In 1981 the Israeli columnist and artist Amos Kenan wrote in his non-fiction essay book Your Land, Your Country:
The summer is the season in which we do not know how to live in this country. It is too hot for us. People usually learn how to live in their country. […] We brought here very much but took so little from this place. There is arrogance not only in our attitude towards the Arabs who surround us – we are always confident that we have something to teach them and not so much to learn from them – we are also arrogant towards our country. We dressed her in a gown of concrete and cement […] as the poem says, but we did not ask the hot desert winds how to coexist with them, we did not ask the burning sun what it can offer us, we did not ask the rocks and the soil, perhaps they have an answer.
Kenan’s poetic depiction of the Israeli approach towards the country’s natural conditions and its indigenous inhabitants hardly represented a new trend at the time of its publication. In fact, as we shall see in this talk, it mirrored a prevalent Zionist view of the climate and the environment in Palestine that can already be traced at the end of the nineteenth century and which, as I argue, was embedded in a much wider colonial discourse on the enervating effects of warm climates on European bodies. By drawing on approaches honed by colonial historians, my talk aims to offer a new perspective of the early Zionist relationship with the environment of Palestine.
Netta Cohen is a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church College, the University of Oxford. She has completed her doctoral degree in 2019 at the Centre for History of Science, Medicine and Technology in the University of Oxford. Her DPhil dissertation, which she is currently transforming into a book, addresses Jewish climate science in Palestine during the first half of the twentieth century. Cohen’s new research project focuses on the relationship between environmentalism and militarism in Israel starting from the 1960s until today. In 2018 she co-founded the Oxford Environmental History Network which aims to connect researchers working on environmental history in Oxford. Since 2020 she is also a member of the editorial board of the Social History Workshop in Haaretz newspaper.