For centuries before the Zionist occupation of Palestine, there were hundreds of Palestinian villages across the country. When the Zionist terror gangs occupied 78 per cent of Palestine in 1948, they displaced and killed thousands of Palestinians, and destroyed their homes. Whole villages were wiped off the map; towns and cities were taken over. This has been described by Israeli historians as “ethnic cleansing”, which is a crime against humanity.
Despite the brutality of the Zionists, some Palestinians managed to stay in their homes. Those who were unable to do so, moved to neighbouring towns and countries. The Palestinian refugee crisis was born.
Most of the Palestinian villages which survived, and predate the creation of the occupation state of Israel, are concentrated in the Galilee, in the north of Israel, or in the Naqab Desert in the south.
Israel has, since 1948, been “Judaising” the landscape. More than fifty laws have been passed enabling the confiscation of land from its Palestinian owners. Place names have been changed from their original Arabic to Hebrew.
Palestinian citizens of Israel are referred to as “Israeli Arabs”; the state refuses to call them “Palestinians”. They own their land under a clearly defined traditional system of individual and communal ownership. The Israel Land Administration (ILA), the Israeli government body in charge of administering public land, and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a quasi-governmental body that buys and takes land solely for the use of Jews, do not recognise this system and take what they call “state land”. According to the ILA, all the areas in the Galilee and Naqab are state land; the ownership rights of the villagers are ignored. As I have written previously, the JNF’s “forestation” of such land is simply a cover for more ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.
To counter the Judaisation and theft of their land, the Palestinian/Arab Israelis — Israeli citizens, remember — have turned to the courts for justice against the ILA and JNF, with little success. Even when they have been successful, as in 2008 when the villagers of Umm Al-Hiran were granted recognition of half of their village — it was established by order of the Israeli military commander as part of the compulsory relocation of Arabs in the Negev — the decision was reversed two years later.
Arab villages “unrecognised” by the occupation state have no access to public services such as the water and sewage networks, electricity, telecommunications, roads, hospitals and schools. The Israeli government claims that it is offering the villagers homes in urban areas where they can work and have access to public services. The reality on the ground is very different.
The government has persuaded some Arab villagers in the Negev to relocate to several state-planned townships, including Rahat, Tel As-Sabi, Shaqib Al-Salam, Ar’arat An-Naqab, Kuseife, Lakiya and Hura. Under government pressure, the villagers are tempted to move. Those who refuse argue that this is simply a plot by the Israeli government to get them off their land and confiscate it. Moreover, pledges to build modern residential blocks connected to public services have not been fulfilled.Research by Ben Gurion University’s Negev Centre for Regional Development found that, “These first towns were poorly planned and were lacking business districts or industrial zones.” Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, described Israel’s decisions, plans and practices related to these villagers as being intended to force them “into overcrowded and underdeveloped towns, while providing Jewish citizens with access to the rest of the land space.” Indeed, such land has been used to build Jewish towns and cities provided with all government services. According to Amjad Iraqi of +972 magazine, “The land being offered to [the villagers] is a mere fraction of what the families own.” He noted that the Israeli plans make no consideration for natural population growth or the Palestinian/Arab agrarian way of life.
“The largest of the unrecognised villages is Wadi an-Na’am,” wrote Aniqa Raihan for Foreign Policy in Focus. “It was established in the 1950s by internally displaced Bedouins from surrounding villages who’d been forcibly removed from their homes and lands, but it’s never been officially recognised.” She added that in the 1970s, Israel built Neot Hovav, the country’s primary toxic waste disposal facility, in Wadi an-Na’am. “Since its establishment, the facility has experienced frequent accidents, fires, explosions and leaks, resulting in birth defects and long-term health problems in the Bedouin community. The village is also surrounded by military firing zones, where the Israel Defence Forces carry out military drills and trainings using live ammunition. Unexploded shells are often left behind from these exercises. The last accident killed two children aged 8 and 10.”
In the Galilee, Israel built a city around the ancient Palestinian village of Ramya, which once encompassed nearly 600 dunams (150 acres) of agricultural land. In 1976, Israel seized most of this and other land belonging to many other Arab villages across the Galilee. That year, on 30 March, thousands of villagers were joined by fellow citizens from different parts of Israel protested against the state’s theft of land. Six protesters were killed and many others were wounded in the brutal Israeli response to the protest. Since then, all Palestinians mark 30 March as Palestine Land Day.
The city of Karmiel was built around Ramya on land taken from its Palestinian owners, who have been involved in a legal battle to get their land back. In 1995, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the Ramya villagers should have a plot of land to build their homes on the outskirts of Karmiel. They rejected the ruling and continued their struggle.
Today, Ramya’s villagers see the luxury apartments owned by wealthy Jewish Israelis covering the land, while they are living in old houses or tin shacks under threat of eviction. There are many other such examples in the Galilee and in the occupied West Bank. In the Hebron Hills, for example, Palestinian villagers are being displaced to make way for Israeli army shooting ranges.
It is not only in the Negev Desert where Palestinian villages are “unrecognised” by the state. Dahmash is the last Arab village near Tel Aviv. It existed before the creation of the occupation state of Israel and, despite being in the centre of the state, it does not receive any basic public services. The lawyer who represents the village in court, Kais Nasser, told +972 magazine that this village “is a thorn in Israel’s side because it is the only Arab village remaining in the centre of the country.”
Today, there are about 100,000 Arab Israelis living in “unrecognised” villages. The state fears their population growth and wants to squeeze them into small ghettos, restrict their ability to expand, and drive them out of existence, if possible. According to Adalah, they will then be replaced by Jewish settlers. In 2003, the then director of the Israeli Population Administration Department, Herzl Gedj, described polygamy among the Bedouin as a “security threat” and called for the Arab birth rate to be reduced.
In the same year, Shai Hermesh, the then treasurer of the Jewish Agency, told the Guardian: “We need the Negev for the next generation of Jewish immigrants… The trouble with the Bedouin is they’re still on the edge between tradition and civilisation. A big part of the Bedouin don’t want to live in cities. They say their mothers and grandmothers want to live with the sheep around them. It is not in Israel’s interest to have more Palestinians in the Negev.”
If Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens were treated as equal citizens on a par with Jews, and the state introduced just and fair solutions for land and property issues, then I believe that they would accept them. However, the reality on the ground is that the state is using dirty, underhand tactics to steal more Arab land and homes so that more Jewish immigrants can be brought in. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinian didn’t end in 1948. It is an ongoing crime against humanity.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.