Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Media Advisory: 18 Israeli & American Jewish Groups Strongly Oppose Court's Failure to Stop Israeli Govt & JNF from Wiping Out Bedouin Village

Media Advisory

18 Israeli and American Jewish groups:

  • Strongly oppose Beer Sheva District Court’s failure to grant a permanent injunction preventing Israeli Government and Jewish National Fund (JNF) bulldozers from resuming work to plant a JNF forest over Negev Bedouin village of Al-Arakib
  • Welcome the court’s recommendation that the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) and JNF refrain from planting trees in Al-Arakib and irreversibly altering the status of the land
  • Strongly object to Israeli Government and JNF for 9th & 10th Demolitions of Al-Arakib and to ILA announcement yesterday of their intent to ignore Israeli court recommendations in their rush to eliminate the village of Al-Arakib forever
  • Call on all who care about Israel to join the over 7,500 who have already signed our two petitions of protest to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Lieberman, Leaders of the Israel Lands Administration and JNF Leaders in Israel and the US

January 25, 2011—The Beer Sheva District Court, which issued a temporary injunction a week ago stopping all further work by the Israel Land Administration (ILA) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the Negev Bedouin village of Al-Arakib, decided on Sunday, Jan. 23, not to extend the injunction, permitting the village to be permanently destroyed and replaced by a JNF forest. Judge Nechama Netzer “recommended” to the JNF not to “rush” the afforestation of Al-Arakib, but failed to order the Israeli Government, the ILA and the JNF to stop their efforts to wipe out the village.

We, a coalition of 18 ideologically diverse Israeli and American Jewish organizations, strongly oppose the court’s decision. This ruling reflects the continued abuse of the law and the courts in Israel to expropriate land from the Bedouin, define their villages as “illegal” and arbitrarily reinterpret Ottoman, British and Israeli law to insure maximum Jewish control over land in Israel, discriminating against non-Jews in its allocation, ownership and use and denying the human and civil rights of Israel’s Bedouin citizens.

By contrast, the Israeli Government has retroactively legalized large Jewish family farms in the Negev, and does little to enforce the law against some 100 Jewish settlement outposts and thousands of settler homes in outposts in the West Bank – which are illegal under Israeli law. Yet the Israeli Government and judicial system perpetuate injustice by continuing to enforce an already discriminatory law against the villages and homes of the Negev Bedouin, just a few miles away. This despite the fact that the Bedouin have lived in the Negev and farmed their lands for centuries, living in villages like Al-Arakib since before the founding of the State of Israel, as the generations-old cemetery at Al-Arakib testifies. Both the Israeli Government and the Israeli courts have systematically used the law, and its highly selective enforcement, to promote Jewish settlement – whether in the West Bank or the nearby Negev – at the expense of the Palestinian and Bedouin Arab residents.

While we welcome Judge Netzer’s recognition of the need for legalizing Bedouin villages and rhetorical opposition to JNF’s attempt to use afforestation to irreversibly change the status of the land at Al-Arakib, we remain deeply concerned by Judge Netzer’s lack of effective legal action and acquiescence in the ILA and JNF’s polices of displacement. Judge Netzer stated that “There is no question that it’s time to solve [the problem of the Bedouin] so that in the future people like the Bedouin of Al-Arakib will be able to build [homes] legally, to establish settlements without suffering the risk that many years later their settlements would be dubbed unrecognized villages.”

Judge Netzer also recognized the insidious logic behind the JNF’s attempt to use tree-planting to permanently replace the village of Al-Arakib with a forest: She stated that “It is doubtful whether planting trees can be considered maintaining the status quo, not only because of the political implications of such planting, but especially in view of the fact that such planting is tied to the ground and the possibility that one day these actions could pave the way for other actions, possibly providing the basis for the claim that the reality on the ground has changed and therefore the situation has become irreversible.”

We remain deeply concerned that Judge Netzer did not see fit to issue a permanent injunction barring the ILA and the JNF from continuing to demolish the village and replace it with a JNF forest. We are deeply disturbed that the ILA has already issued a statement on Jan. 24 (in Hebrew only) making clear their intent to “continue to prepare the ground [in Al-Arakib] for planting” by the JNF.

We urge the Israeli Government, the ILA and the JNF to honor the recommendations of the court. We call on leaders and supporters of JNF in the US, Israel and around the world to urge the organization to suspend this project and to refrain from planting forests on demolished Bedouin villages and on lands claimed by the Bedouin until a just and mutually acceptable solution is found.

Some 500 Israeli Jews and Arabs demonstrated together on Jan. 23 in front of the Beer Sheva District Court calling for an end to the demolition of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and for the government to recognize and provide basic services to these villages. (For photos of the demonstration, click here or visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/bedouin-jewishjustice/)

More than 7,500 American Jews and others have signed our newly launched petitions telling Israeli leaders and the leaders of the JNF in the US and in Israel: We will not stand by as you try to wipe out an entire Arab village in Israel! The petitions are at the following sites:

Petition to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Lieberman and ILA Leaders: End the destruction of Negev Bedouin villages in Israel http://www.change.org/petitions/view/end_the_destruction_of_bedouin_villages_in_israel

Petition to JNF Leaders in the US and Israel: End JNF complicity in displacing Israel's Negev Bedouin

Background: A large Israeli police force, accompanied by bulldozers from the Israel Land Administration, demolished the Negev Bedouin village of Al-Arakib for the 9th and 10th times on January 16 and 17th, destroying the temporary homes constructed by the village residents since the previous demolition. The Israeli Police shot unarmed residents with rubber bullets and beat them with batons; eleven people were injured, five of whom required hospitalization. (Photos of the injuries and beatings of residents by the Israel Police are also at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bedouin-jewishjustice/).

The police arrested twelve residents and Israeli human rights activists including Haia Noach, Director of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality – winner of this year’s Emil Grunzweig Prize for Human Rights from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel – and Tel Aviv University historian Prof. Gadi Algazi. Ms. Noach and three Bedouin residents have since been charged with “disobeying a court order” and “forcibly invading/holding state property;” a fourth resident has been charged with trying to “harm a police officer.” With the help of volunteers, the residents have already begun the reconstruction of the village, and have vowed to keep rebuilding until the Israeli Government recognizes their rights to their land.

ILA Development Department Director Shlomo Zeiser, whose organization dispatched the bulldozers to raze the village, told the Israeli news outlet YNET (1/16/11 – Hebrew edition only) that the ILA is making an effort to find a final solution to what's happening in Al-Arakib. “We are preparing the ground for planting,” he said, clearly implicating the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF last week built a new camp in Al-Arakib (under Israel Police protection) for its bulldozers to cover the demolished village with a forest. This act would prevent the return of the Bedouin to their land forever.

Opposition to the Actions of the Israeli Government, the ILA and the JNF in Al-Arakib: Our coalition of Israeli and American Jewish organizations calls on the Israeli Government, the ILA, the JNF in Israel (KKL) and JNF-US to end their efforts to expel the 300 Bedouin women, men and children of Al-Arakib and to replace their village with a JNF forest. We urge them to negotiate a just and mutually agreeable solution to the plight of the 190,000 Negev Bedouin, Israel’s poorest and most disadvantaged minority – half of whom live in “unrecognized villages” without electricity, running water, sewage disposal, schools or health clinics, and with the constant fear of demolition and expulsion.

We condemn the JNF for its complicity in displacing Bedouin citizens of Israel from their homes and land to make way for forests and new Jewish-only communities in their place. The Bedouin have no comparable opportunities to create new agricultural or livable communities. They are being forced to leave their homes, lands and way of life for overcrowded urban centers plagued by crime, unemployment and despair.

We believe in an Israel where Jews live in partnership and equality with their Bedouin and other Arab and Palestinian neighbors, the basis for trust and peaceful coexistence. The Israel of the JNF, the ILA and the Israeli Government is one where Bedouin Arabs are displaced and discriminated against so that forests and exclusively Jewish communities funded by Jews and Evangelical Christians can be built, preventing Bedouin Israelis from ever returning to their land, forcing them to live in poverty and neglect.

JNF has continued to side-step the concerns we have raised and has responded only with misdirection and misinformation. We again issue this call to JNF for open and honest public discourse on these issues. We call on the Israeli Government and the Jewish National Fund to rededicate themselves to the ideal enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence of equal development for all of Israel’s citizens, regardless of religion, nationality or gender. Until it takes a stand against the demolitions and expulsion of Bedouin citizens, and aligns its forestation and development practices with human rights and the universal values enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, JNF cannot begin to remove the moral stain of complicity in such acts.

Endorsed by:

From Israel:
■ Al-Arakib Village Committee ■ Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality ■ Rabbis for Human Rights ■ Shatil – Leading Social Change, An Initiative of the New Israel Fund ■ Physicians for Human Rights – Israel ■ Hit’habrut-Tarabut – Arab-Jewish Movement for Social and Political Change ■ The Local Committee – Alsira Village ■ Ta’ayush: Arab-Jewish Partnership ■ Recognition Forum ■ Al-Arakib People’s Committee ■ Amnesty International, Israel Section

From the US:
■ Jewish Alliance for Change ■ Rabbis for Human Rights-North America ■ Jewish Voice for Peace ■ The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring ■ Tikkun Community ■ Network of Spiritual Progressives ■ The Shalom Center

The list of organizational endorsers is currently in formation; additional organizations will be added to the online version of the statement here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tree Planting Near Omer: Environmentalism or Inequality?, by Rachel Metz

When seeing the way in which the mainstream Jewish press writes about issues that affect the Negev Bedouin, I sometimes get the impression that the authors are like the fourth child at Passover who does not even know how to ask a question. Because unrecognized villages are not on the map they are treated as if they do not exist. But when I read this article about a Tu B’Shvat tree planting in the vicinity of the town of Omer, my immediate question was, “Where near Omer?”

This affluent community near Beer Sheva is bordered by unrecognized villages, which begs the question of whether the land on which trees are being planted is anybody’s home. With that in mind, the quote in the article from a (Jewish) tree planter that, “'In a place where we plant trees, people live and the State prevails'” becomes an ominous declaration of the lesser rights thought to be due Arab citizens of Israel rather than the optimistic, pro-environmentalist message it might initially seem to be.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Where are the Jewish Greens?, by Devorah Brous, Tikkun

Published in Tikkun, Jan. 20, 2011

Jewish environmentalists have elevated a minor symbolic mystical ritual of holding a Tu B'Shvat Seder into an annual and provocative communal celebration. This week is Tu B'Shvat - the Jewish Earth Day that is traditionally marked by planting trees and eating their fruits in the dead of winter to symbolize that lifeforce will again rise to bear fruits in what appears dormant.

In advance of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) tree planting activities this Tu B'Shvat, the Bedouin village of Al Arakib was once again demolished. For the ninth time. This time, rubber bullets and batons were used by Israeli police in riot gear. Leading Bedouin and civil rights activists, Jewish professors and village residents were arrested and hospitalized during protests over the past few days in the escalating yet still largely unseen struggle in the Negev. Bedouin are now to be fined the costs incurred during the demolitions. Where is the outrage among Jewish Greens?

While planting a JNF tree may seem innocuous, make no mistake: it is a deeply political act. For every Jew who has ever planted a tree in Israel, whether you framed or tossed the certificate, or whether there's a gold plaque memorializing your family name, afforestation is done in our collective name. When we plant Bar/Bat Mitzvah trees, or when Evangelical Zionist Christians fund a JNF forest that displaces an entire Bedouin village, we are taking a position in the Jewish/Arab conflict. So although you may see tree planting as a way to reduce your carbon footprint and a symbolic yet tangible way to support the State of Israel, you may not be aware of the politics behind where your tree is planted. Each tree planted in the Negev is intended to make settlement more attractive for the 250,000 Jews the JNF is subsidizing to “redeem” desert lands for Jewish control.

The continuous rebuilding of Al Arakib after each demolition is the symbolic face of Negev Bedouin resistance. The Israeli government has used excessive violence to coerce villagers to accept meager compensation and to bulldoze the disputed Bedouin land for the JNF’s new “God-TV Forest” -- yet the Bedouin struggle remains non-violent. The Bedouin remain more determined than ever to hold steadfast to their lands. Put in the same position, I would do exactly the same.

Environmentalism in Israel cries out for re-branding. It seems apt to inaugurate a new term to demystify the celebrated image of “Greens” who claim to champion the care-taking of Israel’s resources. These “Greens” pay lip service to a tokenized Arab minority and remain silent in the face of outrageous environmental destruction to Arab villages, homes, and resources.

ECOnoclasts - eco-minded iconoclasts - would revolutionize status quo “green” movements by advancing an equitable stewardship of public resources with balance and sustainability for all people, regardless of demographics or zoning policies. ECOnoclasts would challenge the prevailing elite brand of environmental ideology in Israel that preserves or develops in order to further the hegemony of dominant groups. Through word and deed, ECOnoclasts would challenge discriminatory control over natural resources for public possession or private ownership. The ECOnoclast would expose the conditional and especially deceptive environmentalism that protests, researches or advocates using inclusive language to define its objectives, like, “the forest is a shared national symbol.”

ECOnoclasts would analyze and connect the dots on tactics of omission and commission - such as tree-planting to expand State boundaries; impose title; or confiscate land. ECOnoclasts would expose when “greens” omit controversial environmental issues in an effort to remain bipartisan, and, of course, funded. ECOnoclasts would eviscerate “greens” who support the agro-tech achievements of Negev greenhouses on Jewish farms that exploit Israel’s dwindling water reserve to export water-intensive Grade A produce - since their Arab neighbors are denied access to drinking water unless they relinquish their land claims and move to Arab-only urban ghettos built by the State. This would unmask the Green dimension of the Jewish/Arab conflict.

Until now, there is no forum for the ECOnoclast to be heard. It's much more palatable to discuss sourcing our fruits locally during our Tu B’Shvat seders than how our tree planting holiday has escaped all irony by becoming an occasion for bulldozing non-Jewish homes and expelling people to plant forests. Perhaps most disturbing is how rare it is to conduct an unfiltered and honest conversation about tree planting in the “organized” Jewish world, since the JNF funds most Jewish environmental organizations poised to speak out.

Whether you take a position on Bedouin rights and State wrongs; whether you think that urbanization equals modernization; whether you believe the JNF should plant to “redeem” inhabited Arab lands regardless of their standing in Israeli courts; we should be able to engage in open discourse without burying it under Tu B’Shvat trees, or the rubble of demolished Arab homes.

While Israeli politicians take strategic measures to plant over Al Arakib village and urbanize Bedouin against their will, let this Tu B’Shvat remind us that what appears dormant will once again rise with sap and bear fruit. Help buttress Negev NGO’s that work to bear the fruits of cooperation in the non-violent struggle to recognize Al Arakib. Ultimately, this will yield more fruit than any forest.


Devorah Brous lived in Israel and worked with Bedouin for 15 years. She is the founder of BUSTAN, a Jewish/Bedouin civil rights and environmental justice NGO in the Negev, where she served as Executive Director for 9 years. She currently serves as co-director of the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel, a Project of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the Jewish Alliance for Change. She holds two Masters degrees in Israel Studies and Development Studies and now lives in Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality

Monday, January 17, 2011

Updated 1/17/11: Al Arakib Demolished for the 9th Time, Residents Tear Gassed, Shot with Rubber Bullets, 5 Injured/Hospitalized

"We are making an effort to find a final solution to what's happening in Al-Arakib." - Israel Lands Administration Development Director Shlomo Tsizer (Ynet, Hebrew edition only - omitted from English version)

11 Israeli Human Rights Activists Arrested for helping Bedouin Rebuild the Village

New JNF-KKL bulldozer camp built near Al Arakib cemetery

ILA Development Director Shlomo Tsizer: "We are preparing the place for planting, to protect the ground." - implicating JNF-KKL as the body that will do the planting. (This statement appeared in the original Hebrew version of the Ynet article, translated by this blog's editor, and omitted from Ynet's translated report in English.)

Shows that JNF-KKL is party to Netanyahu-Lieberman government's effort to prevent Al-Arakib from ever being rebuilt.

This time everything is being removed to make it more difficult for the residents to rebuild.

11/17 11 pm Israel time update: Beer Sheva Court has temporarily stopped the ILA/Israeli govt's bulldozers from continuing to prepare the ground for JNF planting in the now demolished village of Al Arakib. The Bedouin have for the moment stalled the gov't's effort to permanently wipe out their village.

Click here to see our exclusive Flickr photos of the village's demolition and the wounding of residents with rubber or "sponge-tipped" bullets fired by the Israel riot police and beatings with batons.

Update 1/17/11 - 10 pm Israel Time: Haia Noach, executive director of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality - the leading Israeli advocate for human rights for Israel's Bedouin and winner of the Israel Association for Civil Rights Emil Grunzweig Prize - and 10 other Israeli human rights activists have been arrested in Al-Arakib for rebuilding the village. Haia's car was also confiscated. Mumtaz Khateeb, Amoz Gvirtz, Tel Aviv U Prof. Gadi Algazi, and activists of the Negev Coexistence Forum, the Recognition Forum and local residents have been arrested and are being held at the police station in Rahat. Efforts are underway to obtain their release from the Beer Sheva Court. (More updates from 1/17 below).

Report from Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (Dukium):

5 am EST Sunday 1/16/11: I have learnt that the situation has now deteriorated further with the police resorting to the use of tear gas [and rubber bullets for the first time - Ed.] against the residents. I understand that at least four people have been so badly affected they have hospitalised and a further person is receiving treatment for a broken arm.

[Five have been hospitalized at Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva, and 3 people have been arrested. Ynet's report states that pepper spray was used rather than tear gas, and that the bullets fired at the residents were paint balls. But if the injuries to the residents were caused by paint balls, where's the paint? The cannisters that were fired, which are pictured up close at our Flickr photo set, do not appear to be pepper spray - but we are researching this and will provide more info here once available. - Ed.]

4 am EST: Just before 9am this morning (Israel time), the bulldozers and police force returned to Al Arakib to once again level it to the ground. This time, however, in order to cleanse the land of any indication that people once lived there, everything is being removed and dumped in dumpsters. No building materials or personal items will remain for the residents to salvage and rebuild the village. Again there was no opportunity for the families to rescue their belongings before the demolition started. Additionally it is thought that a few of the men were away in Rahat in mourning for a recent death in the community.

The bulldozers and lorries are still in Al Arakib as I send this email as there are many hours of work ahead of them to remove everything demolished.

The area is being flattened by bulldozers and heavy earth moving machinery to remove any trace of the village and a new road for JNF's forestation activists is being prepared. We suspect that these measures are being taken now ahead of Tu B'shvat on Thursday when many JNF volunteers are expected to be in the area planting trees. Removing the mangled mess makes certain that no awkward questions will be asked by JNF volunteers or dampen their festivities.

The police did not allow Haia Noach (executive director of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality) to enter village this morning; however, she has met with the residents. She reported to me that she has never seen the women as traumatised as they are this morning. The only blessing is that the children had already left for school for the day so did not have to witness, yet again, the complete destruction of their homes.

JNF-KKL has dismantled the bulldozer camp near the GOD TV forest and now has built a new bulldozer camp just in front of Al Arakib (where the government deep ploughed the residents' crops last year in Feb). JNF-KKL is even working today while all this is happening in Al Arakib.

[JNF's new camp is being built next to the Al Arakib cemetery to house heavy vehicles, storage spaces and accommodations for their people, according to the Regional Council for Unrecognized Bedouin Villlages in the Negev.]

Karen Douglas
Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (Dukium) - email message

"The Israeli police claim they were taking measures to charge the residents of Al-Araqib with demolition expenses, which were incurred by the Israeli government and estimated at millions of Israeli shekels. The police added it was cooperating with the southern district prosecutor and planned to take civil action against the residents." (Israel razes Bedouin village for ninth time, Arab News)

"Knesset Member Talab El-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al) was among those who tried to prevent the demolition. 'This is fascist-Nazi policy,' he said. 'The state is pushing its Bedouin citizens to the point where they may launch a popular intifada, which will have severe results.'"
"Bedouin Village Razed Again; Residents: Fascist State," Ynet, 1/16/11
Hebrew version: "Bedouin Village Razed Again: Fascist-Nazi Policy"
(A more accurate translation of the Hebrew headline, and the statement quoted in the article from the Bedouin Knesset Member who was at Al Arakib demonstrating against the demolition.)

Update 1/17/11 10 am Israel time from Karen Douglas of the Negev Coexistence Forum:

This morning saw the bulldozers and trucks return to Al Arakib to not only continue removing the debris from yesterday's demolitions but to flatten the temporary structures that the residents had erected quickly last night to protect the families from the wintry desert conditions. It was necessary to purchase all the materials as nothing was salvageable from the piles of debris which had not yet been cleared away.

All of the residents and activists who arrived this morning to support the residents, including NCF Director Haia Noach, have been restricted to Al Arakib's cemetery. At present police are preventing anyone from leaving this location and identification documents have been confiscated.

The road into Al Arakib has also been closed to prevent further supporters from arriving throughout the day. Dr. Awad Abu-Farikh who was arrested yesterday has now been released and we are still trying to find out about the other two residents who were arrested.

There were in fact about 20 structures demolished, all temporary structures made from light wood and tin sheet. JNF workers were not directly involved in the demolition but were in the area adjacent to the village doing massive work to prepare the ground for planting on Tu Bishvat on Thursday. Police were in full riot gear and were not identified with names. When Haia Noach asked one officer for his name, he replied '101'.


In addition to eyewitness testimony from Bedouin at Al Arakib reported to Haia Noach and Karen Douglas at the Negev Coexistence Forum, and sources we have linked to above, additional sources for this report:

Na Lehakir - Regional Council for Unrecognized Bedouin Villages in the Negev (RCUV) (Hebrew)
Five People Injured by Rubber Bullets in Ninth Demolition of Al Arakib (English), RCUV

5 Children Injured following Israel’s Demolition of El Araqib Village for Ninth Time, The Alternative Information Center, Jan. 16, posted by the Recognition Forum

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Vengeance of the Occupation, by Gershom Gorenberg, American Prospect

There's a limit to how long a fragile democracy like Israel can maintain an undemocratic regime next door, in occupied territory, before democracy at home is corrupted.

I know that the Yiddish writer Sholem Asch didn't intend his classic play, God of Vengeance, as an allegory about Israel and the impact of the occupation. The play was first staged 60 years before Israel conquered the West Bank. All the same, what's happening in the Jewish state keeps tempting me to read Asch's drama as an allegory.

In "God of Vengeance," a character named Yankel Chapchovich in an unnamed Eastern European town runs a brothel in his basement while trying to bring up his daughter as a chaste Jewish girl on the floor above. To protect her purity, he installs a Torah scroll in his home. His plan naturally fails: There's a limit to how much tribute vice can pay to virtue before the line between them vanishes.

Likewise, there's a limit to how long a fragile democracy can maintain an undemocratic regime next door, in occupied territory, before democracy at home is corrupted. A border, especially one not even shown on maps, cannot seal off the rot.

Take, for example, the Admission Committees of Community Settlements bill, presently before the Knesset. A "community settlement" is a kind of membership-only exurb invented by West Bank settlers. The community is managed by an association responsible for "preserving the character of the settlement," in the words of a late 1970s report from the Gush Emunim settler movement. New residents have to be approved by an admissions committee, to ensure a shared "ideological-social background," the report states. Residents enjoy "single-family homes, quiet streets, fresh air" in a community limited to a few hundred families -- an "island" of a "selected population."

The design made it possible to enforce ideological conformity and social snobbery at the same time. It was assiduously implemented in settlements across the West Bank, then imported to sovereign Israel. In particular, the government has used the community-settlement model in efforts to "Judaize the Galilee" -- to draw Jews to northern Israel, which has a large Arab population. The policy applies the concept of the West Bank settlement enterprise to part of Israel: The land is treated as an arena where two ethnic groups struggle for control, acre by acre; the Arabs are seen as a hostile population rather than as citizens.

The challenge to that approach came from Adel and Iman Kaden, a couple from the Israeli Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyah. In 1995, they tried to buy a lot in the community settlement of Katzir. As young professionals eager to live in a place with good schools so their daughters could get into the right universities, they fit the Katzir profile. As Arabs, they were rejected. As citizens of a democracy, they turned to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which filed suit before the Israeli Supreme Court. In its judgment five years later, citing sources ranging from Genesis to Brown v. Board of Education, the court ruled that "equality is one of the foundational principles of the State of Israel" and rejected housing discrimination. To evade that decision, Katzir's admissions committee claimed that the Ka'adans were "unsuited" to "fit in socially" and again denied their application. It took another round before the Supreme Court until the couple could start building their house in Katzir. More recently, a set of human-rights organizations has asked the Supreme Court to ban the entire admissions-committee procedure.

The Admission Committees bill is a bid to preempt the court. It will protect committees' authority to reject candidates who "do not match the social-cultural fabric" of the community. The lead sponsor is David Rotem, a West Bank settler and a member of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's far-right Israel Is Our Home Party. The bill is likely to pass.

The positive side of this story is that Israel's flourishing civil society is rich in human-rights organizations. The country's legal system allows them to apply directly to the Supreme Court, which is often sympathetic. Groups such as B'Tselem, Yesh Din, and Breaking the Silence also monitor and publicize what's happening in occupied territories. This has not escaped the Israeli right, which has been mounting an ever more vicious campaign to silence criticism.

The latest move: Last week, the Knesset approved a proposal for a parliamentary inquiry commission to investigate the funding of organizations purportedly engaged in delegitimizing the Israeli army. The sponsor was Israel Is Our Home legislator Faina Kirshenbaum, who railed that "these groups provide material to the Goldstone Commission."

After the vote, Likud Knesset member Danny Danon suggested that Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer "and the heads of other fifth-column organizations in Israel start fixing up their CVs because they'll be out of work soon." This week Danon started pressing for legislation that will require organizations filing suit before the Supreme Court to list their sources of funding in their suits. Since nonprofits must already file annual reports of their funding, the Knesset moves are pure propaganda. The aim is to convince the public that anyone criticizing government activities in the occupied territories or discrimination within Israel is an enemy of the state.

There is some funding that does deserve more attention, though: the money from the government itself that supports organizations of the anti-democratic right. One glaring example is the Od Yosef Hai yeshivah in the settlement of Yitzhar. The cash flow from the Education Ministry continued even after the yeshivah self-published a 2009 book, The Law of the King, that purports to elucidate religious law on when it is permitted for a Jew to kill a gentile. It took a letter from a lawyer at the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), a civil-rights wing of Reform Judaism, before anyone in the ministry questioned the yeshivah's budget. Yet the ministry insists that it's only reviewing the funding because the yeshivah might have misreported how many students it has. Officials appear frightened to admit that they might check the legality of funding a blatantly racist institution.

A couple of weeks ago, Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg surprised readers with a blog post titled "What If Israel Ceases to Be a Democracy?" I'm glad he's confronting the issue. But the scenarios he raises -- starting with Lieberman as prime minister -- are too obvious. Democracy doesn't necessarily end with a bang; it can fade out, bit by bit. Rather than wait for the end of the process, Israel's friends in America should be expressing their concern right now, publicly and in every conversation with an Israeli official.

Back to Sholem Asch for a moment: When God of Vengeance was first staged in English, in New York in 1923, the entire cast and the producer were arrested and convicted of giving an immoral performance. The judge, identified in a March 24, 1923, New York Times article only as "McIntyre," decried the play's "desecration of the sacred scrolls of the Torah." One of the leaders of the campaign against the play was Rabbi Joseph Silverman of the ultra-establishment Temple Emanu-El in New York. "This play libels the Jewish religion," he said. Neither Silverman nor McIntyre understood that Asch was defending Judaism against desecration. The rabbi and judge have been forgotten. Asch's literary reputation has not suffered.


Gershom Gorenberg is a senior correspondent for The Prospect. He is the author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 and The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. He blogs at South Jerusalem. Reposted from the American Prospect

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Violence in Bil'in and oppression of Negev Bedouin in Israel's unrecognized villages, by Rachel Metz

At the dawn of this new Gregorian year and decade, Israel once again made the news for killing a demonstrator in the village of Bil'in. Bil'in lies on the “seam line,” the area outside the Green Line but within the path of the separation barrier Israel has unilaterally built to prevent terrorists from coming into Israel proper from the West Bank. Because the path cuts into the West Bank itself, many Palestinians complain that it de facto appropriates their land.

In 2007, Israel’s Supreme Court agreed with such complaints by the villagers in Bil'in and ordered that the barrier’s route should be moved. The IDF has yet to implement the decision, and when demonstrators literally take matters into their own hands by trying to dismantle the barrier, the IDF regularly fires tear gas at them. This has resulted in several fatalities, as the IDF also violates its own stated policy that the gas canisters should not be fired at close range and uses one of the more dangerous varieties of tear gas.

At its root, the ongoing violence in Bil'in is part of the same phenomenon oppressing the residents of Israel’s unrecognized Bedouin villages. The IDF’s actions in Bil'in are consistent with the longstanding policy of seeking to squeeze out Arab residents so as to enable Jewish development on the maximum land possible (it’s no coincidence that the Bedouin live on only two percent of the northern Negev despite comprising twenty-five percent of the population). Just last month, in response to people pointing out the racism of a bill that would allow small communities to discriminate in order to, “preserve their social and cultural character,” the Knesset amended the bill to”only” apply to the Negev and the Galilee. Israel presents itself as a Jewish, democratic state, but its actions show it be functioning only as a state for Jews.

When Arabs respond to Israel’s discriminatory zoning policies by building without permits, they face frequent home demolitions. Just in the latter half of December, hundreds of people in Lod, As-Sadir, and al-Araqib were left without a roof over their heads by Israeli government bulldozers. The last name is familiar to regular readers of Bedouin Jewish Justice – the village has been razed nine times in the not-even-six-months since the JNF announced plans for the area. In East Jerusalem, the rate of home demolitions has gotten so high – it increased 45% over the past year – that the U.N. humanitarian coordinator has expressed concern.

Even those Arab residents whose land claims the state does recognize may find obstacles placed in the path to living on their own land – one man has been fighting red tape for twelve years.

With instruments of the state leveraged against them (at times, in the form of a bulldozer, quite literally), Arab citizens of Israel are second class citizens. This situation should be anathema to anyone whose sense of Jewishness comes with a sense that “Never Again” should apply not just to Jews, or whose Jewish values say that pikuach nefesh, preservation of life, applies to all people. We must challenge Israel to act democratically and consistently with Jewish values.