BETHLEHEM – Israel approved a draft law on Monday to implement a plan which will displace thousands of Bedouins in the Negev desert, an Israeli rights group said.
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a bill which outlines a framework for implementing the Prawer-Begin plan, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said.
“Today the government approved a plan that will cause the displacement and forced eviction of dozens of villages and tens of thousands of Bedouin residents,” ACRI lawyer Rawia Aburabia said.
“All of this while the government simultaneously promotes the establishment of new Jewish communities, some of which are even planned to be built on the fresh ruins of Bedouin villages,” she added.
The Israeli government approved the plan in 2011, in what it says was an attempt to address the problem of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev desert of southern Israel.
The 2011 proposal was formulated without any consultation with the Bedouin community and rights groups slammed it as a major blow to Bedouin rights.
The Regional Council of Unrecognized Arab Villages of Negev along with the High Steering Committee of the Arabs of Negev organized Monday a demonstration near office of Israeli prime minister in Jerusalem protesting approval of the recommendations.
Knesset member Ibrahim Sarsour addressed the demonstrators confirming that his party, the United Arab List, rejected the recommendations. He expressed concern that the recommendations might be approved as a law and urged the Arab public to use legal means to try and prevent such a step.
Talab Abu Arar, another lawmaker, echoed Sarsour’s remarks but appealed to “the rational people on the Israeli side to treat the Arabs wisely giving them their rights, recognizing their unrecognized villages, and involving them in the planning process.”
He warned the Israelis against being driven by “racist and extremist blocs in the Knesset.”
“Approval of the Prawer committee recommendations means Judaisation of Negev. The main goal of these plans is to seize Arab lands and exterminate Arab roots,” said head of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Arab Villages of Negev Atiyeh al-A’sam.
According to ACRI, the plan will forcibly evict nearly 40,000 Bedouins and destroy their communal and social fabric, condemning them to a future of poverty and unemployment.
Israel refuses to recognize 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev, which collectively house nearly 90,000 people.
The Israeli state denies them access to basic services and infrastructure, such as electricity and running water, and refuses to place them under municipal jurisdiction.
- Israel threatens to demolish ‘illegal’ Bedouin school
- ISRAEL: Water being used to coerce Bedouin villagers, says NGO
- The Negev’s Hot Wind Blowing
- Palestinian Bedouins threatened with ethnic cleansing
- Israeli cabinet announces plan to forcibly displace tens of thousands of indigenous Bedouins
TEL AVIV, Israel – Around 2,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel protested in the southern city of Beersheba on Thursday after their village received demolition orders from the authorities, Israeli press reported.
The Palestinian residents of Bir Hajaj chanted “Yes to recognition! No to destruction!” outside the court and government offices, Haaretz newspaper said.
A large Israeli police force escorted officials to the village last week to hand over demolition orders, sparking clashes that were dispersed with tear gas and shock grenades.
“We’re demonstrating because as a result of the demolitions, there are people in the town who have no roof over their heads,” Haaretz quoted Bir Hadaj resident Ayash Abu Assa saying.
“The police decided to attack us. They want to prove that they are in control and that there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Bir Hajaj is among the Bedouin communities that have been formally “recognized” by the Israeli government.
Israel classifies approximately 40 villages in the Negev as unrecognized, arguing that the 53,000 Palestinian Bedouins living there cannot prove land ownership. The Bedouin communities say the land is their ancestral home.
“Despite (Bir Hajaj) being a recognized village, none of the residents have received permits to build new houses,” the director of the Adalah Legal Center for Minority Rights, Thabet Abu Rass, told Haaretz.
“While the media is busy with the (Israeli) elections, the state has opened a war of destruction against the Bedouin villages.”
- A new Nakba looms as Israel plans ethnic cleansing of Palestinian village in the Negev (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israel threatens to demolish ‘illegal’ Bedouin school (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Anger and worry prevails amongst the people of Umm Al-Hayran, a Palestinian village in the Negev Desert following a decision by the Israeli Building Council to expel villagers in order to build a settlement for extremist Jews. An appeal by the humanitarian groups on behalf of the villagers was refused last week by the Israeli National Council for Planning and Construction.
Around 1,000 people will be affected by the latest bout of Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land. The District Committee for Planning and Construction in Beersheba has approved a proposal for a Jewish settlement called “Hayran” on the land belonging to Umm Al-Hayran village. This will not be the first time that the families in Umm Al-Hayran have been expelled by the Israelis. They used to live in the Zebala Valley in the Negev from where they were expelled by the nascent Israeli state; in 1956 they were uprooted again and forced to move to the site of Umm Al-Hayran. The current threat first arose in 2004, when the Israeli state accused the villagers of living illegally on state land.
Israel doesn’t “recognise” villages occupied by around 90,000 Bedouin living in Southern Palestine. As a result, their homes are regarded as “illegal” by the state and they can be demolished at any time.
Residents of such “unrecognised” villages do not receive any basic services or amenities provided by the state, including electricity, proper roads, health facilities, schools or water supplies.
Commenting on the latest decision, lawyer Suhad Beshara of the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adala) said that the decision made by the appeal committee is part of the official policy of confiscating Bedouin land in the Negev. The intention is not only to provide land for Jews but also to be able to gather together the Bedouin communities in one place. According to Ms. Beshara, the authorities’ decision confirms that the villagers of Umm Al-Hayran have no rights in the village to which the Israeli government itself moved them in 1956.
The Palestinian law specialist clarified that the village of Umm Al-Hayran was established in its current location by order of the Israeli military authorities in 1956 after the army expelled its people by force from their homes in the area of Zebala valley. “They have established themselves with proper homes,” she said, “and they have invested all their efforts in order to resume their social and tribal lives which were shaken every time they were expelled from their land.” Today, a hundred and fifty families, totalling one thousand people, live in the village, all from the Abu Alqean tribe.
“We’re ready to die defending our land,” said the Mayor of the village, Saleem Abu Alqeaan. “They want to expel us and claim that our buildings are illegal, and they deprive us of all services; they even denied us drinking water in order to push us to leave the village and expel us.”
Mayor Abu Alqean added that the villagers refuse to accept the decision and that they will not leave their land even if the Israelis use force to expel them: “We have sworn to die on this land and we will not leave it this time, like previous times, and we will defend our land and our village with all our might and with all our means, because if they succeed in getting us out, the same tactics will be applied to other villages in the Negev which are not recognised by Israel.”
Commenting on the decision of the Israelis to name the proposed settlement “Hayran”, the mayor accused the Israeli government of trying to hijack Palestinian history in the area. “They want to make it look as if there is an old Israeli presence in the Negev,” he added.
Knesset Member Ibrahim Sarsoor, the head of the United Arab Bloc for Reform, condemned the government’s move. “This is yet another attack on the Arab presence in the Negev of the kind which has been taking place since the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948,” said Sarsoor. “It poses a serious threat to the already poor relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.”
He pointed out that there is a systematic Israeli policy of uprooting the Arab presence in the Negev Desert. The latest decision, he insisted, shows how the Israeli government can act against its Arab citizens with impunity and with no just, legal or moral reason.
Stressing that the expulsion decision is “the biggest witness to the racism of Israeli governments’ policies towards the Arabs”, Sarsoor said that it confirms that ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population is an integral part of Israel’s Zionist ideology. “In short,” he concluded, “it is a policy of apartheid, pure and simple.”
- EU support for Israeli crimes makes it unworthy of Nobel Peace Prize (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- New Palestinian Nakba in Umm Al-Hieran village in the Negev (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
Israel has threatened to demolish a Bedouin encampment in the West Bank that contains a school, claiming that the community was built without appropriate permits and was hindering the development of new Israeli settlements.
The Khan Al-Ahmar elementary school was built in 2009 with the help of local and international humanitarian groups. The clay-and-tires structure employed 11 teachers, and instructed students belonging to some five neighboring Jahalin Bedouin tribes. Israeli authorities have issued a demolition order, claiming that the encampment containing the school was built illegally.
Demolishing the school would force the children to trek across the desert to Jericho for class, the closest place where education facilities are located. The Israeli military claimed that they will not destroy the school or the encampment until an alternate learning institution for the students is located.
According to UN reports, Tel Aviv has ordered the demolition of around 3,000 structures, including homes, cisterns, solar-power generators and 18 schools, including the Khan al-Ahmar Mixed Elementary School. Only 360 such demolitions have been carried out so far.
Israeli authorities believe that moving the indigenous population to planned communities will lift them out of poverty. Bedouin communities argue that their culture and its centuries-old traditions are being jeopardized by Jewish expansion.
The children of the Jahalin tribe previously attended school in Jericho, about 20 kilometers away, but school bus service was often unreliable. Locals now say that they may have no other choice: “We’ll go to school until it’s demolished,” the Washington Post cited 10-year-old Islam Hussein as saying,
Khan al-Ahmar is one of 20 Bedouin communities that are scheduled for relocation. Bedouin families have lived there since 1951, when refugees fled the Negev region during Israel’s war for independence. The West Bank is currently home to 300,000 Israeli settlers,
In September 2011, the Israeli government approved the ‘Prawer Plan,’ which called for the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab desert. At the beginning of 2012, Tel Aviv announced a plan to establish ten new settlements along the disputed Green Line.
More than 70,000 Bedouins in 35 villages live in territory claimed by Israel. The settlements are considered to be ‘unrecognized’ by the Israelis, and the inhabitants are often referred to as ‘trespassers on state land.’
- Palestinian Bedouin kids return to school, despite Israeli demolition order (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Army Demolishes Four Homes In the Negev (imemc.org)
- Israeli occupation forces seize two farm tractors used to supply Bedouins with water (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- What The Netanyahu Government Will Demolish In The West Bank (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Bedouins forced to leave their homes to make way for Israeli maneuvers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Five Dunams Confiscated in al-Khader
The Alternative Information Center on 12 June published a seventy word notice that five dunams of land belonging to Rana Talbieh were being confiscated in al-Khader, a village west of Bethlehem. It was something of a banal announcement expressing some expected difficulties for a few nearby farmers, but it is exemplary of the fundamental process beneath what is often misnomered the Israeli-Palestinian ‘conflict’. We can identify this process by distinguishing between two of the many ways that people relocate: immigration and settlement.
We discuss the arrival of Zionists to Palestine with the Hebrew term aliyah (ascend; plural: aliyot ). Aliyot are nearly always described as “waves of immigration”. This mischaracterizes things. When you immigrate someplace, you join or articulate to the sovereignty (the organized society; nation, tribe, kingdom, etc.) you find upon arrival. Settlers do not. Settlers carry their own sovereignty with them which challenges the indigenous sovereignty. Successful settler colonies displace or exterminate the indigenous sovereignty. Alternately put, when the British built colonies on Turtle Island*, they ‘brought Britain with them’, creating settler colonies and displacing the Powhatan sovereignty and Powhatan people they encountered in what the settler society calls Virginia. This simultaneous increase of British—later American—and decrease of indigenous sovereignty is how Turtle Island is transformed into ‘North America’ through the past 500 years. The processes of establishing, perpetuating and extending settler colonies is called settler colonialism.
Zionists did things differently than Britain but still established a settler colony. Unique amongst settler colonies, Israel did not have a primary nation-state from which it drew settler population and logistical support (this relatively minor detail is the traditional explanation for why Zionism is supposedly not colonial). Instead Zionists brought European capital and class privilege with them and established settler sovereignty on site, displacing the indigenous Palestinian sovereignty they encountered. Tel Aviv is not an outgrowth of Shayk Muwannis and the other Palestinian villages buried beneath it nor was it a suburb of neighboring Jaffa. Tel Aviv is the sovereignty that eliminated those villages and with them, Palestinian sovereignty there. Building Tel Aviv and the other Zionist settlements—’collectivish’ kibbutzim included—is settler colonialism, the process of creating Israel where Palestine was and is. Five more dunams of Israel are created now from al-Khader as five more dunams of Palestine are eliminated. This is the settler colonial equation.
The question of sovereignty not only distinguishes settlers from immigrants, but settler colonialism from more widely discussed and studied forms of colonialism. The British in India and Nigeria co-opted, exploited and reorganized the sovereignties and societies they encountered. The British in Turtle Island and Zionists in Palestine eliminated them. Settler displacement of indigenous sovereignty is a primary function of what Australian scholar Patrick Wolfe calls settler colonialism’s “logic of elimination.” There was and is elimination too by the British in India and Nigeria and co-optation, exploitation and reorganization by Zionists in Palestine, but not as the defining process. Wolfe’s seminal 2006 article “Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native” focuses primarily on settler elimination of indigenous people but the eliminationist logic he describes is equally applicable to the erasure of sovereignty.
Palestine and Palestinians are eliminated through death, displacement and stripping of identity. Hundreds of thousands were expelled in 1948 as the settler society became the State of Israel and again in 1967 when Israel expanded its control to all of historic Palestine. From 1967 to date, Israel has revoked residency rights of another 240,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip condemning them to be ‘illegal’ in their homeland or to exile. The numerous Israeli massacres perpetrated between 1947-49 demonstrate this ‘logic of elimination’ in a most horribly clear manner. Another way to eliminate the indigenous population is to remove their indigeneity. Israel attempts to do this with the category of ‘Israeli Arabs’. Calling Palestinian citizens of Israel ‘Israeli Arabs’ removes their indigenous Palestinian identity and instead articulates them through the settler society. This is never more clear than in the Naqab (what the settler society calls the Negev) where Israel is trying to eliminate the Bedouin population not through killing them, but through preventing them from living as indigenous people. The Naqab Bedouins are not allowed to be pastoralists or otherwise define their relationship with their historical lands. When Naqab Bedouins try, the Israeli government demolishes their houses and fines and arrests them. This is also why the Naqab has to be called the Negev and Palestine must be called Israel. Indigenous peoples and sovereignties have no place inside settler societies.
There is of course, much more to the narrative. The particulars of Zionist colonization and Palestinian resistance are shaped, abetted and contested by numerous factors. These include: European anti-Semitism (including pogroms and the shoah), Ottoman land policies, British and French colonialism, capitalism, ‘Third World nationalism’, Islamism, U.S. and Soviet interventions and the Cold War, U.S. empire, the Egyptian, Iraqi, Libyan, Israeli, Saudi and Iranian quests for regional hegemony and the particulars of Zionist and Palestinian narratives and ideologies. All of these are direly important but we very often lose sight of the fundamental process of settler colonialism while discussing them. Five more dunams of Israel, five less dunams of Palestine.
The settler colonial process has been the same since the Second Aliya (1904-1914) when new Jewish arrivals definitively decided not to articulate to Palestinian society but to create their own, separate sovereignty in Palestine (see Gershon Shafir’s Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914 for an in depth examination). Settler colonialism is the transformation of Palestine into Israel, the process of the settler eliminating the indigenous, and it is why Palestinians resist—as they have since the beginning—continued Israeli settlement construction. Israeli settlement construction is literally Palestinian destruction (see Walid Khalidi’s All That Remains and Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks, amongst other works for this narrative). This is why the confiscation of five more dunams, just one and one-quarter acre, in al-Khader tells us more about the fundamental process at work than 99% of all the discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian ‘conflict’.
* Turtle Island is one of numerous indigenous terms for what the settler society calls North America. I use it only as an example and not to privilege the term, used primarily by northeastern tribes, over others.
Jimmy Johnson can be reached at johnson [dot] jimmy [at] gmail [dot] com.
- Excuse Me, But Israel Has No Right To Exist (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Living Land: Population Transfer and the Mewat Pretext in the Naqab1 (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Can Zionism Fool All of the People All of the Time? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Jewish settlers throw rocks at Palestinian family (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
The Palestinian Prisoner Committee said in a press release on Monday, that the Israeli occupation intelligence service the “Shin Bet” is keeping five Palestinian prisoners in solitary confinement cells in Jalama prison, despite the end of their interrogation with them, with no charge.
The Committee stated that the court gave the occupation investigators from the “Shin Bet” one week to provide it with an indictment against the five detainees, if not the prisoners should be released. Thus, the intelligence officers proposed the prisoners an offer requiring their deportation for two years in exchange for their release.
The statement stressed the prisoners’ complete rejection of the deportation and their determination to stick to their position. The prisoners also called on all local and international human rights organizations to take urgent action and pressure on the Israeli occupation authorities to release them after being detained for two months without charge.
Meanwhile, the Israeli prison administration is imposing sanctions that include fines, solitary confinement and denial of visitation rights, against nearly two hundred Palestinian prisoners in Megiddo, the Negev, Jalama and Raymond detention centers.
- #PalHunger | Palestinian Prisoner Mahmoud Sarsak Is In A Deteriorating Health Situation (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
- #PalHunger | Palestinian female prisoners protest medical neglect (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
- 20 Reasons to Get Angry for Palestinian Prisoners (theuglytruth.wordpress.com)
- Israel arrests 800,000 Palestinians since 1948 (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israeli occupation authority renews administrative detention of MP Rejoub for fourth time (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Not content with dispossessing nearly 1 million Israeli Palestinians during the Nakba through exile and theft of their land, Israel is repeating this Original Sin against the Negev Bedouin, who’ve lived in their homes for decades. The State now intends to expel the Bedouin from these settlements, where they’ve lived for several generations, and to appropriate the land for itself. In many cases, there are plans hatched with the Jewish National Fund and Israel Lands Authority to Judaize the Negev by creating new Jewish settlements to replace the Bedouin.
There are indigenous tribal members who are fighting back with every means at their disposal. But the odds and long and the deck is stacked. Every legal appeal has been repelled by a judiciary that many liberal Zionists like to claim stands as a bulwark against the worst excesses of rampant Israeli nationalism. This particular issue shows the limits of such optimism.
Nuri el Okbi, Negev indigenous activist, imprisoned for ‘being Bedouin without a license’
Ben Gurion University Prof. Oren Yiftachel provides historical background to this struggle:
Since its foundation, the State of Israel refuses to recognize Bedouin ownership over ancestral lands in the Negev. Most of the Bedouins did not register their lands in 1921, as was required by one of the British laws; but neither did most other residents of Mandatory Palestine, including Jewish ones, carry out such registration. Sixty years later, the State of Israel made cynical use of this lack of registration to order to register most Bedouin lands as “State Lands”, thus making the Bedouins into “invaders” or “squatters” on their own ancestral land.
Some of the Bedouins have tried to challenge the system of dispossession. Notable among them is Nuri el-Okbi, long-time dedicated human rights activist. In recent years, Nuri and his brothers are conducting a series of law suits against the state, demanding restoration of the lands taken from them in the fifties.
A few weeks ago, a ruling rejecting the claims of the el-Okbis was made in an important case – one in which for the first time a professional support team was involved, including attorney Michael Sfard, geographer Oren Yiftachel and other experts. The proceeding lasted three years, during which dozens of witnesses testified and hundreds of documents and expert reports [were] submitted, attesting to the el-Okbis’ ownership of the land.
The judge, however, chose to render a harsh, confrontational ruling, sticking to earlier precedents and concluding that any land which had not been registered in 1921 is ipso facto the property of the state. The court relied mainly on legal precedents, hardly referring to the evidence presented. Therefore, it is very important to lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court – the only body which is empowered to overturn precedents and strike out in a new direction.
At such a hearing, the judges would not be able to ignore the rich materials submitted by the el-Okbi Tribe, and the new legal arguments presented. In addition, such an appeal would strengthen the struggle of tens of thousands of Bedouins, who at this very moment are struggling against government plans to evict them to existing townships.
The government’s plan is based on the wrong assumption that Bedouins have no land ownership rights, and a Supreme Court appeal is now the only way to stop these draconian plans. Therefore, it is highly important to lodge an appeal on the el-Okbi Land Case, and make it clear that the Bedouin community is determined to struggle for their basic human rights – specifically to change a legal ruling which causes severe and completely undeserved damage to a large section of Israel’s citizen body.
Gush Shalom adds:
After a legal struggle lasting three years, the Be’er Sheba District Court rejected the appeal of Nuri al-Okbi, veteran activist for the rights of the Negev Bedouins. El-Okbi’s plea for recognition of ownership over the Al-Araqib lands, from which he and his family were evicted in 1951, was rejected out of hand by Judge Sarah Dovrat. The ruling has wide implications for Negev Bedouins in general, implying an overall denial of their rights over ancestral lands.
- ISRAEL: Water being used to coerce Bedouin villagers, says NGO (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Photo: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IRIN
The Bedouins in Umm al-Hieran village live several kilometers away from a source of clean water and rely on trucks to get their supply
UMM AL-HIERAN, NEGEV DESERT – Salim Abu al-Qi’an’s family live in Israel’s Negev desert in the “unrecognized” Bedouin village of Umm al-Hieran, 9km from the nearest source of clean water.
“There is no water in the village. We truck it in. It costs about 50 shekels [US$13.4] per cubic metre of water,” explained the 53-year-old village leader. “There is a pipe that’s about 8km long, but it’s too old, and the planning authorities don’t allow us to put a new one under the ground. We are asking for better access to water, a new pipe that should be close to the village.”
The Israeli authorities forced Umm al-Hieran residents to move to the area where the village now sits in 1956, shortly after the military had evicted them from their original homes in the Wadi Zuballa area of the Negev desert.
In 2004, the villagers faced a new threat of expulsion, as the Southern District Planning Committee unveiled a master plan which involves once again displacing Umm al-Hieran, and building the Jewish community of Hiran in its place. According to the Israeli government, the 500 residents of Umm al-Hieran are trespassers who are illegally squatting on state land.
Some 80-90,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel live in unrecognized villages in the southern Negev, according to a report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. As a result of their unrecognized status, nearly every structure in these communities can be demolished at any time, and residents do not receive basic services from the state, including electricity, paved roads, healthcare facilities, schools, and water.
In June 2011, however, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the right to water was a constitutional right, and that the state must guarantee a “minimum access to water” for the residents of the unrecognized villages. Still, the court did not specify what constituted a fair minimum.
Shortly thereafter, a Haifa court, acting as a water tribunal, rejected Umm al-Hieran’s application to be connected to the local water network. The court argued that the villagers had minimum access to water, and suggested they buy water from private citizens in towns connected to the water network, or move into nearby government-planned Bedouin townships.
According to Sawsan Zaher, an attorney at Adalah, the Legal Center from Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which has represented al-Qi’an’s family and the residents of Umm al-Hieran in their legal struggle, the water tribunal’s decision means that “a constitutional right, which is the right to water as part of the right to a minimal standard of living, [will] be provided by private actors and not by the state. This is in contradiction to constitutional law. The duty is on the state to fulfil this right and protect it even.”
Adalah has filed an appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court, asking that “minimum access to water” be explicitly defined, and challenging the constitutionality of forcing Umm al-Hieran residents to purchase water from non-state actors.
“Despite the fact that they are citizens, they are not entitled to the same level of rights as other citizens of Israel. Why? Because they are living in unrecognized villages,” Zaher told IRIN.
“We want you to move out”
“The purpose is not hidden any more. It is revealed and it’s very official: we are not connecting you to water because we want you to move out. This is the policy. It’s a kind of punishment. This is in huge contradiction with human rights and logic and humanity – to come and punish people by not giving them water for political purposes,” Zaher said.
In a 9 March report, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised concerns about Bedouin communities in Israel, particularly with regard to Bedouin home demolitions, and inequalities between Bedouin and Jewish citizens’ access to land, housing, education, employment and public health.
Israel’s proposed Law for the Regulation of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, which would forcibly displace 30,000-60,000 of the 80,000-90,000 Bedouins living in unrecognized villages, should be shelved, the UN Committee found, since it legalizes “the ongoing policy of home demolitions and forced displacement of the indigenous Bedouin communities”.
According to Salim Abu al-Qi’an, forcibly displacing residents of Umm al-Hieran to the nearby government-planned Bedouin township of Hura is indeed the motivation behind denying them direct access to high-quality water.
“They want to push us to leave the village and to displace us,” he told IRIN. “Even though we are an unrecognized village, this is nicer than to live in Hura. There are no services there. Sewage and garbage is in the street. There’s not enough space. It’s another refugee camp.”
- Stop the JNF campaign makes steady gains as Israel charity goes “on the retreat” in UK (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- 2,600 Bedouins threatened with displacement as Israeli settlements expand (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Professor of Hate: Israeli “scholar” urges ethnic cleansing of Bedouins (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Jewish Agency: goal of Israeli government plan to block Bedouin “incursion” (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israeli bulldozers destroy Palestinian wheat crops in Negev (altahrir.wordpress.com)
The JNF “Green Sunday” fundraiser took place in several countries on 5 February. In publicity materials, JNF UK asked volunteers to “give two hours of your time to help turn the Negev green” and “make the Negev a livable place.”
But Palestinian citizens of Israel who already live in the southern Naqab desert (Negev in Hebrew) say the JNF has a colonialist agenda.
Usama Uqbi, head of the Naqab Bedouin Committee, told The Electronic Intifada that the impression of an empty desert the JNF portrayed was “a big lie.” Palestinian Arabs have been living on their land in the Naqab for hundreds of years, he said. He mocked the JNF flyer giving the impression of an empty land as “empty words.”
The JNF’s real goal is to demolish the homes of Palestinians who already live there, and bring Jewish settlers from the center of Israel to live on the expropriated land, he said.
The Electronic Intifada asked the JNF UK for their response to Uqbi’s criticisms.
A spokesperson replied: “You’re asking do we have a secret agenda to Judaize the desert and steal Palestinian homes?” The word “Judaize” was not used in The Electronic Intifada’s question. He said he would send an official response via email, but failed to follow up on this promise.
The Bedouin in the Naqab
The JNF has been directly implicated in the destruction of Palestinian communities in the Naqab. On 8 March 2011, the Alternative Information Center published a photo of a bulldozer that was involved in one of the destructions of the village of al-Araqib, emblazoned with Israeli and JNF flags (“El Araqib Destroyed for 21st time, JNF Changing Facts on Ground”).
Uqbi said that the Bedouin style of life in the Naqab has been eroded by Israel over the years. Bedouins have been forced to sell their cattle, as Israel has confiscated more and more of their land. The state established seven Bedouin resettlement projects in the Naqab in exchange for abandoning our land, he said. The houses offered in these modern-day reservations are rented, and the Palestinian citizens resettled there are stripped of land rights, he said.
Uqbi himself lives in an “unrecognized village,” which the state refuses to connect to even the most basic public utilities such as water, roads, electricity or schools. Uqbi said this was a deliberate policy to force him to abandon his home.
Sofiah MacLeod from the campaign group Stop the JNF told The Electronic Intifada that Green Sunday was a “propaganda exercise” to cover-up JNF involvement in establishment of “Jewish-only settlements” which are an attempt to “exclude the Palestinian population.”
MacLeod says she visited al-Araqib in December. The now-famous Naqab Bedouin village has been destroyed by the Israelis approximately thirty times since July 2010. Each time the villagers insist on rebuilding.
MacLeod says the villagers were left only with the graveyard in December. Their olive trees have been uprooted and replaced with eucalyptus trees, she says, but despite this, olive tree saplings had started to grow back.
The JNF says it wants to “develop” the area as part of its “Blueprint Negev” initiative.
In a recent press release, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network condemned “Green Sunday,” saying the JNF “shamelessly exploits Tu B’shvat [the Jewish holiday that celebrates fruiting trees] as an opportunity to raise money to fund their ongoing colonization of Palestine and displacement of Palestinians … As Jews of conscience, we stand against the ethnic cleansing of Palestine” (“Jewish Call: Stop the JNF – Trees should be sacred, not profane”).
Palestine solidarity groups should start thinking more about the JNF, says MacLeod. A March 2011 parliamentary motion — called an Early Day Motion (EDM) — signed by more than sixty members of British parliament has helped raise awareness, she says. Initiated by left wing Labor Party MP Jeremy Corbyn, the EDM welcomed the Stop the JNF campaign and condemned the JNF for “its ongoing illegal expropriation of Palestinian land” while calling for its charitable status to be revoked (“Early Day Motion 1677”).
Top British politicians desert the the JNF
The EDM also expressed opposition to Prime Minister David Cameron’s status as an honorary JNF patron. In May, Stop the JNF wrote to Cameron asking him to cut his ties. News that the prime minister quietly dropped the charity broke soon after.
Speaking to The Electronic Intifada at the time, a spokesperson for Cameron downplayed the move as “not a particularly recent decision” and that the JNF had been one of a “number of charities” dropped. But in June, this line shifted when a spokesperson told The Jewish Chronicle that the JNF’s ties to Israel had in fact been the issue. The Zionist paper reported the spokesperson as saying it was “nothing to do with a policy issue and was based around the fact he is now prime minister rather than leader of the opposition” (“Cameron’s JNF split: it was Israel,” 2 June 2011).
In a 31 May 2011 letter to The Jerusalem Post, former JNF president Gail Seal wrote that “a British prime minister has been an honorary trustee since” 1901 when the JNF was founded. “How sad it is that, whatever the reason, David Cameron has broken this chain,” she lamented.
Writing in The Jewish Chronicle, JNF Chairman Samuel Hayek criticized Cameron more robustly: “The Prime Minister’s words of support for Israel to Jewish audiences are too often contradicted by those said in front of more hostile crowds. Actions speak louder than words. The decision to resign from JNF has reverberated around the world” (“Why David Cameron – and the community – got it so wrong,” 10 June 2011).
The Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister and the leader of the Labour Party opposition have also declined to become JNF honorary patrons, said MacLeod. Stop the JNF wrote to both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband asking about the issue and both replied that they had no plans to associate themselves with the JNF, although they gave no reasons, says MacLeod.
Both Scottish Friends of the Earth and the Scottish Green Party have now condemned the JNF and endorsed the campaign against it, says MacLeod. In a statement, The Scottish Greens condemned the JNF “for using the ‘green label to practice crimes against the Palestinian people” (“Scottish Green Party reject ‘green’ claims of charity involved in ethnic cleansing of Palestinians,” 31 October 2011).
MacLeod also says that the Green Party of England and Wales is set to discuss the issue at the upcoming conference.
JNF worried about campaign’s gains
Although parliamentary Early Day Motions are often criticized as impotent, a leaked document shows that JNF chief executive David Goodman is worried about the “legitimacy granted to this campaign by the EDM.” In a December letter sent to most of the MPs signed onto the EDM, Goodman smeared Stop the JNF, asking to meet each MP in private to “discuss the issues.”
Stop the JNF responded to Goodman’s letter by publishing it on their website, refuting its accusations point by point and challenging Goodman to a debate in an “open forum” in Westminster, the seat of the UK parliament (“JNF denies it works to dispossess Palestinians, smears critics,” 2 January 2012).
MacLeod points out that the EDM has yet to lose the signature of a single MP, despite this JNF counter-lobbying.
Goodman’s letter denies treating Palestinian citizens of Israel in a racist way, but admits the “Israeli state has made extensive efforts to encourage the permanent settlement of the Bedouin in recent years” in “additional towns in the Negev to smooth the transition to permanent settlement.”
Stop the JNF is optimistic about the future of the campaign, saying in a recent press release that 2012 could be “perhaps its last year holding charity status in the UK” for the JNF.
According to the Charity Commission, the JNF’s last reported annual income was over £12 million ($7.6 million) in the UK alone. Loss of UK charity status would be a massive political blow to Israel as well as a significant financial blow. Registered charities have significant exemptions from UK taxes.
Over the years, many groups and activists have written to the Charity Commission to complain about the JNF, says MacLeod. Through freedom of information requests, Stop the JNF has learned about some of the internal thinking on the issue. The campaign is currently working on putting together a more solid case that it hopes to submit towards the second half of year, she says.
Although the JNF held “Green Sundays” in the UK, France, Australia, the US and Israel this month, there were no public event in the UK, says MacLeod. A few years ago they were very proud to hold public events, even bringing famous names like former US President Bill Clinton and actress Goldie Hawn. But in recent years they are now “on the retreat,” the campaign argues. Their events are held in full or partial secrecy, with publicity often containing vague directions like “London venue” — presumably to throw off potential protests.
MacLeod says the JNF are planning a “charity shoot” event on 11 May, very close to Nakba Day, the annual Palestinian commemoration of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Stop the JNF will protest the Glasgow event and is also holding a conference in Edinburgh on 12 May.
JNF’s long historical connection to Israeli colonialism
The JNF has quasi-governmental status in Israel, and describes itself on its website as “the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners — Jewish people everywhere” (Jewish National Fund, Essence of Life Campaign).
After Israel was established in 1948, the JNF purchased expropriated Palestinian land from the state, and since then has played a key role in an exclusionary land regime that discriminates against Palestinian citizens.
According to Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy, a new book by Ben White: “Since 1948, over 700 Jewish communities have been established in Israel’s pre-1967 borders. In the same period, not one new city, town or village for the Palestinian minority has been created, except for seven townships in the Negev intended to ‘concentrate’ the Bedouin population” (p. 38).
In the last accounts and annual report document filed with the Charity Commission (December 2010) JNF UK said it had “supported Israel since 1901, helping to build a country out of nothing” (my emphasis).
This kind of language invokes the old pre-state Zionist slogan “a land without a people for a people without a land,” suggesting the JNF’s agenda in 2012 has changed little since those days.
In his book Expulsion of the Palestinians, Palestinian scholar Nur Masalha wrote of this infamous slogan that it was not intended as a literal demographic assessment: “[Zionists] did not mean that there were no people in Palestine, but that there were no people worth considering within the framework of the notions of European supremacy that then held sway” (p. 6).
In a 2005 US diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks, current Israeli President Shimon Peres is reported as saying Israel had “lost one million dunams [a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters] of Negev land to the Bedouin” (i.e. supposedly equal Palestinian citizens of Israel). Peres slurred the “Arab sector in both the Negev and the Galilee” as a “demographic threat,” reported the cable (“05TELAVIV1847, Shimon Peres on disengagement, Palestinian social”).
Uqbi emphasized to The Electronic Intifada that Peres went on to play a key role in the confiscation of Palestinian land in the Naqab from his time as development minister between 2006 and 2007.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who has lived and worked in occupied Palestine. His website is www.winstanleys.org.
- Professor of Hate: Israeli “scholar” urges ethnic cleansing of Bedouins (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Tell JNF to Cease its Practice of Ethnic Cleansing (rabbibrant.com)
- Jewish Agency: goal of Israeli government plan to block Bedouin “incursion” (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- 2,600 Bedouins threatened with displacement as Israeli settlements expand (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Delegitimizing discrimination: struggle of Palestinians in Israel focus of new book (alethonews.wordpress.com)