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?
Demography / Judaisation
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”.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has insisted from the launch of the current peace talks that the Palestinians set no preconditions, while making his own precondition the centrepiece of negotiations. Mr Netanyahu has said talks are futile unless the Palestinians and their leader, Mahmoud Abbas, first recognise Israel as a Jewish state. “I recognised the Palestinians’ right to self-definition, so they must do the same for the Jewish people,” he told American Jewish leaders recently.
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s far-right foreign minister, set out this week what he called a “blueprint for a resolution to the conflict” with the Palestinians that demands most of the country’s large Palestinian minority be stripped of citizenship and relocated outside Israel’s future borders. Warning that Israel faced growing diplomatic pressure for a full withdrawal to the Green Line, the pre-1967 border, Mr Lieberman said that, if such a partition were implemented, “the conflict will inevitably pass beyond those borders and into Israel”.
Over the past few days graffiti scrawled on walls around the mixed Jewish and Arab town of Jaffa in central Israel exclaims: “Settlers, keep out” and “Jaffa is not Hebron”. Although Jaffa is only a stone’s throw from the bustling coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv, Arab residents say their neighbourhood has become the unlikely battleground for an attempted takeover by extremist Jews more familiar from West Bank settlements.
The Israeli government is reported to have quietly approved the fast-track immigration of 7,000 members of a supposedly “lost Jewish” tribe, known as the Bnei Menashe, currently living in a remote area of India. Under the plan, the “lost Jews” would be brought to Israel over the next two years by right-wing and religious organisations who, critics are concerned, will seek to place them in West Bank settlements in a bid to foil Israel’s partial agreement to a temporary freeze of settlement growth.
The Israeli government has launched a television and Internet advertising campaign urging Israelis to inform on Jewish friends and relatives abroad who may be in danger of marrying non-Jews. The advertisements, employing what the Israeli media described as “scare tactics,” are designed to stop assimilation through intermarriage among young Diaspora Jews by encouraging their move to Israel.
The inhabitants of the Bedouin village of Amra have good reason to fear that the harsh tactics used by the Israeli army against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been imported to their small corner of Israel’s Negev desert. Over the summer, the Tarabin tribe, all of them Israeli citizens, have had the sole access road to their homes sealed off. Coils of razor wire encircle much of the village, and children as young as eight have been arrested in a series of night-time raids.
The municipality of Beersheva, the capital of southern Israel, is racing to put the finishing touches to repairs of the city’s long-neglected and unused Great Mosque, built more than 100 years ago by the Ottoman rulers of what was then Palestine. But, over the protests of Beersheva’s thousands-strong community of Muslims, the Jewish-run municipality is not planning to restore the city’s only mosque to its former glory as a place of worship. It wants to convert it into a museum.
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