Between the Pine Forest and the Cactus Hedge

Forests of Aleppo pine cover the hills of Palestine, among which shiny pads of prickly pear cactus emerge in rows. While these landscapes might fade into the background as one drives past them, they embed within them the slow violence driven by decades of Zionist settler colonialism.
Introduced by the Jewish National Fund, Aleppo pine was planted in forests as a deliberate strategy following the 1948 Nakba, materialising imaginaries of the ‘biblical’ landscape as populated with Europeanised forests. This pine, celebrated by Zionist botanists for its erect trunk, was selected to transform the allegedly ‘faulty’ landscape; its hemispherical crown serves as a mask to veil the remains of demolished Palestinian villages on which these forests were planted. The prickly pear cactus grows in these sites, not by coincidence. Historically planted by Palestinians as hedges to delineate village boundaries, it carries deep cultural and political significance. Known as sabr (صبر) in Arabic, meaning patience, the cactus reemerged amidst the rubble following the 1948 Nakba, representing one of the few remaining legacies of a people forcibly uprooted from their ancestral lands and a symbol of their resilience and endurance.
Amidst the ongoing genocide and ecocide in Gaza, where Palestinians continue to face systematic violence and displacement in their most brutal forms, land remains at the forefront of their fight against Zionist settler colonialism. In this talk, Areej Ashhab will draw upon her master’s research and engagement with the Al-Wah’at collective to illuminate the role of trees as catalysts of resistance and repair. Focusing on the landscapes of the pine forest and the cactus hedge, she will address the multifaceted relationships between Palestinians and these plants, challenging colonial practices that weaponise ecology as a tool of dispossession and land domination, moving beyond idealised concepts of nature as a passive separate other.