Nothing much has changed in Israel’s methods of ethnic cleansing since 1948. Nowadays the violence may be slightly more ‘sophisticated’, that’s all. And the denial has roots in the early days of Zionism.
Last month, residents of the Israeli Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran, have finally “agreed” to be “relocated” to the Bedouin town (or what could be called a township) of Hura. Last year, they had experienced the police-execution of the teacher Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al Qia’an, during an ethnic cleansing operation there. All this is done in order to make space for a Jewish-only town under the name of Hiran.
And not just any kind of Jewish town. These are West-Bank religious-nationalist settlers, whose cooperative bylaws determine that a member must be “a Jewish Israeli citizen or permanent resident of Israel who observes the Torah and commandments according to Orthodox Jewish values”, as Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights has pointed out.
This is not new. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had pointed out how this policy of ‘replacement’ is intrinsic to Israel, as he said in his 1969 lecture at the Technion in Haifa:
“Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushu’a in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”
The residents have been fighting in the courts for nearly 15 years, but threats of an imminent new massive wave of demolitions to be executed promptly, coupled with the painful murderous experience of last year, left them feeling that they had no choice. In the early dawn hours of the 10th of April, Israeli police and demolition teams stood in the midst of the village. A community leader, Raed Abu al-Qia’an, said that the families of about 170 residents were forced to sign the ‘relocation’ agreement, fearing a repeat of the “blood and murder” of January 2017.
“I speak to you while I cry, after we were forced to sign an agreement that will distance us from Umm al-Hiran where we have lived for 63 years, for the racist purpose of building a Jewish-only settlement on the ruins of Umm al-Hiran,” al-Qia’aan told the publication Arab48.
Lawmaker Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint (Arab) List, who was shot with a rubber-tipped bullet during the ethnic-cleansing operation of last year, tweeted in response to the coerced ‘relocation agreement’:
“It’s not ‘negotiation’ when they hold a pistol to your head.”
Neve Gordon published a blog on this issue in the London Review of Books, titled “Volunteers”. Here he notes how the notion of the residents being located “voluntarily” was somewhat obsessively stressed by the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev, which operates under Israel’s minister of agriculture and rural development. In the immediate wake of the ‘agreement’ signing, the authority published an announcement on Facebook (April 11th), titled “Agreement Reached: Umm Al-Hiran Residents Will Leave Voluntarily”.
Gordon provides the text with the repeated ‘voluntary’ claim, and summates:
“The incessant repetition of the word ‘voluntary’ undoubtedly reflects a certain anxiety, but it also exposes how Zionism writes its own history.
At school, I was taught that during the 1948 war the estimated 750,000 Palestinians who either fled or were forced across international borders, and whose descendants are still living in refugee camps, did so at the bidding of Arab leaders, willingly. There were no mass evictions, no ethnic cleansing, no violence, only volunteers. Not much has changed under the sun. Even as Palestinians commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nakba this month, mass evictions are still being framed as the relocation of the willing.”
Indeed, the notion of ‘voluntary’ and ‘willing’ has been a central, and demonstrably false, means of denial by Zionists. But some Zionists have uncovered the myth of ‘voluntary’ flight. One of these is Israeli historian Benny Morris, who has summated that “[T]ransfer was inevitable and inbuilt in Zionism – because it sought to transform a land which was ‘Arab’ into a Jewish state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population”. Morris has also revealed that Israeli officials themselves knew, that the flight was overwhelmingly not ‘voluntary’, and was a direct result of violence enacted by Zionist forces. In his book 1948 and After, Morris refers to an IDF Intelligence Service document entitled “The Emigration of the Arabs of Palestine in the Period 1/12/1947 – 1/6/1948”, dated 30 June 1948. The document details 11 factors which caused the exodus, and lists them “in order of importance”. The top three are:
- Direct, hostile Jewish [Haganah/IDF] operations against Arab settlements.
- The effect of our [Haganah/IDF] hostile operations against nearby [Arab] settlements… (… especially the fall of large neighbouring centers).
- Operation of [Jewish] dissidents [ Irgun Tzvai Leumi and Lohamei Herut Yisrael]
Morris summates that calls from local leaders to flee counted for perhaps 5% (and let it be noted, that flight in time of war, even if ‘voluntary’, is no contradiction to the right of return as a refugee. Refugees flee from violence, that is the very root of the word – they seek refuge from violence).
And here, in 2018, we are witnessing precisely the same societal denial. The institutionalized violence is dismissed as irrelevant – and the authority propaganda narrative stresses the notion of ‘voluntary’.
Ayman Odeh’s tweet continued thus:
“In 2018 they uprooted a community of Arab citizens in order to settle Jews — that’s already written in the history books. In another ten, 20 or 30 years, they’ll have to look back in shame at this act and ask for forgiveness.”
I would hate to play the pessimist on Odeh’s words – but will they? Has it not been precisely 70 years since the massive 1948 Nakba, and are not the majority of Israelis living in denial of it? This denial is even institutionalized – the Nakba Law of 2011 prohibits the commemoration of this event. Yet Odeh’s comments should cause us to reflect at how the Nakba is ongoing, inside what is considered “Israel proper”, inflicted upon its own residents, because they are not Jewish. How do you call this, if not Apartheid? And not just in the Occupied Territories. In “Israel proper”.
After protracted legal battles, in 2015, the High Court of Justice ruled that Umm Al-Hiran could be evacuated because it was located on state land. Under the state offer, those eligible — married couples, singles over the age of 24 and single-parent families – would receive a plot in the town of Hura, with an option to buy additional plots for their children, be compensated for the buildings they are leaving behind, and would be allocated grazing land for their flocks and space for agricultural projects such as orchards.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who heads the Authority for Bedouin Resettlement in the Negev, welcomed the deal, noting the state’s “generous offer”.
In mafia terms, this is what would be called “an offer you can’t refuse”. Not because you want it – but because if you don’t take it, they will come and destroy you.
Israelis seem to like this narcissistic notion of ‘generous offer’. One of the most famous ‘generous offers’ was in the 2000 Camp David peace talks, between then Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO leader Yasser Arafat, mediated, as it were, by US President Bill Clinton. After the negotiations broke, Barak had gone off declaring that he had made a “generous offer” and that since it was rejected, that meant that there is “no partner for peace”. This claim has been a defining factor in the Israeli left (as Barak is known as a leftist, liberal-Zionist ‘hero’), and is a critical factor in the general weakening of the Israeli left in the past two decades, where it often becomes a parrot of the right.
The problem with Barak’s statement, is that it is false. Historical analysis of the “generous offer” reveals that it amounted to Bantustans. (You can read more about the lie of the generous offer here, including Ehud Barak’s Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben Ami, admitting: “If I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David, as well.”)
“Jewish settlements” are not just in West Bank
The Jewish Settlements in the West Bank are widely considered to be, at least, an “obstacle to peace”, and at worst, a war-crime. As Norman Finkelstein points out, when the US abstained just over a year ago on the UNSC resolution 2334 calling all Israeli settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law, it was actually, finally, agreeing (albeit tacitly) to have them called out what they are: a war crime.
But the context of Hiran-atop-Umm-Al-Hiran betrays an even wider reality. These settlers are already war-criminals in the sense of them being West-Bank settlers. Now they are coming to commit the crime inside the 1949 Israeli ceasefire lines (“Israel proper”). Why would such Zealous Jewish settlers ‘abandon’ their pioneering settlement project in the West Bank, in order to come and live in “Israel proper”? Well, precisely because their project is a settlement project, and it serves the purpose of dispossessing Palestinians and ‘Judaizing’ the land. It’s all one thing for them – “all of it is ours” is the governing motto.
My first published article on Mondoweiss over two years ago was called “What’s the big difference between Israel’s 1967 occupation and its 1948 occupation?”. I pointed out that 1948 was an occupation. And today, we are seeing precisely how this occupation acts – only it’s not called an occupation.
So the illusion is maintained, and so the Bedouin residents of Umm Al-Hiran will make space for yet another Jewish settlement. Truth be told, nothing has changed.