[News] How Israel Enforces "Demographic Separation"

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Fri Jan 19 12:23:37 EST 2007


http://www.counterpunch.org/

January 19, 2007

Carter Doesn't Tell the Half of It


How Israel Enforces "Demographic Separation"

By JONATHAN COOK

Nazareth

When I published my book Blood and Religion last 
year, I sought not only to explain what lay 
behind Israeli policies since the failed Camp 
David negotiations nearly seven years ago, 
including the disengagement from Gaza and the 
building of a wall across the West Bank, but I 
also offered a few suggestions about where Israel might head next.

Making predictions in the Israeli-Palestinian 
conflict might be considered a particularly 
dangerous form of hubris, but I could hardly have 
guessed how soon my fears would be realized.

One of the main forecasts of the book was that 
Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line -- 
those who currently enjoy Israeli citizenship and 
those who live as oppressed subjects of Israel’s 
occupation -- would soon find common cause as 
Israel tries to seal itself off from what it 
calls the Palestinian “demographic threat”: that 
is, the moment when Palestinians outnumber Jews 
in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

I suggested that Israel’s greatest fear was 
ruling over a majority of Palestinians and being 
compared to apartheid South Africa, a fate that 
has possibly befallen it faster than I expected 
with the recent publication of Jimmy Carter’s 
book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. To avoid 
such a comparison, I argued, Israel was creating 
a “Jewish fortress”, separating -- at least 
demographically -- from Palestinians in the 
occupied territories by sealing off Gaza through 
a disengagement of its settler population and by 
building a 750km wall to annex large areas of the West Bank.

It was also closing off the last remaining avenue 
of a Right of Return for Palestinians by changing 
the law to make it all but impossible for 
Palestinians living in Israel to marry 
Palestinians in the occupied territories and thereby gain them citizenship.

The corollary of this Jewish fortress, I 
suggested, would be a sham Palestinian state, a 
series of disconnected ghettos that would prevent 
Palestinians from organizing effective 
resistance, non-violent or otherwise, but which 
would give the Israeli army an excuse to attack 
or invade whenever they chose, claiming that they 
were facing an “enemy state” in a conventional war.

Another benefit for Israel in imposing this 
arrangement would be that it could say all 
Palestinians who identified themselves as such -- 
whether in the occupied territories or inside 
Israel -- must now exercise their sovereign 
rights in the Palestinian state and renounce any 
claim on the Jewish state. The apartheid threat would be nullified.

I sketched out possible routes by which Israel could achieve this end:
* by redrawing the borders, using the wall, so 
that an area densely populated with Palestinian 
citizens of Israel known as the Little Triangle, 
which hugs the northern West Bank, would be sealed into the new pseudo-state;
* by continuing the process of corralling the 
Negev’s Bedouin farmers into urban reservations 
and then treating them as guest workers;
* by forcing Palestinian citizens living in the 
Galilee to pledge an oath of loyalty to Israel as 
a “Jewish and democratic state” or have their citizenship revoked;
* and by stripping Arab Knesset members of their right to stand for election.

When I made these forecasts, I suspected that 
many observers, even in the Palestinian 
solidarity movement, would find my ideas 
improbable. I could not have realized how fast 
events would overtake prediction.

The first sign came in October with the addition 
to the cabinet of Avigdor Lieberman, leader of a 
party that espouses the ethnic cleansing not only 
of Palestinians in the occupied territories (an 
unremarkable platform for an Israeli party) but 
of Palestinian citizens too, through land swaps 
that would exchange their areas for the illegal 
Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Lieberman is not just any cabinet minister; he 
has been appointed deputy prime minister with 
responsibility for the “strategic threats” that 
face Israel. In that role, he will be able to 
determine what issues are to be considered 
threats and thereby shape the public agenda for 
next few years. The “problem” of Israel’s 
Palestinian citizens is certain to be high on his list.

Lieberman has been widely presented as a 
political maverick, akin to the notorious racist 
Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was outlawed 
in the late 1980s. That is a gross 
misunderstanding: Lieberman is at the very heart 
of the country’s rightwing establishment and will 
almost certainly be a candidate for prime 
minister in future elections, as Israelis drift ever further to the right.

Unlike Kahane, Lieberman has cleverly remained 
within the Israeli political mainstream while 
pushing its agenda to the very limits of what it 
is currently possible to say. Kadima and Labor 
urgently want unilateral separation from the 
Palestinians but are shy to spell out, both to 
their own domestic constituency and the 
international community, what separation will entail.

Lieberman has no such qualms. He is unequivocal: 
if Israel is separating from the Palestinians in 
parts of the occupied territories, why not also 
separate from the 1.2 million Palestinians who 
through oversight rather than design ended up as 
citizens of a Jewish state in 1948? If Israel is 
to be a Jewish fortress, then, as he points out, 
it is illogical to leave Palestinians within the fortifications.

These arguments express the common mood among the 
Israeli public, one that has been cultivated 
since the eruption of the intifada in 2000 by 
endless talk among Israel’s political and 
military elites about “demographic separation”. 
Regular opinion polls show that about two-thirds 
of Israelis support transfer, either voluntary or 
forced, of Palestinian citizens from the state.

Recent polls also reveal how fashionable racism 
has become in Israel. A survey conducted last 
year showed that 68 per cent of Israeli Jews do 
not want to live next to a Palestinian citizen 
(and rarely have to, as segregation is largely 
enforced by the authorities), and 46 per cent 
would not want an Arab to visit their home.

A poll of students that was published last week 
suggests that racism is even stronger among young 
Jews. Three-quarters believed Palestinian 
citizens are uneducated, uncivilized and unclean, 
and a third are frightened of them. Richard 
Kupermintz of Haifa University, who conducted the 
survey more than two years ago, believes the 
responses would be even more extreme today.

Lieberman is simply riding the wave of such 
racism and pointing out the inevitable path 
separation must follow if it is to satisfy these 
kinds of prejudices. He may speak his mind more 
than his cabinet colleagues, but they too share 
his vision of the future. That is why only one 
minister, the dovish and principled Ophir Pines 
Paz of Labor, resigned over Ehud Olmert’s 
inclusion of Lieberman in the cabinet.

Contrast that response with the uproar caused by 
the Labor leader Amir Peretz’s appointment of the 
first Arab cabinet minister in Israel’s history. 
(A member of the small Druze community, which 
serves in the Israeli army, Salah Tarif, was 
briefly a minister without portfolio in Sharon’s first government.)

Raleb Majadele, a Muslim, is a senior member of 
the Labor party and a Zionist (what might be 
termed, in different circumstances, a self-hating 
Arab or an Uncle Tom), and yet his apppointment 
has broken an Israeli taboo: Arabs are not 
supposed to get too close to the centers of power.

Peretz’s decision was entirely cynical. He is 
under threat on all fronts -- from his coalition 
partners in Kadima and in Lieberman’s Yisrael 
Beitenu, and from within his own party -- and 
desperately needs the backing of Labor’s Arab 
party members. Majadele is the key, and that is 
why Peretz gave him a cabinet post, even if a 
marginal one: Minister of Science, Culture and Sport.

But the right is deeply unhappy at Majadele’s 
inclusion in the cabinet. Lieberman called Peretz 
unfit to be defense minister for making the 
appointment and demanded that Majadele pledge 
loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic 
state. Lieberman’s party colleagues referred to 
the appointment as a “lethal blow to Zionism”.

A few Labor and Meretz MKs denounced these 
comments as racist. But more telling was the 
silence of Olmert and his Kadima party, as well 
as Binyamin Netanyhu’s Likud, at Lieberman’s 
outburst. The centre and right understand that 
Lieberman’s views about Majadele, and Palestinian 
citizens more generally, mirror those of most 
Israeli Jews and that it would be foolhardy to 
criticise him for expressing them -- let alone sack him.

In this game of “who is the truer Zionist”, 
Lieberman can only grow stronger against his 
former colleagues in Kadima and Likud. Because he 
is free to speak his and their minds, while they 
must keep quiet for appearance’s sake, he, not 
they, will win ever greater respect from the Israeli public.

Meanwhile, all the evidence suggests that Olmert 
and the current government will implement the 
policies being promoted by Lieberman, even if 
they are too timid to openly admit that is what they are doing.

Some of those policies are of the by-now familiar 
variety, such as the destruction of 21 Bedouin 
homes, half the village of Twayil, in the 
northern Negev last week. It was the second time 
in a month that the village had been razed by the Israeli security forces.

These kind of official attacks against the 
indigenous Bedouin -- who have been classified by 
the government as “squatters” on state lands -- 
are a regular occurrence, an attempt to force 
70,000 Bedouin to leave their ancestral homes and 
relocate to deprived townships.

A more revealing development came this month, 
however, when it was reported in the Israeli 
media that the government is for the first time 
backing “loyalty” legislation that has been 
introduced privately by a Likud MK. Gilad Erdan’s 
bill would revoke the citizenship of Israelis who 
take part in “an act that constitutes a breach of 
loyalty to the state”, the latest in a string of 
proposals by Jewish MKs conditioning citizenship 
on loyalty to the Israeli state, defined in all 
these schemes very narrowly as a “Jewish and democratic” state.

Arab MKs, who reject an ethnic definition of 
Israel and demand instead that the country be 
reformed into a “state of all its citizens”, or a 
liberal democracy, are typically denounced as traitors.

Lieberman himself suggested just such a loyalty 
scheme for Palestinian citizens last month during 
a trip to Washington. He told American Jewish 
leaders: “He who is not ready to recognize Israel 
as a Jewish and Zionist state cannot be a citizen in the country.”

Erdan’s bill specifies acts of disloyalty that 
include visiting an “enemy state” -- which, in 
practice, means just about any Arab state. Most 
observers believe that, after Erdan’s bill has 
been redrafted by the Justice Ministry, it will 
be used primarily against the Arab MKs, who are 
looking increasingly beleaguered. Most have been 
repeatedly investigated by the Attorney-General 
for any comment in support of the Palestinians in 
the occupied territories or for visiting 
neighbouring Arab states. One, Azmi Bishara, has 
been put on trial twice for these offences.

Meanwhile, Jewish MKs have been allowed to make 
the most outrageous racist statements against 
Palestinian citizens, mostly unchallenged.

Former cabinet minister Effi Eitam, for example, 
said back in September: “The vast majority of 
West Bank Arabs must be deported ... We will have 
to make an additional decision, banning Israeli 
Arabs from the political system 
 We have 
cultivated a fifth column, a group of traitors of 
the first degree.” He was “warned” by the 
Attorney-General over his comments (though he has 
expressed similar views several times before), 
but remained unrepentant, calling the warning an attempt to “silence” him.

The leader of the opposition and former prime 
minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the most popular 
politician in Israel according to polls, gave 
voice to equally racist sentiments this month 
when he stated that child allowance cuts he 
imposed as finance minister in 2002 had had a 
“positive” demographic effect by reducing the 
birth rate of Palestinian citizens.

Arab MKs, of course, do not enjoy such indulgence 
when they speak out, much more legitimately, in 
supporting their kin, the Palestinians of the 
West Bank and Gaza, who are suffering under 
Israel’s illegal occupation. Arab MK Ahmed Tibi, 
for example, was roundly condemned last week by 
the Jewish parties, including the most leftwing, 
Meretz, when he called on Fatah to “continue the 
struggle” to establish a Palestinian state.

However, the campaign of intimidation by the 
government and Jewish members of the Knesset has 
failed to silence the Arab MKs or stop them 
visiting neighboring states, which is why the 
pressure is being ramped up. If Erdan’s bill 
becomes law -- which seems possible with 
government backing -- then the Arab MKs and the 
minority they represent will either be cut off 
from the rest of the Arab world once again (as 
they were for the first two decades of Israel’s 
existence, when a military government was imposed 
on them) or threatened with the revocation of 
their citizenship for disloyalty (a move, it 
should be noted, that is illegal under international law).

It may not be too fanciful to see the current 
legislation eventually being extended to cover 
other “breaches of loyalty”, such as demanding 
democratic reforms of Israel or denying that a 
Jewish state is democratic. Technically, this is 
already the position as Israel’s election law 
makes it illegal for political parties, including 
Arab ones, to promote a platform that denies 
Israel’s existence as a “Jewish and democratic” state.

Soon Arab MKs and their constituents may also be 
liable to having their citizenship revoked for 
campaigning, as many currently do, for a state of 
all its citizens. That certainly is the view of 
the eminent Israeli historian Tom Segev, who 
argued in the wake of the government’s adoption 
of the bill: “In practice, the proposed law is 
liable to turn all Arabs into conditional 
citizens, after they have already become, in many 
respects, second-class citizens. Any attempt to 
formulate an alternative to the Zionist reality 
is liable to be interpreted as a ‘breach of 
faith’ and a pretext for stripping them of their citizenship.”

But it is unlikely to end there. I hesitate to 
make another prediction but, given the rapidity 
with which the others have been realized, it may 
be time to hazard yet another guess about where Israel is going next.

The other day I was at a checkpoint near Nablus, 
one of several that are being converted by Israel 
into what look suspiciously like international 
border crossings, even though they fall deep inside Palestinian territory.

I had heard that Palestinian citizens of Israel 
were being allowed to pass these checkpoints 
unhindered to enter cities like Nablus to see 
relatives. (These familial connections are a 
legacy of the 1948 war, when separated 
Palestinian refugees ended up on different sides 
of the Green Line, and also of marriages that 
were possible after 1967, when Israel occupied 
the West Bank and Gaza, making social and 
business contacts possible again.) But, when 
Palestinian citizens try to leave these cities 
via the checkpoints, they are invariably detained 
and issued letters by the Israeli authorities 
warning them that they will be tried if caught again visiting “enemy” areas.

In April last year, at a cabinet meeting at which 
the Israeli government agreed to expel Hamas MPs 
from Jerusalem to the West Bank, ministers 
discussed changing the classification of the 
Palestinian Authority from a “hostile entity” to 
the harsher category of an “enemy entity”. The 
move was rejected for the time being because, as 
one official told the Israeli media: “There are 
international legal implications in such a 
declaration, including closing off the border 
crossings, that we don't want to do yet.”

Is it too much to suspect that before long, after 
Israel has completed the West Bank wall and its 
“border” terminals, the Jewish state will 
classify visits by Palestinian citizens to 
relatives as “visiting an enemy state”? And will 
such visits be grounds for revoking citizenship, 
as they could be under Erdan’s bill if 
Palestinian citizens visit relatives in Syria or Lebanon?

Lieberman doubtless knows the answer already.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist living 
in Nazareth, Israel. His book, Blood and 
Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and 
Democratic State, is published by Pluto Press. 
His website is <http://www.jkcook.net/>www.jkcook.net


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