Liberal supporters of Israel have traditionally operated on a political binary that runs along 1967 armistice lines — the Green Line — separating the Occupied Palestinians Territories from Israel. Though Israel enjoys no internationally recognized border between itself and Palestine, refusing to even produce a map proposing any such borders in peace negotiations, the border in the liberal Zionist imagination is firmly established. According to Peter Beinart, the widely published liberal Zionist pundit, Israel-Palestine is divided between a “Democratic Israel” representing Israel inside the Green Line, and “nondemocratic Israel,” signifying Israeli military control over the Palestinian West Bank. In Beinart’s view, if Israel allowed Palestinians to establish a state in the West Bank (he curiously omits the Gaza Strip), it would consolidate its identity as a liberal democracy.
There is just one problem with this fantastical vision. Some twenty percent of Israel’s citizens are Palestinians, and none of them enjoy a modicum of legal or political equality. Institutional discrimination is particularly acute in the Negev Desert, inhabited by 80,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel whose communities and homes have been declared “illegal” by the self-proclaimed Jewish state. They are considered a demographic threat, and even an occupying entity. Thus plans have been put into place to “concentrate” the Bedouin in special development towns after their communities are demolished and replaced with exclusively Jewish ones.
“The United States had its Manifest Destiny in the West. For Israel, that land is the Negev,” said Ron Lauder, a cosmetics fortune heir and top pro-Israel donor who is central in financing colonization projects in the Negev.
Scenes of brutal settler-colonialism were on full display in Umm Al-Hiran this week, a village of indigenous Bedouin Palestinians in the Negev Desert. The residents of this village are Israeli citizens, but their homes have been declared “illegal” by the state. Nearby, a group of religious nationalist Jewish settlers has been waiting to move into the plots that have been cleared of the ruins of Bedouin homes, and establish the exclusively Jewish town of Hiran. This January 17, bulldozers from the Israeli Land Authority moved in on Umm Al-Hiran and demolished several homes, beginning a process of ethnic cleansing that has long been in the works.
Umm al-Hiran has some 400 inhabitants, Bedouins who have lived in historic Palestine for generations. Although they are citizens, the Israeli government has never recognized their community and considers it illegal.
The Israel Land Authority announced in November that it would be demolishing the village in order to and replace it with a Jewish town. Widespread international backlash temporarily delayed the demolition, but it resumed on Tuesday, January 17.
Angry protests erupted in response to the demolition of eight homes and seven agricultural buildings. During the melee, heavily militarized Israeli riot police wounded several residents and killed a local teacher.
Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, was injured by Israeli police during the demonstrations. He said he was shot in the head with sponge-tipped bullets.
Reporter Haggai Matar said Israeli journalists trying to reach Umm al-Hiran were being stopped by police, effectively preventing on-the-ground coverage.
Forced on the defensive, the police proceeded to denigrate the protesters as Islamic extremists. When Israeli police killed a resident of the village, 50-year-old teacher Yakub Musa Abu al-Qian, they smeared him as a “terrorist,” suggesting he was associated with ISIS.
Israeli authorities claimed al-Qian had been trying to ram them with his car in an attack. Witnesses disputed this account. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said that al-Qian was in fact trying to leave the village, but lost control of his car when police fired at him. When he was shot, his car then struck an Israeli police officer, killing him.
Hassan Jabareen, founder and general director of Adalah, pointed out in a statement, “In fact, Israeli police video confirms eyewitness accounts, revealing officers opened fire multiple times as Al-Qi’an was driving slowly, far from any officers, and preceding any acceleration or altercation.
“The Israeli judiciary and government are responsible for this killing,” Jabareen added. Israeli “Prime Minister Netanyahu and other officials regularly praise the use of state violence against Arab citizens. Israeli police proved yet again today that it perceives Arab citizens as an enemy.”
Adalah has represented the residents of Umm al-Hiran in court for 13 years. It filed a request with the court to freeze the demolition process in November, but it was rejected.
The demolitions have gotten very little attention in the US media. In fact, the only reason it got any coverage at all is because violence erupted. Also silent were leading liberal Zionists, perhaps because the violence against Umm Al-Hiran complicates their simple binary between the “good” Israel inside the Green Line and the “bad” one of fanatical settlers in the West Bank.
The New York Times, which is well known for Israelicentric coverage, largely echoed the Israeli police’s version of the incident, which is disputed by human rights observers.
Journalist Nasser Atta shared video of the rubble of Palestinian homes demolished by the Israeli government.
“Let me be clear: it was possible to prevent the spilling of blood,” Ayman Odeh, the injured member of Knesset said in a statement. “But Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has already painted the Arab population as Public Enemy Number One, decided himself to cruelly destroy a whole village, to kick and punch children, women, and men.”
Odeh, who leads the Joint List coalition, the third-largest parliamentary bloc in Israel, said they had been in negotiations and had reached a compromise that was accepted by the residents of Umm al-Hiran. He called for an official investigation into the events. “In the Negev, there is room for everyone, Jews and Arabs,” Odeh stressed. “It is unacceptable that there are unrecognized villages without water or electricity, without an educational system for the children.”
Plans to demolish Umm al-Hiran and other Palestinian villages in the Negev go back years. A 2003 article in The Guardian noted, “The campaign to clear the desert of all bedouin is continued today by the Jewish Agency for Israel, which spearheads the government’s efforts.” It cited Israeli politician Shai Hermesh, who explained, “We need the Negev for the next generation of Jewish immigrants… It is not in Israel’s interest to have more Palestinians in the Negev.”
The Israeli government’s demolitions of Palestinian homes have been on the rise. Israel demolished more Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank in the first half of 2016 than it did in all of 2015, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Umm al-Hiran is not in the occupied territories, however; it is within the Green Line, and its residents are citizens of Israel.
The present far-right Israeli government is the most extreme in the country’s history. Hard-line right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also been facing a serious scandal in recent weeks, on allegations of corruption.
Despite some minor rhetorical disputes, the Obama administration has ensured utmost support for Israel’s government, and oversaw the largest military aid package to Israel in US history, in the sum of $38 billion.
In recent weeks, with the impending inauguration of far-right President-elect Donald Trump, who has made it clear that he will allow Israel to continue violating international law with complete impunity, the Israeli government has upped the ante.
In the first week of the 2017, Israel demolished the homes of 151 Palestinians, nearly four times the average of the year before. And there is every indication that this trend will continue.
Jared Kushner, a powerful multimillionaire real estate tycoon and Trump’s son-in-law, will oversee Israel-Palestine issues for the administration. Kushner co-directs a family foundation that has donated large sums of money to organizations that support illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, which have been occupied in contravention of international law since 1967. Trump has reportedly also given money to an illegal Israeli settlement.
Inside Israel, Palestinian citizens also face intense discrimination. Adalah, the human rights group, has documented more than 50 laws that discriminate against Arab citizens.
By Ben Norton, Max Blumenthal