Israel (within historic Palestine) has 530 “nature reserves” and “national parks” (NPs) comprising 25% of its relatively small land. Beginning in 1964, Israel has designated these parks and reserves with increasing frequency – with 19 new designations in 2021, and 33 in 2022.1 For “nature reserves,” recent work demonstrates that many, if not a majority, were promoted by the Jewish National Fund for the sake of political control of contested Palestinian lands, even at the expense of natural or historic land preservation.2 This article assesses the motivations of NPs by Israel, focusing on how and why parks are designated in the central area of Jerusalem.

History of Israel’s National Parks

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) was established via the 1998 National Parks, Nature Reserves, National Sites and Memorial Sites Law. The INPA has expanded its jurisdiction to the areas occupied in 1967, including the West Bank (WB), Gaza and the Golan, prohibiting indigenous people in many areas designated as NPs from basic home repairs, construction, and even gardening projects such as growing “decorative flowers” (Mil. Or. No. 818) or “planting fruitful trees” (Mil. Or. No. 1015), without obtaining a permit. These permits are rarely granted. The 1998 Article 23b law grants special permission to the Israeli military forces to bypass all INPA regulations and rules.3 By August 1967, Military Order 89 facilitated control over areas of natural interests and Order 373 (1970) established Israel’s ability to declare any land in “Judea and Samaria” as a park or a nature reserve.4 This authority has also been assumed by the INPA.

NPs in the WB pose an interesting contradiction, in that they exist beyond Israel’s recognized boundries, and yet are designated as National Parks and are only accessible to Israeli “nationals” – a qualification that, because of their Citizenship Law precludes the non-Jewish Palestinians from residing in or around the park. Such is the case with the Ein Prat NP west of Jericho where Palestinians are excluded from using or cultivating their lands.5

Within the INPA is a plenum of 19 Israeli government officials, scientists, and public officers, as well as a council of 28 Israeli professionals and government representatives. The latter includes representatives of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a supra-national arm of the World Zionist Organization which openly carries out habitat transformation to claim and colonize lands.6 Considerable research has focused on the significant role of the JNF in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine,7 including their self-published master plans and implementation practices.8

Photo from Al-Walaja village showing Green Line (near railroad track in valley), west Jerusalem on left and settlement of Gilo on right (in East Jerusalem), valley of National Park with separation wall in foreground.

Example of national parks around Jerusalem

UN General Assembly Resolution 181 recommended partition of Palestine into Jewish and an Arab states with economic integration. The Jerusalem area, including Bethlehem, was envisioned to be a corpus separatum. However, the resolution was never implemented or approved by the UN Security Council. In 1948, Israeli military forces occupied the western part of Jerusalem and expelled/ethnically cleansed Palestinian communities therein. In 1967, Israel occupied the Old City and other parts of Jerusalem and annexed an expanded greater Jerusalem in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. Immediately after, a deliberate policy of Judaizing Jerusalem ensued using spatial planning and population reengineering.9 These policies required quasi-legal tools to implement them. One of these tools is the designation of large portions of the area of (expanded) annexed Jerusalem as NPs. Jerusalem has more NPs than any other city; most of them are in East Jerusalem, the part of the city still with a majority of Palestinian population.10 These parks comprise 15,000 dunams (4,000) acres including the Palestinian neighborhoods.11

Jerusalem’s parks often occupy spaces of historical or ongoing ethnic cleansing. Canada Park (another NP), was created by the JNF on the site of the three villages Imwas, Yalu, and Beit Nuba whose residents were expelled soon after the 1967 occupation.12 Similarly, the Western Wall NP was designated on the site of the expelled Moghrabi neighbourhood in Jerusalem. In Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, areas populated by Palestinians, the concept of NP was used to again ethnically cleanse people. The City of David NP was declared in Silwan, the home of 40,000 Palestinians. Residents have had no say in the decision to turn their neighbourhoods into a NP and are prohibited from any construction on their own property. Thus, even the smallest home repair/renovation projects, monitored closely by Israel, can be used as a justification for home demolition orders, which have been doled out in increasing numbers. Elad, the right-wing Israeli “non-profit” settler organization was entrusted by INPA in 2002 with managing this NP.

Though Palestinians are barred from renovating their own homes (see above) Israeli settlers are increasingly encouraged and subsidized to build in NPs. The government even amended the 1998 law specifically allowing the construction of built structures in the City of David NP. The amendment retroactively legalized previous construction by Jewish settlers. Settlement construction continued, and by 2015, 400 settlers occupied 54 outposts in the Al-Bustan and Wadi Al-Hilweh neighbourhoods of Silwan.13 In 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself led plans for a seven-story building spanning 16,000 sq m in the heart of Silwan. Elad also works to intensify archaeological excavations which displace residents in the park. In 2018, the Israeli government allocated a staggering $18 million for excavations.14

The South Jerusalem hills and valleys are also in the cross-hairs of NP “development” (read Judaicizing). Appropriation of the ancient landscape in the Wallaja and Battir area as “Nof Kdumim” (literally ancient landscape) created another NP in the south Jerusalem hills to exclude Palestinians and allow settlement expansion (Figures 2 & 3). The cluster of Palestinian communities impacted is referred to as the Al-Arqoup cluster. The area was submitted for emergency consideration as a UNESCO Palestinian World Heritage Site partly to prevent building the separation wall that would destroy its heritage.15 The effort involved significant local and international collaboration that mapped people, land, and nature.16 As part of the reevaluation of “nature reserves” designated by Israel for political purposes, the Al-Arqoub area was added as a new Palestinian protected area with significant threats including from the Israeli occupation.17 But the struggle to actually preserve the ancient landscape and its indigenous people from Judaization continues.


Israel’s NPs are supposed to be heritage sites, archaeological ruins, areas of historic or religious significance yet many include developed Palestinian areas that are being depopulated in favour of Jewish settlements. This is most notable in Jerusalem where NPs designation is used to effect ethnic cleansing, limit property maintenance, demolish homes, and dispel residents, though this violates international law.18 The data above are just a glimpse of these efforts. Palestinians have resisted such imposition going back for decades even as early as 1925 in the area of Jerusalem.19 The struggle continues in places like Sheikh Jarrah, 
Silwan, and Al-Walaja.20 Assessing and resisting the weaponization of Israeli NPs should also help connect Palestinians who feel isolated and disconnected from international resistance movements. NPs have come with the struggle against colonialization since the first one was declared in the United States in 1872: Yellowstone, which was designated against the wishes of the Blackfeet, Shoshone, and Bannock indigenous people living there as well as the Crow people, whose land was added to the park despite a U.S. treaty with the declaring their right to it.21 The ongoing resistance of Palestinians to Israeli-designated “National Parks” offers a bridge to shared solidarity with other global decolonization struggles.22


2 Braverman, I. 2023. Settling Nature: The Conservation Regime in Palestine Israel. University of Minnesota Press; Allombert, Charlotte and Mazin B. Qumsiyeh. Israeli designation of “Nature Reserves”: A tool of colonization. International Review on Contemporary Law (in press); Qumsiyeh, M.B. and I.M. Albaradeiya. 2022. Politics, Power, and the Environment in Palestine. Africana Studia 37:9-18; Qumsiyeh, M.B. D. Husein, N. Boulad, I.M. Albaradeya, M. Mahasnah, M. Abusirhan, M. Najajrah, Banan Al-Shaikh, Elias N. Handal, and Zuhair S. Amr (2023) Updating and Enhancing the Protected Areas Network of the State of Palestine: A step Towards Biodiversity Conservation. Parks Journal (in press) 
3 Braverman 2023. 
4 Rabah, J. and N. Fairweather, 1993 Israeli Military Orders in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank, 1967–1992 Jerusalem: Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre 
5 Emek Shaveh 2018. On which Side is the Grass Greener? National parks in Israel and the West Bank. 
6 Lehn, W., 1974. The Jewish National Fund. Journal of Palestine Studies, 3(4), pp.74-96; Davis, U. and Lehn, W., 1978. And the Fund Still Lives: The Role of the Jewish National Fund in the Determination of Israel's Land Policies. Journal of Palestine Studies, 7(4), pp.3-33; Shilony, Z., 1998. Ideology and Settlement: The Jewish National Fund, 1897–1914. Magnes Press; Alterman, 2001; Schaffer, G. and Levin, N., 2014. Mapping Human Induced Landscape Changes in Israel Between the end of the 19 Century and the Beginning of the 21 Century. Journal of Landscape Ecology, 7(1), pp.110-145.
7 Bishara, S., 2018. The Jewish National Fund. The Palestinians in Israel, p.59-274; Orenstein, D.E. and Hamburg, S.P., 2009. To populate or preserve? Evolving political-demographic and environmental paradigms in Israeli land-use policy. Land Use Policy, 26(4), pp.984-1000; Hananel, R., 2010. Zionism and agricultural land: National narratives, environmental objectives, and land policy in Israel. Land Use Policy, 27(4), pp.1160-1170; Dromi, S.M. and Shani, L., 2020. Love of Land: Nature Protection, Nationalism, and the Struggle over the Establishment of New Communities in Israel. Rural Sociology, 85(1), pp.111-136. 
8 Assif, S. (n.d.), “Principles of Israel’s Comprehensive National Outline Plan for Construction, Development and Conservation (NOP 35),” Israel Ministry of Interior website, (accessed 8 June 2016); Reut Institute (2009), “Tama 35 - Integrated National Master 
Plan for Construction,Development and Preservation”, The Reut Institute website, 2.Tel Aviv, (accessed 29 Jan 2023); Adalah–the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. 2008. Summary of objection to the Jerusalem Regional Master Plan, Available from:; Chiodelli, F., 2013. Re-shaping Jerusalem: The transformation of Jerusalem’s metropolitan area by the Israeli barrier. Cities, 31, pp.417-424; Chiodelli, F., 2016. Shaping Jerusalem: Spatial planning, politics and the conflict. Routledge; Clarno, A. 2008. A Tale of TwoWalled Cities: Neo-liberalization and enclosure in Johannesburg and Jerusalem. Political Power and Social Theory 19, 161–207. 
9 Benvenisti, E. 1989. Legal dualism: The absorption of the occupied territories into Israel. Boulder (CO): Westview Press; Benvenisti, Meron. 2002. Sacred Landscape—The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948. Translated from the Hebrew by Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta. University of California Press; Allegra, M. and Maggor, E., 2022. The metropolitanization of Israel's settlement policy: The colonization of the West Bank as a strategy f spatial restructuring. Political Geography, 92, p.102513; Andersson, Ann-Catrin 2011. Identity Politics and City Planning. The Case of Jerusalem. Örebro Studies in Political Science 30, 292 pp. 
10 Emek Shaveh 
11 Bimkom 2012 From Public to National: National Parks in East Jerusalem FINAL2012_withMAPS_lowres1.pdf 
12 Bronstein, E., 2014. Restless park: On the Latrun villages and Zochrot.; Mundinger, U., 2017. Walking on Ruins: The Untold Story of Yalu. Jerusalem Quarterly, (69), p.22.; Broadhead, L.A., 2020. Scales of justice: putting remembrance back on the map in Palestine and Mi’kma’ki. Settler Colonial Studies, 10(3), pp.331-352; Shaked, R., 2022. The Naksa in the Shadow of the Nakba. Pp. 97-118 In “June 1967 in Personal Stories of Palestinians and Israelis” Regina F. Bendix, Aziz Haidar, Hagar Salamon (eds) Göttingen University Press
13 UN Human Settlements Programme, “Right to Develop: Planning Palestinian Communities in East Jerusalem,” UN Habitat Report, 2015; Greenberg, R. 2009. Towards an Inclusive Archeology in Jerusalem: The Case of Silwan/The City of David,” Public Archeology, 8(1):35-50; Wilkof, S. and Nitzan Shiftan, A., 2023. Holy green: silwan, design knowledge, and the 1967 making of Jerusalem's Old City Walls National Park. Planning Perspectives, pp.1-24. 
14 Braverman 2023 
15 MOTA (Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities) 2015. “Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines — Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem” list/1492/ Checked 26 Dec. 2022 
16 Desclaux-Salachas, J. 2020. Civilian Cartography: Between Geodesy and Art: Battir, An Unprecedented Cartographic Citizen Patrimony, A Valuable Common Good Endlessly Restored. The Cartographic Citizen University. In Bandrova T., Konečný M., Marinova S. (editors) Proceedings Vol. 1, 8th International Conference on Cartography and GIS, Nessebar, Bulgaria.

17 Qumsiyeh MB, Zavala SS, Amr ZS 2014 Decline in vertebrate biodiversity in Bethlehem, Palestine. Jordan J Biol Sci 7:01-107; Qumsiyeh, M.B., R. Bassous- Ghattas, E.N. Handal, M. Abusarhan, M.H. Najajreh, I.M. Albaradeyiyah (2023). Biodiversity Conservation of a new protected area ‘Al-Arqoub’, South Jerusalem Hills, Palestine. Parks Journal.29:33-42.; Joronen M 2019. Negotiating colonial violence: Spaces of precarisation in Palestine. Antipode 51(3): 838–857; Husein, Duaa and Qumsiyeh, M.B. 2022. Impact of Israeli segregation and annexation wall on Palestinian Biodiversity. Africana Studia,37: 19-26; Braverman 2023, pp 106-115. 
18 Braverman, I., 2021a. Environmental justice, settler colonialism, and more-thanhumans in the occupied West Bank: An introduction. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 4(1), pp.3-27; Braverman, I., 2021b Nof kdumim: Remaking the ancient landscape in East Jerusalem’s national parks. Environment and Planning 
E: Nature and Space, 4(1), pp.109-134; Braverman, I. 2021c. The Jewish National Fund, Trees, and Eco-Zionism [in German], in Jüdischer Almanach, ed. Gisela Dachs (Jerusalem: Leo Baeck Institute, 2021), 168–77; http://www.btselem. org/download/gan_czavim/en.html; Al-Haq 2015. Environmental Justice in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: Problems and Prospects Report.En.pdf and 2016 A Note on the Paris Agreement and Environmental Justice in Palestine provided good legal analysis showing the illegality; Emek Shaveh 2018. On which Side is the Grass Greener? National parks in Israel and the West Bank.; Oppenheim, L 1952. International Law, A Treatise, Vol. II Disputes, War and Neutrality (Seventh edition, edited by H. Lauterpacht, Longmans) p. 403. 
19 Lemire, V., 2011. The awakening of Palestinian hydropolitical consciousness: the Artas-jerusalem water conflict of 1925. Jerusalem Quarterly, (48); Qumsiyeh, Mazin Popular Resistance in alestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment, Pluto Press, 2012. 
20 Sabbagh, M., 2022. Sumud: Repertoires of Resistance in Silwan. Public Culture, 34(3), pp.495-514; Lecoquierre, M., 2016. Holding on to place: spatialities of resistance in Israel and Palestine: the cases of Hebron, Silwan and al-Araqib (Doctoral dissertation); Strömbom, L., 2015. Resistance in divided Jerusalem. Divided Cities: Governing Diversity, p.175;
21 Trerise, B.,, Indigenous Homelands in Yellowstone National Park, Univ. of British Columbia 
22 See e.g. 2021, Return the National Parks to the Tribes, The Atlantic; Wolfley, 2016, The Return of Native Peoples to the National Parks, University of New Mexico School of Law; Poirier and Ostergren, 2002, Evicting People from Nature: Indigenous Land Rights and National Parks in Australia, Russia, and the United States; 31 Jan 2017, Indigenous federation sues Peru over new national Park, The Guardian.