Happy Palestine Land Day: Israel Earmarks 10% of West Bank for Settlements: White

Ben White writes in a guest editorial for Informed Comment:

It has just come out that the Israeli military has earmarked ten percent of the land in the Occupied West bank for Israeli settlements. In addition, the Israeli government is moving forward with an outrageous plan that will mean the expulsion of tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens in the Negev desert. The context is the warning issued by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a 2010 government meeting that a Negev “without a Jewish majority” would pose “a palpable threat”.

You won’t be told about this by television news, your elected representatives, or the US State Department (in fact, when asked about the Negev displacement plan they dismissed it as an “internal Israeli matter”). But this is the inconvenient truth that prompted the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to recently issue what according to one expert was the most cutting “condemnation of a legal system of segregation since apartheid South Africa”. That is why Land Day, beginning with the struggle for the land, is now marked all over the world as the movement for decolonisation and equality in Palestine/Israel gains momentum.

March 30 is marked by Palestinians as Land Day, but many in the West are unaware of the origins and significance of this annual protest. It is an opportunity to shed some light on the significant issues marginalised by the mainstream discussion about the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

The first Land Day was held by Palestinian citizens of Israel (so-called ‘Israeli Arabs’) in 1976, as part of opposition to the expropriation of land by the state. Marked by a general strike and mass demonstrations, the response was brutal repression: six Palestinians were shot dead, as the Israeli government mobilised armoured vehicles and tanks to patrol villages in the Galilee.

In the aftermath, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s cabinet “unanimously commended the security forces for their ‘restraint’ in handling the strike and the ensuing disturbances”. It was a justified response, apparently, to what Prof. Oren Yiftachel described as “a head-on challenge to the Judaization project”.

The land expropriations that led to Land Day were one example of how, in the words of Israeli legal advocacy group Adalah, the state “confiscated massive amounts of land from Palestinian citizens” after 1948. Estimates are that by the late 1970s, the average Arab community had lost between two thirds and three quarters of its land.

This is one facet of a discriminatory regime that goes to the heart of the question of Palestine: a history of ethnic cleansing, confiscation, alienation, and manipulated planning – all in order to maintain a system that privileges one group over another.

As former Israeli PM Menachem Begin’s adviser on Arab affairs put it: “If we needed this land, we confiscated it from the Arabs. We had to create a Jewish state in this country, and we did.” The facts bear out this honest appraisal. In 1948-53, 95 percent of new Jewish communities were established on ‘absentee’ property – that is, belonging to Palestinian refugees prevented from returning.

Yet a number of Palestinians remained, and particularly in the Galilee and the Negev in the south, the Israeli state was concerned about the ‘demographic battle’. This discourse (and the policies shaped by it) continues through to the present day: the current Housing Minister spoke in 2009 of it being a “national duty” to “prevent the spread” of Palestinian citizens in the Galilee.

The policies referred to by author Oren Yiftachel as ‘Judaization’ signify the attempt to boost the Jewish population of an area seen as having ‘too many’ non-Jews. One example was the establishment of mitzpim (Hebrew: ‘look out’) communities in the 1970s and ‘80s, in the Galilee. The goal of the initiative, in the words of a Jewish Agency planner, was to “prevent Arabs from ‘taking over’ government lands, keep Arab villages from attaining territorial continuity and attract a ‘strong’ population to the Galilee’.”

Israel’s systematic ethnic discrimination means the manipulation of regional authority boundaries and the planning regime. Misgav Regional Council, established in the 1980s, is an illustrative example. Given “a highly irregular geographical shape, in order to include most Jewish settlements and exclude most Arab villages”, the result has been to reinforce “patterns of functional and social segregation in the region”. In other words, Misgav is “not a regional plan in the ordinary sense” but “a strategic plan…to preserve state lands”.

Remember – this is all inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, the supposed ‘democratic’ Israel loved by liberal Zionists who restrict their criticisms to West Bank settlements. But what do liberals say about admission committees that operate in around 70 percent of all communities in Israel, a key tool in the exclusion of Palestinian citizens and the maintenance of Jewish control over rural land? These committees are now supported by legislation in around 40 percent of communities; supporter of the law MK David Rotem said that he believed Jews and Arabs could be “separate but equal”.

This is the reality for Palestinian citizens that Israel and its advocacy groups don’t want to talk about, preferring false platitudes about ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’. These policies are what unite the experiences of Palestinians in both the pre-67 borders and in the West Bank.

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Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer. Ben’s articles are available on his website and he tweets at @benabyad

Ben White’s new book is “Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy”, available at Amazon.

12 Responses

  1. BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israel’s military has imposed a general closure on the occupied West Bank as it prepares to face protests marking Land Day, officials said Friday. “In accordance with the directives of the Minister of Defense and as part of the situation assessments in the IDF, a general closure will be implemented in the Judea and Samaria region,” a statement said.

  2. The best source detailing terrorism of Palestinians by the Irgun Zvai Leumi (led by Menachim Begin) the Sterngang, and others in advance of Israel’s establishment (in order to get them to flee), as well as the confiscation of Palestinian land and ethnic cleansing after the establishment of Israel, is still David M. Lillienthal’s “What Price Israel,” first published in 1953, with an updated 50th anniversary edition published in 2003. When Lillienthal first published his book, it was almost unheard of to counter the false narrative of Israel being established as (in the old Zionist phrase) “a land without people for a people without land.”

    Whatever one’s position on Israel (and my position is that after 64 years of existence, Israel certainly has earned the right to exist, but the U.S. has no obligation to defend Israel’s military adventures and conquests), one must understand the very high price that was paid by the indegenous Palestinian population. Many critics of Israel focus their attention on current events such as the “flotilla,” Iran, Gaza, etc. But Jewish terrorism, ethnic cleansing, confiscation of Palestinian land, etc. were prominent features, both before and after the establishment of Israel.

    No work that I know of brings these facts to the fore as succinctly (and as early as 1953!) as David M. Lillienthal’s “What Price Israel.”

  3. It important to get past the superficiality that yesterday’s villains used to so conveniently potray themselves. The first thing modern predators do is avail themselves of world class PR and political cover: they’re like those Mafioso thugs wearing their overly-tailord clothes and forever boring you by their talk about class.

  4. The best source detailing terrorism of Palestinians by the Irgun Zvai Leumi (led by Menachim Begin) the Stern Gang, and others in advance of Israel’s establishment (in order to get them to flee), as well as the confiscation of Palestinian land and ethnic cleansing after the establishment of Israel, is still David M. Lillienthal’s “What Price Israel,” first published in 1953, with an updated 50th anniversary edition published in 2003. When Lillienthal first published his book, it was almost unheard of to counter the false narrative of Israel being established as (in the old Zionist phrase) “a land without people for a people without land.”

    Whatever one’s position on Israel (and my position is that after 64 years of existence, Israel certainly has earned the right to exist, but the U.S. has no obligation to defend Israel’s military adventures and conquests), one must understand the very high price that was paid by the indigenous Palestinian population. Many critics of Israel focus their attention on current events such as the “flotilla,” Iran, Gaza, etc. But Jewish terrorism, ethnic cleansing, confiscation of Palestinian land, etc. were prominent features, both before and after the establishment of Israel.

    No work that I know of brings these facts to the fore as succinctly (and as early as 1953!) as David M. Lillienthal’s “What Price Israel.”

  5. It is important to note that the Jewish National Fund has been subject to criticism since has had a history of forbidding non-Jews to work or live on land it has control over. Its status as a tax-exempt non-profit organization under the Inernal Revenue Code has been challenged in United States courts due to alleged discriminatory practices and policies against Palestinians.

    Additionally, eligibility for social welfare programs in Israel is dependent upon having a family member serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Since Jewish enlistment in the IDF is, almost without exception, mandatory and very, very few Arabs serve in the IDF (other than Druzes), this creates a de facto discriminatory practice against Israeli Arabs with respect to welfare benefits. Mere accident? Of course not – clever intententional discrimination which would never pass muster under American civil rights legislation.

    Then there are Jewish-only roads – as Helen Thomas so famously pointed out.

    There have been lawsuits in the U.S. District Court system challenging Israeli expropriation of Palestinian land owned by American citizens.

    There needs to be international pressure placed upon Israel to dismantle these forms of institutionalized discrimination.

  6. As some here have feared, the Arab citizens of Israel are the next big target, both of restrictions on freedom of speech and the right to their lands. Even if the Occupied Territories are excluded, the Jewish vote is so split between multiple parties that there will one day be a danger the Arab citizens will be able to form a governing coalition with disgrunted Jews, like the ones in last year’s housing marches. The apartheid state happens with a 1-state solution or a 2-state solution.

    It is very important to watch ordinary Americans be indoctrinated into this idea. Is it a coincidence that the GOP’s and Christian Right’s reversal of their former disdain for Israel happened around 1970, when right-wing Americans became obsessed with being outnumbered and outbattled by vengeful minorities? Ever since, our two countries seem to have been coming under the rule of a single conservative, capitalist, nationalist movement.

    And both have a vested interest in eliminating the right of minorities to vote before they become a majority. Will we see Hebrew literacy tests at voting booths there and high poll taxes at voting booths here? Or will it just be mobs and armed intimidation?

  7. Isn’t the existential argument getting old?? Israel exists. It is. It is there. It is present. It has population, government, huge military, healthcare, educational institutions, is in the news on a daily basis…. why is this “existence” thing a topic? Obviously Israel exists, why are we constantly laboring over this? No one is really threatening its’ existence….are we really supposed to believe this constant chatter?

    Seems to me after 60 years of identity, continued regional conflict, aggression, countless illegal actions and numerous violations of international laws—-the world can’t help but know that indeed Israel does indeed exist but is does not exist in peace.

    Is all this “existence” talk just a distraction from the inability for Israel to create a peaceful state with contiguous borders and respect for all who live in and around the area? Is Netanyahu the wizard of Oz—pushing all the buttons? “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” Israel is better than what it is.

  8. the Palestinians still exist from what i read, though i can’t imagine for how long they can last in this apartheid state, and eventual ethnic cleasing of Judea and Samaria. notice it is called by the Jewish judea and samaria. not the west bank.

    it is such a fait accompli, i wonder why the Palestinians can continue to battle the US and Isreal in this endless battle for land.

    it is US weaponry that is used to kill and maim Palestinians and defend the Israelis. how can these stateless Palestinians expect to survive for long. this is not your second rate military powers war they are engaged in.

    50 plus years of this/encroaching settlement of “Palestine/Judea/Samria meme does get quite old when the same story line is told year after year. the Jewish immunity will never be questioned or ceded, that much time has shown. i frankly can’t see how the Palestinians will ever stop the theft of what is left of their occupied lands, with the generous and unqualified support by the American Government. so where are the Palestinians supposed to go, to Jordan and start a new Palestine there.

    how much of fortress Israel must remain with such a ceaseless hatred for the Palestinians, even if Jordan becomes the new Palestine. i can see why they want to focus on Iran, but after they get rid of Iran, what will be Israel’s next step in their control of the Middle East. will Israel be satisfied with Just Judea and Samaria? Israel seems to be adept at creating more enemies instead of finding some way of existing in the land of their picking. Too bad the State of Israel can’t be created in Germany as a payback for the Nazi holocaust instead of repeating this holocaust upon the Palestinians. Power is not eternal, as the American Empire we live in today shows.

  9. “Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation since 1967. In 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement, but it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that a peace process began. Part of this process involved the handing over of Gaza and the West Bank to Palestinian control, but a final agreement between the people of Israel and Palestine is yet to be reached.”

  10. Peter—
    Don’t know what the quotations marks refer to, but…the situation runs a bit deeper, as the other commenters in their own way have alluded. The Iron Wall, noted in Prof Cole’s bibliography, is a great history of the earlier period, and Israel’s history really needs to be considered as a whole to appreciate the consistency of their process of expansion and consolidation, which is clear once you get past the smoke and mirrors. The author was one of Israel’s “new historians” who drew on declassified IDF and govt records in a serious attempt to get at the truth in the best interests of Israel (even).

    Specicifically, The so-called “Peace Process” you alluded to in 1990, was Oslo, which never would have happened if Bush/Baker had not pressed Israel, dragging and screaming, to the immediately preceding Madrid conferences. This was in the wake of the US victory in the Gulf War, where they were trying to use that momentum to get Israel to cooperate in a fair peace with the Palestinians.

    Oslo came about as way for Israel to get out from under the PR debacle of Madrid, where a team of competent Palestinain negotiators were making them look very, very bad. With Oslo they were on firmer ground, negotiating with the infamously corrupt and far more manageable Yassar Arafat, who had lanquishing in exile in Tunisia. He can and did do whatever it took in Oslo to buy his way back into the West Bank, essentially as Israel’s Tool in managing the local malcontents. Thus, Israel was given cover for its continuing colonization as Eastern European Jews from the old Soviet Union arrived during the 1990s, and Arafat was able to line his pockets until the whole sordid arrangement was formally written-off at Camp David. These were the so-called “final status talks,” which really just served to lay the blame for the failure of the threadbare Oslo peace process at the feet of Arafat.

    There has never been good faith negotiations by Israel on the Palestinian issue, just tactical adjustments as it pursed its long term, ongoing and relentless colonization, modulated by what they could get away with at the moment. To the extent Oslo may have been in good faith (most arguable episode), the Israeli PM who negotiated it was assassinated. Enough Said.

  11. Dear Travis, Thanks for the additional input. To clarify I simply was responding to the posts suggesting “Israel has been that way so long let em have it” by quoting from this site with the simple summary link to betterbytheyear.org.
    Personally I am very sympathetic to the Palestinians cause and supportive of a peaceful solution.
    Being a year older than Israel I can recall the events, but not all the details.
    A point easily forgotten are the original folks on the land assigned dispossessed and forced out, currently a total now of 7 million see themselves dispossessed of their homes and expect a solution.
    I think Israel has behaved very badly amplifying the numbers from World War 2 to double for power to their cause and they have roughshod over the Palestinians ever since Israel was created.
    Why the US has to support Israel beyond reason and to the detriment of the Palestinian rights beats me, except if it money and lobby influence. Simply its a disgrace adding to the rest of the ME proving the US cant handle it and others should; UN.
    Just now a fuss is being made over Syria but there are still 2,5 million Palestinians incarcerated within what should be their own land, plus those 7 million said to be spread over the world; I do not see an answer for them.
    There is no fair deal to peace process in negotiation just distraction with Iran so Palestine is forgotten.
    I am mindful of the other events accelerating different groups rise to power which will change the scene for Israel and the prospect of more serious problems for them in the near future – Iran they look like taking too far, I expect to their own detriment.

  12. Ben White
    “the only reason there is a ‘Jewish majority’ at all, is because of the historic fact of the forced exclusion of Palestinians from their homes and lands.”

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