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Israel’s new plan of ethnic cleansing in the desert

The birth of a “Jewish state” in a country overwhelmingly not Jewish required a massive act of ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Between 1947 and 1949, Zionist militias executed this catastrophe by driving out some 750,000 Palestinians. This is commemorated as the Nakba.

The latest incarnation of this on-going Nakba is Israel’s Prawer plan. Passed by its parliament in June as the Prawer-Begin law, this new wave of ethnic cleansing aims to empty the southern Naqab desert (known as the Negev in Hebrew) of tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins.


These Palestinians are nominally citizens of Israel, but are not treated as equals to Jewish Israelis. Varying estimates state that between 30,000 and 70,000 Bedouin citizens will be removed if Prawer is fully implemented. In their places will come new Jewish developments.

Israel’s obsession with “Judaisation” means that around 35 “unrecognised” Arab villages containing 70,000 people could be destroyed to make way for what is euphemistically called “development.” In reality, this is the removal of one ethno-religious group to make way for another. Arab villages will be replaced by forests, military centres and new Jewish settlements. Palestinian citizens will have their ancestral land seized.

Older than Israel

Adalah, the legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel says Prawer would be “the largest single act of forced displacement of Arab citizens of Israel since the 1950s”. According to the group, “If Israel applied the same criteria for planning and development that exist in the Jewish rural sector, all 35 unrecognised villages would be recognized where they are.”

The Bedouin are often slandered in Israel as “criminal” and “uncivilized” nomads. In fact Arab Bedouin have lived in villages since at least the 16th century, long before Israel ever existed. Most of the “unrecognised” villages (which Israel’s racist state structure refuses to connect to services like water electricity, sewage, education, health care and roads) in fact pre-date the state of Israel itself.

While the world’s media focuses on the sham that is the supposed peace talks between Israeli politicians and the subservient quislings of the Palestinian Authority, a massive new wave of Israeli expulsions is about to take place.

Emptying Palestine of its native population has never ceased to be a key goal of the Zionist movement. In many ways, the Nakba never really ended. After the initial trauma of 1948, Israel has continued its project of removing as many Palestinians as possible from the land, as both the West Bank settlements project and Prawer demonstrate.

Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion dismissively said during the Nakba: “The Arabs of the Land of Israel [i.e., Palestine] have only one function left to them – to run away” (Benny Morris, “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited”, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 463. Editorial insertion in Morris).

Back to the Nakba

During the 1948 war, Israel broke a July-October truce. They “regularly harassed [Palestinian] harvesters between front line positions, behind the lines and in no man’s land” (Morris, 445. Insertion mine).

During this truce the Israelis “mounted sporadic ‘clearing’ operations to drive away concentrations of refugees who had temporarily encamped near the front lines … the Negev Brigade continued harassing the Arab inhabitants and beduin tribes. On 16 August, the brigade carried out a full-scale clearing operation in the Kaufakha-al Maharraqa area. ‘The villages’ inhabitants and [beduin] concentrations in the area were dispersed and expelled. A number of houses were blown up. Muharraqa and the houses of Sheikh ‘Ukbi … were mined'” (Morris, 446. Insertion in Morris).

Unsurprisingly, the truce between Israel and the belatedly-intervening Arab armies collapsed 16 October. Visiting occupied Bir al-Saba’ (Beersheva) on 30 October alongside Ben Gurion, the director general of Israel’s “Minority Affairs Ministry” Gad Machnes remarked to one commander: “We have come to expel the Arabs. Yigal [Allon], rely on me.” But by then many Arabs had already been driven out (Morris, 467. Insertion mine).

“They will be in the way”

In November 1948, Yosef Weitz, a Jewish National Fund director “wrote Ben Gurion that it was best that the beduin were not around. But, ‘if political requirements’ compelled leaving them in Israel, then they should be ‘concentrated’ in a specific, limited area.” But he also worried about the future: “Weitz argued that leaving the beduin in place would result in a host of problems … ‘If we formulate a development plan for the Negev – they will be in the way'” (Morris, 526).

By 1950, only 35,000 Palestinians remained the the Naqab. Their situation was precarious. While some had been given Israeli ID cards, many had not (Morris, 528). Some of the Bedouin community’s leadership was co-opted by Israel, and all lived in fear of being made refugees like so many of their kinsfolk. All of Israel’s Arabs citizens (but not its Jewish ones) would remain under a racist system of military rule until 1966.

Today, the JNF continues to promote its racist “development” plans. One of these is a crackpot scheme by Christian fundamentalist satellite Christian fundamentalist satellite channel GOD TV, to build a forest on the land of al-Araqib, a Bedouin village that has by now been demolished so many times it’s hard to keep count (its resilient villages keep rebuilding).

GOD TV’s sectarian end of times theology states that their purpose is “to prepare the Holy Land in expectancy of the Messiah showing their commitment to the Land of Israel” and they claim their “tree planting” will make “the deserts liveable once more.” In fact, such claims are pure Zionist mythology. Palestinians have been making the desert liveable for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Despite the severe limitations placed on them since 1948, the Palestinian Bedouin of the Naqab have stood steadfast in their land, and have grown to a population of some 200,000 today. Thankfully, Weitz’s prediction that the Bedouin would “be in the way” of Zionism’s schemes was correct.

The Arabs of the Naqab are not going away, and Palestinians from all over the country are resisting the Prawer plan. Even if it makes short-term gains, Israel’s project of sectarian expulsion is doomed in the long term.

Asa Winstanley is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada and an investigative journalist who lives in London.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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