If you want to know why the Israeli State is not a democratic state, ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ as it likes to describe itself, then the demolition of a whole village for no other reason that you want to change the demographic balance of the area, the Negev, is it. The dictatorship of a majority does not a democracy make.
And when you hear comments referring to ‘minorities and criminals’ it doesn’t take much imagination to recall to mind similar comparisons made between Jewish immigrants and criminals. But in its determination to ‘Judify’ the Negev and Galilee, the State of Israel and Zionism demonstrate why they are indelibly racist.
The State of Israel vs. Citizens of Israel
Today an entire village was demolished in Israel; a non-recognized Bedouin village: al-Arakib in the northern Negev, a few miles north of Beer-Sheva, next to Highway 40.
Hundreds of police and Special Patrol Unit forces, bulldozers, and security personal participated in the operation. Thirty left-wing activists from different parts of the country managed to reach the site at the last moment in a sign of solidarity with the residents and to protest the destruction. But against such superior forces, crippling forces, there was not much of a chance. The police created a buffer between the Bedouin residents and their homes; they formed a human wall between the activists and residents and the homes – and while doing so arrested several activists. Women and children were removed from their homes. Then, before the eyes of the people of al-Arakib, bulldozers demolished their homes and fields.
There is nothing even similar to the demolition of a home.
We know: there is deprivation and discrimination, there is neglect and privatization – not only in Israel. Even in countries that Israeli politicians often dream they belong to, 'white and well-ordered states' – there is racism and discrimination and deprivation. But not every state wages war against its own citizens, up to demolishing their homes.
When the authorities mobilize hundreds of security forces, Special Patrol Units, and police for an operation that is to begin with the first morning light; when you bring in bulldozers to demolish the homes of civilians; when you declare them to be a potential enemy and act preemptively to prevent an imagined risk using destruction and violence – this is war. Modern war, of course: war whose arsenal includes not only tanks, but bulldozers; not only planes, but building permits and decisions of planning commissions. And the government of Israel, on behalf of the State of Israel, is waging an ongoing war against its discriminated-against citizens, against the poor and the disadvantaged. This government does not simply neglect these citizens – it dispossesses, it threatens, and it destroys.
We have to remember: It was the people of al-Arakib who, in the past, saw their fields sprayed with pesticides from the air, had their health impaired and their fields destroyed. In the Knesset, those who defended these actions argued about the exact dose of pesticides to be used. Were people really suffering from headaches and side-effects as alleged? Was it perhaps possible to use a more reasonable dose? It took several years until the Supreme Court finally decided that the spraying of these field from the air is a clearly illegal act.
The Enemy Within
So why bring upon the people of al-Arakib this destruction? Just the day before the demolitions, the recent remarks of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the proposed Loyalty Law were published. Netanyahu stated his position clearly:
"We are a nation state, which means that the overall sovereignty of the country is reserved for the Jewish people. [...] Today, an international campaign is being waged against the definition of Israel as a Jewish state. I do not want to leave things as is [without a revised loyalty oath, GA], because we are under attack on this matter. The significance of these attacks is that various elements are liable to demand their own national rights and the rights of a state within the state of Israel – in the Negev, for example, if it becomes a region without a Jewish majority. This happened in the Balkans and constitutes a real threat." (My emphases; Netanyahu’s declaration was included in Haaretz Hebrew edition (26.7.2010), but not in the English one)
The words are clear: the state belongs to the Jews, not to all its citizens. Full civil equality of its citizens – individual and collective – constitutes a threat. Then the mirror effect: imagined aggression ("under attack", "real threat") justifies actual aggression. The Bedouin in the Negev are transformed into a "real threat," because something might happen there; Netanyahu doesn’t say what but refers to the Balkans. There were several cases of ethnic cleansings in the Balkans. Proponents of ethnic cleansing often explain that they are merely defending themselves from a minority group, whose very existence is for them a threat.
What are the Bedouin accused of? How did their very existence become a "real threat"? The Negev, says Netanyahu, might become a "region without a Jewish majority.” This is truly a good one: you can move from region to the next throughout the country and discover that in a particular area within Israel, there isn’t a Jewish majority, for example between Kafr Qara' and Umm al-Fahem, or between Sakhnin and ‘Arabe. Well, then don’t we have to do something against this threat? Yes, of course, and so we do! Think about the project of establishing the city of Harish in Wadi ‘Ara, not as a solution to the housing shortage with which the current residents of the area must contend, and not as part of development plans that will benefit all residents of the region, but rather as an attempt to to use the housing shortage of the ultra-Orthodox as a tool against the Arab resident of the area – while at the same time preventing Arab citizens from developing and expanding their own communities. Just like the lookouts that were established in the North to surround and divide, to combat the "threat" of Arab communities in the Galilee.
This is an ongoing war, a war of attrition against part of the citizenry of the country, a war whose arsenal includes prohibitions of construction and orders of demolition, and whose soldiers are building inspectors and the Green Patrol.
And while all of this is going on, demands are made upon Arab citizens to perform national service and to prove their loyalty to a state that is not loyal to them. Just a few weeks ago, near Shoket Junction in the Negev, in the context of everyday home demolitions, a Bedouin Soldiers Club was demolished. So what's the message? Clearly: No service, whether military or civilian, will guarantee equal rights. The Druze of the Galilee [who perform military service] don’t exactly enjoy equality, do they?
Evict, Move, Expel, Build, Evict
Why do the people of al-Arakib have to be evicted? Why are they being driven out? The residents of al-Arakib are not ‘invaders’ of state land. Their village exists from before the founding of the state. Like thousands of other Arab Bedouin in the Negev, they were expelled, evicted, and moved "temporarily," with or without promises of being allowed to return, for a week or six months, but in fact for good – and then their lands were confiscated. The Negev is full of Bedouin communities that were evicted and transferred to different locations. It’s easy for the state to believe that the Bedouin are landless, that they are simply nomads with no rights. It’s convenient fiction the state can recite to itself in order to justify their forced transfer from place to place. In actuality, it’s the state that has retransformed the Bedouin back into what Hanna Hamdan has called forced nomadism.
People are told that the state is trying to make the Bedouin sedentary, make them "modern." In fact, it’s the state that’s busy making them nomadic again, undermining their hold on their lands. In the towns where the state is attempting to fence them in, while ignoring their way of life, their traditions, their culture, their rights – there the Bedouin will not become tied to the land. They should become a source of cheap labor.
The Bedouin can be transferred from place to place for reasons of national security, like in the early 1950’s, and then again they can be transferred for reasons of peace, like in the late 1970’s, following Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt, so that new army bases could be built in the Negev. They can be evacuated for environmental reasons, because they’ve taken hold of “open spaces” – and then these same thousands of acres can be allocated to “individual ranchers,” Jewish ranchers, of course, who will “guard the national lands,” by taking hold of these very same “open spaces.”
Indeed, without the public’s having even noticed, on July 17 the Knesset passed one of the most important bits of recent legislation: a law that retroactively legalizes massive takeovers of land and resources, and clearly illegal unauthorized settlement; a law that grants the allocation of land to intruders – but positive intruders, the Jewish “adventurers” who have established for themselves individual ranches in the Negev.
Who Are the Intruders?
For whose benefit did the people of al-Arakib have to be evicted? For the planting of forests by the Jewish National Fund. No less. Evacuate people for trees – the trees, like the Jewish National Fund had to admit, are being planted with no master plan and for no environmental or agricultural rationale. These are not beneficial trees, but rather intruding trees. Trees that are designed to ensure control.
Trees like these can be seen elsewhere. We’ve seen such trees next to settlements in the West Bank; hundreds and hundreds of saplings, sometimes simply planted in barrels, to ensure holding on to fields which Palestinian farmers are forbidden to enter. If you visit ‘Ajami (in Jaffa) or Kfar Shalem (in southern Tel Aviv), you can also see such decorative woods: woods planted to ensure control, acre by acre, to ensure the rights of real estate sharks or simply limit the use of the land by local residents. And around al-Arakib you really can see hundreds and hundreds of such trees: barren hills denuded of grass, on which stand erect, like soldiers in formation, hundreds of trees designed to prevent the people of al-Arakib from working their land. These trees are a fence, a living fence.
al-Arakib is but a single case: two additional non-recognized villages in the northern Negev, Um-Hiran and ‘Atir, where the residents have been living for more than fifty years (they were transferred here from their previous location by order of the Martial Law Authorities), are supposed to disappear so that their place will be taken by a forest – the Hiran Forest. Today, you have look really hard to see a forest there, because there are currently no trees. The forest is a project, and the present residents of the location are simply an obstacle to its fruition. But hiding behind the virtual forest a virtual community, a new community, for Jews only – Hiran. This is how the Negev is made Jewish.
The new development plans for the Negev are plans of dispossession. Bedouin Arabs were inundated by a huge wave of dispossession during the early 1950’s; they again paid the price for the peace treaty with Egypt, and were forced out of the little that remained for them, from the places to which in certain cases they were transferred by the Martial Law Authorities, to other, often unviable locations. And now we stand before the next big wave. It’s important to note that this brutal wave, destroying any alternative regional development possibilities that could benefit all the Negev’s residents for the sake of Judaizing the region –is the result of a well-planned collaboration between private capital and corporations with the state.
The future plans for the Negev (Blueprint Negev) were prepared by an American consulting firm, McKinsey & Company (the first private consulting firm whose services were used by the Israeli army); the initiative led by the Jewish National Fund of the United States (JNF-USA). This is huge partnership between the State of Israel and private, foreign capital. And, yet, these are the ones who dare demand loyalty, when their own loyalty is to overseas interests! Is it really surprising to learn that Shimon Peres pushed the plan forward with such enthusiasm? The other partner can’t be forgotten: the project is the “baby” of the JNF-USA’s chairman's right-wing billionaire Ron Lauder. And the new settlement plans are being developed by the JNF in conjunction with "Or – National Missions”, with the aim of Judaizing the Negev and Galilee.
Those who today witnessed the evacuation of al-Arakib can easily reach the wrong conclusion and believe that the Bedouin citizens of Israel are only up against the security forces. That is not the case. They are standing up for their elementary rights. But they are facing a powerful coalition that’s working against them, composed of both state authorities and non-state players – the JNF and the security forces, private corporations and settlers. And we must stand together with them.
Behind all of this hides a basic premise that infuses every aspect of our lives here: Problems are solved by dispossession and transfer, by bringing in "strong populations" in place of "weak populations," Jews instead of Arabs (but only loyal Jews, of course!). Evacuation and construction, more evacuations and more construction, and so on, round and round it goes. This premise not only dispossesses people of their assets and offers them to other people – to the “correct” people go the “right” places – open spaces, the land, the landscape; but it also destroys the social fabric of neighborhoods and communities, by uprooting, disintegrating, and resettling. In this way they also want to dispossess the people of the non-recognized village, Dahmash, in the center of the country, between Lod (Lydda) and Ramla. This is also what they’re proposing to the residents of Ajami (in Jaffa): to be evacuated for the benefit of “strong populations.” Israeli governments believe in replacing people. We need to replace this system – not the people who live here.