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Judaisation vs Justice: Israel’s war on the Bedouin proves 1948 settled nothing

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Protesters against the Prawer Plan (Photo: Allison Deger/Mondoweiss)

Protesters against the Prawer Plan (Photo: Allison Deger/Mondoweiss)

As United States envoys shuttle back and forth in search of a peace formula to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a matter supposedly settled decades ago is smouldering back into life.

In what was billed as a “day of rage” last month, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to protest against a plan to uproot tens of thousands of Bedouin from their ancestral lands inside Israel, in the Negev (Naqab).

The clashes were the worst between Israeli police and the country’s large Palestinian minority since the outbreak of the second intifada 13 years ago, with police using batons, stun grenades, water cannon and arrests to deter future protests.

Things are only likely to get more heated. The so-called Prawer Plan, being hurried through parliament, will authorise the destruction of more than 30 Bedouin villages, forcibly relocating the inhabitants to deprived, overcrowded townships. Built decades ago, these urban reservations languish at the bottom of every social and economic index.

Bedouin leaders, who were ignored in the plan’s drafting, say they will oppose it to the bitter end. The villages, though treated as illegal by the state, are the last places where the Bedouin cling to their land and a traditional pastoral life.

But the Israeli government is equally insistent that the Bedouin must be “concentrated” – a revealing term employed by Benny Begin, a former minister who helped to formulate the plan. In the place of the villages, a handful of Jewish towns will be erected.

The stakes are high, not least because Israel views this battle as a continuation of the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of Palestine.

Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, argued last week that the fight over the Negev proves “nothing has changed since the days of the tower and stockade” – a reference to heavily fortified outposts the Zionists aggressively built in the 1930s to evict Palestinians from the land they had farmed for centuries.

These outposts later became land-hungry farming communities, such as the kibbutz, that gave the Jewish state its territorial backbone.

Mr Lieberman’s view reflects that of the government: “We are fighting for the lands of the Jewish people, against those who intentionally try to rob and seize them.”

The labelling of the Bedouin as “squatters” and “trespassers” reveals much about the intractability of the wider conflict – and why the Americans have no hope of ending it as long as they seek solutions that address only the injustices caused by the occupation that began in 1967.

Doron Almog, who is in charge of implementing the Prawer Plan, observed last week that the Bedouin were not resisting it to save their communities but “to create territorial contiguity between Hebron and the Gaza Strip”. In other words, in Almog’s paranoid thinking, the Bedouin’s struggle for rights is really a cover for their ambition to serve as a bridgehead between the West Bank and Gaza.

In truth, both Israel and the Palestinians understand that the war of 1948 never really finished.

Suhad Bishara, a lawyer specialising in Israeli land issues for the Adalah legal centre, has called the Prawer Plan a “second nakba”, in reference to the catastrophic events of 1948 that stripped the Palestinians of their homeland.

Israel, meanwhile, continues to conceive of its 1.5 million Palestinian citizens – however peaceable – as just as alien and threatening to its interests as the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The roots of the Prawer Plan can be traced to one of Zionism’s earliest principles: “Judaisation”. There are cities across Israel, including Upper Nazareth, Karmiel and Migdal Haemek, founded as Judaisation communities next to large Palestinian populations with the official goal of “making the land Jewish”.

Judaisation’s faulty premise, in the pre-state years, was the fantasy that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land”. Its sinister flip side was the cheery injunction to Zionism’s pioneers to “make the desert bloom”, chiefly by driving out Palestinians.

Nowadays, the term “Judaisation”, with its unpleasant overtones, has been discarded in favour of “development”. There is even a minister for “developing the Negev and the Galilee” – Israel’s two areas with large concentrations of Palestinians. But officials are interested only in Jewish development.

Last week, in the wake of the clashes, the Israeli Haaretz daily published leaked documents showing that the World Zionist Organisation – an unofficial arm of the government – has been quietly reviving the Judaisation programme in the Galilee.

In an effort to bring another 100,000 Jews to the region, several new towns are to be built, for Jews only, dispersed as widely as possible in contravention of Israel’s own national master plan, which requires denser building inside existing communities to protect scarce land resources.

All this generosity towards Israel’s Jewish population is at the expense of the country’s Palestinian citizens. They have not been allowed a single new community since Israel’s founding more than six decades ago. And the new Jewish towns, as Arab mayors complained last week, are being built intentionally to box them in.

For officials, the renewed Judaisation drive is about asserting “Israeli sovereignty” and “strengthening our hold” over the Galilee, as if the current inhabitants – Israeli citizens who are Palestinian – were a group of hostile foreigners. Haaretz more honestly characterised the policy as “racism”.

Judaisation casts the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in zero-sum terms, and thereby makes it unresolvable. In considering its Palestinian citizens, Israel speaks not of integration, or even assimilation, but of their enduring status as a “fifth column” and the Jewish state’s “Achilles heel”.

That is because, were principles of justice and equality ever to be enforced, Palestinians in Israel could serve as a gateway by which millions of exiled Palestinians might find their way back home.

With the policy of Judaisation revoked, the Palestinian minority could end the conflict without violence simply by pulling down the scaffolding of racist laws that have blocked any return for the Palestinians since their expulsion 65 years ago.

This is why Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu demands as part of the current peace negotiations that the Palestinians sanctify the Judaisation principle by recognising Israel as a Jewish state. It is also why the talks are doomed to failure.

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook
About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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11 Responses

  1. Shmuel
    December 11, 2013, 11:47 am

    Sayed Kashua said it best, in his column this week, cutting through all of the propaganda about development and zoning and modernisation and legality (my translation):

    It’s not just the Negev. It’s the suffocation and closure in Jaffa, Acre, the Galilee and the Triangle. I don’t know who, if anyone, actually met with the people in charge of the Prawer-Begin plan, but every Arab child knows that the goal of the state is to push him into a corner, that the Israeli obsession with Judaising land crushes every Arab in its path. Every child knows that state land means land for Jews only, and increasing crowding, poverty, unemployment and crime [for Arabs]. Choke in your towns and villages and be grateful that you’re not in Syria. Rot within the boundaries that we will draw for you and don’t dare dream of living in a moshav, a communal settlement, a mitzpeh, a kibbutz or even a neighbourhood in a Jewish city. In short, you are not wanted in Katzir or Tzur Yitzhak, or in Afula and Nazareth for that matter.

  2. eljay
    December 11, 2013, 11:56 am

    >> Shmuel @ December 11, 2013 at 11:47 am

    That quotation doesn’t sound nearly as sweet and musical as “Jewish and democratic” or “beacon unto the nations”.

    Poor supremacist “Jewish State”: So beautiful when shrouded in the speech of silver-tongued Zio-supremacists; but so profoundly ugly when exposed to the harsh light of reality. :-(

  3. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    December 11, 2013, 2:18 pm

    There was also an area just beyond the Green Line that was emptied of its 200,000 inhabitants during the 1967 war. Perhaps that should be called the second Nakba, making the Prawer Plan the third. Or if we count the Jordan Valley (another 100,000 people dispossessed) then the Prawer Plan is the fourth.

    I think it is most accurate to talk about a single process that started even before 1947, when fellahin were pushed off land sold to the Zionists by their often absentee landlords, and that is still continuing with no end yet in sight. The process is sometimes faster and sometimes slower; the methods vary (military force, legalized force, harassment and intimidation, enclosure, economic pressure); but it is a single process with a single aim.

    The idea of the Palestinians as squatters is based on the idea that the Jewish people retained ownership of the land, given them by God, throughout all the centuries of the “exile.” Now that “the master has returned” (as they say) the squatters should pack their bags and get out.

  4. radii
    December 11, 2013, 2:39 pm

    the nabka never stopped – the ethnic-cleansing begun in ’48 has only ever had periodic slowdowns

  5. Citizen
    December 11, 2013, 5:46 pm

    Is it time for a painting of the IDF’s last stand? Who is the Israeli Custer? Problem is, there’s been two world wars since Custer’s last stand, and the Nuremberg/Toyko trials–we are not in the late 1800s, but the Spring of the 21st Century.

  6. Citizen
    December 11, 2013, 9:48 pm

    How can any American go along with the idea that the Palestinians are squatters on the land they lived in for so many centuries? Crazy norm that allows Christians to go believe and/or enable the Jewish God is also a real estate agent.

  7. Obsidian
    December 12, 2013, 12:23 am

    “The clashes were the worst between Israeli police and the country’s large Palestinian minority”

    The Bedouin protestors, who don’t necessarily consider themselves ‘Palestinian’ were joined by non-Bedouin Palestinian activists.

    • homingpigeon
      December 12, 2013, 12:11 pm

      “The Bedouin protestors, who don’t necessarily consider themselves ‘Palestinian’ ”

      You’ve discussed this with them? In what language?

      But I shouldn’t take the bait. People are having their homes bulldozed and you want to switch the discussion to how they identify themselves. We’re getting good at recognizing hasbara techniques quickly.

      However you might consider what they necessarily consider themselves, is it proper to bulldoze their dwellings and shift them around against their will? Is this the right thing to do to people who have even served in the IDF?

      • Obsidian
        December 12, 2013, 3:04 pm

        I am discussing Cook’s willful misrepresentation of a proud people who prize their bloodlines and who generally do not intermarry outside the tribe.

        The Bedouin subject to eviction are squatters and should expect to be dealt with as such. Other Bedouin have had their day in Court and their claims were rejected by the Court. The Court’s reasoning is now part of the public record.

  8. Obsidian
    December 12, 2013, 12:27 am

    ” The so-called Prawer Plan…”

    ‘So called’? What are we supposed to call the plan?

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