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Sunday, 21 June 2009

Galilee communities: We're not racist, we just don't want Arabs

The two articles below demonstrate more clearly than anything the racism of Zionist settler-colonialism. The Galilee, where the majority of the population is still Arab, has been subject over the years to continued policies of 'Judaification'. The equivalent in other places best left unnamed was 'deJewification.' Such is the logic of Zionism. And of course the liberal Zionists of the Misgav bloc aren't racist of course, they just don't want to live next door to Arabs! In a perceptive comment Alon Mayer protests that it's not Lieberman, a comparison with whom he finds objectionable, who they are copied. On the contrary, it was Lieberman who copied them! Tony Greenstein

By Eli Ashkenazi 05/06/2009

Residents of the Misgav bloc of communities in the Galilee consider themselves to be liberal, peace-loving people who support coexistence with their Arab neighbors and even root for Bnei Sakhnin, the soccer club based in a nearby Arab town considered a prominent symbol of that community. Which is why they were shocked this week when proposals raised at local council meetings to accept only applicants who shared their Zionist principles drew negative headlines and criticism for alleged racism.

"The label upsets me," South Africa-born lawyer Michael Zetler, who founded the Misgav community of Manof in 1980 with other immigrants from what was then an apartheid state, said Thursday. "It hurt me. I am not a racist."

Although few people will say so, the panic that spurred the submission of the controversial proposals are related to the High Court of Justice's ruling two years ago that upheld the right of Ahmed and Fahina Zubeidat, an Israeli Arab couple, to buy a house in the exclusively Jewish community of Rakefet notwithstanding the local admissions committee's objection.

Since then, some residents of Jewish communal settlements in the Galilee fear that the region's substantial Arab population might seek to buy property in their communities, where the standard of living is far higher, causing Jews to move out. In some areas of the Galilee this has already taken place: Portions of the once-exclusively Jewish town of Upper Nazareth are now populated by newcomers from the nearby Arab city of Nazareth.

"I agree that there is a problem, but whether this is the right way to deal with it, I am not sure," Zetler said yesterday. "Experience will tell. But there is a problem in the Galilee and people are challenging the political right of [Jewish] communities."

Unpleasant to be called Lieberman

Residents of the Misgav bloc are not used to being accused of racism, and dismay at being compared to Jewish settlers in the West Bank. "It's unpleasant and even offensive to wake up one morning and find that you've turned into [Avigdor] Lieberman when in fact it's the other way around," Alon Mayer, another resident of Manof, said, referring to the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu chairman who proposed that Israeli Arabs be required to take an oath of loyalty to the state.

Mayer pointed out that the right-wing party headed by Lieberman garnered only 2.5 percent of the town's vote in the last Knesset elections - far below the national average. Despite feeling on the defensive, Mayer will not apologize for supporting the demand that applicants who seek to buy property in the communal settlement should adhere to the locals' basic cultural and political beliefs.

"When we decided to move to Manof, we sought a community that chose similar basic principles to our own, such as good education for children, culture, celebrating a Jewish communal lifestyle and protecting the environment," a woman from Manof said. "We joined this community knowing it is founded on these values."

Some Misgav bloc residents accuse Arab rights groups such as Adalah, which would rather Israel be defined as a binational state than a Jewish one and championed the Zubeidats' cause in the courts, of intentionally causing provocations. "An Arab narrative exists that proclaims 'we were not conquered, we did not desert,'" said Danny Ivri, a resident of the Misgav bloc community Yodfat. "They say 'we were manipulated in various ways, such as through military rule and suppressing our development by placing Jewish communities between our own communities."

Misgav bloc residents also fear increased tensions that could result from Arabs and Jews living in close proximity, and point at the occasional spurts of sectarian violence that break out in nearby non-Jewish towns between Muslims, Druze and Christians. "You can't impose a demographic mix on us that will recreate the sort of friction between Muslims, Christians and Druze that exists in Maghar, Peki'in and Rameh," Mayer said, referring to cities prone to periodic unrest. "High Court justices don't understand what it's like to live in a small community which was founded with great hardships, a community which is trying to hold on to a certain way of life."

Zionism's bond of blood

A few weeks ago a ceremony was held in Yuvalim, the largest town in the Misgav bloc, which exemplified its inveterate ties to the state of Israel. The regional council unveiled a promenade in memory of slain Israel Defense Forces soldier Arbel Reich, whose father was among Yuvalim's founders.
"It was an emotional ceremony," recalled regional council head Ron Shani. "This event was part of the community's narrative, part of its spirit, just like the fact that we educate our children to serve in combat units. That's what it's like here and we're proud of that. "A resident who wishes to join Yuvalim will have to feel comfortable at such a ceremony, and if not he can go elsewhere, where he wouldn't be offended," he said.

From Gaza to the Galilee: Same Policy, Same Agenda
By Isabelle Humphries

ANYONE WHO thought Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement plan” was about planning for the best way to leave Gaza should think again. The Israel lobby currently is working on getting as much as $1.6 billion in aid from the U.S. government as part of the “disengagement” aid package, to be specifically earmarked for “developing the Galilee and the Negev.” Whatever the final details, President George W. Bush vocalized his support for the project, and U.S. sources have openly stated that “substantial” aid will be available for the Galilee/Negev component of the plan. For those unfamiliar with the geography, the Galilee and the Negev are regions within the area occupied by Israel in 1948, and are currently being targeted specifically because of their high density of Arab residents.

Plans to “Judaize” the Galilee and Negev are nothing new, and are aimed at the entire Israeli population, not just at creating housing to relocate the small number of Gaza settlers. In the 1950s Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, toured the country, expressing disgust at the number of Arab towns and villages he saw in the Galilee. His visit marked the start of a public policy of “Judaization” of the Galilee, the latest phase of which has been cleverly tacked on to Israel’s request for aid for the Gaza disengagement. Dispossessing Bedouin of their land in the southern Negev (Naqab) desert has been an equally important item on the Israeli agenda. Since 1948, land confiscation, crop spraying and home demolitions have forced Bedouin communities into overcrowded settlement towns with high unemployment and no access to the land, the traditional source of community life.

From the beginning, demographics within the areas occupied in 1948 have obsessed Israeli strategists, academics and politicians. With higher Arab than Jewish birthrates, the Zionist agenda of maintaining a state for one ethnic group only becomes increasingly difficult. In 1948 around 150,000 Palestinians managed to remain in their homes within the new borders of Israel. Today this Palestinian group numbers a million—or 20 percent of the Israeli population. The majority live in the Galilee and the Negev.

Throughout Israel’s history, land confiscation, housing demolition and underdevelopment of Arab towns and villages has been consistent government policy. While the current phase is just the latest in a long-running struggle, it represents Israel’s biggest push for “Judaization” of the Galilee since the building of a string of exclusively Jewish hilltop settlements in the 1970s. These settlements succeeded in boosting the Jewish population in Israel’s northernmost district, successfully breaking land contiguity between Arab villages and towns. Today not one Arab family lives in the 29 settlements of “Misgav,” the new Jewish municipality created in the Galilee.

As part of the new campaign to encourage Israeli Jews to move away from the coastal cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa to fight the demographic battle in the hinterland, the government announced on June 19 that, for the next two years, land in the Galilee will be sold for half price. But in the overcrowded streets and homes of Arab villages no one is jumping for joy.

‘“Technically they don’t say it is for Jews only,” said Waleed, an architect from Nazareth, “but we are excluded. For example, a while back they created a housing project in Nazaret Illit (the Jewish settlement built on confiscated land around Nazareth). But when they saw that large numbers of those who had put their names down were Arabs they canceled it. Next thing it reappeared as a housing project for those who had served in the police or army, which of course is not us. They always find a way around it.”

Nazareth is the largest Palestinian town to survive the 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe, but despite its 70,000-plus occupants it has the facilities and services of a village. In the late 1950s a large amount of land was confiscated on the edge of the city, supposedly to build government offices. Today this has expanded into Nazaret Illit, a Jewish town which encircles Arab Nazareth, preventing any new development for the rapidly expanding population.

While Israel continues to claim that it is a democracy, it finds ways to discriminate and implement an apartheid system—and no more so than in the allocation of land and town planning. While the state and high court system maintain the pretense of keeping opportunities open to all, independent private organizations have no obligation to do so. Thus the state delegates and coordinates its work with Zionist establishments technically able to act as quasi-state institutions, despite the fact that their mandates openly state their aim of serving one ethnic group alone. The latest development plan for the Galilee and Negev is in full cooperation with the World Zionist Organization (WZO), the Jewish Agency (JA) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF)—non-state actors with an open Zionist and racist agenda.

“‘Development’ in the Israeli lexicon means racism expressed through policies designed to destroy the presence of the Palestinian Arab citizens,” reads the petition of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community Based Associations, appealing to the international community to deny funding for the Israeli initiative. “The primary purpose of the ‘development’ plan is not development, in the literal sense of improving space for the benefit of those living in it, but the complete removal of the Arab population from the space.”

Palestinian activists and politicians inside Israel point to the devastating implications of funding such projects, drawing attention to the direct link between apartheid policies in the 1967 occupied territories and those against Palestinians in land occupied in 1948. “We need people to see the relevance of what is going on here,” said Ziad, a physiotherapist and a refugee from Saffuriyya today living in Nazareth. “What Israel is doing is far greater than just taking the al-Aqsa mosque and dominating Jerusalem—we need people to understand the whole picture. If people are concerned from outside, they could try and help us rebuild and develop our own cities like Nazareth before yet more people abandon our old towns and villages out of desperation. I believe that there will be many people of Nazareth for example, who have emigrated to the U.S. and will be reading this article. We need their direct support in order to survive.”

For those who have focused attention solely on ending the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, understanding what is going on the Galilee and the Negev requires shifting focus. Policy against Palestinians inside the Green Line—land confiscation and the stifling of economic development—mirrors that applied in the 1967 occupied areas. Apartheid will not end in Palestine/Israel while land and rights remain based on ethnic or religious affiliations. Unhappily, this fact is as relevant in the Galilee as it is in Gaza.

Isabelle Humphries is a free-lance writer conducting Ph.D. research on Palestinian internal refugees in the Galilee. She can be reached at

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