On Thursday, the Israeli Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant inaugurated a swimming pool and country club in the Bedouin town of Rahat in southern Israel. But as an ‘enlightened colonizer’, Galant made it clear that this came with a political price: Palestinians should stop “illegal construction” and they should stop complaining about the Nation-State law.
Concerning “illegal construction”:
“Bedouins must realize that we are a state of law. Everyone will settle in the towns where they are allowed to, which is the authorized central Bedouin cities… Illegal construction will not exist here, whether it takes a year or a decade, one cannot agree to this. Whoever settles in accordance with the law will eventually enjoy this country club, the new neighborhoods we’re opening, in coordination with the Bedouin authorities in the Negev, with massive construction. But gentlemen, any construction must be legal.”
He also used the occasion to incite against Palestinian lawmakers who were challenging Israel’s racism, saying they were inciters, and calling upon the Bedouins to reject them:
“I call on the Arab MK’s to stop the incitement against the state. You can’t be an extremist against the state and enjoy what the state gives […] There is no way that lawmakers will sit in the Knesset, incite against the existence of Israel, against its symbols, its institutions, its flag […] It is unacceptable that members of Knesset incite at the UN, to international audiences, against the state of Israel, and then come back, sit in the Knesset, and enjoy what the state can give. We will not accept this. You want to be a partner? Together. You want to leave? Go somewhere else. Don’t sit here and incite. And therefore I call upon you: support sanity, support moderation, support cooperation and coexistence. The results will be in accordance”.
Galant was likely referring to Members of Knesset such as Aida Touma -Sliman, who have been openly condemning the Nation-State law as Apartheid. Touma-Sliman even met with U.N. officials while she was in New York last month. Reports in Israeli media about such actions caused Galant to say last week that “public servants in Israel’s Knesset acting against the State of Israel crosses a red line. It is time for the justice system to enable the outlawing and booting from the Knesset of those dangerous extremists.”
The nation state law says, “The state views Jewish settlement as a national value…” thereby diminishing Palestinian communities.
Amer el Huzail, the Deputy Mayor of Rahat, wouldn’t take this chauvinist, colonialist offense lying down. He answered Galant’s words in Hebrew, putting the “illegal construction” claim into its actual colonialist context, and rebuffing the shameful demand to be silent about Israeli Apartheid:
First of all, thank you for your contribution of 13 million shekels from the Housing Ministry, really, thank you. But this is not the time and place to sting politically. Therefore I must retort in the same political way. First of all there is no “illegal construction in the Negev”. There are unrecognized villages and they must be recognized. Recognize the villages! You can’t follow this model of concentrating a maximal number of Bedouin Arabs on a minimal area. The Negev is large enough to include the unrecognized villages. Recognize the unrecognized villages. Stop demolishing the houses of Bedouins in the Negev. Let them live just like the Jewish neighbors! ‘
Secondly, I can’t ignore the fact that the state has changed after the enactment of the Nation-State law, Mr. Galant. You will not buy us with budgets. We are members of the Arab Palestinian people living in the state of Israel. We are part of this state, we have the right to be equal citizens at the legal level. I’m not talking about budgets. You indeed provide the budgets, but as for legal legitimization, I want to have a citizenship equal to you, Mr. Minister, and have the legitimate right, at the legal level, international and local – that’s our demand: to be equal citizens. And therefore the state must step back from the law and change it, and I believe that the struggle to change this Apartheid-like law is in fact a task for a joint struggle of Jews and Arabs like you and me.
Israel has been attempting to minimize the Bedouin presence in the southern Negev since its establishment, and seeks to concentrate them in a few urban locations, while refusing to recognize about 40 villages. The policy of Judaizing the Negev has shown itself in stark colors last year, with the ethnic-cleansing operation at Umm al-Hiran, for the purpose of replacing the Bedouin village with an exclusively Jewish one, named Hiran (a typical Hebrewization). The operation included an extrajudicial execution of a respected citizen – Yaqoub Mousa Abu al Qia’an.
But the “good Arabs”, that is the Bedouins who accept to be concentrated in these townships, are to be given some carrots. Thus, a swimming pool and country club were built in Rahat, a major Bedouin town. It is a first for the whole Bedouin population, and also solves the ‘nuisance’ for Jewish communities, who have been excluding Bedouins from entry and applying a policy of segregated bathing (see Haaretz report from June). Such ‘petty Apartheid’ is rampant in swimming pools and natural springs, (see Amira Hass “When the Settlers Go in the Water, the Palestinians Get Out”), as it is in Israeli maternity wards.
Galant is a centrist politician from the Kulanu party. As such, his principle is basically that of Yair Lapid, who stands politically just to his left: “Maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”. Galant has a decorated past in the army, and his latest position was Head of Southern Command, which he led also during Israel’s 2008-9 ‘Cast Lead’ onslaught on Gaza. On the first day of the Gaza offensive, Galant explained that the aim was to “send Gaza decades into the past”. Indeed, the killing of about 1,400 people, overwhelmingly civilians, and the massive destruction of some 3,540 homes, 268 factories and warehouses, as well as schools, vehicles, water wells, public infrastructure, greenhouses and large swathes of agricultural land, as well as severe damage to 2,870 houses (HRW), were something that Galant took honor in. The result was summarized by the UN ‘Goldstone report’ as a “deliberately disproportionate attack, designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population”.
With this military campaign in his record, Galant became a nominee for Chief of Staff in 2010, but this was cancelled due to a scandal due to allegations that he had seized public lands near his home in Moshav Amikam in northern Israel. After conducting an investigation into the allegations, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said that his findings “raise significant legal difficulties for the decision to appoint him.” Galant was later cleared of some, but not all, of the offenses.
Thus the property-offending warlord continued into politics and entered the government in 2015.
Galant worked hard to brand himself a liberal, and published an op-ed in the New York Times in 2016 titled “building the future in Israel”, where he argued in favor of maintaining “the atmosphere of respect and tolerance necessary for a diverse and pluralistic society”.
Galant’s person and speech are showing a very central and centrist paradigm of Israeli politics. The ‘others’ are tolerated, as long as they don’t rebel. If they do, they can be sent decades into the past. But if they behave like ‘good Arabs’, then they can get a swimming pool. Yet also that comes with conditions – do not challenge our Apartheid, because we’re really trying hard to maintain a good atmosphere.