The village of Al-Araqeeb has perhaps summarised the story of the Israeli insistence on uprooting the Palestinian people, and that of the Palestinian insistence on entrenchment in the land and steadfastness against the occupation. One hundred and forty times, the Israelis have destroyed the village located in the Negev area, and 140 times the Palestinians have rebuilt it.
Seventy years ago, during the 1948 war, the Zionists occupied 77 per cent of Palestine, destroyed at least 413 Palestinian villages and towns (estimated by Salman Abu Sitta to be 530), displaced around 800,000 Palestinians such that only 156,000 remained in the 1948 occupied territories (officially called Israel). They found themselves a vulnerable minority in their own land. For 18 years, they were under military rule and emergency laws. Their lands were confiscated, leaving only four per cent in the hands of the 1948 Palestinians.
Until now, the "1948 Palestinians" have maintained their 17 per cent demographic edge, numbering around 1.5 million (excluding East Jerusalem Palestinians). This is despite the fact that the Zionist project has brought about 3.26 million Jews over the last 70 years (1948–2018); but the natural growth of the 1948 Palestinians has maintained their percentage.
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The 1948 Palestinians have succeeded in their battle of steadfastness on their land, undeterred by the Israeli measures that treated them as "strangers" in their land and as nationals, while giving Jews preferential treatment and other benefits. Israeli repressive measures included Palestinians' accommodation, housing, construction and use of services, in addition to ways to express their cultural identity and their Palestinian, Arab and Islamic affiliation. As for the Arab towns and villages, they were confined to narrow areas, and no new villages or encampments were allowed; whereas more than 700 Israeli towns, cities and settlements were built in the 1948 territories.
In return, there are still 46 Arab villages in the Negev (Naqab), inhabited by 137,000 Palestinians, which the Israeli occupation deem "unrecognised", and this means that they are deprived of basic services and construction therein is prohibited or subject to demolition and removal. For example, and in addition to destroying Al-Araqeeb, the Israelis destroyed the villages of Jaraba, Abdeh, Abu Al-Salb, Abu Talul, and Qarnub.
Consequently, the 1948 Palestinians were compelled to build without permits, where estimates indicate that 50–80,000 houses don't have permits, all of which are subject to demolition; It is a rate of one in seven Palestinian homes (the Negev included).
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In the past few years, the systematic Israeli policies that perpetuate the false identity of the land and people, have become increasingly more right-wing and racist. This flagrantly emerged when the Knesset passed the Jewish Nation-State Law in the summer of 2018, which affirmed that: Israel is the nation-state of the "Jewish people", and exercised the right to self-determination in the State of Israel to the Jewish people, and that the development of Jewish settlement is a "national value" and the government shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthen it. In contrast, it downgraded Arabic from an official language to a language of merit, increasing the risks and challenges faced by the 1948 Palestinians.
The Battle of Identity
In the midst of the Israeli occupation environment, the Israeli government seeks to perpetuate a Jewish identity in "secular" garb, and Zionist racism in a "democratic" garb. It is trying to fragment the Palestinian society into sectarian or social identities, separating the Druze from the others, preferring Muslims to Christians, and it does the same with the Bedouins. It succeeded among the Druze (around 140,000) such that the vast majority vote for Israeli parties and a majority of their youth enlist in the Israeli army. However, there is an increasing Arab majority that feels strongly about their Palestinian identity, and their Arab and Islamic affiliation, and has succeeded in thwarting the Israeli fragmentation attempts. They believe in the Palestinian narrative versus the Israeli and Zionist narrative. It is a case that arose strongly in the 1950s, with the founding of Harakat Abnaa Al-Balad (Sons of the Country Movement), and continued with the Islamic, nationalistic and national movements.
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However, expressing this identity faced some difficulties, including how one could combine the notion of belonging to Palestinian national institutions, with carrying an Israeli passport or "nationality", and carrying on with life under the roof or sword of the Israeli "law". How one could deal with the dichotomy between the need to fulfil life's demands, such as housing, work, study, health, and other daily living activities… and the disengagement from the Zionist project and its domination tools. How one could combine between the need to express the political positions and demands of the 1948 Palestinians, without falling into the "legitimisation" of the Israeli political system, coming under its cover, and adorning it with a "democratic" décor that would promote its aggressive project of settlement and displacement.
The National Role
Based on the above, the 1948 Palestinians have expressed their national role in many forms. Most movements confirmed that they belong to the Palestinian people, support the Palestinian National Project, believe that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is the uniting umbrella of all Palestinians, and support the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS) and the founding of a Palestinian state. They participated also in supporting cultural and heritage activities that preserve Palestinian identity, and worked with municipalities to serve the Palestinian people. However, they differed in their participation in the Israeli political life; some of the big movements participated in it to protect and serve the Arab "minority," by using what the political system offers and sometimes try for more. These movements advocated slogans of complete equality and "a state for all its citizens"…and others. Whereas a big trend, led by the Islamic Movement (in northern Palestine), preferred to boycott the Knesset elections, while staying active in other fields; Thus, it had a remarkable role in municipal services, preserving national identity, and Islamic da'wah. One of its most prominent achievements was the preservation of Jerusalem and the holy sites, where its members along with their brethren in the Islamic Movement (in the south) played a major role in the care and maintenance of al-Aqsa Mosque, standing firm together to protect it (murabatah), and organizing convoys to transport the worshipers to it. They struggled also to preserve the rest of the holy sites in Palestine, and sought to reacquire the Islamic endowments and maintain the mosques, cemeteries and others.
The 1948 Palestinians also participated in the Intifada-related actions. They organised the Land Day on 30 March 1976, had a major role at the beginning of Al-Aqsa Intifada at the end of September 2000, and also in the Jerusalem Intifada of 2015–2017. However, the movement, in general, preferred not to engage in armed confrontations with the Israelis, due to the special circumstances of the 1948 Palestinians. They played a major role — "as a lung" — for their brethren in West Band and Gaza Strip, offering support, care, social and humanitarian services, as well as political and media support. But despite all that, there were still initiatives by many of the 1948 Palestinian youth, in the resistance work, and in logistical support of the armed resistance. One of the examples lately was that of the "Jabarin" Three, a resistance operation executed in Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the summer of 2017.
Israeli elections will be held in April, in an atmosphere in which the Zionist project has become increasingly racist and extremist. During the last few years, many racist laws and measures were issued, in addition, the Knesset passed the Jewish Nation-State Law. Consequently, the hopes of many 1948 Palestinians were dashed, for they were hoping their political participation will yield results that are worth the price to be paid through it.
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In the last elections, the Arab Palestinian Joint List won 13 seats, which was considered a great achievement for the unification of the political work of the 1948 Palestinians. Many distinguished political competent figures emerged, however, they could not escape being chased and besieged by the Israelis, in the midst of isolation and distortion attempts. In these elections, two Arab lists are joining the race, and they are expected to collectively win 12 seats, since many of the 1948 Palestinians will boycott the elections. If these were to participate, the number of seats is expected to increase to about 20, an increase that does not affect the Israeli political system, where the Knesset numbers 120 seats, an argument that is still debated among Palestinians. In general, and in light of the historical experience, the political price, and the rise in religious and racist extremism in the Israeli society, the vast majority are frustrated by the possibility of benefiting from the Knesset as political leverage.
This article was originally published in TRT Arabic
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.