Demography / Judaisation

Israel is examining ways to expand the scope of the Law of Return, defining who is a Jew, to entitle up to three million more people to immigrate. Immigration rights could be extended to “groups with ties to the Jewish people”, including so-called “lost tribes” in India and Latin America. The move appears to reflect mounting concern that Israel is losing the “numbers battle” against the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been scrambling to extinguish a firestorm after his religious affairs minister questioned the Jewishness of hundreds of thousands of North American Jews. David Azoulay’s disparaging comments about followers of the most progressive branch of Judaism, known as Reform, threaten to undermine Netanyahu’s policy of trying to encourage Jews to immigrate to Israel.

The Israeli authorities razed Tareq Khatib’s home for the second time in two months last week. Now under house arrest at a friend’s home, he expects to be billed hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the costs of the demolitions and security operations. Fingering prayer beads, the 48-year-old father of five asked: “Where are my family and I supposed to live? It seems the government thinks the only place for us is out on the street, without a roof over our heads. It’s like they are waging a war against their own citizens.”

Israel’s Palestinian minority is preparing to hold a ‘day of rage’ to protest against a supreme court ruling last week that cleared the way to destroy an entire Bedouin village so that it can be replaced with a Jewish town. The decision marks the end of a 13-year legal battle by the 800 villagers of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev. There are widespread fears the ruling will reopen the door to controversial legislation requiring the destruction of dozens more Bedouin villages.

Upper Nazareth was built on Nazareth’s lands to “Judaise” the only Palestinian city to survive relatively unscathed from the 1948 war. But in recent years the proportion of Palestinian citizens living in Upper Nazareth has grown – and now stands at 20%. Fears of an Arab takeover stand behind a raft of controversial municipal measures, from banning Christmas trees and blocking the building of a school teaching in Arabic to the latest: refusing to stock books in Arabic at local public libraries.

Israel’s supreme court is to decide next week whether Dahmash village is wiped off the map. For decades officials have refused to recognise its 70 homes, just 20 minutes’ drive from Tel Aviv. Arafat Ismail said that while industrial parks, shopping malls and estates of luxury villas had sprung up all around them, Dahmash’s residents had been treated like “illegal squatters”. What distinguishes Dahmash from the communities around it is that it is Arab, an unwelcome relic from a time when the country was called Palestine.

Israeli security forces entered the embattled Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Negev to evict a handful of families who had sought sanctuary in the community’s graveyard. Bulldozers tore down an improvised mosque, caravan and several shacks that had been set up in the cemetery by 30 residents after the rest of the village had been destroyed dozens of times over the past four years.

Salah Sawaid remembers when this huddle of shacks was surrounded by open fields. Today, his views from the grassy uplands of the central Galilee are blocked on all sides by luxury apartments – a new neighbourhood of the ever-expanding city of Karmiel in northern Israel. “We are being choked to death,” said Sawaid, Ramya’s village leader. “They are building on top of us as though we don’t exist. Are we invisible to them?”

Nazareth dispatch

7 August 2013

Since 2005, Israel’s government has quietly classified Upper Nazareth as an ethnically mixed city. The migration of Palestinians into neighbouring Upper Nazareth has been underway for more than a decade, creating a unique problem for the Judaisation programme. Rather than swallowing Nazareth as was supposed to happen, Upper Nazareth is being slowly swallowed by its Palestinian neighbour.

Israel has been intensifying a campaign to evict Palestinian farming communities from their ancestral lands to replace them with Jewish newcomers. Israeli human rights lawyers, tired of the international community’s formulaic criticisms, say it is time to be more forthright. They call these “ethnic cleansing” zones – intended to drive off Palestinians irrespective of the provisions of international law and whether or not the Palestinians in question hold Israeli citizenship.

Israel’s large Palestinian minority is often spoken of in terms of the threat it poses to the Jewish majority. Palestinian citizens’ reproductive rate constitutes a “demographic timebomb”, while their main political programme – Israel’s reform into “a state of all its citizens” – is proof for most Israeli Jews that their compatriots are really a “fifth column”. But who would imagine that Israeli Jews could be so intimidated by the innocuous Christmas tree?

Welcome to Nazareth

3 August 2012

Nazareth found itself transformed twice-over by the 1948 war. A town of 13,000 more than doubled in size over the course of a few months as 15,000 refugees from nearby villages poured in seeking sanctuary from the Israeli army. And, with other cities vanquished inside the new state of Israel, Nazareth unexpectedly found itself the only urban Palestinian space to have survived. Swollen with refugees and in a position to become the political and cultural capital of the Palestinians inside Israel, the city attracted the sustained attention of Israel’s military and political leadership.

Little more than a decade ago, in a brief interlude of heady optimism about the prospects of regional peace, the Israeli Supreme Court issued two landmark rulings that, it was widely assumed, heralded the advent of a new, post-Zionist era for Israel. But with two more watershed judgments handed down over the winter of 2011-2012 the same court has decisively reversed the tide.

Last week the Israeli parliament updated a 59-year-old law originally intended to prevent hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from returning to the land from which they had been expelled as Israel was established. Fast-forward six decades and Israel is relying on the infiltration law to prevent a supposedly new threat to its existence: the arrival each year of several thousand desperate African asylum seekers.

Over the past 15 months the dusty plains of the northern Negev desert in Israel have been witness to a ritual of destruction, part of a police operation known as Hot Wind. On 29 occasions, hundreds of Israeli paramilitary officers have made the pilgrimage to the zinc sheds and hemp tents of al-‘Araqib. Within hours of their arrival, the 45 ramshackle structures — home to some 300 Bedouin villagers — are pulled down and al-‘Araqib is wiped off the map once again.

Israel’s relentless efforts to foil a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations are linked to its increasingly intransigent demand that it be recognised as a Jewish state. By denying the Palestinians the UN route while at the same time insisting as part of peace talks that they acknowledge Israel’s Jewish character, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is driving the final nail into the coffin of the peace process and the pursuit of the two-state solution.

Despite high-profile connections, Munther Fahmi’s days in the city of his birth may be numbered. Israeli officials have told him that, after 16 years running his bookshop in the grounds of East Jerusalem’s 19th-century hotel the American Colony, he is no longer welcome in Israel. Two months ago he exhausted his legal options when Israel’s high court refused to overturn the decision to deport him.

Half a million trees planted over the past 18 months on the ancestral lands of Bedouin tribes in Israel’s Negev region were bought by a controversial Christian evangelical television channel that calls itself God-TV. A sign posted a few kilometres north of Beersheva, the Negev’s main city, announces plans to plant a total of a million trees over a large area of desert that has already been designated “God-TV Forest”.

Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, last week declared Safed “the most racist city in the country”. The unflattering, and hotly contested, epithet follows an edict from Safed’s senior rabbis ordering residents not to sell or rent homes to “non-Jews” – a reference to the country’s Palestinian Arab citizens, who comprise a fifth of Israel’s population.

Israel secretly staged a training exercise last week to test its ability to quell any civil unrest that might result from a peace deal that calls for the forcible transfer of many Arab citizens, the Israeli media has reported. The drill was intended to test the readiness of the security service to contain large-scale riots by Israel’s Arab minority in response to such a deal. The transfer scenario echoes a proposal by Avigdor Lieberman for what he has called a “population exchange”.

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