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Video: Bedouins resist Israeli plan to expel 40,000 and “Judaize” their land

by Ali Abunimah, EI

With the European Union’s recent decision to stop subsidies to any Israeli projects in the occupied West Bank, a lot of media attention has once again been focused on Israeli settlements there.

What has attracted much less international attention is an Israeli plan to force tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins out of their homes in the southern Naqab (Negev)region, land that most countries recognize as part of Israel.

This video report from The Real News Network provides essential background, noting that some 200,000 Bedouins live in the Naqab, about half of them in so-called “unrecognized villages” that have existed since before the Israeli state was founded.

“Intuders” in their own homes

But Israel considers the Bedouins to be intruders and trespassers on their own lands, even though they are nominally citizens of Israel.

Israel has long refused to connect their villages to the power grid or running water, build roads, health clinics or schools.

Instead, on 24 June, the Israeli parliament passed the Prawer-Begin law, that would see 40 Bedouin villages demolished.

40,000 will lose their homes

Under the Prawer plan, their land will be confiscated in order to establish a wedge of Jewish communities separating Arab communities in the western and eastern parts of the Naqab.

This is an intensification of an already ongoing assault. As the video notes, in 2005, 30,000 Bedouin homes had an Israeli demolition order. In 2011, about 1,000 were demolished.

Under the new plan, up to 40,000 people will lose their homes in the latest phase of theviolent “Judaization” of Bedouin lands.

Those affected are not accepting their fate and are mobilizing to stop the Prawer plan, as the Bedouin activists featured in the video explain.

Racist incitement against Bedouins

Meanwhile, government and media continue a campaign of incitement against the Bedouins, painting them as criminals, in order to justify the assault.

For example, the video says, Israeli lawmaker Danny Danon – a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party – claimed that in 2011, 1,000 women and girls were “seduced, kidnapped or enslaved” by Bedouins, even though the Israeli police did not record even one such case.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF), which raises tax exempt charitable funds in the US, UK, Canada and other countries, plays a key role in the ethnic cleansing of Bedouins and theft of their land.

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‘Israel’s’ ethnic cleansing zones

The Name of the Game

by JONATHAN COOK, source

Were it not for the razor wire, giant concrete blocks, steel gates, watchtower and standard-issue surly teenage soldier, it would be impossible to tell at what point the barren uplands of Israel’s eastern Negev give way to the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank.

The military checkpoint of Shani vaguely marks the formal demarcation between Israel and occupied Palestinian territory, but in practical terms the distinction is meaningless. On either side of the Green Line, Israel is in charge.

In recent weeks it has been intensifying a campaign to summarily 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.

In the occupied South Hebron Hills, a dozen traditional communities – long ago denied by Israel the right to enjoy modern amenities such as electricity and running water – are struggling to remain in the cave-homes that sheltered them for centuries.

Israel has reclassified much of their land as a military firing range and demands that they leave for their own safety. An appeal to the Israeli courts, the latest instalment in a 14-year saga to avoid eviction, is due in the next few days.

Israel’s concern for the villagers’ welfare might sound more convincing were it not encouraging Jews to live close by in illegal settlements.

Palestinians in other parts of the occupied territories coveted by Israel – such as villages next to Jerusalem and those in the fertile Jordan Valley, the territorial backbone of any future Palestinian state – are being squeezed too. Firing ranges, closed military zones and national parks are the pretexts for Israel to seize the farmland these rural communities need to survive.

As a result, Palestinian life is withering in the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank Israel was temporarily entrusted with – the so-called Area C – under the Oslo Accords.

Endlessly harassed Palestinians have sought sanctuary in West Bank cities under Palestinian Authority control. Today the remnants in Area C, a population of about 100,000, are outnumbered three to one by
Jewish settlers.

A discomfited European Union, normally mealy-mouthed on Israel’s occupation, has started to describe this as “forced transfer”. The term may sound ominous and reproving, but human rights groups say that, from a legal perspective, the terminology obscures rather than illuminates what is taking place.

“Forced transfer”, observes Suhad Bishara, a lawyer with Adalah, a legal centre for Israel’s minority of 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, usually describes uncoordinated and unofficial incidents of population displacement, often as an outcome of war.

Bishara and others argue that Israel is carrying out a systematic and intentional policy to drive Palestinians off their land to replace them with Jewish communities. This, they say, should be identified as “ethnic cleansing”, a term first given legal and moral weight in the Balkans conflict in the early 1990s.

As evidence, the lawyers point to recent developments inside Israel. The treatment of tens of thousands of Bedouin in the Negev, all of them Israeli citizens, is virtually identical to that of Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills.

The Bedouin too have faced a prolonged campaign to push them off their ancestral lands, where most live as pastoral farmers, and into a series of “townships”, forcibly urbanising them in the most deprived communities in Israel. In the disconcerting language of Israeli bureaucracy, the Bedouin need to be “concentrated”.

Israel has increased the pressure – as in the West Bank – by denying these Bedouin all public services, and demolishing any concrete homes they build. As with Palestinians under occupation, the Bedouin have found their communities reclassified as firing ranges, military zones or national forests.

The village of al-Araqib, near Beersheva, for example, has been demolished more than 50 times in recent years as Israel plants on its land – with a suitably sinister irony – the Ambassadors’ Forest, commemorating the help provided to Israel by the international community’s diplomatic corps.

Waiting in the wings are developers ready to build on the Bedouin’s land 10 towns for Jews only. The rest of the territory is being eaten up by Jewish ranches, given swathes of land to create new tourism opportunities, such as vineyards with wine-tasting services, camel and horse riding centres and, in one case, a pet cemetery.

But, as in the West Bank, the Bedouin are refusing to budge, and pressing their historic land claims in the Israeli courts. Rather than wait for a verdict it may not like, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is rewriting the Bedouin’s citizenship rights.

The Prawer plan, which passed its first reading in parliament last month, will force 40,000 Bedouin off their land – the largest expulsions inside Israel for decades. Unlike Jewish citizens, they will have no say over where they live; they will be forcibly assigned to a township.

For the first time, Israeli citizens – the Bedouin – are to be deprived of any recourse to the courts as they are harried from their homes. Instead Israel will resort to administrative procedures more familiar from the occupied territories.

The policy is clear: Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line are to be treated like sheep, penned into ever-smaller areas, while Jews will have unrestrained access to a Greater Israel envisioned by Netanyahu.

The international community has long criticised Israel for the “discrimination” its Palestinian citizens face and for the “oppression” of Palestinians under occupation. This terminology needs overhauling too, say the human rights lawyers.

A political system that treats one ethnic group as less human than another already has a legal name: it is called apartheid.

Another Israeli swimming pool caught refusing entry to Arab citizens

by Ali Abunimah, EI

An Israeli swimming pool in the southern city of Bir al-Saba (Beer Sheva) refused entry to a Palestinian citizen of Israel, in the latest documented example of blatant racism in public accommodations.

Tahir Marisat, a teacher in one of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Naqab (Negev)region, went to the Beer Sheva Country Club with a friend and asked to buy a ticket.

Marisat was told by the clerk that the pool was only for residents of the city. Marisat, who studied in Bir al-Saba and has lived there for 11 years, is originally from the town of Tamra in the north of the country, but has not changed the address on his identity card.

After being refused entry the first time, Marisat went back a second time and recorded on video the exchange of him being again denied entry. Marisat is told firmly “go home” and that the local residents only policy was “new.”

That exchange, in Hebrew, can be seen in the Channel 10 report at the top of this post.

“A specific population”

The “Orly and Guy” program on Israel’s Channel 10 sent an undercover investigative reporter to the club to test whether it does indeed discriminate between Jews and Arabs.

The Jewish reporter was able to buy a ticket even though his place of residence was Netanya, a northern city far from Bir al-Saba. When the reporter asked about the policy of only selling tickets to local residents he was told by the desk clerk that the policy only applied to a “specific population.”

The video of the Channel 10 report included audio of this exchange recorded by the undercover reporter as he purchased a ticket. It is translated from the original Hebrew:

Undercover reporter: “How much is it?”
Pool clerk: “Seventy-five. Are you a soldier?”
Undercover reporter: “Uh – no. Is there any problem with me not being from Beer Sheva ?”
Pool clerk: “No.”
Undercover reporter: “No?”
Pool clerk: “It’s not aimed at you.”
Undercover reporter: “It’s not aimed at me? What does that mean?”
Pool clerk: “It’s for a specific population.”
Undercover reporter: “Do lots of Bedouins come here?”
Pool clerk: “Yes.”
Undercover reporter: “OK, thank you very much.”

Family turned away for being Arab

Marisat told Channel 10, “When I was there a woman came, with her children, with her husband, to come into the pool. An Arab woman, with her husband, and they didn’t let her in. She went back and her children started asking ‘why aren’t we going in?’”

After being caught red-handed implementing a blatantly racist policy, the club told Channel 10 that it “permits entry to any person who purchased an annual subscription, with no difference of color, sex, and religion.”

When it comes to day passes, of the type Marisat and the undercover reporter sought to purchase, the club claimed “entry is permitted only to Beer Sheva residents, regardless of their ethnic origins.”

To this, program host Orly Vilnai commented, “we saw that this was untrue.” And her co-host Guy Maroz observed, “They’re blaming the lowest ranking person!”

The program also noted that the mayor of Bir al-Saba did not respond to a request for comment even though the club is a municipal pool.

The exposure of segregation at the Beer Sheva Country Club follows other similar incidents in recent months including:

With thanks to Dena Shunra for translation and analysis.

Israeli parliament approves plans to transfer 30,000 Palestinian Bedouin

Araqib

by Mansour Nsasra, The Electronic Intifada

While attention is focused on the Palestinian Authority’s UN recognition initiative, Israel is quietly taking hugely significant steps to transfer 30,000 Palestinian Bedouin in the Naqab (Negev) desert from their ancestral lands.

Recently, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, approved plans for another large-scale cleansing of the Bedouin community in the Naqab. The plan would “relocate” 30,000 of those who managed to remain on their land after more than two thirds of all Bedouin were uprooted during the establishment of Israel.

The Bedouin once were a flourishing community of some 90,000 persons who lived around the city of Bir al-Saba (Beersheva). Yet the expulsions that took place in 1948 were the prelude to their ongoing expulsion since then.

After the establishment of Israel, military rule was imposed on the Beersheva Bedouin for more than 18 years. Despite the end of the military rule in 1967, the Bedouin story of dispossession continues until today. Almost all their land was seized by the state using a set of legal maneuvers such as the absentee property law and the land acquisition laws of 1953.

Despite the expulsions that took place during the establishment of the State of Israel on their land, today the Arab Bedouin population is estimated to number more than 200,000 persons and constitutes one-third of the Naqab’s population. Today, half of Bedouin citizens of Israel live in 46 “unrecognized” villages. These are Bedouin villages in the Naqab which Israel does not recognize as legal; the villages are deprived of basic services like housing, water, electricity, education and health care. The rest live in townships that the state established for them in the 1970s in an aggressive policy of forced sedentarization.

Israel refuses to respect the rights of its own citizens; in this case 100,000 persons (the population of the 46 unrecognized villages) who are part of the 1.5 million Palestinian national minority treated as second-class citizens in Israel. Despite continuous policies since 1948 to Judaize the Naqab, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is currently considering the possibility of a final push to modify the demography of the region once and for all and hence tighten Israel’s control over it. The recent Goldberg and Prawer Commission recommendations of “relocating” 30,000 Bedouin from their native land was approved in September by the Israeli government (Eliezer Goldberg is a former Israeli high court judge; Ehud Prawer a senior Israeli civil servant; both men have headed panels set up to study the status of Bedouins in the Naqab).

Since 1948, successive Israeli governments have not dealt seriously with the Bedouin land ownership question, or “problem” in the Israeli state’s lexicon, in the Naqab. Successive new governments formulated new plans for dealing with the unrecognized villages and land claims. To this day, no government has applied universal principles of human rights to resolve the dispute between the Bedouin community and the state over land ownership.

It appears that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is in the process of adopting extreme measures toward this segment of the Arab minority in Israel that remained within its historical homeland to achieve a final solution to this “problem.” The plan approved by the Israeli cabinet involves the expulsion and “relocation” of 30,000 Bedouins from their land out of a total of 100,000 residents of the unrecognized villages. It is no coincidence that such drastic measures are close to implementation.

With the regional shift in politics amid the Arab uprisings and the move towards recognition of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu’s coalition feels an urgent need to take the strategic decision of protecting space for Jewish settlers in the Naqab by dispossessing more indigenous Bedouin from their own historical land.

Land grab

The struggle between Israel and its Naqab Bedouin citizens is about a state bent on Judaizing the land by dispossessing its indigenous inhabitants, on the one hand, and indigenous land ownership rights, on the other. The land grab from the indigenous Bedouins started as early as 1949. By the 1950s, the majority of the remaining Bedouin (11,000) was expelled from the western part of the Naqab into a small enclosed military reservation north east of Beersheva (and became “internally displaced” citizens).

Since then, these remaining members of the community have consistently chosen to achieve land recognition through legal means in the Israeli court system. These cases are ongoing. The most recent case was that of the Bedouin village of al-Araqib. After years of legal discussions in the Beersheva district court, the land claims of the village were not recognized despite the fact that the residents of the village hold land deeds dating back to the times of Ottoman rule in Palestine. The response came in July 2010, when the Israeli authorities, accompanied by the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) and more than 1,300 police, demolished the village.

Since the initial razing of the village, and in an amazing display of steadfastness, the people of al-Araqib rebuilt their village with their own hands. In response, the state razed the village yet again, and as of the last destruction, the village has now been rebuilt on 29 separate occasions.

Such steadfastness has posed a fundamental challenge to an Israeli government seemingly unable to understand the nature of the people power unleashed in the region over the past nine months. The village’s plight has suddenly become the symbol of the land struggle between the indigenous peoples of the Naqab and the state.

Far-right sets the agenda

According to Turkish and British archival reports, previous governments in Palestine recognized Bedouin land claims. When Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, and Herbert Samuel, the first British High Commissioner for Palestine, met Bedouin sheikhs in 1921, they recognized Bedouin land ownership, according to specific customs and tribal laws. Yet since 1948, the Israeli court system has not recognized even one land claim, despite the fact that the Bedouin have made thousands of claims on their historical land.

In December 2007, Ehud Olmert’s administration established the Goldberg Commission, which was tasked with finalizing the status of Bedouin land claims in the Naqab. Nowadays, the Bedouin seek that 600,000 dunams (150,000 acres) of land is recognized and registered in the state registry as a small portion of their historical land. Today, the Bedouin populate approximately 5 percent of the Naqab’s land, a fraction of the area of southern Palestine they inhabited prior to 1948.

A report submitted in 2008 recommended that some of the Bedouin land be recognized. According to the Goldberg proposal, half of Bedouin claims on agricultural lands they currently occupy should be granted: around 200,000 dunams (50,000 acres) to be listed as Bedouin territory in the land registry bureau. In fact, this is less than half of the Bedouin land claims made since the 1970s. In addition, the Goldberg Commission recommended the recognition of a limited number of the unrecognized villages.

In January 2009, the government formed a team tasked with the implementation of these recommendations headed by Ehud Prawer, chief of the Policy Planning Department within the Prime Minister’s Office. The Prawer panel worked to implement Goldberg’s recommendations by offering 27 percent of the Bedouin claim. The Bedouin who are represented by the regional council of the unrecognized villages, and by other local and grassroots organizations, refused the offer.

The Bedouin argued that the Goldberg and Prawer recommendations would mean another catastrophe (Nakba) for them, with the loss of their land and demolition of most of their villages. The Bedouin campaigned against the Goldberg recommendations and asked for full recognition of their 46 villages and the all the land claimed by them.

In response to the possible implementation of the Goldberg recommendations, Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing party headed by foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, urged the government to cancel the “offer” and reduce the amount of land to be recognized altogether. Right-wing members of the Knesset, and local Israeli council leaders in the Naqab, came out against a plan of dividing the Naqab.

Shmulik Rifman, head of Ramat Negev Council, stated that Netanyahu’s government was taking a major risk, explaining that if “they don’t finalize the Bedouin settlement it will be very hard to enhance Jewish settlement in the Negev. This must be addressed if one wants 700,000 Jews in the Negev.” From Rifman’s viewpoint, the Naqab and Bir al-Saba/Beersheva region is still central to the state’s ideology of colonizing more of the indigenous Bedouin land.

This pressure from Israeli right-wing politicians paid off. Modifications to the official recommendations of the Goldberg report were made, including the reduction of the amount of land available to Bedouin communities, as well as reducing the compensation offered to them in order to leave their land. The stance of the Israeli right-wing parties reflects the growing anxiety of the Israeli authorities to secure the Naqab for Jewish settlers. David Rotem, a Yisrael Beiteinu member of the Knesset, argued that “The occupation of state land has come to an end. We are returning the Negev to the state of Israel’s hands.” He also recommended employing 300 civil police to enforce what amounts to the state’s dispossession of Bedouin communities so as to stop their “encroachment” on “state” land and building “illegally.”

The struggle continues

Bedouins’ peaceful actions in the face of these policies of dispossession and expulsion are ongoing. The Bedouin campaign against the implementation of the Goldberg and Prawer recommendations includes organizing protests in Arab villages across the country and boycotting the government plans at different levels. Bedouin demonstration included organizing central demonstrations in Jerusalem.

But the local indigenous population are not willing to give up the claim to their land despite the continued weekly house demolition. The Bedouin continue to raise the banner, demanding their villages and land claims be recognized. The continually shifting policies of the state and its agencies towards the local indigenous Bedouin is a clear sign of their fear of losing more land for Jewish settlements in the Naqab, and it is a natural reaction to Bedouin steadfastness. The facts clearly indicate that indigenous peoples of the Naqab do not meekly submit to state oppression, and that they are not going away.

Dr. Mansour Nsasra teaches Middle East politics and international relations at the University of Exeter.

No place for Muslims to pray in Beir Al-Sabe

Palestinians have not been able to pray in Beir Al Sabe Big Mosque since 1948. (Jillian Kestler-D’Amours)

No place for Muslims to pray in “Beer Sheva”

by Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, The Electronic Intifada

Encircled by a grey, metal fence, the Big Mosque in Beer Sheva is an impressive Ottoman-era structure with a towering minaret, white dome and intricate metal detailing on its many windows.

Closed off by the Israeli authorities since 1991, it is suffering from neglect. And after the Israeli high court ruled last month that it should be turned into a museum of Islamic culture instead of being open to prayer, the mosque is once again at the heart of a battle between the area’s Muslim residents and the municipality.

“All the Arab citizens in Beer Sheva don’t have a mosque or place to pray. They asked the city to renovate the mosque so that they can use it to pray and the city refused,” explained Jaber Abu Kaf, a resident of Umm Bateen, a Bedouin village just south of Beer Sheva and a representative of the Regional Council for Unrecognized Bedouin Villages (RCUV) in the Negev.

“As Muslims, we refuse for a mosque like this to be changed into a museum. We ask for the mosque to be used for people to pray,” Abu Kaf told The Electronic Intifada.

Ten years of deliberations

In August 2002, Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel — along with the Association for the Support and Protection of the Rights of the Bedouin in Israel, the Islamic Committee in the Naqab (Negev), and 23 Palestinian citizens of Israel from Beer Sheva — submitted a petition to the Israeli high court demanding that the Big Mosque of Beer Sheva be re-opened for prayer.

The Big Mosque was built in 1906 for the use of the Muslim residents of Beir al-Sabe — the original Arabic name of the town which has since been Hebraized to Beer Sheva. Residents and Bedouin communities throughout the Naqab used the mosque for worship until the State of Israel was created in 1948 and Beir al-Sabe ethnically cleansed. From 1948 until 1953, the mosque was used as a court and prison. Then, the structure was used as a museum until 1991, when its contents were finally emptied and the mosque was closed by the state.

In essence, thousands of Muslim residents of contemporary Beer Sheva — and more than 180,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel living in nearby communities — have been denied access to the mosque since 1948.

Latest chapter in a history of injustice

“The opening of the mosque in Beer Sheva is one of the rights that should be given to Beer Sheva’s Muslim citizens and one of the services that Beer Sheva should offer the people of the area,” explained Adel Badir, a lawyer from Adalah who has worked on the case since 2003, shortly after the ruling was delivered on 22 June.

Instead, the municipality of Beer Sheva argued to the high court that the Big Mosque should be used as a general museum. The mosque currently sits a few meters from the Negev Museum, which was built on mosque lands and is housed in an Ottoman-era building known as the Governor’s House. The museum houses pieces of contemporary Israeli art — including video installations, photographs and paintings — all related to the Negev region.

The municipality argued that opening the Big Mosque for prayer would lead to violence and disturb the peace in the community, but did not specify how or why this would be the case. Indeed, high court Justice Salim Jubran criticized the municipality’s argument and asked whether the municipality was saying “that religious ritual by their very nature led to fighting and conflict, or whether it claimed that it was specifically Muslim worship that involved something that could result in confrontations between groups that would otherwise enjoy normal relations with one another,” according to a statement released by Adalah on 24 June (“Israeli Supreme Court Rules to Turn Big Mosque in Beer el-Sabe into an ‘Islamic Museum’”).

According to Badir, the idea that the mosque would create problems in Beer Sheva is wholly unfounded.

“The Beer Sheva municipality’s claim that the opening of the Beer Sheva mosque will cause problems is a weak and mistaken one. There are many mosques in mixed cities. In Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Haifa there are mosques and there isn’t any problem,” Badir said.

According to the same Adalah statement, Justice Ayala Procaccia stated in her ruling that “concerning the stated moral considerations, I doubt that the municipality has given any consideration whatsoever to the legitimate expectations of Muslims to restore their religious connection to the mosque.”

Converting the mosque into a museum of Islamic culture and religion, she added, would “achieve the objectives of the petition, if partially, by restoring the link between the Muslim community and the Big Mosque, as a site that is connected to the cultural values and history of this community.”

Destruction, neglect of holy places since 1948

In December 2004, the Nazareth-based Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) released a report on the destruction and abuse of Muslim and Christian holy places in Israel. According to the report, not only has the Israeli government not fulfilled its obligations to protect the religious rights of Palestinian citizens of the state — which number approximately 1.6 million, or 20 percent of the total population — it has also actively denied their right to practice their religions freely and maintain their places of worship (“Sanctity Denied: The Destruction and Abuse of Muslim and Christian Holy Places in Israel”).

“The destruction of Christian and Muslim holy places should be seen in the context of the wide-scale destruction of more than 400 Palestinian villages inside the borders of the new Jewish state during and for many years after the 1948 war,” the report adds. HRA estimates that 249 Muslim and Christian places of worship located inside the boundary between the West Bank and Israel had been destroyed or made unusable since 1948.

The State of Israel has also denied Palestinians access to religious sites, thereby allowing them to deteriorate due to lack of care and neglect, and has allowed places of worship to be converted for other purposes by Jewish communities, the report adds.

The report mentions that Bedouin rights activist Nuri al-Okbi “was arrested for writing ‘This is a mosque’ on the museum sign that remains outside the mosque [in Beer Sheva], and a criminal file was opened against him by the police.”

“This accusation of vandalizing public property was unique,” the report adds. “No police action has been taken over the steady growth of graffiti that has accumulated inside and outside the mosque over the years of its closure and dereliction. In January 2004 the court ordered that he pay a 1,000 shekel [$290 US] fine or serve seven days in prison.”

Ultimately, the HRA finds that “Israel is reneging on its promises and duties under international law to protect the holy places of the two other major faiths in the Holy Land and instead allowing the destruction and mistreatment of sites sacred to Muslims and Christians.”

Such restrictions violate international law, such as Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include … freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

Article 27 of the Covenant also states: “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”

Appeal to the planning authorities

According to Adalah attorney Adel Badir, the Israeli high court stated in its ruling that the petitioners in Beer Sheva could approach the planning authorities to request a change of purpose for the Big Mosque from a general museum to a place of worship. Should the planning authorities reject this request, the case can again be taken to the courts.

“This doesn’t finish here,” Badir said. “We will go to the planning authorities and make an application to open this mosque for prayer, not just as a museum.”

For Jaber Abu Kaf, from the Bedouin village of Umm Batin near Beer Sheva, the court’s decision to turn the Big Mosque into an Islamic museum doesn’t address the needs of the area’s Muslim residents and how they continue to lack a suitable place to pray.

“There is no mosque in Beer Sheva. People go to pray in the Arab villages around Beer Sheva, like Tel Sheva, Lakiah, Hura and Rahat. They travel far distances to pray on Friday. Why can’t they pray in the mosque in Beer Sheva?” Abu Kaf said.

“There should be justice and there is no reason not to give people the opportunity to pray [at the Big Mosque],” he added. “We request that the Israeli government and all those responsible allow Muslims to pray there.”

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem.

Lifta: Palestine’s last 1948 villages faces bulldozers

Lifta

Lifta to be Razed for Israeli Vacation Homes

by JONATHAN COOK, source

Lifta.

On a rocky slope dropping steeply away from the busy main road at the entrance to West Jerusalem is to be found a scattering of ancient stone houses, empty and clinging precariously to terraces hewn from the hillside centuries ago.

Although most Israeli drivers barely notice the buildings, this small ghost town — neglected for the past six decades — is at the centre of a legal battle fuelling nationalist sentiments on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

Picking his way through the cluster of 55 surviving houses, their stone walls invaded by weeds and shrubs, Yacoub Odeh, 71, slipped easily into reminiscences about the halcyon days in Lifta.

He was only eight years old in January 1948 when the advancing Jewish forces put his family and the 3,000 other Palestinian villagers to flight.

Over the coming months, as the Jewish state was born, they would be joined by 750,000 others forced into exile in an event that is known by Palestinians as the “nakba”, or catastrophe.

Despite the passage of time, Lifta’s chief landmarks are still clear to Mr Odeh: the remains of his own family’s home, an olive press, the village oven, a spring, the mosque, the cemetery and the courtyard where the villagers once congregated.

“Life was wonderful for a small child here,” he said, closing his eyes. “We were like one large family. We played in the spring’s waters, we picked the delicious strawberries growing next to the pool.

“I can still remember the taste of the bread freshly baked by my mother and coated with olive oil and thyme.”

The village not only occupies a unique place in Mr Odeh’s affections. It has also come to symbolise a hope of eventual return for many of the nearly five million Palestinian refugees around the world.

In the words of Ghada Karmi, a British academic whose own family was forced from their home close by, in the Jerusalem suburb of Katamon, Lifta “remains a physical memorial of injustice and survival”.

Lifta

The reason is that Lifta is the last deserted village from 1948 still standing in modern-day Israel.

More than 400 other villages seized by Israel war were razed during and after the war of 1948 in what historians have described as a systematic plan to make sure the refugees had no homes to return to.

Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian who examined the 1948 war in his book the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, has termed the villages’ destruction an act of “memoricide” — erasing for Israelis all troubling reminders of an earlier Palestinian presence.

The destroyed villages’ lands were used by the new state either to build communities for Jewish immigrants or to plant national forests, said Eitan Bronstein, spokesman for Zochrot, an Israeli group dedicated to teaching Israelis about the nakba.

A handful of other Palestinian communities, such as the old city of Jaffa and Ein Hod near Haifa, survived the wave of demolitions but were quickly passed on to new Jewish owners to be reinvented as artists’ colonies.

Only Lifta was neither destroyed nor reinhabited, its homes standing as a solitary, silent testament to a vanished way of life, said Mr Bronstein.

But even that small legacy is under imminent threat from the bulldozers.

In January the Israel Lands Authority, a government body responsible for Lifta’s lands, announced a plan to build a luxury housing project over the village, including more than 200 apartments, a hotel and shops.

The project, said Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem city councillor, would be targeted at wealthy foreign Jews, mainly from the United States and France, looking for summer vacation homes in Israel.

The developers have promised to incorporate some of the old buildings into the complex, although most observers — including leading architects — say that little of the orginal Palestinian village will be recognisable after the project is completed.

Instead, according to Mr Bronstein, Lifta will belatedly suffer the same fate as the hundreds of villages destroyed by Israel decades ago. “The message is that we are finishing what we started in 1948,” he said.

Esther Zandberg, a commentator on architecture for the Israeli Haaretz daily, agreed: “Although it is termed a preservation effort, it is in effect, paradoxically, an erasure of all memory of the original village.”

Critics have been joined by Shmuel Groag, one of the project’s original architects, who has accused the developers of failing to respect the basic rules of conservation in their treatment of Lifta.

Lifta’s families, backed by several Israeli groups, including Rabbis for Human Rights, petitioned the courts to stop the project, saying the site should be preserved in its existing state.

The Jerusalem district court temporarily froze the development in March, and is expected to issue a ruling in the coming days.

The families have also appealed to Unesco, the United Nations organisation in charge of educational, scientific and cultural matters, to declare Lifta a world heritage site.

The development, however, is backed by the leading conservation bodies in Israel, including the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Council for the Preservation of Historic Sites. The council’s director, Isaac Shewky, said the costs of a proper restoration would be “astronomical”.

Unlike most of the other 20,000 refugees and their descendants from Lifta, many of whom live in the West Bank and Jordan, Mr Odeh is able to visit his former village because he lives a few kilometres away in East Jerusalem.

He said he would ultimately like to see the families offered a chance to reclaim their former homes. “We will never forget Lifta. Our dream is to come back.”

Few observers expect such a scenario in the current political climate. The Palestinian right of return is widely seen by Israeli Jews as spelling doom for Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state.

That fear was only accentuated by the images of refugees in Syria storming border fences in the Golan Heights in May and June, in what was widely seen in Israel as an attempted return to their former homes.

Mr Bronstein said: “Lifta poses such a threat to Israelis because it offers a starting point for imagining how the right of return might be implemented. It offers a model for the refugees.”

Mr Odeh, who offers guided tours of Lifta, has to share the site with many Israeli visitors. Young religious boys have turned the still-functioning village pool into a mikveh, or ritual immersion bath. Other Israelis use the site as a favourite hiking spot. And in the evenings, drug-users take shelter in the homes.

Lifta is also facing rapid encroachment from West Jerusalem. It is ringed by major roads linking Jerusalem to the West Bank settlements; on the ridge above, a high-speed rail link to Tel Aviv is being built; and in the valley below a military complex is believed to house the government’s underground nuclear bunker.

Jonathan Cook won this year’s Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism.

“Israel” plans to forcibly transfer 40,000 Bedouin citizens

"We are steadfast here"

by Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, The Electronic Intifada

A new Israeli proposal that would forcibly transfer more than 40,000 Bedouin citizens into government-planned townships in the Negev (Naqab) desert has raised the ire of Bedouin communities and their supporters, who say that the plan is both discriminatory and ignores the Bedouins’ historic connection to the land.

“[The Israeli government thinks] that the Bedouin are now like enemies, not like citizens or humans. We feel really like criminals,” said Dr. Awad Abu Freih, the spokesperson and resident of al-Araqib, one of approximately 45 so-called unrecognized villages in the Negev.

“Now we are very angry and we reject this plan. We will not accept it. We are working all the time to explain to our communities that this plan is very dangerous, it’s not good for us and not good for the Jews, not good for the state, not good for anybody. It’s very, very stupid; [it’s] a stupid plan,” Abu Freih told The Electronic Intifada.

Prawer Report a continuation of previous displacement schemes

The Prawer Report — named after Ehud Prawer, the Director of Planning Policy in Israeli Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, who headed the committee that wrote it — is an implementation plan of the findings of another Israeli governmental report released in 2008.

Known as the Goldberg Commission, the 2008 report examined the issue of so-called “Bedouin settlement” issues in the Negev. It found that “there is no justification for the state to treat the Bedouin residents in these communities differently from the way it treats the rest of the citizens of the state” and suggested legalizing most the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev so long as the location of these villages didn’t overlap with existing land settlement plans for the benefit of the Jewish population.

Unrecognized Bedouin villages don’t receive basic services from the state, including access to water, electricity, paved roads, education and health care. It is estimated that 90,000 persons — nearly half of the total Bedouin population of the Negev — currently live in unrecognized villages.

Despite its mandate, the Prawer Report veers away from the recommendations of the Goldberg Commission. Instead of promoting recognition, it suggests relocating 40 percent of the Bedouin population presently living in unrecognized villages and moving them into expanded areas of the seven Israeli government-planned Bedouin townships.

These townships, built by the Israeli government in an attempt to concentrate the Bedouin population into specific areas of the Negev, suffer from a serious lack of services and employment opportunities. They are largely viewed as dormitory towns: residents only sleep there and are forced to go outside of the town for nearly everything else they need.

The report states that the Israeli government would offer compensation for only 50 percent of the land the Bedouin currently control and have settled on. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on 2 June that the cost of their displacement is estimated at between six to eight billion Israeli shekels ($1.7 to $2.4 billion USD), including 1.2 billion shekels ($356 million) for economic development in “recognized” Bedouin communities (“Netanyahu’s office promoting plan to relocate 30,000 Bedouin,” 2 June 2011).

“I think that they will go with all their force to implement it. We [will] have to accept it by power. It will be a lot of demolitions and very violent. [There will be] policemen and a lot of actions that the government will do against us. They will attack us,” Abu Freih said.

According to the same report in Haaretz, the amount of compensation Bedouin citizens will receive in exchange for their lands will be reduced as time passes, and “after a five-year period, land which has not been the subject of the claim process will be registered as belonging to the state.”

While Bedouin citizens make up 30 percent of the population in the Negev, they only take up 2 percent of the area’s total land. Further, should all the Bedouins’ land claims be accepted by the state — including the legalization of the currently unrecognized villages and counting the government-planned townships — the Bedouins would control only 5.4 percent of the total land.

An Israeli government vote on the Prawer Report was scheduled for early June yet was postponed due to political pressure from right-wing parties, who argued that the plan gives too much land to the Bedouin. If approved, Israel hopes to implement the Prawer Report within a five-year period.

No consultation with Bedouin citizens

Dr. Thabet Abu Ras is a Professor of Political Geography at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Director of the Naqab Project for Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. He explained that the Prawer Report cannot be implemented for a variety of reasons, including most notably the fact that Bedouin citizens were never consulted.

“Nobody asked the Bedouin what they want, and really the whole Prawer Report is against the desires of the Bedouins. It treats the Bedouins as unequal citizens,” Abu Ras told The Electronic Intifada. “I think the Bedouins have been invisible people in the last sixty years. Unfortunately, they continue to be invisible citizens of the State of Israel after 63 years.”

Abu Ras said that the Prawer Report only is a continuation of existing Israeli policies of forcibly displacing the Bedouins from their lands and moving them into an urban setting. This plan to urbanize the Bedouins began in the early 1960s, and built on the previous transfer of Bedouin populations after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

“Let us remember that the Bedouins are citizens of the State of Israel and they are supposed to be equal citizens in the State of Israel. I am asking, who can [gain] anything from the frustration of the Bedouins? The Bedouins are very frustrated. There is an issue of mistrust and at the same time, they are saying, ‘We are willing to talk with you. There is enough room for everybody in the Naqab, for Jews as well as Bedouins. The development of the Naqab should not be at our expense,’” he said.

“The way I read Prawer Report,” Abu Ras added, “is that they [will] uproot people from 25 villages, 40,000 to 45,000 people, and push them to the townships.”

Bedouin communities forced into underserved townships

In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe found that an Israeli ethnic cleansing operation against Bedouin tribes in the Naqab began in the summer of 1948 under then Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

“The Negev Bedouin had inhabited the region since the Byzantine period, and had been following their semi-nomadic way of life since at least 1500. There were 90,000 Bedouin in 1948, divided between 96 tribes, already in the process of establishing a land-ownership system, grazing rights and water access,” Pappe writes.

“Jewish troops immediately expelled eleven tribes, while they forced another nineteen into reservations that Israel defined as closed military areas, which meant they were allowed to leave only with a special permit.”

Known as the siyag — literally the “fenced area” — this largely barren, restricted area sat south and east of the town of Beir al-Sabe (now known as Be’er Sheva), and accounted for only 1.5 million dunams of the total area of the Negev region (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters). In the early 1960s, the Israeli government attempted to urbanize the Bedouin population in the Naqab by building three towns, Tel al-Sabe (Tel Sheva), Rahat and Kseife, in which to concentrate them.

Today, nearly half the Bedouin population in the Negev lives in seven government-planned townships in the northern Negev. These towns lack basic infrastructure, including transportation, schools and employment opportunities, and are the poorest towns in the country.

By comparison, the Israeli government allocated 17 billion shekels ($5 billion) into its “Negev 2015” development plan, which was launched in 2005 and primarily benefits the area’s Jewish residents. The ten-year project, among other things, aims to “strengthen [Jewish] settlement in the Negev” and increase the area’s population by 70 percent, up to 900,000 residents (“Government Launches Negev 2015 Plan Website,” Israeli Prime Minister’s Office website).

According to Dr. Awad Abu Freih, the fact that Bedouin citizens are only offered the option of urbanization — while Jewish citizens can live in many different types of communities — highlights the system of inequality and discrimination that exists in the Negev.

“We feel that this plan will make it very obvious that there [are] two peoples in the Negev. The Jews have recognized villages and they have agricultural villages and kibbutzim, [but the state wants to] take the Bedouin and concentrate them in very, very small cities, closed cities, very poor cities,” Abu Freih said.

“When they destroy our village, they will put Jews in the same place and they will have water, education and everything. This is apartheid. [It’s] very obvious it’s apartheid. It’s a new racism.”

Fighting the Prawer Report

A new umbrella organization called “Recognition Now” has been recently formed to fight for Bedouin land and civil rights in the Negev and coordinate between the various human rights groups and activists working on these issues.

Abu Freih, who acts as the coordinator of this new campaign, explained that Recognition Now’s first priority is educating the various Bedouin tribes and communities about what the Prawer Report really means, and convincing them not to accept it.

“We will be in all the tribes, all the villages and we will call all the world to help us. Maybe we will call the [United Nations] to defend us from the government actions,” said Abu Freih, adding that the international community must get involved to protect Bedouin citizens from the actions and future plans of the Israeli government.

“I want [people] to know that Israel is not a democratic state. It’s very far from that. It’s a very racist state and we know that there’s ethnic cleansing. It’s happening now, it’s not in the history only,” he said. “We want help to defend [ourselves] from the actions of the military and police.”

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem.

Lydd residents protest home demolitions

Report, The Electronic Intifada

The Electronic Intifada attended a demonstration against home demolitions in Lydd on Tuesday night, 12 April. The demonstration was part of regular weekly protests against the increasing ghettoization of the heavily-segregated Palestinian areas of the city, which is located southeast of Tel Aviv. The weekly protest have been held since the December 2010 demolition of seven homes belonging to the Abu Eid family.

Home demolitions in Lydd are just another form of discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel, mirroring the tactics faced by Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Among the protesters were residents of Lydd and the “unrecognized” village of Dhammash, which is between Lydd and the neighboring town of Ramle, and where home demolition orders still stand against more than a dozen homes. They marched together with community leaders from Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem and Israeli solidarity activists and protesters stood at a busy intersection holding a banner reading “Refugee camp Abu Eid” in Arabic, Hebrew and English. Children from the community chanted slogans against Israeli policies and banged on drums and other percussion instruments.

Riyadh Abu Eid, whose home was one of the seven demolished, spoke to the crowd of protesters following the demonstration. He urged them to keep demonstrating and to increase public pressure on the local government, which ordered the demolitions.

“There were a lot of cars that passed by our demonstration tonight,” Abu Eid said. “And after next week’s demonstration, we plan to hold a sit-in at the mayor’s offices to demand our rights.”

Suhad Bishara, senior attorney with Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, told The Electronic Intifada that the Israeli government has imposed demolition orders under the guise of “illegal construction” in Palestinian neighborhoods. She said that what’s happening in Lydd and Dhammash is similar to building restrictions imposed on Palestinian neighborhoods across Israel and in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

“The process of obtaining building permits is very difficult,” Bishara said. “People are trapped, because they need to build homes, but the authorities won’t give them permits. All claims related to the history of these families who have been in the area, their circumstances as the families expand, it almost doesn’t play a role [in the legal procedures]. It’s a formula initiated by the [Israeli] authorities.”

Bishara added that the land on which the Abu Eid family was living was zoned by the city municipality as “non-residential,” even though it is surrounded by homes in a residential neighborhood. She said that although the families in Lydd and Dhammash are in the process of submitting paperwork to have the area re-zoned, it could take years “even in the best-case scenario.”

“If the authorities want to, they can make it very difficult for Palestinian families,” Bishara said. “But the families are engaged in planning procedures. They’re doing a lot of public activism and media work, which could help.”

She added, “It’s an ongoing threat … You see what’s going on in the Naqab [Negev], and Israel’s plans to evict tens of ‘unrecognized’ villages from their land. You see the policies of segregation in the cities, where there are huge areas where Arabs are not allowed to live. [What’s happening in Lydd] is a small part of the whole policy, but we have to take a look at the whole picture.”

Israeli education ministry launches Land Day witch hunt

Report, The Electronic Intifada

Educators and students who took part in the 35th annual Land Day commemorations on 30 March are being investigated by the Israeli education ministry, which sent letters to Palestinian schools inside Israel demanding to see attendance reports.

Land Day is the annual day of remembrance for six Palestinians with Israeli citizenship gunned down by Israeli forces in 1976 during a general strike in protest of expanded land confiscation inside the state. Since Land Day protests began, many Palestinian citizens of Israel, across all sectors, have engaged in general strikes on 30 March.

The Alternative Information Center reported that “Dr. Orna Simchon, director of the [Israeli] Education Ministry’s northern district, sent a letter to Palestinian schools in the region on Land Day, demanding to know whether classes were held that day and if not, why. They were also asked to immediately report the attendance records for the day, including lists of teachers who had and had not come to school” (“Israel Begins Witch Hunt against Palestinian Educators, Pupils who Honoured Land Day,” 6 April 2011).

The Follow-up Committee on Arab Education – Israel responded to the investigation, sending a letter to members of the Knesset (Parliament) and the Ministry of Education.

The letter stated, in part: “We wish to emphasize that this is the full right of the Arab population, as a national minority and as citizens with equal rights, to conduct a strike in order to protest policies of discrimination and home demolitions, together with the worrying racist tendencies that have picked up speed in the state, in addition to the raging racism that is expressed by, amongst other ways, racist legislation that pushes Israel to become an apartheid state.”

The letter demanded that education ministry officials cease the investigations and “persecution of the Arab teachers,” and added that “[s]uch inexplicable steps serve solely to increase the feeling of distrust of the Arab public in the system and the alienation amongst Arab pupils, teachers and parents.”

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Palestinian schools in Lydd were personally visited by education ministry representatives, who conducted “surprise visits that morning and checked which teachers were absent” (“Education Ministry hunting for Arab teachers absent on Land Day,” 11 April 2011).

A teacher told Haaretz: “We felt like we were under a military regime … Like they were searching for criminals.”

This attack on Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who participate in actions that commemorate Palestinian struggle and resistance comes on the heels of the Knesset recently passing the so-called Nakba Law, which criminalizes recognition of the expulsion of more than 750,000 indigenous Palestinians during the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947-48.

Palestinian Bedouins in al-Araqib: “We won’t leave”

Recently constructed tents in al-Araqib that villagers have not been able to cover for lack of funds (Elo B)

by Charlotte Silver, The Electronic Intifada

Reclining under a recently constructed tent in the Bedouin village of al-Araqib, Sheikh Siyakh al-Turi gestured toward the bare terrain surrounding his home. “This is a great example to the world of what Israel is doing to its citizens,” he said. Only a kilometer away from one of Israel’s largest highways, the village is utterly quiet; most villagers have left for their day jobs outside of al-Araqib, leaving only a few to stand watch in the event that the Israel Land Administration returns to demolish the village yet again.

As is widely known, Israel continues to deepen its claims on land in the occupied West Bank — detaching Palestinians from their lands with Israeli-only roads, settlement expansion and the wall. However, the state is aggressively pursuing a similar project within the green line, Israel’s internationally-recognized armistice line with the occupied West Bank.

Many Palestinian citizens of Israel are being displaced not with settlements and a wall, but with the planting of a forest. As it has in the past, Israel asserts that its intentions are beneficent and noble — to make a desert bloom with trees. But these trees will be planted on land inhabited by Palestinians for many generations, and people are being violently forced out of their villages to make room for those trees.

In the Negev (Naqab) region, there are no signs to direct a visitor to al-Araqib; and even after you arrive you may still wonder if you have indeed found the village. Since 27 July 2010, Israel has conducted twenty demolitions of every home and structure in the village, leaving little tangible manifestation of a community that has lived there since the Ottoman Empire.

Not provided with water, plumbing, electricity or any other public services supplied to the rest of Israel’s citizens, villagers of al-Araqib are fully tapped into the revolts around the Arab world that are challenging the stability of tyrannical regimes. Villagers insist that such a revolt will come to the West Bank and Israel soon.

With a transistor radio at his feet, Smayeh, a resident who declined to give his full name and who remembers when Israel first relocated his village in 1953, told me firmly, “Israel is more oppressive than most Arab regimes.”

Pushing Palestinians off the land

In 1951, only a few years after the mass expulsion of Arabs from the land, the head of the Israeli military government (the body that governed the Palestinians who remained in what is now called Israel, until 1966) approached the leaders of al-Araqib and asked them to relocate their community to the north so that the military could use the southern portion of their land for training. He promised the move would be temporary — only six months.

However, six months turned into a year and then the department of agriculture obtained control of the land. During this time, the semi-nomadic villagers of al-Araqib were forced to rent their land in the north while Palestinian day laborers came to work on al-Araqib’s land. The state has since used the village’s nomadic nature to contend that residents have no claim to the land. Experts disagree, arguing that the Bedouins had an established system of land ownership that had been accepted by the Ottomans and British.

“Even when we weren’t living there, we would still come back to the land and bring our animals; we never left this land,” Smayeh said.

Smayeh described how in the 1990s, villagers from al-Araqib approached the workers and explained to them that this was their land and they were supporting Zionism by working on it.

“Then they left. And we moved back. We built our houses, set up running water and got a generator for electricity.”

Sitting under the only trees left in the decimated village, a small cluster of pepper trees near the cemetery, I spoke to Smayeh and his wife Sabiyah five days after the Israeli army demolished all structures in the village for the 18th time on 17 February. Firing rubber bullets at men and women, young and old, the Israel Land Authority (ILA) and a special police unit had forced the villagers into the cemetery, while they proceeded to destroy their homes and confiscate their water tanks, blankets and chairs. Left with next to nothing, the villagers returned and began to rebuild their homes in what has now become a familiar routine.

With unfathomable resilience, the villagers reconstruct tents after each demolition. Devising simple structures with thin wood planks, the people can barely afford enough plastic tarp to cover the structures and provide shelter. Hakima Rashid, a woman from the village, explains that they let the children sleep in their cars at nighttime because it’s too cold outside in the winter.

Many villagers have chosen to move to the nearby town of Rahat, an urban township Israel established in 1972 for the Bedouins of al-Araqib. Rahat is one of seven “rikazim” — or concentrated towns — the only legal place for Bedouin citizens of Israel to live. Established in the 1960s and ’70s for the displaced Bedouin communities, these urban centers are considered the poorest and most densely populated villages in Israel. The government insists that all other Bedouin communities are illegal — despite evidence that ownership of al-Araqib’s land can be traced back with both British and Ottoman documentation to the al-Turi family.

Talab al-Sana, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) who advocates for the rights and recognition of Bedouin villages in the Negev, likens the living conditions of these towns to the cramped refugee camps in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Approximately 200,000 Bedouins in the Negev are expected to live on 30,000 dunams (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters); al-Sana contrasts that with the space to people ratio in Jewish cities. The Ramat municipality of the Negev, for example, provides 4,000 Jewish residents with four million dunams of land.

Yet despite these harsh living conditions, Smayeh said that many members of his community, including his sons and daughters, have all moved there to raise their children.

“Many people had to move to Rahat, especially if they have kids,” he explained. “There is no food, no water here.”

Nevertheless, Smayah and Sabiyah say they will remain on this land. “Why would we leave our land?” Smayah asked.

Village destroyed twenty times

The Israel Land Administration first demolished the village on 27 July 2010. Over the course of the following two weeks — the peak of summer — the ILA returned to al-Araqib three more times. After each demolition, the villagers started from scratch, reassembling homes that had little chance of standing longer than a week. The coming months saw the reconstructed village demolished twenty more times by the ILA.

Since 1960, the ILA has functioned in tandem with the Jewish National Fund , an organization that has been integral in acquiring land in Palestine for Jewish settlement since 1901. The ILA allotted the JNF 50 percent representation in the agency, thus allowing them to have a strong influence in the use of “national” land. While the JNF technically owns approximately 13 percent of the land inside Israel, the ILA controls roughly 93 percent. In 2009, with a slight restructuring of Israel’s land regime, now called the Israel Land Administration, the JNF has retained its grip on how Israel develops its state land (Alaa Mahajneh, “Situating the JNF in Israel’s land laws,” Al-Majdal, Winter-Spring 2010).

Al-Araqib is situated in Israel’s desert, the Negev, which represents approximately 60 percent of Israel. Yet the JNF emphasized with pointed consternation in an interview with this author that only nine percent of the Israeli population resides there. Since 2005, there has been a concentrated effort from a coalition of Zionist organizations — including the Or Movement, a group dedicated to Judaizing the Galilee and Negev, the JNF and the Government of Israel — to relocate and settle Jews in the Negev.

The project is called Blueprint Negev, and as the Director of Tourism, Shaher Hermalin, told The Electronic Intifada in a phone interview, “Everything we do has to do with creating communities — schools; rehabilitative, environmental, educational programs; tourist centers — everything the area needs to bloom and blossom so people around the country will move there.”

His rhetoric, reminiscent of that of the early Zionists, is deceitfully ironic. Since the first demolition of al-Araqib in July 2010, Israel’s army has uprooted 4,500 olive trees and destroyed all of the village’s wheat and barley gardens.

Smayeh noted that for hundreds of years, al-Araqib maintained agricultural lands that propagated wheat, melons and olive trees, among other vegetation. The village also grazed flocks of sheep and goats.

Today, the land of al-Araqib appears naked. Dirt hills with tractor marks running across them are peppered with intermittent tents. There is a small coop with a few goats, some sheep and one large brown horse.
Jewish National Fund role

The crucial facet in all of the JNF’s projects is that they enable ethnic exclusivity on the land. The charter of the JNF stipulates that all of its land and activities will be for the sole benefit of Jews. In their own words in a response to a petition filed to the Israeli high court in 2004, “The JNF, as the owner of the JNF land, does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state” (“The Jewish National Fund (JNF), Badil, 2007).

The Government of Israel and the JNF have a symbiotic relationship: by transferring state land to the JNF, the government ensures the land will be reserved only for Jews.

Al-Sana asked “What is the difference between the state and JNF? It is a game, the [Israeli government] takes the land and gives it to the JNF, and says it belongs to Jews, not Arabs. Jews from America, Canada, wherever, can own land, but not Arabs. It’s just a game.”

Surrounding the parameters of al-Araqib are nascent trees that the JNF, or as the organization is known inside Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel (KKL), has planted. Their trailer and office is within eyesight of where another resident of al-Araqib, Sheikh Siyakh al-Turi, and I spoke.

Sheikh Siyakh condemned the Palestinian Authority and its complicity in Israel’s treatment of all Palestinians in exile, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and in Israel.

“In the end, who sold our cause?” he asked. “The Palestinian leadership, because the leadership just collaborates … We are the ones standing here; having no food or water and the PA is receiving so much money in international aid. We are the ones protecting the land, so they should support us.”

Because the village land has ceased to provide sustenance and an economic livelihood to the village, some family members have found employment in agriculture or labor elsewhere in the Negev. In many cases, they will bring back their small daily earnings ($8-14 a day) to the village, supporting those who stay on the land during the day in case the police and ILA return.

The violence of the most recent demolition was described as escalating from previous ones: the police forces fired rubber bullets and beat women, causing the men to pick up stones in their defense.

Sheikh Siyakh pulled up his sleeve to show me a red wound where a rubber bullet hit him. Yet despite the ILA showing no signs of leaving al-Araqib alone, Sheikh Siyakh remains confident. “We won’t leave,” he said. It’s not a matter of being optimistic or hopeful. We won’t leave.”

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in the West Bank.

“Israel’s” discriminatory civil service program challenged

by Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, The Electronic Intifada

Only a few months away from her high school graduation, 17-year-old May Jabareen will soon be preparing applications for university. Soft-spoken yet confident, the Palestinian teenager from Haifa told The Electronic Intifada she hopes to study law and media at Tel Aviv University next year. This big transition may be more difficult for Jabareen, however, as she doesn’t plan to participate in the Israeli civic service program before applying to university.

Criticism has mounted in recent months around the Israeli civic service program, a volunteering program aimed at individuals otherwise exempt from military service, which individuals say conditions their inalienable rights, such as equal access to education and the job market.

But as one of many Palestinian youth holding Israeli citizenship who reject the Israeli government’s push to join its civic service program, Jabareen says she isn’t afraid of missing out on educational opportunities because of her stance on the issue.

“I’m not afraid not to get the privileges,” Jabareen said. “Now there are some things that we don’t get. It’s the same. Arabs who do [the civic service program] don’t get anything more than I get. They can’t take away from me my rights if I don’t do it.”

The Israeli civic service program is a volunteerism program that young men and women who are exempted from Israel’s compulsory army service can participate in. Supervised by the National Service Administration, a national body which operates under the control of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, more than 1,500 individuals from various minority communities within Israel did the civic service this past year.

Most volunteers assist staff in schools, hospitals and other public institutions throughout the country. But some can also serve in security institutions such as the Israeli police forces.

According to Nadim Nashif, the Director of the Baladna Center for Arab Youth, an empowerment and capacity-building organization in Haifa, a wide variety of issues have caused the Palestinian community within Israel to question the merits of the program. These include the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel and their leaders weren’t consulted during the state’s creation, how it makes an unfair link between rights and duties, and its clear and widespread connections to the Israeli military establishment.

“As much as it’s being marketed as something that is civic, it is actually very much related to the army personalities, to the army institutions. It is linked because every person who [finishes the civic service program] gets a status of a released soldier and a released soldier’s certificate. It is coming from the security establishment with a very much militarized vision,” Nashif explained.

Nashif added that participants in the program will also be automatically placed into Israeli military positions during a time of war or crisis, as needed domestically.

But this isn’t the only connection the civic service program has with Israel’s military establishment, however.

The Israeli Minister of Defense was also involved in appointing a Commission for the Foundation of a Civic and National Service, known as the Ivri Commission, in 2003. The Israeli Prime Minister created the Administration of National and Civic Service (ANCS) to oversee the program in 2007, based on the Commission’s findings.

Former Israeli Knesset member Ami Ayalon was the minister in charge of the program before he lost his re-election bid in 2009. Ayalon previously worked as the head of the Israeli secret service agency, the Shin Bet, and as the commander-in-chief of the Israeli navy.

In addition, the former head of the ANCS, Dr. Reuven Gal, has a long history of
employment within Israel’s security and military establishment, serving as Deputy National Security Advisor for Domestic Policy in the Israeli National Security Council and as a leading psychologist in both the Israeli army and navy.

Israeli Education Ministry re-ignites debate

A recent Israeli Education Ministry decision to give priority to Palestinian teachers having done their national civic service highlighted the debate around the merits of the civic service program as a whole in late 2010.

The Education Ministry announced it would give thirty extra points to Palestinian teaching candidates during the job application process if they have volunteered in the national service program. All candidates applying for jobs in Israel get evaluated based on a number of criteria, including academic results, past job experience and completion of army or civic service. The thirty extra points would therefore be a significant boost for applicants.

The move sparked strong feelings and condemnations from Israeli teachers, politicians and Palestinian groups throughout Israel. As a result of the negative outcry, the ministry said it would reconsider the proposal.

“Granting preferences to those individuals seeking employment as teachers, based on the performance of national service, aims to strengthen support for a particular political vision at the expense of education and this is legally unacceptable,” stated Sawsan Zaher, an attorney with Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, in a December 2010 press release (“The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel Demands …”).

Adalah sent a letter to the Israeli Education Minister on behalf of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and its sub-group, the Committee against National Service. It argued that the ministry should overturn its plans since there is no connection between someone’s performance as a teacher and their participation in the civic service program.

“[Zaher] further argued that the preference violates the Equal Employment Opportunities Law (1988), which prohibits discrimination against applicants based on their national belonging or political opinions,” the press release added.

The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz quoted Knesset member and Hadash political party chairman Mohammad Barakeh describing the move as reflecting “a policy that attempts to force national service on young Arabs” and “tame [them], as well as damage the freedom of speech and thought of the overwhelming majority of the Arab public” (“Education Ministry rethinks plan to give priority to Arabs who did national service,” 12 February 2010).

The same Haaretz article quoted MK Haneen Zoabi, who survived the Israeli attack on the Turkish humanitarian aid ship Mavi Marmara last summer, who stated that “The ministry is turning itself into an arm of the Shin Bet security service in its attempt to control Arab citizens’ thoughts and identity.”

Palestinian youth largely critical of program

In summer 2009, the Baladna Association for Arab Youth and the Jaffa Center for Research surveyed more than 500 Palestinian citizens of Israel between the ages of 17 and 20 about their opinions on the Israeli civic service program (“Survey Results: Palestinian Arab Youth Opinion on Civic and Military Service” [Word doc]).

The survey found that 53.8 percent of respondents highly disagreed with the
statement that “Arab citizens of Israel should support and participate in the civic service program,” while only 17.2 percent “highly agreed” with it.

A further 48.4 percent said that their “national identity as a Palestinian Arab” was the main factor why they were against the civic service program, while 26.8 percent said that their belief that “civic service is the foundation of recruiting Arab youth to later join military service” was why they didn’t support the program.

Indeed, May Jabareen said she thinks that by participating in the civic service program, Palestinian youth come dangerously close to the Israeli military establishment, and some may even turn their backs on their community.

“A lot of the people that participate go in the end to join the army or start forgetting about them being Arabs and Palestinians, and they want to be more Israeli. We really need to remember who we are and where we come from. Participating in that program really takes them away from the whole Palestinian-Arab [community],” she told The Electronic Intifada.

She added that there are ways for her to help the Palestinian community other than by participating in the program.

“I don’t need them to give me money or tell me they will pay for college to make me do something good for my community. There are a lot of places I can volunteer in. I don’t need the country or the government to come tell me to do something good. If I want to do something good, I do it for free because I want to,” Jabareen said.

Baladna Director Nadim Nashif explained that granting basic human rights to individuals — and access to specific sectors of the job market — based on whether or not they have served in the Israeli army, or the civic service, is another reason many Palestinian youth and leaders reject the program.

“For us, rights are something that are natural: your human rights, your citizen rights, any basic rights are your rights. This is not something to condition by whether you did the service or not,” he told The Electronic Intifada.

He added that examples exist today in Israeli society to disprove the idea that serving the Israeli state through programs such as the civic service will automatically grant individuals from minority groups rights and privileges.

“In the case of the Druze, they are serving in the army but they are not getting their rights. You can see this in infrastructure, in education, et cetera. They are discriminated against like the rest of the Arabs. In the case of the Haredim, the ultra-orthodox Jews, they are not serving in the army but they are getting their rights,” Nashif said.

“This means basically, your rights and to be a first-class citizen, it’s only about your religion or your ethnicity,” Nashif added. “It’s not about whether you served or not. At the end of the day, the whole system here is built to serve the Jewish people as the state defines itself as a Jewish state. In the case that you’re not a Jewish person, then you will get less rights and you will be discriminated against.”

Originally from Montreal, Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in occupied East Jerusalem.

“Israel” passes plan confiscating part of Haifa mosque

HAIFA, (PIC)– Israel has sights set on confiscating part of a mosque in Haifa and using the land for the interest of Jewish settlers.

The Israeli municipality in the 1948-occupied Palestinian city of Haifa approved a plan confiscating two dunums of the Istiqlal Mosque without notifying the mosque’s administration.

The mosque’s board has met with political forces to discuss how to address the decision.

They considered the step part of a plot to seize control of the remaining Islamic endowments in the occupied city of Haifa.

The Arab-Islamic endowments are not only a religious issue, but a highly important national issue affecting the interests, aspirations, and needs of Arabs in Haifa, the board said in a statement Monday.

The Islamic endowments in Haifa are considered the most important in Palestine.

The statement says the board is prepared to launch an organized campaign on the popular, legal, and political levels to hamper dangers threatening the city’s history, existence, and future ambitions.

The statement calls on the Palestinians to unite in the face of the confiscation ruling and disregard of Palestinian society.

“Israel” destroys Araqeeb village for 9th time, displaces its natives

NEGEV, (PIC)– The Israeli police displaced Sunday morning 300 Palestinians, mostly children and women, and left them in the cold after their bulldozers demolished, for the ninth consecutive time, all the homes of Araqeeb village located between the towns of Rahat and Beersheba in Negev region.

Local sources said that armed policemen and troops came along with bulldozers this morning to the village and knocked down all tents and homes without mercy after using force to evacuate the families from their places.

According to the regional council for the Arab villages unrecognized by Israel, the policemen and soldiers physically attacked the residents who had to defend themselves and homes.

The Israeli occupation authority (IOA) blatantly refuses to recognize this Palestinian village which had come into existence before the Jews occupied Palestine.

The IOA claims the village was established on government lands, while Araqeeb natives inherited them from their parents and grandparents, and have documents proving their ownership of these lands.

Araqeeb village was completely removed many times during the past year, but the residents rebuilt it again after every demolition.

Arab Knesset member Taleb Al-Sanea strongly denounced the Israeli government for pursuing the policy of terror  against the Palestinian Arabs in the south and displacing them and their children from their homes, stressing that the injustice will never last and will come to an end sooner or later.

Courts of Racial Rule: The Imprisonment of Nuri al-‘Oqbi

Nuri Al-'Oqbi

by Nasser Rego, source

‘I think the fact that the defendant is an activist for Bedouin ‘diaspora’ rights only makes it harder for his situation. Because he cannot on one hand argue that there are rights violations or non-preservation of rights for a group that he belongs to, while on the other hand he crudely violates the law time after time.’

The crude violation of the law that Judge Zachary Yemini of the Ramle Magistrate Court refers to in last week’s conviction of Nuri al-‘Oqbi, the prominent rights activist for the Palestinian community in the Naqab (Negev) and in Lydd (Lod) and head of The Association for Support and Defense of Bedouin Rights in Israel, was building and operating a garage without a license in his residential space in Lydd. Nuri began operation of this garage in 1964 at a time when Lydd lacked an industrial zone from which he could operate. The judge handed his decision on December 27 2010, ruling that Nuri’s garage was illegal, its operation being a violation of Article 18 of the Business Licensing Law (1968).(1) 68 year old Nuri, who suffers from a heart condition, was sentenced to serve a 7 month prison sentence in Nitzan jail in Ramle. On his way to prison, where he was led immediately following the sentence because he could not raise the necessary NIS 30,000 (US$ 8,500) to stay his sentence by a week, Nuri collapsed and had to be hospitalized.

The purpose of penalising business operations and construction without license can be appreciated. Issuing of licenses is to better guarantee that businesses conform to standards that protect the environment and better ensure public peace, safety and health. However, a more circumspect look at the case would ask who issues licenses and on what grounds?

Generally in Israel, the municipal authority is designated as the licensing authority with approval of other relevant government ministries also required. As the Israeli human rights NGO, Gush Shalom reports, in Nuri’s case, the Lydd municipality’s policy for issuing licenses has varied, with the garage receiving a license in some years and in others not. Nuri is quoted as saying that he had received certification from the Police, Fire Department, the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of the Environment that his garage conformed to all regulations. Nuri asserts that others in his situation, who have operated a business in a residential zone, have received a license from the municipality and that the Lydd municipality’s refusal to issue him a license stemmed from his critical stance of the municipality’s policies towards Palestinians in the community, particularly the policy of home demolitions. “I am sure that if I had been ready to toe the line dictated by the municipality, I would have had no problem in obtaining a license. Their real problem is not my garage, but my public activity.”(2) The Lydd municipality, that body with the authority to issue Nuri a garage license is also that body which brought forth the case.

However, discriminatory action towards Palestinian citizens in Lydd (3) did not emanate solely from the municipality in Nuri’s case. Judge Zachary’s decision betrays the racism implicit in how the legal system racializes the Palestinian Bedouin community.

Although the court had initially hinted that community service in lieu of six months imprisonment was to be Nuri’s sentence, in the sentencing, Judge Zachary decided different. “I think that giving a lesser sentence will convey something of a negative message to the community and to the Bedouin ‘diaspora’ especially. The negative message is that breaking the law in Israel, and especially violating a court ruling, is worthwhile and a triviality”.
 
Judge Zachary’s words are telling. He refers, and this is not uncommon to how the authorities and the legal system refer to the Bedouin community, as ‘diaspora’, meaning that they are characterised as the ‘dispersion’, or a community spread out, feeding the myth of being squatters and interlopers on government land, justifying the government’s deliberate denial of water and electricity to 83,000 citizens living in the Naqab’s unrecognised villages. Second, the judge decides to imprison Nuri with the specific purpose of sending a message particularly to the Bedouin community, meaning that he sees the community as especially criminally inclined. Third, as the opening quote states, the judge equates the illegality in the Israeli state’s dispossession, land expropriation, enforcing of military rule, destruction of crops and homes of the Palestinian Bedouin community (as he says Nuri argues) with the illegality of building a garage in a residential zone without license, indicating how ‘grave’ indeed he considers the acts of the state towards the Bedouin population and the seriousness with which he takes civil rights struggles in the Naqab. In the decision, there is also chastisement of Nuri’s work as a civil liberties activist, as if fighting for equality and human rights warrants such sanction.

Nuri’s encounters with the legal system are many. Subsequently, so is his familiarity with prison. This is not the first time in 2010 that Nuri has been imprisoned. He was arrested in February 2010 for an entire week, an incarceration he described as “intolerable…[Where] people are treated like animals.” He was charged with 40 criminal counts of invasion, uprooting trees and violations of an order for being present on his family’s historical lands in al-‘Araqib in the Naqab, which the state refuses to recognise as him having ownership claim to.(4) In the end, the court issued him an ‘exclusion order’, preventing him from being less than 10km from his land in al-‘Araqib without a guarantor. In addition, in another decision of a magistrate court in June 2010 (which he has appealed) he has been ordered to pay the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) roughly NIS 300,000 (US$ 85,000) for expenses the ILA incurred in demolishing his tent and uprooting his land in al-‘Araqib!

As the above developments in the Israeli legal sphere indicate, the courts are, prompted by executive action, actively working towards:

– The silencing of counter-hegemonic voices to official governmental/municipal plans and narratives, such as Nuri’s, given the injustices happening to the Arab Palestinian community in Lydd;

– The issuance of home demolition and evacuation orders to entire villages as happened in Umm al-Hieran, ‘Atir and al-‘Araqib, thereby enabling projects of the clearing of entire villages of Bedouin in the Naqab;(5)

– The construction of culture and ideology where myths about the racialized ‘Bedouin diaspora’ are constructed, affirmed and deployed, such as Bedouin as inclined to criminal activity, as a dispersion (historically and at present) having no fixed abode, as perpetual law breakers and as squatters on government land;

– The penalization of activism, human rights and civil liberties struggles and of human rights defenders, such as Nuri al-‘Oqbi;

– The deligitimisation of the human rights struggles of the Palestinian community by detracting from the state’s discriminatory policies and instead emphasizing the community’s ‘crude’ illegal activity, such as operating businesses and constructing homes without license, and not following court orders that call for their demolition.

Nuri has a lands claim case pending before Justice Dovrat at the Beer Sheva District Court over 5 strips of land in al-‘Araqib and Zahiliqah that he is asserting ownership of. Over the length of the case, it is expected that many pertinent issues dealing with Zionist settlement in the Naqab and the uprooting and dispossession of Bedouin will be addressed – whether the Naqab was indeed terra nullius (‘mawat’/no man’s land) before 1948, whether traditional Bedouin use, occupation and ownership of the land will be recognised by Israeli courts, if oral histories of Bedouin will count or be trumped by the writings of European explorers, and if indeed a gross illegality was committed when the authorities forcibly expelled Nuri’s family and other al-‘Araqib residents in the summer of 1951 while promising them a return in six months that never happened. Nuri’s land claims case would be an appropriate opportunity for the Israeli court to live up to its assertion of being an independent arbiter and not a site of racial rule, where stratifications of political, economic and social privilege along ethnocratic rationales are constructed, maintained and reproduced.

– Nasser Rego is a PhD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Canada, studying socio-legal aspects of the Palestinian Naqab community’s encounters with the Israeli legal system.

Notes:

1. Municipality of Lod v. Al-‘Oqbi, Ramle Magistrate Court, 40579-08.

2. Gush Shalom, “Selective law enforcement against an activist for Bedouins rights” (December 29 2010).

3. Al-Jazeera, “Israel Demolishes Seven Palestinian Homes” (December 13 2010) (Arabic). Al-Jazeera English, “Israel’s Unwanted Citizens” (December 9 2010).

4. Aviva Lori, “Reclaiming the Desert”, Ha’aretz (August 27 2010).

5. Nasser Rego, “Legalizing injustice in the Negev and implications for ‘democracy’ in Israel”, Redress (August 8 2010).

Christian Zionists assist “Israel” in displacing Bedouin Palestinians

Christian extremists assist “Israel” in displacing Negev Bedouin

by Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada

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 kilometers north of Beersheba, 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.”

The Jewish National Fund (JNF), an international non-profit organization in charge of forestation and developing Jewish settlements in Israel, received $500,000 from God-TV to plant some of the trees, according to the channel’s filings to US tax authorities last year.

A coalition of Jewish and Bedouin human rights groups have denounced the project, accusing God-TV and the JNF of teaming up to force the Bedouin out of the area to make way for Jewish-only communities.

No one from God-TV was available for comment, but in a video posted on its website, Rory Alec, the channel’s co-founder, said he had begun fundraising for the forest after receiving “an instruction from God” a few years ago. He said God had told him: “Prepare the land for the return of my Son.”

Standing next to the “God-TV Forest” sign, Alec thanked thousands of viewers for making donations to “sow a seed for God,” adding: “I tell you Jesus is coming back soon!”

Part of the forest has been planted on land claimed by the Aturi tribe, whose village, al-Araqib, is nearby.

Al-Araqib has been demolished eight times in recent months by the Israeli police as officials increase the pressure on the 350 inhabitants to move to Rahat, an under-funded, government-planned township nearby.

Earlier this year, Joe Stork, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, criticized the repeated attempts by Israeli authorities to eradicate the village and displace its residents.

“Tearing down an entire village and leaving its inhabitants homeless without exhausting all other options for settling long-standing land claims is outrageous,” he said.

Human Rights Watch and other international human rights groups have criticized Israel for harsh measures taken against the people of al-Araqib and the other 90,000 Bedouin who live in Negev villages that Israel refuses to recognize. They accuse the government of trying to pre-empt a court case moving through Israeli courts aimed at settling the Bedouin ownership claims.

God-TV’s involvement in the dispute has prompted fresh concern.

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, said the JNF, which has semi-governmental status in Israel, had set a “dangerous precedent” in accepting money from God-TV.

“The Israeli authorities are playing with fire,” he said. “This dispute between the Israeli government and the Bedouin is a long one that until now focused on the question of land rights. But the involvement of extremist Christian groups like God-TV is likely to turn this into a religious confrontation, and that will be much harder to resolve.”

The JNF did not respond to questions about its involvement with God-TV or the Negev forest.

Gordon said it was particularly worrying that Alec was using the language of Biblical prophecy in justifying his decision to finance the forest.

The channel, which has become one of the most popular global evangelical stations since its founding in Britain 15 years ago, claims a potential audience of up to a half-billion viewers, including 20 million in the United States.

Stephen Sizer, a British vicar and prominent critic of Christian Zionist groups, described God-TV as part of an evangelical movement that believes Israel’s establishment and expansion are bringing nearer the “end times” — or the moment when, according to Christians, Jesus will return for the second time.

Its followers, he added, believed that, by dispossessing Palestinians of their land and replacing them with Jews, Jesus’s return could be expedited.

“Funding aliyah [Jewish immigration] and planting trees in the desert may look innocuous but it’s actually their way to side with the Israeli right’s hardline policies towards the Palestinian population.”

Sizer said there was increasing co-operation between Israeli institutions and Christian evangelical groups, which have begun basing their operations in Israel.

God-TV has proclaimed itself the only television channel to broadcast globally from Jerusalem, following its relocation there from the UK in 2007.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the Union of Reform Judaism in the US, has repeatedly called on Israel to sever contacts with Christian Zionist and evangelical groups, describing them as opposed to “territorial compromise under any and all circumstances”.

God-TV has close ties to Christians United for Israel (CUFI), an umbrella group founded in 2006 by John Hagee, a Texan pastor, that lobbies on behalf of Israel in Congress.

Hagee, a frequent preacher on the TV channel, has regularly courted controversy with comments seen as anti-Semitic. Most notoriously, in a sermon in the late 1990s, he called Adolf Hitler “a hunter” who carried out God’s plan for the Jews to return to Israel by leaving them “no place to hide” in Europe.

CUFI and the other evangelical groups have lobbied strenuously in Washington on behalf of the illegal settlements in the West Bank and for Israeli control over the holy sites in East Jerusalem, said Sizer.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has been especially keen to seek out support from Christian evangelical groups, according to Shalom Goldman, a professor at Atlanta’s Emory University, who recently published a book on the Christian Zionist movement.

Last year CUFI announced a $38 million marketing drive to bring more Christian tourists to Israel, including the establishment of a “task force on global Christian relations” jointly overseen by Hagee and Netanyahu.

Haia Noach, the director of the Negev Coexistence Forum, which campaigns for Bedouin rights, said her organization feared more of God-TV’s trees would be planted on Bedouin lands in the coming weeks. A depot has recently been established close to al-Araqib to store four bulldozers.

“The villagers refuse to abandon al-Araqib, even though it has been destroyed many times. But once a forest is planted there, there will be no chance to go back,” she said.

She said she feared the goal was to build Jewish communities on Bedouin land. She cited the case of Givat Bar, which was secretly established by the government on part of al-Araqib’s lands in 2003.

Repeated letters to the JNF for information about their forestation program had gone unanswered, she said.

Awad Abu Freih, a community leader at al-Araqib, said the house demolitions and forest-planting were only the latest measures by the government to remove the villagers.

Repeated destruction of al-Araqib’s crops by spraying them with herbicides was ruled illegal by Israel’s Supreme Court in 2004.

Efforts to move 90,000 Bedouin off their lands close to Beersheba have been intensifying since 2003, when the Israeli government announced plans to move them into a handful of townships.

The Bedouin have resisted, complaining that the official communities are little more than urban reservations that languish at the bottom of the country’s social and economic tables.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jkcook.net.