Last Monday, Israeli authorities announced a plan to “forcibly transfer 36,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel living in unrecognized villages in the country’s southern Naqab (Negev) region in order to expand military training areas and implement what it called ‘economic development’ projects,” according to Adalah (The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel).
The American Jewish group IfNotNow noticed this, and posted the article with the heading:
This is ethnic cleansing.
IfNotNow are now making it clear that when they speak of opposition to “occupation”, they are not just speaking about the 1967 occupation, but also the 1948 occupation. Or as they formulate it:
And this is part of what, when we demand that the Occupation end, we are talking about.
This is a critical qualification. Opposition to the 1967 occupation, be it real or ostensible, has not really been that radical an issue as far as Zionism is concerned. Liberal Zionists could easily take that position and still call themselves proud Zionists. In fact, liberal Zionists have used this position to claim that they were protecting Zionism from a “demographic threat”, in that controlling a large Palestinian population without rights means Apartheid (which they have warned that people will ‘accuse Israel of’), whereas granting them rights means an end to Jewish State.
But calling 1948 an occupation marks a whole other kind of opposition to Israeli policy. It points to its inherently racial and racist character, also in what is considered “Israel proper”, and shatters the notion that if Israel merely relinquished its 1967-occupation, it would be a normal, liberal and democratic country. In other words, lumping 1948 into opposition to occupation is saying that Israel is not a democracy, and that its core and founding ideology, Zionism, is essentially racism.
Let’s look at IfNotNow’s full text from the Facebook sharing:
In 1948, as Israeli Jews fought for and celebrated the formation of the new state, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were being forcibly displaced by Israeli military forces. From then to today, Israeli policies have frequently forced Arab residents off their ancestral lands, often for the benefit of the Jewish majority. Now, 36,000 Arab citizens of Israel are being forcibly displaced by the Israeli government to build a road, a military firing zone, a weapons testing facility, and a toxic mine, according to Israeli civil rights organization Adalah. This is what our educational programs hid from us. This is what Birthright trips bribe us to ignore. And this is part of what, when we demand that the Occupation end, we are talking about. We want freedom and dignity for all people—not ethnic cleansing. Join us.
It is very important that people notice this issue. The ethnic cleansing within ‘Israel proper’ is often overseen as a minor issue, as if a mere shadow, at best, of the 1967 occupation, which portrays various degrees of oppression, from the West Bank to Gaza. But cases like the ethnic cleansing of Umm Al-Hiran, demolished in order to make space for an exclusively Jewish settlement (Hiran), involving the Israeli police extrajudicial execution of the Bedouin Israeli citizen Yaqub Abu Al-Qia’an, show that this is all one story, Judaization. Just because Israel relinquished its military rule over its Palestinian citizens in 1966 doesn’t mean that story of systemic racial oppression has ended.
Using “development” as a pretext for dispossession
Recently, Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant inaugurated a swimming pool and country club in the Bedouin town of Rahat in southern Israel, making it clear, as an enlightened colonialist, that this came with a political price: Palestinians should stop “illegal construction” and they should stop complaining about the Nation-State law. Galant, who was Chief of Southern Command in the 2008-9 Gaza onslaught (Operation Cast Lead), had vowed to send Gaza “decades into the past” (softer than Netanyahu-rival Benny Gantz’s boast of sending parts of Gaza “back to the stone age”).
Ben White has been covering the story of how Israel is using the pretext of expanding highway 6 further south as a pretext for further dispossessions. He notes how last year, Galant had launched a plan for housing units in the north and south, calling it “a significant step towards realizing the Zionist vision of settlement”. Galant said that he was “shocked by the amount of illegal Bedouin construction” in the Negev, and that “We must not lose our hold on the south.” Portraying this as a kind of military issue, he posited that “the south is under attack not only from Gaza – the illegal and hostile construction in the rural Bedouin areas in the Negev and in the area of Beersheba in recent years has spun out of control”. He made clear that “the program to reinforce Jewish settlement in the Negev constitutes a long term and stable solution for a Jewish hold over the region.”
White notes how the route of the new section of Road 6 already entails the forcible relocation of some 100 Bedouin families. In December 2018, however, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel declared he intended to take advantage of the situation to expel a further 900 families. “The government is committed to demonstrating governance in the Negev,” Ariel declared, describing the construction of the road as an opportunity to “return to the state huge tracts of land” – language often used by officials when displacing Bedouin communities.
This is all reminiscent of how Israel uses its new ‘Apartheid Road’ in the West Bank (where the lanes are separated by a wall), to further dispossess Palestinians living alongside it.
Judaization of the Galilee
What happens in the south happens in the north too. It is important to look at Israel’s designs for the Judaization of the Galilee to see just how similar a pattern this is. Israel fears that various locations which hold a non-Jewish majority will be ‘lost’. Prof. Hillel Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in his book “Good Arabs” (2009) that “The project of ‘Judaizing the Galilee’ commenced when the state [of Israel] was founded and has continued in various guises to the present day”.
On March 11, 1976, the Israeli government declared its intention to expropriate 20,000 dunams (4,940 acres) of land between the villages of Sakhnin and Arraba, much of it Arab-owned. The Agriculture Ministry openly declared that the primary purpose of the plan was to alter the demographic nature of Galilee in order to create a Jewish majority there. The long-term plan was called “Yehud Ha’Galil” (Judaization of the Galilee), which would be enacted through the building of mitzpim — small Jewish settlements consisting of few families — in between Palestinian villages in order to halt Arab territorial contiguity (this was adding to already erected Jewish settlements such as Nazareth Illit and Karmiel, built on confiscated Palestinian lands). Palestinians protested massively on March 30, 1976, and Israeli security forces responded with lethal force, killing six and wounding hundreds. That day is known as Youm al-Ard (‘Land Day’).
Also in 1976, a secret government memorandum was leaked to the leftwing Zionist Al-HaMishmar paper, and picked up in international press. It is known as the Koenig Report. The document focused on the ‘demographic problem’ in the Galilee. Here is how Time magazine covered it:
Infiltration by secret agents. Reprisals against ‘negative’ citizens. Systematic job discrimination and measures to encourage emigration. To many Israelis, it all sounded like a prescription for a pogrom against Jews. In fact, they were an Israeli civil servant’s proposals for controlling Israel’s exploding Arab population.
Koenig suggested that the Israeli government “expand and deepen Jewish settlement in areas where the contiguity of the Arab population is prominent” and “limit ‘breaking of new ground’ by Arab settlements”.
This is a logic that keeps running in the veins of the Zionist venture. The policy is that of consolidating and expanding Jewish settlement, while disrupting, marginalizing, outlawing, containing and destroying Palestinian settlement. It is not necessarily about elimination of them as individuals, but rather eliminating their general presence, through a Bantustanization of sorts, concentrating Palestinian presence into small and encircled enclaves, ‘townships’, in order to encircle them, prevent their territorial expansion and ensure Jewish ‘territorial continuity’, known as Judaization. This is just more settler-colonialism, which is at the heart of the Zionist venture.
IfNotNow appear to be noting this, and I believe that their important statement will mark a shift toward outright anti-Zionism, a step that Jewish Voice for Peace has recently taken.
There is a natural logic to this shift. Whenever radical movements emerge to challenge Israeli policy, they will either freeze themselves under liberal-Zionist constrictions of challenging only parts of the policy, or move on to assessing the grand ideology. IfNotNow are now saying that ‘occupation’ is a name for a far bigger and longer story than that which started in 1967. And that is yet another moral awakening.