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Israel aims new Nakba-style weapon at Arab citizens

A new law paves the way for a fresh wave of home demolitions in Palestinian towns and villages throughout Israel. Its passing is proof that the land grab begun by Israel in 1948 never ended.

By Myssana Morany

Bedouin inspect the ruins of their demolished homes in Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Bedouin inspect the ruins of their demolished homes in Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

What Jewish Israelis call their War of Independence, Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or “catastrophe” in Arabic. During the 1948 war and its aftermath, Israel depopulated and destroyed 600 Palestinian villages and expelled more than 700,000 Palestinians from the newly-established state in order to open up their land for Jewish settlement.

But the Israeli campaign to control land has never stopped. As Israel celebrates the 69th anniversary of its establishment — Palestinians commemorate the Nakba annually on May 15 — it is also brandishing its latest weapon against its remaining Arab citizens, designed to corral them into an ever-shrinking living space.

According to Israel, the new so-called Kaminitz Law, which was enacted in April 2017, is intended to consolidate and streamline state powers in enforcing planning and building regulations. But in practice, this law allows the Israeli government to carry out a new wave of mass home demolitions in hemmed-in Arab villages and towns already hard hit by severe housing shortages and a history of discriminatory state policies. According to official state statistics, 97 percent of the demolition orders issued between 2012 and 2014 were against homes in Arab communities in Israel.

Israeli policy is driven by the rationale that the implementation of planning and building regulations in Arab towns can and should be achieved only through a harsh policy of mass home demolitions and other punitive measures against home and land owners. Those punished under the new law can be imprisoned for up to three years, and could accumulate fines reaching hundreds of thousands of Israeli shekels.

The Kaminitz Law intends to make “building violations” simply disappear, while completely ignoring the conditions that created the phenomenon of unauthorized construction in Arab towns and villages in the first place, and absolving the state of all responsibility for this phenomenon.

It also ignores the harrowing human cost of the new law: hundreds of families will be left homeless and without alternative housing solutions.

The Kaminitz Law hides behind a cloak of neutrality and the guise of equal and universal implementation of the law across all sectors of the population. However, it will have a disproportionate impact on Arab citizens of Israel, because it intentionally ignores the decades of systematic discrimination that generated the housing crisis in Arab towns and villages across the country, and which resulted in extensive “unauthorized construction.”

Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate at a mass rally following the demolition of 11 homes in the Arab town of Qalansuwa, central Israel, January 13, 2017. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate at a mass rally following the demolition of 11 homes in the Arab town of Qalansuwa, central Israel, January 13, 2017. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

It is therefore disingenuous to portray “unauthorized construction” in Arab towns simply as a deviation from the desired social norm, as one might any other legal transgression. One cannot view the state’s intent to increase enforcement of planning and building regulations without considering the wider context of Israel’s suppressive historic relationship with the Palestinian Arab minority, and its longstanding efforts to restrict and control the living space available to them.

From 1948 to the present day

The most violent and dramatic period of Israel’s land grab was during the Nakba in 1948. Armed Zionist militias, and subsequently the Israeli military, forcefully seized and reconfigured the land. Israel expelled the residents of some 600 Arab towns and confiscated their land, later demolishing these towns entirely. Those Arabs who remained were concentrated in restricted areas of the country — 139 surviving Arab villages and the Siyagh zone in the Naqab (Negev) desert — where they lived for the ensuing 20 years under Israeli military rule.

Persisting in its efforts to exert control over the land, Israel adopted a cleaner but no less violent weapon: the law. Behind the façade of legal neutrality, Israel continued to confiscate Arab land. Property belonging to Palestinian refugees (even the internally displaced who remained within the new state’s boundaries and became citizens) was transferred to a designated state authority, and as much as 50 percent of property owned by Palestinian Arabs who became Israeli citizens was expropriated and, in most cases, used for the “public purpose” of Jewish settlement.

Even today, Israel continues to use land and expropriation laws to wrest control of Arab-owned land, particularly in the Naqab and Jerusalem areas.

Following the military and legal stages of land takeover, Israel then turned to zoning and planning regulations to limit Arab use of land. For generations, Israel neglected to draw up any building or land development plans for Arab towns and villages. However, it did take care to map out the municipal boundaries of Arab communities in the early days of the state, very deliberately wrapping them tightly around the outermost homes in each town.

As the decades passed, the boundaries of most of these towns were never expanded. Most Arab-owned agricultural land was reallocated to surrounding Jewish regional councils. Deliberately-placed military bases and firing zones, state-managed forests, national parks, nature reserves, and highways today serve as barriers that encircle and confine Arab villages in Israel.

Rather than making up for the decades of discriminatory policies that have resulted in today’s phenomenon of unauthorized construction, the Kaminitz Law threatens Palestinian citizens of Israel with heavy fines and prison time — criminalizing their right to shelter and their struggle to survive in the face of discriminatory policies.

If the 1948 Nakba was the opening shot in Israel’s land grab campaign, this new law is its latest weapon in the arsenal designed to control and restrict Arab citizens, while reinforcing the state’s Jewish character and giving clear preference to Jewish citizens.

Myssana Morany is an attorney in the Land and Planning Rights Unit at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      “There have been well known landmarks in this process [of ethnic cleansing]: the expulsion of more villagers between 1948 and 1956 from Israel proper; the forced transfer of 300,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the 1967 war; and a very measured, but constant, cleansing of Palestinians from the Greater Jerusalem area, calculated as more than 250,000 by the year 2000…As long as the full implications of Israel’s past and present ethnic cleansing policies are not recognized…there will be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” – page 64, 65, “Ten Myths About Israel” by Ilan Pappe.

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin Halevy

        Please read Benny Morris an Israeli leftist new historian. He writes that there has never been any ethnic cleansing in Israel. I will add that there has been an ethnic cleansing in Arab countries against their Jewish population. One million Jews have been expelled from these Arab countries. Strange, we do not hear our dear leftists defend their cause. We are used to that but it is a shame.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          Not to mention the Muslim/Arab ethnic cleansing of other minority groups like the Christians, Yazidis, and even Muslim groups that are viewed as “deviant” by the ruling group, such as the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Assad/HIZBULLAH/Iranian proxy controlled parts of Syria. It’s an old story from the Arab/Muslim world.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      Oh look. More European-sponsored anti-Israeli propaganda. Throw that woman a few euros. Well done!

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Myssana Morany’s argument is fact based and well reasoned, it is not propaganda and can’t be credibly dismissed as such. Israel’s submarines are built, funded and delivered by those Europeans. Certainly “sponsored” by them. Europe extends a cooperative helping hand to Israel with scientific and technological agreements that’s Israel needs a lot more than Europe does. Maybe the Europeans are interested in both Israeli AND Palestinian security AND in human rights AND justice. Fancy that. Not saints, but complex nations calculating complex interests and not obsessed with Israel or intent on doing secret dastardly things to Israel. Quite the contrary. I sometimes think Israeli right wingers are such monorail thinkers and are so doggedly cynical and “what can we get away with?” minded that they can’t quite get their minds around this complexity, this maturity. All they’ve got is the simplistic vilifying, anti-Semitizing, victim playing reflex.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          Or maybe the Europeans are NOT interested in the welfare of either the Jews or the Arabs. Let’s go back in history a bit. After the Holocaust, many European countries voted in the UN for the UN Palestine partition resolution, which included creating a Jewish state. Sounds like they were doing us Jews a favor, no? However, recall that the Arabs said they would oppose it with force. So what did all these friendly, guilt-ridden Europeans do when Israel faced this existential threat? They slapped an arms embargo on Israel, while the British continued to arm the Arab side. There is another way one can interpret this….the Europeans felt that the Final Solution was not complete, there were some Jews left. However, we are tired of wars, so let’s ship the remaining Jews to Palestine where the Arabs will finish the job, as they say they are going to do. Fortunately for the Jews, Stalin decided to violate the embargo and he sent weapons to Israel, even though a few months later, he became violently anti-Israel.

          Regarding supposed European concern for the welfare of the Arabs….just look at Syria. Do you see a lot of concern there? Or how about how the French and Germans, who are held up as models for today’s British and American “progressives”, how armed Saddam Husseins killing machine and who helped build his illegal chemical warfare infrastructure, which he used in his war with Iran and against his own Kurdish population.
          I don’t see any great “moral directions” coming from the Europeans.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This regarding Britain is a typically twisted bit of victimology masquerading as history. No doubt the anti-Semitic elements of the British leadership of that time wanted to discourage Jewish immigration to Britain, and that was one primary motive, but the idea that they were scheming some finishing the job of the Endlösung, or were the real true friends of “the Arabs” rather than pursuing their own selfish colonial interests, is utter nonsense.
            A counter-narrative to your “history”:

            Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            When the British announced they were relinquishing responsibility for Palestine in 1947 and handed over the problem to the UN, they assumed that the UN would deadlock on the issue, and it would be handed back to them to deal with as they saw fit without the Americans breathing down their neck, and they would simply hand over control of the country to the Arabs. When the UN did NOT deadlock, they were certain that upon the Arab invasion of the country, the Jews would crawl back to the British on their bellies begging them to save the Yishuv. The British interest in this was to maintain military bases in the country in order to be near the Suez Canal, because the huge British bases in Egypt were going to forced to be evacuated due to pressure from the Egyptian public, so the British would use the old “divide and conquer” method to have the Jews and Arabs at each other’s throats, and then the British would claim that they had to stay in Palestine one way or another to “prevent them from killing each other”, even though their real interest was, as I said, to have bases close to Suez.
            In the end, none of this worked out for the British.

            Reply to Comment
          • duh

            Ike, I’m curious if that’s your own conclusion or if any historian spells it out. Because in all the reading I’ve done there’s no indication that the British were anything but fed up with Palestine by the middle of ’47. An example from “Anonymous Soldiers” 467-471:

            “The FO concurred, fretting endlessly over the harm P was having on Anglo-Arab relations. Michael Wright, an undersecretary, summed up the FO position is a paper that extolled the salutary effect that withdrawal from P would have on Muslim attitudes toward B. By washing its hands of the Mandate, B could avoid the prospect of further alienating the Arabs should the UN attempt to impose a solution that involved any measure of Jewish autonomy, as was now thought likely. Although B clearly had strategic interests in P, Wright argued, “the political advantages of withdrawal outweighed the strategic advantages” of continued access to the port at Haifa and the oil refinery, pipeline terminus, and storage facilities there. “The Mandate,” he concluded, “has proved unworkable. It has caused antagonism towards HMG on the part of the Arab states, the Jews, and in America. B withdrawal from P would remove this particular cause for antagonism.”

            In reacting to the UNSCOP report (470), “Bevin reiterated his view that B should decline ‘to enforce a settlement which was unacceptable’ to either Arabs or Jews. To his mind, ‘the right course was for HMG to announce their intention to surrender the Mandate and… plan for an early withdrawal of the B forces and B administration from P.’ Creech Jones spoke next and stated his agreement with Bevin’s assessment, as did the rest of the cabinet. Emanuel Shinwell, the minister of fuel and power, stressed the importance of an orderly withdrawal so that B’s relinquishment of responsibilities in P would not be seen as a sign of weakness. [Hugh] Dalton strongly opposed the deployment of anymore service personnel and said “that a date for the withdrawal of the B admin and B forces should be announced as soon as possible.

            Of course, no, the Americans and British weren’t interested in the welfare of the Jews or Arabs, otherwise they would have diverted all the Jewish survivors of the war away from Palestine and prevented the conflict from escalating into its own war.

            Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            Read non-Jewish J. Bowyer Bell’s book “Terror out of Zion” which came out in 1978. He points out how the British Palestine Police were recruiting new men right up until the time the British pulled out. They were clearly thinking that the orders to evacuate might be reversed right up until the last minute. After the Holocaust, the British assumed that the Jews were a broken people and they could impose Arab rule on them in Palestine. However, the uprising of the various underground groups (including the HAGANAH and PALMACH for a time) surprised them, and American pressure wouldn’t let them do what they wanted. They thought that once the UN deadlocked on the issue, it would be handed back to them with American approval and they could crack down on the Jews are hard as they wanted. When that didn’t work, they thought the Arab invasion would bring the Jews to demand that the British stay in order to save them, and this would be done on Britain’s terms. That didn’t work out either.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            None of this contentiousness gainsays a single thing Myssana Morany writes.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Well we cant complain though…the land belonged to Israel first

      Reply to Comment