In a previous blog I commented on the continuing development of Israeli housing settlements in Palestinian land. Despite United Nations resolutions and opposition from within Israel itself, this settlement expansion continues unabated. Now there comes the news of an Israeli government plan to forcibly remove up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their historic desert land – an act that has been condemned by critics as ethnic cleansing.
An Israeli parliament bill for the removal of the Bedouins is soon to get final approval. If, as expected, the bill is passed, it will mean the eviction and destruction of about 35 “unrecognised” villages in the Negev Desert. At a time when the expansion of Israeli settlements into Palestine continues unabated, there is also “the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and land, and systematic discrimination and separation”.
Of course, the Israeli government justifies its activities by saying that the purposes of what is called the “Prawer Plan” are “economic development of the Negev Desert and the regulation of Palestinian Bedouins living in villages not recognised by the state”. The rub is that, whilst the present residents of these villages will be removed to (government) designated towns, there are plans being enacted to replace them with new Jewish settlements!
The Bedouin villages have lacked basic services, for example, water, electricity, telephone services and schools, which will, no doubt, feature in the new Jewish settlements. Statistics are telling. The Bedouin comprise about 30% of the Negev’s population, but only 2.5% of its population. Before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the Bedouin roamed freely and widely across the desert. Now, under the new plan, two-thirds of the desert region has been designated as “military training grounds and firing ranges”.
Much of the remaining Bedouin population, people who became Israeli citizens in the 1950’s, “will be moved into seven over-crowded, impoverished, crime-ridden state-planned towns”. The Israeli government is of the view that this will provide the Bedouin people with the opportunity “to live in modern homes, take regular jobs and send their children to mainstream schools”. None of this has been specifically requested and, of course, an incentive in the form of compensation for the Bedouin to leave their villages is on offer.
There has been opposition to the government’s action from outside of Israel. One voice raised in protest has said that “Citizenship counts for nothing in Israel if you happen to be an Arab…, at the same time, there are Israeli government advertisements that promise you funding as a British immigrant to come and live in a ‘vibrant community’ in the Negev – if you are Jewish. This is ethnic cleansing.”
There are echoes of the Israeli relationship with and maltreatment of the Bedouin in the ill-treatment of the indigenous Americans in the United States, black and Indian peoples in South Africa and, as the Australian journalist John Pilger has recently shown in his “Utopia” investigation, the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia. Ultimately it is for the citizens of the aforementioned countries to call their governments to account for allowing these situations to continue. Support for their endeavours is, however, most necessary.
As a citizenship of the United Kingdom, I would stand in solidarity with those who demand that the British government holds the state of Israel to account over its human rights record and obligations under international law. At the same time, I would call for the British government to ensure that justice is given to those persons marginalised by all forms of discrimination in this country. Our common humanity is the tie that binds.