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The Forgotten Palestinians – Arabs in Israel

INCLUDING PHOTOS FROM THE EVENT

SUMMARY

That was the focus of the most recent MEMO event held on Tuesday 1st June in the Brunei Gallery at SOAS. The horrific Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla on 31st May cast a shadow over the entire event from the outset. Two of our guest speakers, Arab members of the Israeli Knesset Talab Sana and Dr Jamal Zahalka were unable to attend as a result of the trouble.

Chairing the first session, Clare Short, for Secretary of State for International Development, said, “Israel would not behave like this if our countries stood by international law.”
 
Salman Abu Sitta: Ben Gurion, afraid that Palestinians refugees would return, made several deals between 1949-1950 to “sell” the land to the JNF and this was ultimately a way to “hide the loot.”

Ben White: According to the “demographic threat discourse,” the increasingly high numbers of Palestinians are a threat to the Zionist aims by their mere presence in the land and several tactics are therefore adopted in an attempt to Judaise the land.

Ilan Pappe: In South Africa the black people had an existence. It is true that they were considered to exist as an “inferior” people, which is terrible in itself, but “Palestinians have no existence” in the Zionist concept of the future.

Abed Hakeem Mofeed: Israelis now quite openly talk about transferring Palestinians saying that they are a demographic threat to Israel. Recently Palestinians in Israel have begun to live in a state of extreme fear. “Now we face a real threat to our existence” he said.


Political discourse on Palestine frequently focuses on the lives of those Palestinians living within Gaza and the West Bank but all too often the Palestinians living within Israel itself are completely forgotten. That was the focus of the most recent MEMO event held on Tuesday 1st June in the Brunei Gallery at SOAS. The horrific Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla on 31st May cast a shadow over the entire event from the outset. Two of our guest speakers, Arab members of the Israeli Knesset Talab Sana and Dr Jamal Zahalka were unable to attend as a result of the trouble that is now bubbling over in the region. However, the event still went ahead as planned with speakers and audience members all infused with a renewed vigour and an even greater awareness that it is now more important than ever to challenge the current Israeli status quo, liberate the Palestinian people from Israeli oppression and bring an end to its war crimes.

 

The Director of the Middle East Monitor, Dr Daud Abdullah, began the proceedings by asking the audience to observe a minute of silence for those humanitarians slain on the Freedom Flotilla. He then reminded all present that if there was no siege there would have been no need for an aid convoy in the first place.

Clare Short, for Secretary of State for International Development, and vocal supporter of Palestine, chaired the first session. She began by recounting that she had been on one of the boats that had managed to get through to Gaza in November 2008. “Israel would not behave like this if our countries stood by international law” she said. “The governments that represent us are part of the problem and therefore we must be part of the solution.” She pointed out that Blair, Brown and Cameron have all agreed to be Presidents of the UK branch of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) at one time or another. As such, the change must come from us, she urged. Israel is becoming more and more exposed by the extremity of its behaviour and said that the Israeli treatment of Palestinians is “the greatest entrenched injustice” that we face in the world today.

Dr Salman Abu Sitta

Dr Salman Abu Sitta (Founder and President of the Palestine Land Society) gave a talk on “The Hidden Army: The Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) Role in Ethnic Cleansing”. He traced the roots of the JNF back to its origins and explained how, since 1948, the JNF has operated openly in its attempts to eradicate the Palestinians from Palestine.

He described the way the JNF was set up and how it provided a fictitious cover for the Israeli theft of land by falsely saying that the land had been legitimately brought. Ben Gurion, afraid that Palestinians refugees would return, made several deals between 1949-1950 to “sell” the land to the JNF and this was ultimately a way to “hide the loot.” With the inclusion of the JNF he could essentially raise his hands and say, it’s not my land it’s the JNF land? Following the “purchase” of the land many parks were built over the areas that had once been the homes of Palestinians and monuments established thus ensuring no Palestinian could return there.

He showed a series of maps and slides depicting before and after the Nakba photographs. He explained how the land on which the Palestinians once farmed and lived now house an extensive series of military bases, munitions factories, training zones, closed military zones and so on. The land has therefore not been expropriated in order to house peaceful families but approximately 1,200 strategic points in Israel have been assigned to war related purposes. If Israel really wanted to live in peace those bases and military zones could easily be removed and the refugees could come back home, he asserted.

One and a quarter million Palestinians live in Israel today but there are only 6 small Arab regions officially recognised by Israel. The rest live in “unrecognised villages”. They exist but have been completely wiped off the Israeli map. They are cut off from the most basic amenities including water, electricity, medical care and so on.

Dr Abu Sitta ended his talk by saying that there are a series of points that now need to be addressed including: exposing the JNF’s discriminatory practices; ending the special tax exemption status of the JNF; JNF actions must be brought to the Court of Justice; a reversal in the trend of ethnic cleansing; restitution for people who have lost their properties and lastly an implementation of the right to return.


Ben White

Freelance journalist, author and expert on Palestinian-Israeli relations, Ben White, discussed on the ground examples of discrimination against Israeli Arabs particularly in relation to land policies, Judaization, and Palestinian Bedouins in al-Naqab.

He began by addressing the issue of the “unrecognised villages” in Israel in which it is estimated that approximately 70-80,000 Bedouin Arabs live. They are entirely neglected and are not even afforded the most basic levels of infrastructure, are vulnerable to house demolitions and so on. Israel’s aim, he explained, is essentially to “free up” land for colonisation and Jewish settlements.

He also talked about the Judaisation of the Galillee. According to the “demographic threat discourse”, the increasingly high number of Palestinians are a threat to the Zionist aims by their mere presence in the land and several tactics are therefore adopted in an attempt to Judaise the land, including land confiscation and the strategic creation of Jewish communities (in places like the Galilee, Upper Nazareth, Karmiel) whereby they are located in such a way as to break up Palestinian areas. He stated that it has been a clear aim of the Jewish Agency to implement policies that guarantee a “Zionist majority” in the area.

White also looked at the issue of citizenship in the Israeli “democracy”. There is a clear paradox, he pointed out, in claiming to be both a “Jewish” and a “democratic” state. He pointed out that in practice there are different subcategories of citizens in Israel which discriminate against Arabs. There are the citizens (Palestinian minority), potential citizens (this includes every Jew on the planet according to the Law of Return for Jews) and then there are the sub-citizens (this can be used to refer to the Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories who are not actually citizens but are controlled by Israel.) The Palestinians are subjected to discriminatory treatment in terms of the loyalty laws and family reunification legislation.

Betty Hunter, General Secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign chaired the second session.


Professor Ilan Pappe

Ilan Pappe, Professor of History at the University of Exeter delivered a talk on the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestine. He examined the concept of Zionism and pointed out that whereas most ideological movements have altered with time, succumbing to new realities, Zionism has not. The ideals of Zionism have not developed or changed in more than a hundred years. Zionist thinkers in the late nineteenth century and those in the beginning of the twenty first century think in the same way. They have retained the same colonialist mentality that they started with. He stated that there is no other case study that he could think of in which this could be said to be true. Don’t be misled by the discourse of leftist parties and rightist parties, he said, the theory is very solid although there may be differences in practice.

The Zionist mission has always been to “eliminate Palestinians in Israel”; to de-Arabise Palestine and they will never give up on that ideal. “Zionists cannot succeed if there are still Palestinians in Palestine”.

Israel has been trying for decades now to make up for the fact that they did not succeed in completing the Zionist project in 1948. The main focus of the Israeli government, up to 1967, was to complete the job of ethnic cleansing not completed in 1948. In 1956 for example, Israel imposed a curfew on many villages and in some cases used this as a pretext to shoot people; a move that ended in a massacre on 29th October 1956. The hope was that this would achieve what Deir Yassin did but the Palestinians decided to stay and instead they intensified their struggle for national rights.

Israel is in a quandary. It wants to call itself a democracy in terms of giving it the image of a moral society and providing it with stable relations with the EU etc. but in reality, for Israel, it can only accept true democracy if the majority of its citizens are Jews. If it would just concede that it is a dictatorship then it wouldn’t matter how many Palestinians lived there.

Another point he made was that people increasingly draw comparisons between the South African Apartheid and the Israel apartheid system but, as he quite rightly sees it, at least in South Africa the black people had an existence. It is true that they were considered to exist as an “inferior” people, which is terrible in itself, but “Palestinians have no existence” in the Zionist concept of the future.


Abed Hakeem

In quite a powerful presentation Abed Hakeem explained that there has been a disturbing rise in extremist speech in Israel. Israelis now quite openly talk about transferring Palestinians saying that they are a demographic threat to Israel. Recently Palestinians in Israel have begun to live in a state of extreme fear. “Now we face a real threat to our existence” he said. This extremist element does not only represent a marginal sector of society but now represents a central element of society and government including the Ministry of Affairs, Ministry of Security and the head of government. There is a concerted campaign of political intimidation against even Arab members of Parliament. There is talk of transferring 300,000 Palestinians from Israel into the West Bank. This is no longer a matter of speculation but it is actually being discussed.

There was a panel discussion at the end at which time questions were taken from the floor. All in all it was another very successful MEMO event which brought together academics and politicians and a very diverse audience. At a time when the focus is so firmly fixed on Gaza – and about time too – it is still important that we do not loose sight of other Palestinians. The pressure is on and steadily rising on those Palestinians living in Israel and we have a duty to make sure that they do not become the forgotten Palestinians, they must not be ignored.

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