental Narratives.

65 Benstein, “Between Earth Day and Land Day”; Orenstein and Silverman, “The Future of the Israeli Environmental Movement.” A similar problem attends development projects of other sorts in the Palestinian Territories; Allen, Lori, The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2013); Jad, Islah, “NGOs: Between Buzzwords and Social Movements,” Development in Practice 17 (2007): 622–29.

66 Kanaaneh, Rhoda, Birthing the Nation: Strategies of Palestinian Women in Israel (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2002), 33. See also Kahn, Susan Martha, Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000).

67 Tal, Pollution in a Promised Land; Oren, Amiram, “Shadow Lands: The Use of Land Resources for Security Needs in Israel,” in Militarism and Israeli Society, ed. Sheffer, Gabriel and Barak, Oren (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2010), 168–90.

68 Orenstein and Silverman, “The Future of the Israeli Environmental Movement.”

69 Lakoff, “Why It Matters How We Frame the Environment.”

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
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