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Israel prepares to turn Bedouin citizens into refugees in their own country

Opinion
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The decades-long struggle by tens of thousands of Israelis against being uprooted from their homes – some for the second or third time – should be proof enough that Israel is not the western-style liberal democracy it claims to be.

Last week 36,000 Bedouin – all of them Israeli citizens – discovered that their state is about to make them refugees in their own country, driving them into holding camps. These Israelis, it seems, are the wrong kind.

Their treatment has painful echoes of the past. In 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled by the Israeli army outside the borders of the newly declared Jewish state established on their homeland – what the Palestinians call their Nakba, or catastrophe.

Israel is regularly criticised for its belligerent occupation, its relentless expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land and its repeated and savage military attacks, especially on Gaza.

On rare occasions, analysts also notice Israel’s systematic discrimination against the 1.8 million Palestinians whose ancestors survived the Nakba and live inside Israel, ostensibly as citizens.

But each of these abuses is dealt with in isolation, as though unrelated, rather than as different facets of an overarching project. A pattern is discernible, one driven by an ideology that dehumanises Palestinians everywhere Israel encounters them.

That ideology has a name. Zionism provides the thread that connects the past – the Nakba – with Israel’s current ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the destruction of Gaza, and the state’s concerted efforts to drive Palestinian citizens of Israel out of what is left of their historic lands and into ghettoes.

The logic of Zionism, even if its more naive supporters fail to grasp it, is to replace Palestinians with Jews – what Israel officially terms Judaisation.

The Palestinians’ suffering is not some unfortunate side effect of conflict. It is the very aim of Zionism: to incentivise Palestinians still in place to leave “voluntarily”, to escape further suffocation and misery.

The starkest example of this people replacement strategy is Israel’s long-standing treatment of 250,000 Bedouin who formally have citizenship.

The Bedouin are the poorest group in Israel, living in isolated communities mainly in the vast, semi-arid area of the Negev, the country’s south. Largely out of view, Israel has had a relatively free hand in its efforts to “replace” them.

That was why, for a decade after it had supposedly finished its 1948 ethnic cleansing operations and won recognition in western capitals, Israel continued secretly expelling thousands of Bedouin outside its borders, despite their claim on citizenship.

Meanwhile, other Bedouin in Israel were forced off their ancestral lands to be driven either into confined holding areas or state-planned townships that became the most deprived communities in Israel.

It is hard to cast the Bedouin, simple farmers and pastoralists, as a security threat, as was done with the Palestinians under occupation.

But Israel has a much broader definition of security than simple physical safety. Its security is premised on the maintenance of an absolute demographic dominance by Jews.

The Bedouin may be peaceable but their numbers pose a major demographic threat and their pastoral way of life obstructs the fate intended for them – penning them up tightly inside ghettoes.

Most of the Bedouin have title deeds to their lands that long predate Israel’s creation. But Israel has refused to honour these claims and many tens of thousands have been criminalised by the state, their villages denied legal recognition.

For decades they have been forced to live in tin shacks or tents because the authorities refuse to approve proper homes and they are denied public services like schools, water and electricity.

The Bedouin have one option if they wish to live within the law: they must abandon their ancestral lands and their way of life to relocate to one of the poor townships.

Many of the Bedouin have resisted, clinging on to their historic lands despite the dire conditions imposed on them.

One such unrecognised village, Al Araqib, has been used to set an example. Israeli forces have demolished the makeshift homes there more than 160 times in less than a decade. In August, an Israeli court approved the state billing six of the villagers $370,000 for the repeated evictions.

Al Araqib’s 70-year-old leader, Sheikh Sayah Abu Madhim, recently spent months in jail after his conviction for trespassing, even though his tent is a stone’s throw from the cemetery where his ancestors are buried.

Now the Israel authorities are losing patience with the Bedouin.

Last January, plans were unveiled for the urgent and forcible eviction of nearly 40,000 Bedouin from their homes in unrecognised villages under the guise of “economic development” projects. It will be the largest expulsion in decades.

“Development”, like “security”, has a different connotation in Israel. It really means Jewish development, or Judaisation – not development for Palestinians.

The projects include a new highway, a high-voltage power line, a weapons testing facility, a military live-fire zone and a phosphate mine.

It was revealed last week that the families would be forced into displacement centres in the townships, living in temporary accommodation for years as their ultimate fate is decided. Already these sites are being compared to the refugee camps established for Palestinians in the wake of the Nakba.

The barely concealed aim is to impose on the Bedouin such awful conditions that they will eventually agree to be confined for good in the townships on Israel’s terms.

Six leading United Nations human rights experts sent a letter to Israel in the summer protesting the grave violations of the Bedouin families’ rights in international law and arguing that alternative approaches were possible.

Adalah, a legal group for Palestinians in Israel, notes that Israel has been forcibly evicting the Bedouin over seven decades, treating them not as human beings but as pawns in its never-ending battle to replace them with Jewish settlers.

The Bedouin’s living space has endlessly shrunk and their way of life has been crushed.

This contrasts starkly with the rapid expansion of Jewish towns and single-family farming ranches on the land from which the Bedouin are being evicted.

It is hard not to conclude that what is taking place is an administrative version of the ethnic cleansing Israeli officials conduct more flagrantly in the occupied territories on so-called security grounds.

These interminable expulsions look less like a necessary, considered policy and more like an ugly, ideological nervous tic.

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

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 jonathan-cook.net.

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15 Responses

  1. bcg on October 16, 2019, 4:11 pm

    To paraphrase an old joke from the 70’s and 80’s here in the U.S.:
    urban renewal = Bedouin removal.

  2. Misterioso on October 17, 2019, 8:38 am

    Fascism on the march:

    https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/maureen-clare-murphy/israel-moves-corral-bedouins-camps?utm_source=EI+readers&utm_campaign=c5558fec89-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e802a7602d-c5558fec89-290645253

    “Israel moves to corral Bedouins in camps” Electronic Intifada, 15 October, 2019, by Maureen Clare Murphy

    “Israel is moving to forcibly transfer some 36,000 Bedouins into displacement camps as part of a plan to develop the southern Naqab desert, a human rights group warns.

    “Those facing forced displacement live in villages not recognized by the state.

    “Adalah, a group that advocates for the rights of Palestinians in Israel, is challenging the planned developments.

    “One of the projects is a testing facility owned by the weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems that would encompass 27,770 acres, more than twice the area of Tel Aviv.

    “The second project, the Sde Barir phosphate mine, is opposed by Israel’s health ministry as well as the communities it would displace.

    “In early October, a regional Israeli government planning committee discussed two plans to house Bedouins from unrecognized villages temporarily. Displacement camps would be used ‘in cases where the population is urgently required to move from their living sites before permanent buildings are established.’

    “The language used by the planning authorities suggests that mass displacement may be imminent.

    “’The Israeli plans would allow authorities to immediately evict and transfer Bedouin citizens to the new displacement camps for a period of three to six years,’ according to Adalah.

    “Displacement after displacement”

    “Bedouins residing in unrecognized villages in the Naqab desert have endured multiple forced displacements since Israel’s establishment in 1948. Israel prevents these communities from developing and denies them essential services like water and electricity.

    “Thousands of Bedouins have had their citizenship revoked by Israel in recent years.

    “’It is unreasonable to again coerce displacement to temporary housing tens of thousands of residents who have been living in their villages for decades and, indeed, for generations – most of which are actually located on their traditional tribal lands,’ Suhad Bishara, an attorney with Adalah, stated in a letter to Israel’s southern planning and building committee.

    “Attiya Al-Issam, chair of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, stated that the ‘malicious plan’ is seen by Bedouins as ‘the embodiment of Israel’s Prawer Plan.’

    “That plan, discussed by Israel’s parliament in 2013, sought to forcibly transfer tens of thousands of Bedouins in the Naqab into townships.

    “It was ostensibly frozen after mass protests by the affected communities. But Israel continued to promote plans to concentrate as many as 90,000 Bedouins from 36 villages into a segregated area.

    “Protest”
    “The original Prawer Plan faced international as well as domestic protest.

    “The UN Committee on the Elimination for Racial Discrimination called on Israel to withdraw the plan, while the European Parliament called on Israel to fully respect the rights of Bedouin communities in the Naqab.

    “In September last year, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Israel to ‘put an immediate end to its policy of threats of demolition and actual eviction against the Bedouin communities’ living in the Naqab, as well as in the occupied West Bank.

    “The resolution was passed months after Israel coerced residents of Umm al-Hiran, an unrecognized village in the Naqab, into agreeing to be removed from their homes so that a Jewish-only town could be built in its place.

    “The move was ‘reminiscent of the darkest of regimes such as apartheid-era South Africa,’ Adalah stated at the time.

    “Another unrecognized Bedouin village in the Naqab, al-Araqib, has been demolished by Israeli authorities more than 100 times to make way for two forests planted by the Jewish National Fund.”

  3. Elizabeth Block on October 17, 2019, 9:39 am

    And when they are living in these, uh, camps, with no way to make a living and nothing for the children, and their society disintegrates, they will be blamed for it, and be called incorrigible criminals.

  4. Jackdaw on October 17, 2019, 11:36 am

    I wonder what would happen if Jonathan woke up one morning and found a family of squatters in his front yard.

    How many minutes before Jonathan would call, ‘Five O’?

    • bcg on October 17, 2019, 12:33 pm

      @Jackdaw: Squatters? What on earth are you talking about?
      If you had something to say about the actual content of the article, what would it be?

      • Jackdaw on October 19, 2019, 1:48 am

        @bcg

        I’m talking about the Bedouin willfully disregarding the Beersheba District Court decision of March 15, 2012 which ruled that the land belongs to the State. Remaining on State land illegally, is ‘squatting’.

        The Bedouin had their day in court. They had excellent legal representation and they had their experts testify.
        They lost their case, and need to move on, but Mondoweiss, and like-minded ‘useful idiots’, won’t allow it.

    • eljay on October 17, 2019, 12:46 pm

      || Jackdaw: I wonder what would happen if Jonathan woke up one morning and found a family of squatters in his front yard.

      How many minutes before Jonathan would call, ‘Five O’? ||

      It’s nice to see that you understand how the Palestinians feel about you Zionists. It would be even nicer if that made you stop being one.

      • oldgeezer on October 17, 2019, 3:36 pm

        jackdoh has zero self awareness. I guess it’s part of the zionist condition. Hopefully a cure will be found some day.

      • Jackdaw on October 19, 2019, 11:22 am

        @eljay

        Zionists were never ‘squatters’.
        They were invited to settle in Mandatory Palestine by the League of Nations.

        The Arabs sold so much of their land to the Zionists, that H.M.G. tried to slow down or stop the legal sales of Arab owned land.

        Calling the Zionists ‘squatters’ is inaccurate and pathetic, which is par for the course for you.

      • eljay on October 19, 2019, 5:46 pm

        || Jackdaw: @eljay

        Zionists were never ‘squatters’.
        They were invited to settle in Mandatory Palestine by the League of Nations. … ||

        The Arabs sold so much of their land to the Zionists, that H.M.G. tried to slow down or stop the legal sales of Arab owned land.

        Calling the Zionists ‘squatters’ is inaccurate and pathetic, which is par for the course for you. ||

        You whisper sweet nothings, Jackdaw, but you’re not going to charm your way out of this one.

        The League of Nations had no right to “invite” foreigners to militarily-occupy and colonize geographic Palestine. The legitimate purchase of land in geographic Palestine by some Jewish Zionists did not and still does not:
        – validate the Zionist belief in Jewish / “Jewish State” supremacism in as much as possible of the region;
        – justify the countless acts of injustice and immorality (a.k.a. “necessary evil”) Zionists have committed and continue to commit deliberately and with impunity.

      • Jackdaw on October 20, 2019, 1:41 am

        @eljay

        Your irredentist, Marxist diatribes lay at the bottom of the rubbish heap of history.

        No one is paying attention to fossilized Marxists anymore.

      • eljay on October 20, 2019, 8:49 am

        || Jackdaw: @eljay

        Your irredentist, Marxist diatribes lay [sic] at the bottom of the rubbish heap of history. … ||

        Irredentism – Wikipedia: … any political or popular movement that seeks to claim … and occupy a land that the movement’s members consider to be a “lost” (or “unredeemed”) territory from their nation’s past.

        You’ve switched from charm to comedy, so this seems appropriate:

        Do eljay’s irredentist, Marxist diatribes lie at the bottom of the rubbish heap of history? No, there isn’t room, Zionism has put on weight.

        (with apologies to Monty Python)

      • Mooser on October 20, 2019, 12:41 pm

        I see that “Jackdaw” is still pushing his ‘painless irredentistry’ scam.

  5. echinococcus on October 17, 2019, 1:09 pm

    The Jack*$$ continues foot in mouth.

    He is a squatter with no title to even be anywhere in Palestine, and he want to call squatters the Bedouin.

    Couldn’t even read the uncontested fact that “Most of the Bedouin have title deeds to their lands that long predate Israel’s creation. But Israel has refused to honour these claims and many tens of thousands have been criminalised by the state, their villages denied legal recognition.”

    Back to reading remedial class, Jack*$$

  6. bcg on October 19, 2019, 2:19 pm

    @Jackdaw: “I’m talking about the Bedouin willfully disregarding the Beersheba District Court decision of March 15, 2012 which ruled that the land belongs to the State. Remaining on State land illegally, is ‘squatting’.”

    Everything Israel does is “legal”, Israel makes the laws, just as in this country poll taxes and slavery were once “legal”. We’re not talking about whether some Israeli court can supply some justification for moving the Bedouins around as if they were rocks on the landscape, are we?

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