Sunday, March 27, 2011

Trees without Bulldozers: Environmental Justice for the Bedouin, by David Krantz of the Green Zionist Alliance

NEW YORK (March 17, 2011)
When David Ben-Gurion envisioned making the desert bloom, bulldozing Bedouin villages to make way for new groves of trees is not exactly what he had in mind. But, in the name of environmentalism, that is exactly what Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael / Jewish National Fund did recently, bulldozing the village of al-Araqib for the 21st time since last July as part of its $600-million Blueprint Negev project.

It gets worse: In order to plant the new grove of trees, KKL-JNF also bulldozed about 850 olive trees owned by the villagers of al-Araqib.

And the bulldozing has not been bloodless: Village residents and protesters have been greeted by police with rubber and paint bullets that sent some of them to the hospital. When most people buy trees through KKL-JNF, they don't think they're financing the bulldozing of a village and the injuring of protesting civilians — neither of which are roles with which KKL-JNF was charged when it was founded at the fifth World Zionist Congress in 1901. Theodor Herzl, like Ben-Gurion, would be ashamed.

KKL-JNF was first proposed in the early 1880s by the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement and by Prof. Hermann Schapira as an organization for acquiring land for a Jewish national state, encouraging every farmer to work his/her own land, supporting collective farming and building large communities. In his 1896 book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) and his 1902 book AltNeuLand, Herzl proposed a Jewish people-funded “National Association for Trees” that would be tasked with afforestation. The leading Zionist thinkers behind the founding of KKL-JNF endorsed Jewish settlement and afforestation of the land; none of them endorsed the destruction of existing villages. Herzl, in fact, called for the creation of a model state, a state where all of its citizens would be treated fairly.

As beneficial as planting trees is, and as much as afforestation is needed and valued, new saplings should not come at the cost of displacing people from their homes, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or land-owning status. Because today is the fast of Esther, and Sunday is Purim, it's all the more important for us to remember the dangers of being a minority. Our collective history should spur empathy for minority groups such as the Bedouin.

Since Blueprint Negev was announced in 2005 by KKL-JNF's sister organization JNF-USA, the Green Zionist Alliance has challenged the project's virtues. The GZA also has channeled its carbon-offset efforts through the Good Energy Initiative, where one of the organization's carbon-mitigating efforts is replacing diesel power generators with solar power in off-the-grid Bedouin villages such as al-Araqib.

The Green Zionist Alliance representatives on the KKL-JNF board of directors — Dr. Alon Tal and Dr. Orr Karassin — have been working to stop KKL-JNF and JNF-USA from bulldozing al-Araqib and other Bedouin villages again. Tal has been meeting with Bedouin representatives and he and Karassin are urging the rest of the KKL-JNF board to put a stop to the evacuation and displacement of Bedouin in the Negev.

Part of the problem stems from questions of land ownership. More than 100,000 Bedouin live in villages like al-Araqib, unrecognized by the Israeli government. Although many of the villages predate the founding of the modern state, Israel declared state ownership over unrecognized villages after the War of Independence, leading, most significantly, to limited animal-grazing rights and to villages' exclusion from access to the energy grid, water and sewer lines, and paved roads. Still, the bulldozing of Bedouin villages en masse only began in earnest with the implementation of Blueprint Negev.

The state has given KKL-JNF the land to many unrecognized villages, including al-Araqib, to develop and forest because, under Israeli law, the land is owned by the state. But that arrangement may be coming to an end soon. The Israeli government is in negotiations with the Bedouin over disputed lands, with the latest Israeli offer likely to be a state handover of half of the Bedouin-claimed lands and billions of shekels in state compensation for the other half.

In the meantime, the Green Zionist Alliance position is clear: KKL-JNF should not be involved in the displacement or evacuation of people, regardless of whether or not they can be considered legally as trespassers. And KKL-JNF should not plant trees on lands whose ownership is being disputed through the country's judicial system.

Fortunately, the Green Zionist Alliance is not alone in this fight. Rabbis for Human Rights North America and the Jewish Alliance for Change have teamed up for the Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel Campaign to raise public awareness about the issue and gather signatures on petitions to KKL-JNF and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And Bustan and the Negev Coexistence Forum have long sought environmental justice for the Bedouin.

Planting forests shouldn't mean destroying villages, and it's time that KKL-JNF ends that equation for the Israeli Bedouin. It's time for a greener, more just KKL-JNF for all Israelis.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Accomplishments of our Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel

Here’s a selection from what we’ve accomplished in the public arena in our Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel, creating mounting pressure on the Jewish National Fund to end the demolition of Bedouin homes in order to plant forests in the Negev:

1) After many months of mounting pressure by us and our coalition partners, JNF in Israel completely dismantled its work camp near the demolished Bedouin village of Al-Arakib on March 24, 2011, removing all its bulldozers and other heavy earth-moving machines. JNF did not finish digging holes for tree planting over the village grounds.

2) We and our partners in Israel – Rabbis for Human Rights and the Negev Coexistence Forum - have been quietly meeting both with supporters of JNF-US and board members of JNF-Israel (KKL-JNF), arranging meetings for them with Bedouin leaders, giving them the facts and urging them to support a freeze in home demolitions in Al-Arakib and other Negev Bedouin villages.

As a result, JNF Israel Board members from Reform Judaism (the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism), the Green Zionist Alliance and Meretz, and a growing number of JNF Israel board members have been won over to our stance and are expressing their views to top JNF officials in Israel.

Please support our work by making a tax-deductible gift to Rabbis for Human Rights-North America for the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel – click here to contribute to our efforts to build a Jewish democratic Israel where Arabs and Jews in the Negev enjoy truly equal rights as citizens.

3) Our coalition invited our supporters to phone JNF offices to deliver the message to JNF, clogging phone lines and voicemail boxes at JNF-US headquarters in New York, L.A., and other cities.

4) We and our allies invited people to post messages of protest on JNF’s Facebook page, and hundreds of messages were posted, exposing thousands of JNF supporters, many for the first time, to the facts about what JNF is doing in the Negev.

5) The Forward carried a hard-hitting feature article “A JNF Drive To Make the Desert Bloom Means Destruction for a Bedouin Village” about our campaign and what JNF and the Israeli government have been up to in the Negev. Read the Forward article here.

6) Ha'aretz columnist Bradley Burston described our and the villagers’ struggle to end the demolitions of Bedouin homes at Al-Arakib as one of two prominent examples, along with Sheikh Jarrah, of the emerging democratic revolution in Israel.

7) Peter Beinart delivered a powerful keynote speech at the J Street conference, before an audience of several thousand activists, calling on American Jews to embrace "our task, in solidarity with the Israelis and Palestinians risking their lives in places like Sheikh Jarrah and Al-Arakib and Bil’ resanctify the land." Watch the video of his stirring speech, or read the text, here.

8) Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights published an “Open Letter to the Jewish National Fund: Just Say No!” in the Jerusalem Post.

9) Devorah Brous, co-director of our Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice, published “Where are the Jewish Greens?” in Tikkun, and “Seeing the Unseen: The Forgotten Palestinian-Israeli Problem,” in the Jerusalem Report.

10) JNF Washington DC Board Member and Chair of the JNF-funded Friends of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies urged JNF in a Jerusalem Post op-ed to end the demolition of homes in unrecognized villages and the planting of trees on lands that are in dispute with the Bedouin. (“JNF, BDS and the Beduin,” Jan. 19, 2011)

11) Our campaign has helped generate over 8,000 signatures on online petitions of protest to Prime Minister Netanyahu and JNF leaders, and continues to grow. If you've not yet done so, please click here to add your voice now.

12) We've forged and maintained an international coalition of 36 Israeli and American Jewish groups who are now working in concert for the first time to end the plight of the 200,000 Negev Bedouin.

13) Working with our partners in Israel and the US, we're proud to have broken the story of the role with JNF of GOD-TV and other Evangelical Christian groups in planting a one-million tree forest, many near Al-Arakib, as part of the government's plan to displace the Bedouin. For the latest media coverage, please go here.

We're working for a Jewish democratic Israel where Arabs and Jews in the Negev, and throughout the land, enjoy fully equal rights as citizens.

Support our work by making a tax-deductible gift to Rabbis for Human Rights-North America for the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel – click here to contribute whatever you can. Help us go from strength to strength!

A Day of Catastrophe in Israel, by Rachel Metz - Special to the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice

March 23rd was one hell of a day in Israel. Anyone following the news there probably saw the major stories, but experience in the Negev lends some insight into their implications for Bedouin–Jewish justice.

For residents of Beer Sheva and neighboring areas, Wednesday started bright and early with a siren and rocket at 5:30 a.m. Even living seven time zones away, when I read about the rocket, I felt like I was straight back during the 2008-2009 war. I can only imagine how palpably people still in the area experienced that as they felt the rush of adrenaline that comes with the siren and hurried to seek shelter. My heart goes out to the residents of Beer Sheva and the rest of the Negev as they're assaulted by rocket fire. Both during Cast Lead and today, though, when the Israeli news media report that a rocket hit an "open area" in the Negev, I can't help but wonder if that "open area" was an unrecognized Bedouin village. Is damage there excluded from the official news the way the villages are from the official map? As people in Beer Sheva justifiably complain about locked shelters, where are the complaints on behalf of their neighbors for whom the threat of home demolition precludes not just having shelters but even living in houses big enough to provide the relative protection of stairwells?

Elected in the wake of Cast Lead as people’s defensiveness manifested in a political shift to the right, the Knesset continued to add to the bad news on Wednesday for those Jews who support change towards improved human rights. It passed two highly problematic laws proposed by Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party. The first law bars public funding for groups that "undermine the foundations of the state and contradict its values." The potential for this bill to be used in a McCarthy-esque way is troubling, especially when coupled with Wednesday’s Knesset hearing that questioned whether J Street has the right to criticize Israeli policy while supporting Israel.

More immediately troubling for Bedouin-Jewish Justice is the second racist bill passed that same day, which allows Negev and Galilee communities with up to 400 families to screen potential applicants based on cultural characteristics.* Bedouin in Israel are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Those who have tried to move into predominately Jewish areas (including Beer Sheva) have long contended with de facto discrimination, and now in many places it will be de jure discrimination as well. They can move to one of the government-created Bedouin towns, where the legacy of decades of underfunding means they will face rundown roads and schools, minimal-at-best government services such as libraries, and, unsurprisingly given these other issues, the highest unemployment and poverty rates of all Israeli towns. Alternatively, they can remain on their land in unrecognized villages without water, electricity, roads, medical clinics, etc. and hope their homes aren’t destroyed nor their crops defoliated.

The biggest news story on Wednesday, however, was of course the bus stop bombing in Jerusalem. Violence against innocent people is never acceptable. But anyone concerned with that type of explosive physical violence should also be concerned with the disenfranchisement of Israel’s Bedouin citizens. It, too, leads to the loss of innocent lives.

*Israeli civil rights groups are also concerned about the potential of this being used to discriminate against Ethiopian-Israelis, foreign workers, same-sex couples, single-parent families, and other stigmatized groups.


Rachel Metz lived in Beer Sheva, Israel from 2007 through 2009 while earning her master's degree in Middle East Studies from Ben Gurion University. Her experiences in the Negev included interning for BUSTAN, a Jewish/Bedouin environmental justice NGO. That same passion for social justice motivated her to combat U.S. poverty through AVODAH, the Jewish Service Corps, work on the largest reservation in the U.S., and write articles, opinion pieces and letters to the editor for publications including In These Times, The Jerusalem Post, and The Washington Post. She currently lives in the Washington, DC area where she works in environmental protection.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Erasing Links to the land in the Negev, by Noga Malkin, Foreign Policy/Middle East Channel

Hiding in the cemetery where her parents are buried, Hakma al-Turi, an Israeli citizen, has watched bulldozers demolish her village -- al-Araqib -- more than 20 times. The Israel Land Administration first demolished the 45 structures on this patch of land in the Negev desert eight months ago. When the 300 Israeli Bedouin who lived here defiantly rebuilt tarp-covered shacks, the Israel Land Administration demolished them again and again, the last time on March 7.

But the Land Administration inspectors and the police officers escorting them have so far been reluctant to enter the cemetery adjacent to the village, where the extended al-Turi family has been burying family members since 1907. So Hakma, a mother of nine, devised a plan to protect her most fragile possessions: she put her family photographs, children's medicines, and a small refrigerator full of milk in an improvised wheeled cart. When the bulldozers came, her husband would tie it to their car and drag it from their house and into the cemetery.

But on January 17, as the tenth demolition took place, Hakma's family was too slow. Police officers caught them on the way to the cemetery, commandeered their car, forced in five other "illegal" residents, and drove it at what Hakma thinks was a deliberately reckless speed over unpaved roads to the police station. "They broke the cart and most of what was in it flew out; they confiscated the rest," Hakma told me.

The extended al-Turi family lived in al-Araqib from Ottoman times until 1952, when the Israeli army commander told them to leave for six months for military training, according to a government report citing village elders' testimony. Israeli authorities never allowed them to return, refuse to recognize Bedouin ownership claims, and consider the village illegal.

Al-Araqib is, or was, one of 36 "unrecognized" Bedouin villages -- home to at least 50,000 people -- that, as Human Rights Watch documented in a 2008 report, Israel refuses to connect to basic services or infrastructure such as water, electricity, sewage treatment, and garbage disposal. Israeli officials encouraged the Bedouin to relocate to the seven state-built new towns -- among the poorest communities in Israel. Many al-Araqib residents own homes in one such nearby town, Rahat.

"Those of us who could afford it bought homes in Rahat, because we wanted water and electricity," said Dr. Awad Abu Freih, chairman of the biotechnology department at a nearby college and al-Araqib's unofficial spokesman. "Does that justify evicting me and destroying the village where I was born?"

Hakma's family also settled in Rahat, but moved back to al-Araqib 12 years ago after hearing that the Israel Land Administration intended to plant a forest there, which would be a de facto revocation of their claims to the land. Indeed, according to the plans the Jewish National Fund is carrying out on behalf of the Land Administration, the village is a "recreational area" designated for "forestation."

But the government's professed plans seem to be more about politics than forestation. In March 2010, Israel's then-agriculture minister told the parliament that the Jewish National Fund was planting forests around al-Araqib "in order to safeguard national lands." In January 2011, the Israel Land Administration's development director said to Israeli news media that the agency "has begun preparing the ground for planting to guard the land." When it first demolished al-Araqib in July 2010, the Israeli government uprooted 850 of the villagers' olive trees, an administration spokeswoman told Human Rights Watch. All the while, Israel could easily plant forests in vast areas of the Negev where Bedouins have no land claims without erasing Bedouin links to their land.

Indeed, the day before the government first demolished al-Araqib, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted at the real motive, warning in a government meeting that "if we allow for a region without a Jewish majority" in the Negev, that would pose "a palpable threat" to Israel.

As Netanyahu's comment suggests, Israel's attitude to Negev land rights is different when it comes to Jewish citizens. Bedouin constitute 25 percent of the population of the northern Negev, but occupy less than two percent of its land. Over the past decade, Israeli authorities have allocated public funds and large tracts of the Negev to create 59 private ranches and farms, of which only one is Bedouin-owned. These farms stretch over 20,000 acres of land, greater than the total land area of the seven Bedouin towns built to house 85,000 people. Israeli authorities have never produced a justification for this difference in treatment.

The government's discriminatory practices in the Negev sometimes resemble its settlement policies in the West Bank, where Israel limits Palestinians' ability to build while encouraging Jewish settlement expansion, as Human Rights Watch documented in a recent report. In a nighttime operation in January 2004, the then-housing minister had ten mobile homes constructed on land adjacent to al-Araqib for settlement by a Jewish community and promptly connected them to electricity and water. The land, previously promised to Bedouin, is now the Jewish town of Gvaot Bar.

While international entities almost uniformly oppose the construction of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank, however, many of the same actors appear unaware of the simultaneous land grab happening in the Negev. In December 2005 diplomats from 49 countries, including Germany and Spain attended the inauguration of the "Ambassador's Forest," which villagers and an Israeli NGO, Dukium, says is on al-Araqib's land.

Meanwhile, Hakma's family has one remaining asset: a minivan parked in the graveyard. I looked inside and saw the family's clothes, and the younger children's schoolbags hanging neatly on nails. "We used to have a nice house," Hakma told me, searching for photographs to show me. Then she remembered that the police had confiscated them.

Noga Malkin is a Jerusalem-based research assistant for Human Rights Watch.
AFP/Getty images

Friday, March 11, 2011

Media Advisory: JAFC urges Israeli & Palestinian leaders to respect human rights to vanquish terrorism & achieve lasting peace

For Immediate Release - March 12, 2011
Contact: Doni Remba,

Jewish Alliance for Change Condemns Murder of Israelis in West Bank

Urges Israeli and Palestinian leaders to respect human rights as vital to defeating terrorism and achieving a lasting peace

New York, N.Y. -- The Jewish Alliance for Change (JAFC) unequivocally condemns the horrific massacre of a family of five, including three children, at the West Bank settlement of Itamar. “There is absolutely no moral or legal justification for the murder of innocent men, women and children,” said JAFC Executive Director Doni Remba. “Even if settlements like Itamar violate international law, murderous attacks against civilians living in such settlements are crimes against humanity.”

As every major human rights group, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and B’Tselem, has stressed for the last decade, deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinians are “a flagrant breach of international humanitarian law.” “Targeting and deliberately killing non-combatants, including children and infants, is terrorism by any definition of the term, no matter what cause the terror claims to serve,” added Mr. Remba. “And we reject the argument that settlements and the occupation legitimize terrorism. Decent human beings reject such methods of warfare in all circumstances. Attacks directed against innocent civilians are always terrorism, and terrorism is always a heinous moral wrong.”

The rabbis of the Talmud taught that “the more justice, the more peace.” “Even a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not end all violence against Israel,” said Mr. Remba. “But it will significantly weaken Arab and Muslim extremists and reduce their ability to recruit and motivate others to engage in acts of terror against Israel.”

The Jewish Alliance for Change urges Israeli and Palestinian leaders not only to redouble their efforts to reach a just peace, but to recognize, through word and deed, the centrality of respect for the human rights of all people in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to winning the battle against terrorism and securing a lasting peace. Peace without human rights for Israelis and Palestinians cannot stand. Peace without an abiding commitment to the democratic values of equality and human rights on which Israel’s alliance with the US and the West rests will not last.

The Jewish Alliance for Change co-sponsors with Rabbis for Human Rights-North America the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel. JAFC is a pro-Israel nonprofit organization that works to foster the American Jewish contribution to a flourishing global Jewish community, an America and a Jewish democratic Israel that respect the dignity of every citizen.


For the last decade, as leaders of the Jewish Alliance for Change, and before that of other pro-Israel Jewish organizations devoted to peace and justice between Arabs and Israelis, we have spoken out forcefully against those who have sought to justify Palestinian terrorism. Starting with the outbreak of the Second Palestinian intifada in 2001, we were among the first, and for many years consistently the most vocal, to call to account the hypocrisy of those who criticized Israeli settlement and occupation policies but failed to condemn as war crimes Palestinian suicide bombings and other murderous attacks against Israeli civilians. (See "Mideast Forgiveness," Chicago Tribune, August 2, 2001; "Trib vs. Tribe," Chicago Reader, March 14, 2002; “Tribune Terrorism: Why Chicago Jews Are Mad as Hell,” March 7, 2002; and “Response to Chicago Tribune Public Editor Don Wycliff on Terrorism,” March 21, 2002.)

We are in complete agreement with this statement released by B’Tselem on March 12, 2011, “strongly condemning the killing of five Israeli civilians in Itamar”:

“Over the past ten years, Palestinian terror attacks perpetrated in Israel and in the Occupied Territories have killed hundreds and injured thousands of Israeli civilians, among them men, women, and children. Attacks aimed at civilians are immoral, inhuman, and illegal. Intentional killing of civilians is a grave breach of international humanitarian law and is considered a war crime that can never be justified, whatever the circumstances.Palestinian organizations seek to justify attacks on Israeli civilians by claiming the attacks are carried out in their struggle against the Israeli occupation. This argument does not justify the attacks and undermines the fundamental principle of international humanitarian law, according to which civilians must remain outside the sphere of hostilities, and therefore a distinction must be made between combatants and civilians and attacks directed at civilians are prohibited.

"These rules are part of international customary law and apply to every state, organization, and person. Some persons speaking on behalf of Palestinians argue that, inasmuch as the settlements are illegal and many settlers belong to Israel's security forces, it is permissible to attack settlers. This argument is groundless: the illegality of the settlements does not affect the civilian status of their residents in the slightest. The settler population is civilian and as such is entitled to all the protections that international law provides to civilians. The use that Israeli security forces make of lands on which settlements were built, or the fact that some settlers are members of Israel's security forces, does not alter the civilian status of the residents who are not members of the security forces, and certainly does not legitimize attacks on them.

"B'Tselem strongly objects to attempts to justify these actions by means of misleading arguments based on a distorted interpretation of international law and demands that the Palestinian Authority do everything within its ability to prevent such attacks.”

For statements by some of our friends and allies, please see:

For substantive statements:

Human Rights Watch: West Bank: No Excuse for Murder of Settler Family

Americans for Peace Now Statement: APN Denounces Murders at Itamar; Urges Leaders to Fight Terrorism and Negotiate Peace

B'stelem strongly condemns killing of five Israeli civilians in Itamar

For brief statements:

Meretz USA outraged by the murders in Itamar

Rabbis For Human Rights strongly condemns the terrible murders in Itamar

J Street Statement on Itamar Massacre

Jewish Voice for Peace condemns killing of settler family in West Bank

New Israel Fund Statement on Itamar Murders

Israeli blogger/journalist Dimi Reider rounds up the statements of various other Israeli human rights groups in "The activist Left must condemn the murder of the Itamar family."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

El Araqib Destroyed for 21st time, JNF Changing Facts on Ground

The Israeli government and the Jewish National Fund demolished the little that remains of the Bedouin village of El Araqib on Monday, as they work to permanently change facts on the ground, erasing the village’s very existence and history.

Four huts being used for community meetings in the village of El Araqib were destroyed by the Israeli government, Israeli special police and the Jewish National Fund on Monday (March 7). This is the 21st demolition of the village since July 2010.

The Bedouin villagers have stopped rebuilding their homes and tents and are now living in makeshift structures in the village cemetery, adjacent to the property they once used as home. It seems that four tents are still too many, because Israeli forces joined by JNF bulldozers entered the village early Monday morning, destroyed the structures completely, and continued working on the land, which will be used for the planting of a “peace forest.”

When the demolitions first began, the Israeli authorities would destroy the homes of El Araqib, and residents and volunteers would immediately rebuild. This pattern was repeated numerous times.

However, most recently, the authorities are not only destroying homes, but also removing the building material remains so they cannot be reconstructed. They are leaving nothing behind that may evidence the site of their future forest was once was a Bedouin village for the better part of a century.

The JNF is not only planting trees at present, they are turning all of the soil in the area so that the land appears to be only agricultural.

Many residents of El Araqib are now sleeping in the nearby Bedouin city of Rahat, and returning to the village for the weekends.

Most recently, Israel’s State Attorney’s Office announced they are currently preparing a legal petition for more than NIS 1 million against El Araqib, which will require that residents cover the costs incurred to evict them and demolish their village.

The many demolitions of El Araqib are part of the aggressive attempts of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Israel Land Authority (ILA) attempt to claim the historic Bedouin land, erase the evidence of their century of habitation, and use it for forestation and future Jewish settlement.

During this process, thousands of fruit trees cultivated by the residents of El Araqib have been uprooted by the demolitions.

The El Araqib Committee, the El Araqib Popular Committee and the Recognition Forum, amongst others, are initiating a day of solidarity and replanting in El Araqib on Saturday 12 March. Palestinian, Israeli and international activists will be joining residents of the village to replant these uprooted fruit trees as a symbol and permanent evidence of El Araqib and the residents returning to their land.

The Recognition Forum, a coalition of groups working for official Israeli recognition of the Bedouin villages in the Naqab (Negev), is soliciting donations for the purchase of these olive tree saplings, each of which costs NIS 25. Contributions may be sent to Recognition Forum, POB 1335, Kfar Saba, 44113.

Organised transportation from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is being organized, additional information at: aic (at) alt-info (dot) org.

Reposted (with edits) from The Alternative Information Center

Monday, March 7, 2011

Peter Beinart at J Street: Our task in solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians at Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Arakib, Bil'in is to resanctify the land

Prepared Remarks, Opening Session, J Street 2nd National Conference, by Peter Beinart

The Talmud says that what cannot be accomplished by reason is often accomplished by time. For us, sadly, the opposite is true. What reason cannot preserve, time will destroy. I’m talking about the democratic state of Israel.

We are not the first group of American Jews to warn that a nation whose declaration of independence pledges that it will pursue “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the Hebrew Prophets” cannot forever hold another people in subjugation without losing its soul.

In 1974, a group of young American Jews, mostly rabbis, created Breira, the first American Jewish group to advocate a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They were vilified by the American Jewish establishment; their inaugural conference was physically attacked by the Jewish Defense League, and three years later they gave up.

On the day they folded, there were roughly 1,000 Jews living in the West Bank, in non-democratic Israel. In 1979, American Jews created the New Israel Fund, which supports inspiring Israeli human rights groups like B’tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. By then, there were 10,000 Jews living in non-democratic Israel. In 1981, after a group of Israeli army officers created Shalom Akshav, American Jews, in solidarity, created Americans for Peace Now. In 1981, there were 16,000 Jews living in non-democratic Israel. In 1993, at the urging of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, American Jews created Israel Policy Forum to support the Oslo Accords. In 1993, there were 110,000 Jews living in non-democratic Israel. In 2002, a civil and women’s rights activist named Marcia Freedman created Brit Zedek v’Shalom, which urged an end to Palestinian terrorism and the creation of a Palestinian state. In 2002, there were 210,000 Jews in non-democratic Israel.

Tonight, as we gather here, almost 300,000 Jews live in lands in which their non-Jewish neighbors lack citizenship and the right to vote, must travel on separate roads and live under a different law. And so we come together knowing that we are not the first group of American Jews to gather in defense of the principles in Israel’s declaration of independence. But make no mistake: we are the last. There will be no next J Street. If we fail, our children will meet, in halls like these, not to defend democracy in the Jewish state, but to mourn democracy in the Jewish state.

Our parents and grandparents struggled to ensure that the Jewish people would survive, to ensure that we would not be forever at the mercy of the gentile world. And in that awesome struggle, to their everlasting credit, despite the millions of dead, they triumphed. Today, because of them, we not only have a Jewish state, we have power, both in Israel and the United States, that they could only have dreamed of. But with that power comes another struggle, every bit as momentous: not a struggle for Jewish survival, but a struggle for Jewish honor. A struggle to show that we can wield power and still keep faith with the teachings of the Prophets, a struggle to show that, despite everything, the Jewish people still has an ethical message for the world.

We have won the land, but we have forgotten what Rabbi Heschel taught, that “The holiness of the land of Israel is derived from the holiness of the people of Israel. The land was not holy at the time of Terah, or even at the time of the Patriarchs. It was sanctified by the people when they entered the land.” And so now, our task, in solidarity with the Israelis and Palestinians risking their lives in places like Sheikh Jarrah and Al-Arakib and Bil’in is to resanctify the land. Because if the land was not holy in the time of Terah, the idol-maker, neither can it be holy in the time of Lieberman and Netanyahu and Ovadiah Yosef.

When we ensure that no more Palestinians are evicted from their homes, and no more Bedouin villages are bulldozed and no more elderly Palestinians die waiting at checkpoints and no more Palestinian children wade in sewage on the beaches of Gaza, and when we ensure that a Jewish woman can safely carry a Sefer Torah to the Kotel, knowing that it is as much her birthright as it is the birthright of the chief rabbi of Israel, then we will have resanctified the land.

When the great progressive Zionist rabbi Stephen Wise, in the final months of his life, was told of the creation of the state of Israel, he said, “I have lived to see the Jewish state. I am too small for the greatness of the mercy which God has shown us.”

I look forward to the day when I can take my five year old son and my three year old daughter--and we can all take our children and grandchildren--to a vibrant, liberal democratic Israel—an Israel that extends the right of citizenship to everyone under its domain, an Israel that not only safeguards the Jewish people, but inspires the world. And on that day, we too will be able to say, with wonder and joy, “I have lived to see the Jewish state. I am too small for the greatness of the mercy which God has shown us.” Thank you.

Help our us and our allies in Israel re-sanctify the land by making a

Go here to make your contribution to justice and equality for Jews and Arabs in Israel's Negev.