Palestinians protest the Prawer Plan

December 3, 2013

Patrick O. Strickland reports on Palestinian protests against the Prawer-Begin Plan, which will displace tens of thousands of Bedouin Arabs in order to build settlements.

PALESTINIAN ACTIVISTS--from the Gaza Strip to occupied East Jerusalem and the broader West Bank--have united in opposition to Israel's plans to dislocate tens of thousands of Bedouin Arabs and create Jewish-only settlements in their place.

The Prawer-Begin Plan, also known as the "Prawer Plan," was first approved by Israel's parliament, the Knesset, in 2011. If fully implemented, it will demolish 35 "unrecognized" villages across the Negev region of present-day Israel and displace up to 70,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel, according to Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

A national "Day of Rage" was held on November 30, and it drew the participation of thousands of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, the border demarcating present-day Israel and the territories in occupied during the June 1967 War. Two similar national days of protest against Prawer were staged earlier this year, on July 15 and August 1.

Including international solidarity demonstrations, Ma'an News Agency estimated that at least 24 anti-Prawer protests took place worldwide.

Protesters gather in Tel Aviv to oppose the Prawer Plan
Protesters gather in Tel Aviv to oppose the Prawer Plan (Yoni Maron)

In the village of Hura in the Negev (al-Naqab) region, over a thousand activists assembled, holding placards, waving Palestinian flags and chanting anti-Prawer slogans. Israeli police responded violently, beating protesters with batons and spraying them with powerful water cannons. Hundreds of activists were attacked by Israeli police in Haifa, a city in the northern region of Israel.

"The protest was meant to emphasize that Prawer will not pass on the ground, even if it does in the Knesset, because it's essential goal is to displace the indigenous Arabs from their towns," said Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of Knesset.

Near Ramallah in the West Bank, dozens of Palestinians marched from a local municipality to the illegal Israeli settlement colony of Bet El, where Israeli occupation soldiers greeted them with stun grenades and raised clouds of tear gas. Three activists were arrested by the time the protest was fully dispersed. According to Ma'an, Israeli forces also fired live bullets in the direction of the march, although no one was reported injured.

Organized by the Intifada Youth Coalition, dozens of young Palestinians gathered in Gaza City as part of the Day of Rage. "We are sending a message to our people in the Negev, asserting that they are a part and parcel of us, despite the occupation's plans to displace them and exile them from Palestine," Shurouq Mahmoud, the coalition's spokesperson, read aloud in a statement.

Other protests took place in Palestinian cities across present-day Israel, including Taybeh and Sakhnin. International demonstrations were held in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the U.S., Kuwait, Lebanon, Canada, Italy, Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.

BEFORE THE 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine that led to the establishment of the state of Israel, some 110,000 Bedouin resided in the Negev region.

The majority were dispossessed of their land in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, although some remained in what became Israel. The systematic dispossession continued: tens of thousands were expelled from 1948 until 1950 and several thousand more throughout the 1950s. By 1960, some 11,000 remained, according to a census.

In 1954, those who were able to stay, as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe recounts, were registered as Israeli citizens and forced to sign an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state. They were subsequently forced into a small, enclosed area--known as the Siyaj, or fence--that encompassed a mere 10 percent of the Negev.

It is more than a little ironic that the government relocated many of these Bedouins to the very lands on which they are said to have illegally settled, and that Israeli officials regularly claim that the Bedouin are a demographic threat who plan to usurp the Negev in its entirety. In the case of other villages, they predate Israel's establishment.

Among the over 200,000 Palestinian Bedouin spread across the Negev today, around 90,000 live in "unrecognized" villages, where they are denied basic services, such as electricity, water, education, roads, sanitation services, and health care, among others.

Meanwhile, neighboring Israeli kibbutzim and moshavim, Jewish-only agricultural collectives, fully enjoy the government's municipal services.

Supporters of the Prawer Plan claim that the potentially displaced will be compensated with homes and land in eight government-built townships across the Negev. These townships, however, already exist and are also deprived of adequate state funding and attention, eerily echoing of the Bantustans of South Africa's apartheid past.

On top of that, uncultivated land is not eligible for compensation, regardless of the presence of residents or homes on it. Once the plan is executed, no Bedouin will be permitted to live on or make a legal claim to any land (excluding townships) in the entirety of the Negev.

Meanwhile, in the Galilee region of northern Israel, the World Zionist Organization seeks to implement a new plan to settle 100,000 Jewish Israelis in order to "achieve a demographic balance with the Arab population," as reported by Ha'aretz.

Palestinian citizens make up some 1.5 million persons from Israel's total population. Though they have nominal citizenship, dozens of racist laws and restrictions leave them as second-class citizens.

The 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defined apartheid as "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

The systematic discrimination, displacement and oppression of the Negev's Bedouins must be understood in the broader context of a state committed to preserving a Jewish majority. It is not "creeping" discrimination; these are apartheid's defining characteristics, repackaged and thinly cloaked in the rhetoric of security and existential preservation.

It is no coincidence that the ethnic cleansing of the Negev is taking place while Gaza drowns in sewage due to fuel shortages and illegal Jewish-only settlements chop up occupied East Jerusalem and the broader West Bank at a breakneck pace.

Israel is yet again demonstrating that it aims to push out all Palestinians--no matter which side of the Green Line they reside on.

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