Palestinian leaders in Israel have warned that they suspect the Israeli government is behind recent efforts to trick the families of refugees from the 1948 war into signing away the rights to their lands. Experts say Israel has been working to pressure families into selling their lands for decades as a way to undermine a Palestinian right of return, one of the key demands in any peace agreement.
An Israeli government plan to build hundreds of homes for the country’s Druze population faces stiff opposition after it was revealed that the new community would be located on the lands of Palestinian refugees. The town, due to be built west of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, would be the first new community for members of Israel’s Palestinian minority since the state’s founding 68 years ago.
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.
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.
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?”
In what was billed as a “day of rage”, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to protest against a plan to uproot tens of thousands of Bedouin from their ancestral lands inside Israel, in the Negev. The stakes are high, not least because Israel views this battle as a continuation of the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of Palestine. The roots of the so-called Prawer Plan can be traced to one of Zionism’s earliest and most sinister principles: “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.
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.
A towering concrete wall looms over the main street of what was once a flourishing market in the northern Israeli town of Baqa al-Gharbiya, or Western Baqa. The 8-metre high barrier separates them from the West Bank and their former twin, Eastern Baqa. Western Baqa’s 22,000 Arab residents say they are opposed to living in the shadow of a wall that separates brothers from sisters and children from their parents. But they were equally unhappy to learn this week that, as part of peace negotiations with the Palestinians three years ago, Israel secretly proposed redrawing the borders to strip them and potentially tens of thousands of other Israeli Arabs of their citizenship.
The pretty two-storey home with a red-tiled roof built by Adel and Iman Kaadan looks no different from the rows of other houses in Katzir, a small hilltop community in northern Israel close to the West Bank. But, unlike the other residents of Katzir, the Kaadans moved into their dream home this month only after a 12-year battle through the Israeli courts. The small victory for the Kaadans, who belong to Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority, dealt a big blow to a state policy that for decades has reserved most of the country’s land for Jews.
Jews must not rent homes to “gentiles”. That was the religious decree issued this week by at least 50 of Israel’s leading rabbis, many of them employed by the state as municipal religious leaders. Jews should first warn, then “ostracise” fellow Jews who fail to heed the directive, the rabbis declared. The decree is the latest in a wave of racist pronouncements from some of Israel’s most influential rabbis.
Israeli security forces destroyed a Bedouin village this week for the second time in a matter of days, leaving 300 inhabitants homeless again after they and dozens of Jewish and Arab volunteers had begun rebuilding the 45 homes. Human rights groups warned that these appeared to be the opening shots in a long-threatened campaign by the Israeli government to begin mass forced removals of tens of thousands of Bedouin from their ancestral lands in the southern Negev.
Israel’s apologists are very exercised about the idea that Israel has been singled out for special scrutiny and criticism. I wish to argue, however, that in most discussions of Israel it actually gets off extremely lightly: that many features of the Israeli polity would be considered exceptional or extraordinary in any other democratic state. That is not surprising because, as I will argue, Israel is neither a liberal democracy nor even a “Jewish and democratic state”, as its supporters claim. It is an apartheid state, not only in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, but also inside Israel proper.
The Zakai and Tarabin families should be a picture of happy coexistence across the ethnic divide, a model for others to emulate in Israel. But Natalie and Weisman Zakai say the past three years – since the Jewish couple offered to rent their home to Bedouin friends, Ahmed and Khalas Tarabin – have been a living hell. “I have always loved Israel,” said Mrs Zakai, 43. “But to see the depth of the racism of our neighbours has made me question why we live in this country.”
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 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.
Despite the loss of their village, the 4,500 Palestinian refugees from Saffuriya and their descendants have clung to one hope: that the Jewish newcomers could not buy their land, only lease it temporarily from the state. According to international law, Israel holds the property of more than four million Palestinian refugees in custodianship, until a final peace deal determines whether they will be allowed back or compensated for their loss. But last week, Benjamin Netanyahu, forced through a revolutionary land reform.
Israel’s housing minister called for strict segregation between the country’s Jewish and Arab populations last week as he unveiled plans to move large numbers of fundamentalist religious Jews to Israel’s north to prevent what he described as an “Arab takeover” of the region. Ariel Atias said he considered it a “national mission” to bring ultra-Orthodox Jews – or Haredim, distinctive for their formal black and white clothing – into Arab areas, and announced that he would also create the north’s first exclusively Haredi town.
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