On 4th October 2018, the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib was demolished…for the 134th time.
Al-Araqib is one of the 35 ‘unrecognised’ Bedouin villages in the Negev (Naqab) region of Israel. Like most of the other unrecognized villages, it existed before the creation of the State of Israel. Prior to 1948, around 90,000 Bedouins lived on 99 per cent of the Negev land and the residents of Al-Araqib have documents from the Ottoman era showing their ancestors purchased the land in 1906.
The majority of Israel’s Bedouin villages were forcibly moved to new locations within a tightly defined zone in the Negev in the 1950’s and now over half of the population of 220,00 is corralled into the seven urban centres, or ‘townships’, specially created by the Israeli State in order to solve the ‘problem of the Bedouins’.
In 1963, Moshe Dyan said:
“We should transform the Bedouins into an urban proletariat – in industry, services, construction, and agriculture. 88% of the Israeli population are not farmers, let the Bedouins be like them. Indeed, this will be a radical move which means that the Bedouin would not live on his land with his herds, but would become an urban person who comes home in the afternoon and puts his slippers on. His children would be accustomed to a father who wears trousers, does not carry a Shabaria (traditional Bedouin knife) and does not search for vermin in public. The children would go to school with their hair properly combed. This would be a revolution, but it may be fixed within two generations. Without coercion but with government direction, this phenomenon of the Bedouin will disappear.”
The ‘problem’ has indeed been solved. Although Israel’s Bedouin citizens constitute a third of the population in the Negev, they only (legally) occupy 2% of its land. Indeed, the entirety of their land claims amount to only 5% of the land. In most cases where villages have been demolished, non-indigenous pine forests have been planted on top of the vacated land – funded by the Jewish National Fund – or Jewish ‘settlers’ have moved onto the land – as in the case of Umm al-Hiran, which will become a new Jewish town called Hiran.
In Israel as a whole, no new Arab towns – apart from the seven Bedouin townships – have been founded since 1948, although the Israeli-Arab population has grown at least sevenfold. Israeli Arabs now live on about 3% of the land in Israel, despite making up about 20% of the population. This is no accident but a consequence of Israel’s explicit policy of creating a nation of “maximum land with minimum Palestinians”. Following the creation of Israel, 93% of all land was appropriated by the State for allocation exclusively to the Jewish population and planning laws were enacted that make it virtually impossible for the Palestinian towns to expand outside of their pre-1948 boundaries or for individual families to extend or build new properties within the existing boundaries. The result is that in the Galilee region of Israel, there are around 30,000 illegal homes, any of which could be demolished at any time.
Across the Green Line, in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the situation is strikingly similar. The same planning laws apply in East Jerusalem and the 60% of the West Bank covered by Area C. And, the same “maximum land with minimum Palestinians” policy has been pursued since the occupation began in 1967. There have been over 50,000 demolitions of Palestinian homes since 1967, while the population of Jewish settlers has grown to over 600,000. In the Jordan Valley (95% of which is in Area C), 56% of the land is allocated to ‘military zones’, 20% to nature reserves, and 15% for Jewish settlements. Little wonder that the Palestinian population there has decreased from 320,000 to just 55,000.
On the same day that Al-Araqib in the Negev was demolished for the 134th time, the clock was ticking for the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar, which was facing imminent demolition so that Israel could expand its settlement of Kfar Adumim. The Jahalin Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar has been given two choices, approved by the Court: either move to a barren, wind-swept hilltop overlooking the massive Jerusalem rubbish dump – literally living in the smell and debris of rubbish – or move to another site just above the Jerusalem sewage plant, with its foul smells. These are the options for a community that was expelled from the Negev region into the West Bank after 1948.
It is clear that Israel’s policy in the West bank is the same as that towards the Palestinian communities in Israel — to contain and concentrate them in the smallest areas possible. Palestinian inhabitants of pre-1948 Palestine now account for 50% of the population but occupy 10% of the land.
The obvious question to ask is why has Israel pursued these policies in the occupied territory – ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population, population transference from the occupier’s nation, house demolitions, and the seizure of key natural resources (including control of the water supply) – if the occupation is temporary and if they are meant to be working towards a two-state solution?
The answer, according to Ilan Pappe, is because the ‘occupation’ of the West Bank was in fact a planned colonisation, which pre-dated the 1967 war, as part of the Israel’s long-held aim of creating a Greater Israel. In Pappe’s 2016 Electronic Intifada article Israel’s occupation was a plan fulfilled, which draws on his book The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories, he states that since 1948, Israeli politicians and generals had “looked for a way of rectifying what they deemed was the gravest mistake of the otherwise triumphant ‘war of independence’: the decision not to occupy the West Bank.”
Pappe’s research found that Israel had been looking for a pretext, an opportunity, to take over the territory for many years and that in 1963 “preparations for a possible occupation of both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were stepped up. Over the next four years, the army prepared detailed plans for the eventual takeover of these territories.” He goes on to say that “We have no access to the military plans, but we do have access to the legal plans that were drafted from 1963 onwards detailing how to rule the lives of millions of Palestinians: military judges in waiting, legal advisors, military governors and rulers and a firm legal infrastructure to run life from the very moment of occupation. Intelligence on possible resistance and its leaders were properly gathered so that a swift takeover would evolve from the outset of the occupation.”
This all supports Jeff Halper’s assertion in his The One Democratic State Campaign article published in Mondoweiss that “As the Leonard Cohen song goes, ‘everybody knows’ the two-state solution is dead and gone. Zionism’s 120-year quest to Judaize Palestine – to transform Palestine into the Land of Israel – has been completed”. He argues that the only way forward now is a decolonisation process, through the creation of a single democratic state, based on principles of justice and equality for all.
Every threat in life provides a potential opportunity. Israel’s de facto erasure of the Green Line, as a result of its colonisation project and judaisation of the land from the river to the sea, provides an opportunity to re-frame the Israel/Palestine ‘problem’ and develop a different strategy for achieving a just and peaceful solution. ICAHD UK’s mission is ‘Resisting Occupation, Constructing Peace.’ We ‘resist the occupation’ through opposing house demolitions and re-building demolished homes as an act of resistance and solidarity. ‘Constructing peace’ is more challenging, but the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC) provides a sound rationale and an emerging programme that could attract broad-based support from those who are serious about ending the ‘occupation’ and finding a lasting solution in the region.