The Palestinians of Israel are poised to take centre stage
the peace process going nowhere, common experience on both sides of
the Green Line is creating a new reality
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 November
American Jews taunting a Palestinian woman whose house in
Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem is occupied by Jewish
In a quiet street in the Sheikh Jarrah
district of occupied East Jerusalem 88-year-old Rifka al-Kurd is
explaining how she came to live in the house she and her husband
built as Palestinian refugees in the 1950s. As she speaks, three
young ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers swagger in to stake their
claim to the front part of the building, shouting abuse in
Hebrew and broken Arabic: "Arab animals", "shut up, whore".
There is a brief physical confrontation with Rifka's daughter as
the settlers barricade themselves in to the rooms they have
occupied since last winter. That was when they finally won a court
order to take over the Kurd family's extension on the grounds that
it was built without permission – which Palestinians in Jerusalem
are almost never granted. It is an ugly scene, the settlers'
chilling arrogance underpinned by the certain knowledge that they
can call in the police and army at will.
But such takeovers of Palestinian homes in Sheikh
become commonplace, and the focus of continual
same is true in nearby Silwan, home to upwards of 30,000
Palestinians next to the Old City, where 88 homes to 1,500
Palestinians have been lined up for demolition to make way for a
King David theme park and hundreds of settlers are protected round
the clock by trigger-happy security guards.
Throughout the Arab areas of Jerusalem, as in the West Bank, the
government is pressing ahead with land expropriations, demolitions
and settlement building, making the prospects of a Palestinian
state ever more improbable. More than a third of the land in East
Jerusalem has been expropriated since it was occupied in 1967 to
make way for Israeli colonists, in flagrant violation of
Israel's latest settlement plans were not "helpful",
Barack Obama ventured on
while US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian negotiations go nowhere and
attention has been focused on the brutal siege of Gaza, the
colonisation goes on. It is also proceeding apace in Israel proper,
where the demolition of Palestinian Bedouin villages around the
Negev desert has accelerated under Binyamin Netanyahu.
About 87,000 Bedouin live in 45 "unrecognised" villages, without
rights or basic public services, because the Israeli authorities
refuse to recognise their claim to the land. All have demolition
orders hanging over them, while hundreds of Jewish settlements have
been established throughout the area.
The Israeli writer Amos Oz calls the Negev a "ticking time bomb".
The village of Araqeeb has been destroyed six times in recent
months and each time it has been reconstructed by its inhabitants.
The government wants to clear the land and move the Bedouin into
designated townships. But even there, demolitions are carried out
on a routine basis.
At the weekend, a mosque in the Bedouin town of Rahat was torn down
by the army in the night. By Sunday afternoon, local people were
already at work on rebuilding it, as patriotic songs blared out
from the PA system and activists addressed an angry crowd.
The awakening of the Negev Bedouin, many of whom used to send their
sons to fight in the Israeli army, reflects a wider politicisation
of the Arab citizens of Israel. Cut off from the majority of
Palestinians after 1948, they tried to find an accommodation
with the state whose discrimination against them was, in the words
of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, "deep-seated and intolerable"
from the first.
That effort has as good as been abandoned. The Arab parties in the
Israeli Knesset now reject any idea of Israel as an ethnically
defined state, demanding instead a "state of all its people". The
influential Islamic Movement refuses to take part in the Israeli
political system at all. The Palestinians of '48, who now make up
getting on for 20% of the population, are increasingly organising
themselves on an independent basis – and in common cause with their
fellow Palestinians across the Green Line.
Palestinian experience inside Israel, from land confiscations to
settlement building and privileged ethnic segregation, is not after
all so different from what has taken place in East Jerusalem and
the West Bank. After 1948, the Palestinians of Jaffa who survived
ethnic cleansing were forced to share their houses with Jewish
settlers – just as Rifka al-Kurd is in Jerusalem today. The sense
of being one people is deepening.
That has been intensified by ever more aggressive attempts under
the Netanyahu government to bring Israel's Arab citizens to heel,
along with growing demands to transfer hundreds of thousands of
them to a future West Bank administration. A string of new laws
targeting the Palestinian minority are in the pipeline, including
the bill agreed by the Israeli cabinet last month requiring all new
non-Jewish citizens to swear an oath of allegiance to Israel as a
Pressure on Palestinian leaders and communities is becoming
harsher. A fortnight ago more than a thousand soldiers and police
were on hand to protect a violent march by a far-right racist
Israeli group through the Palestinian town of Umm al-Fahm. The
leader of the Islamic Movement, Ra'ed Salah, is in prison for
spitting at a policeman; the Palestinian MP Haneen Zoabi has been
stripped of her parliamentary privileges for joining the Gaza
flotilla; and leading civil rights campaigner Ameer Makhoul faces
up to 10 years in jail after being convicted of the improbable
charge of spying for Hezbollah.
Meanwhile Israel is also demanding that the Palestinian leadership
in Ramallah recognise Israel as a Jewish state as part of any
agreement. Few outside the Palestinian Authority – or even inside
it – seem to believe that the "peace process" will lead to any kind
of settlement. Even Fatah leaders such as Nabil Sha'ath now argue
that the Palestinians need to consider a return to armed
resistance, or a shift to the South African model of mass popular
resistance, also favoured by prominent Palestinians in
As for the people who actually won the last elections, Mahmoud
Ramahi, the Hamas secretary general of the Palestinian parliament,
reminded me on Monday that the US continues to veto any
reconciliation with Fatah. He was arrested by the Israelis barely
24 hours later, just as talks between the two parties were getting
going in Damascus.
The focus of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle has shifted over the
last 40 years from Jordan to Lebanon to the occupied territories.
With the two-state solution close to collapse, it may be
that the Palestinians of Israel are at last about to move
centre stage. If so, the conflict that more than any other has
taken on a global dimension will have finally come full
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