Israel’s ethnic cleansing polices in the Naqab (Negev) region have entered a new and dangerous phase. A ministerial council for legal codes this week cleared the way for a Knesset reading of the controversial Prawer plan to regulate the Bedouin communities in the region. If implemented, this scheme would result in the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and the destruction of 35 villages, which Israel regards as “unrecognized.” This would be the largest single act of its kind since the Palestinian Nakba – Catastrophe began in 1948.
Recent figures estimate the Arab population in the Naqab to be just over 200,000. Their fate has been no less tragic than the rest of the Palestinian people. Faced with an unrelenting campaign of ethnic cleansing and Judaisation, their struggle today is to exercise the universal human right to own and live on their land.
However, Israel’s incumbent government, like its predecessors, is prepared to do whatever it takes to deny this right to a section of its population. A few days ago, Tel Aviv issued an order for the demolition of the only mosque in al Fir’ah village. Built in 1985, it has since been used daily by locals. Yet, after 28 years, the Israelis have suddenly discovered that the mosque was built without the proper license.
Elsewhere in the Naqab, the Bedouin village of Araqeeb was demolished for the 50th time on Thursday 9th May. Every time the bulldozers complete their fiendish work, the defiant residents pick up the pieces and rebuild their modest homes. Their story is symbolic of the Palestinian people – indomitable. Other villages under constant threat with similar measures are Arab Al Naeem, Taweel Abu Jarool and Um Ateer.
The Naqab stretches over an area of 12 million dunums (1 dunum = 1,000m), approximately one-third of the total area of historic Palestine. Since 1948, Israel has resorted to every trick in the book in order to seize control of this land. It tried a combination of hard and soft power, all to no avail. Neither force nor the denial of basic services such as water, electricity, health care and education has worked.
In September 2011, the government approved the plan drawn up by the former Deputy Chair of the National Security Council, Ehud Prawer; now named after him. This was after 18 different drafts were presented. Since its approval it was amended twice by the Netanyahu government. There are, at present, calls for a third amendment to further reduce the area of land that should remain with locals.
In March 2012 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, called on Israel to withdraw the Prawer plan; “which would legalize the ongoing policy of home demolitions and forced displacement of the indigenous Bedouin communities.”
Later that same year, the European Parliament adopted a similar resolution condemning Israel’s home demolitions in the Naqab. It called for the recognition of Bedouin villages and demanded the withdrawal of the government’s Prawer plan.
“We condemn the ongoing house demolitions and lack of due process suffered by the Bedouin in the Negev-Naqab. The Israeli government’s Prawer Plan should be withdrawn as it would further institutionalise discrimination against these communities.”
While the current policies are consistent with the long-standing Israeli strategy of ‘more land less people’, it does have an equally important military dimension. The Naqab has always been and will continue to be strategically important for the Israelis because of its proximity to Egypt. In strict military terms Israelis regard it as the first line of defence for the southern front. For the Palestinian people, it is one of the last strongholds of resistance against annihilation.
However much the Prawer plan and its attendant policies may promise social housing, compensation and financial grants, they do not disguise Israel’s real aim, which is to seize the land, displace the Bedouin population and supplant them with Jewish settlers.
By pursuing this toxic policy of ethnic cleansing in the Naqab, Israel has unwittingly exposed what it really means by a ‘Jewish State’ – a state where non-Jews will remain ‘unrecognized’ without legal rights. Already denounced as ‘racist’ by the UN, it would only generate support for the threatened Bedouins. The continuation of this travesty makes it all the more imperative to reject any call for the recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish’ state. That would be a blueprint to ‘transfer’ and complete the final chapter of the Palestinian Nakba.
Indeed, acceptance of such policies in any form would encourage xenophobes and supremacists in other parts of the world to imitate and even conduct genocide.
Tel Aviv must not be allowed to use the shadow of civil war in Syria or instability in the region to finally settle the question of the Naqab at the expense of its indigenous people.
There is only one way forward. Israel must do the decent thing and recognize the so-called ‘unrecognized villages’, end its campaign of demolitions and evictions or face further international isolation for its apartheid policies.