Named “Fields of Tomorrow,” the 2,400-square-meter pavilion will be in a prime location, right next to that of the host country Italy and at the crossroads of the two main axes of the sprawling Expo 2015 site. The overall theme of the event is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”
Israel is counting on a return, also in terms of image, for its 11 million euro ($15 million) investment. At a presentation during the Italy-Israel summit last December, Elazar Cohen, the commissioner for the Israel pavilion, named his main objectives as deepening relations with Italy and “to show the true character of Israel and not the one that is usually portrayed in the press” (“Expo 2015: Israeli pavilion ‘will show our true face’,” Ansa, 2 December 2013).
Food for millions?
In the video, Israeli actress Moran Atias, known for roles in Italian TV and film, boasts of “120 years of agricultural research,” spiriting viewers back to times when the Zionist dream was a mere twinkle in the eye of Theodor Herzl, as well as “inventions that have helped put food on the table of millions of people around the world.”
A 2012 United Nations “food security” survey shows that Palestinian families are not among the “millions” who have supposedly benefited. Some 19 percent of households in the occupied West Bank and a staggering 57 percent in Gaza are defined as “food insecure.”
Another 16 percent are defined as “vulnerable.” The survey attributes this to the ongoing Israeli occupation and restrictions on movement of people and goods, resulting in high unemployment rates and low wages, which — combined with increasing prices — have created a dire situation in which only one in four Palestinian households is “food secure.”
Efi Stenzler, a representative of the Jewish National Fund, an organization dedicated to uprooting Palestinians from their land, has taken part in the efforts to promote Israel’s pavilion.
Theft of land
Israel’s choice of name for its pavilion, “Fields of Tomorrow,” could easily refer to the land it has its sights set on in the West Bank.
A 2013 study by Kerem Navot, an Israeli organization that monitors the dispossession of Palestinians, demonstrates that agriculture undertaken by settlers in the West Bank has increased in area by 35 percent since 1997. Cultivated Palestinian agricultural land has, instead, dropped by one third.
The Kerem Navot report maintains that this wholesale theft of agricultural lands is achieved through official land confiscation via military seizure orders and unofficial land grabs by settlers.
It is “part of a long-term and well-funded strategy” encouraged and supported by state agencies and one that requires far fewer resources and time than the construction of settlements (“Israeli settler agriculture as a means of land takeover in the West Bank,” August 2013 [PDF]).
“The Israeli settlement of Maon confiscated more than half of our land,” Huraini told The Electronic Intifada. “We are struggling to defend what is left.”
According to Huraini, the settlers and Israeli authorities do everything possible to prevent Palestinians from entering their land “to make it easier for them to confiscate the land for the settlement.”
Adara described when he and Huraini were arrested while working their land near the settlement. “They took us to prison and then to court and said each of us had to pay a 2,000-shekel [$415] fine, but we refused.”
“Our message was ‘We will not pay fines to the Israeli government.’” Huraini added. “We will resist for our land.”
According to the Kerem Navot report, the agricultural area around the settlements in the south Hebron hills has increased by 61 percent since 1997. Most of the takeovers have been on privately owned Palestinian land.
“Fields of apartheid”
In Gaza, farmers are regularly fired upon by Israeli army snipers and frequent land incursions destroy crops. According to a recent report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, there were 534 Israeli military incursions and 544 shooting incidents between 2006 and 2013.
A total of 179 civilians were killed and 751 injured (“Under fire: Israel’s enforcement of access-restricted areas in the Gaza Strip,” January 2014 [PDF]).
BDS Italy — a group supporting the Palestinian-led campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel — is planning initiatives leading up to and during Expo 2015, which will run from May through October next year.
As a first step, BDS Italy recently launched a video spoof contest, Fields of Apartheid, calling on videomakers in Italy and around the world to submit a short film clip revealing Israel’s true face of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
The contest has already provoked a reaction from Israel. Its foreign ministry had the first submission, which arrived from Gaza, removed from YouTube, claiming copyright infringement.
However, the contest goes on, and as recent “culture-jamming” initiatives — aimed at the Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson and the Zionist lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — have shown, creativity and irony have proven to be effective means for exposing Israel’s blatant lies.
The protests against Israel’s presence are taking place in the larger context of mobilizations against Expo 2015.
A spokesperson for the NoExpo Network told The Electronic Intifada, “Expo 2015’s engaging and seemingly ethical theme is nothing more than an alibi for a new socioeconomic order for Milan and the surroundings, within a framework of special laws and extraordinary powers, creating private profits from public funds.”
Expo 2015 will include contributions from Monsanto, a controversial maker of genetically-modified seeds. Protesters against the event will be placed under surveillance with technology from Selex, an Italian firm which supplies weapon systems to Israel.
Campaigners working against a global agri-food system that promotes the profits of a few firms above all other considerations plan to expose how Expo 2015 reeks of hypocrisy.
It promotes “sustainable development,” while offering tacit support to Israel’s destruction of Palestinian agriculture.
Stephanie Westbrook is a US citizen based in Rome, Italy. Her articles have been published on Common Dreams, Counterpunch, The Electronic Intifada, In These Times and Z Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @stephinrome.