“Largest Land Grab since 1948” — Israel to expel 36,000 Palestinians from Naqab
Given the Israeli state’s rejection of their existence, government officials have called the Palestinians living in these villagers “violators” and “squatters,” accusing them of illegally occupying “state lands.”
TEL AVIV—According to an Israeli media report, the Israeli government has completed work on a massive, far-reaching plan that would expel an estimated 36,000 Palestinians from “unrecognized” villages in the Naqab Desert. If the plan is approved by the Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, its implementation could begin as soon as this year and would take four years to complete. News of the plan was first published by Israel Hayom – Israel’s largest Hebrew-language newspaper, funded by Sheldon Adelson, the top donor to both U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The plan — compiled by Uri Ariel, Israel’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and his staff — features the seizure of an estimated 260,00 dunams (64,247 acres) from Palestine’s Bedouins. The size of the territory in question and the high number of Palestinians set to be affected has led some to call the plan the largest “land grab” of Palestinian-inhabited land since 1948, when the state of Israel was founded.
Israel Hayom’s report stated that, per the new plan, the Palestinian villages would be demolished and the ruins of their homes would then become the sites of “national projects,” infrastructure projects, and “security” installations after the forcible “transfer” of the land’s current inhabitants to other “state-approved” settlements such as Tel Sheva, Abu Talul and Umm Batin. The report noted that a major motivation behind the plan’s creation was the transfer of an arms-industry factory from another part of Israel to the Naqab, as well as the expansion of the “Trans-Israel Highway” system.
Furthermore, the plan involves calling for a budget increase to boost the presence of law enforcement officials involved in the forcible “transfer” and in the demolition of Palestinian villages.
Rights groups have yet to comment on the newly announced plan targeting Palestinian communities in the Naqab. However, Human Rights Watch has previously condemned Israel’s targeting of “unrecognized” Palestinian villages in the region. In 2016, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, stated:
The forcible eviction of Bedouin residents to make way for a new Jewish town would be a blatant and ugly episode of discrimination mirroring Israel’s unlawful settlements. Long after most of the rest of the world has such rejected racist policies, the Israeli government keeps building and razing communities on the basis of religion and ethnicity.”
No Recognition, No Rights
The Bedouin Palestinians who inhabit these lands face an uphill battle in any effort to oppose the newly drafted plan. This is because their villages have long been “unrecognized” by the state of Israel, which has claimed that Palestinian Bedouins cannot “prove” their ownership or claim to the land. This has been used to justify the withholding of basic services, such as running water and electricity, from these areas. Residents, even though they are technically Israeli citizens, also lack addresses and their villages do not appear on official Israeli maps.
As a consequence of their lack of formal recognition, Israeli authorities do not regard the Palestinian inhabitants of these villages as having any rights to the land, even though many of the villages were established several decades ago by Palestinians forced from their homes following the creation of the Israeli state in 1948.
Given the state’s rejection of their existence, Israeli government officials have called the Palestinians living in these villagers “violators” and “squatters” – accusing them of illegally occupying “state lands.” As a result, these villages have constantly been under threat of demolition, with the Israeli government even forcing the inhabitants of demolished villages to pay for the destruction of their own homes.
Pushing toward Complete Annexation and Ethnic Cleansing
The newly announced plan is part of a wider Israeli government push to annex Palestinian territory and ethnically cleanse areas that have already been annexed by Israel. With the support of the Trump administration in the United States, right-wing Israeli politicians have been emboldened to introduce and promote measures that would result in the Israeli government’s complete annexation of Palestine’s West Bank, which has been under Israeli military rule since 1967 and has lost substantial amounts of land to the construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements supported by the Israeli government. Those efforts prompted the UN to warn last July that Israel’s government was poised to formally annex the West Bank in the coming years.
In addition, within areas already controlled by Israel, the effort to erase Palestinian communities is also picking up steam, as evidenced by the promotion of this new plan to expel 36,000 Palestinians with Israeli citizenship from their homes.
Last year, an Israeli Supreme Court ruling essentially authorized and justified the Israeli government’s demolition of “unrecognized” Palestinian villages after hearing the case of the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar, located east of Jerusalem. That ruling has now set a precedent that critics claimed would allow the Israeli government to “ethnically cleanse” any Palestinian village within its territory, despite the fact that the practice is considered illegal by international law.
A Man on a Mission
It should be no surprise then that Uri Ariel, who drafted this latest plan, is one of the Israeli government’s top proponents of ethnic cleansing of Palestinian-inhabited territories. A member of the far-right Jewish Home party and vocal proponent of illegal settlements, Ariel stated last June that the Israeli government should forcibly annex 60 percent of the West Bank.
This past December, Ariel then stepped up his rhetoric regarding Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab, stating:
I am happy to announce a revolution in the Naqab regarding the illegal construction. The enforcement agencies, together with the proper activities of the Bedouin Settlement Authority according to my instructions, created a new situation in the Negevb: in 2019, we will aspire to zero illegal construction in the Negevb.
We have increased the means of enforcement, we have demonstrated the validity of an attack along with significant land marketing, and we are on the right path to dramatically reduce and later eliminate the illegal takeover of state land in the Naqab. The Naqab will no longer be a no-man’s-land area without governance.”
Ariel reiterated this policy in January, stating that he would implement a “zero tolerance” policy for “illegal” Bedouin construction on Bedouin land, and again accusing Bedouin Palestinians of “taking over” Israeli state land.
A recent Haaretz report found that Ariel has been drafting plans to evict Palestinian Bedouins from their homes since the 1970s. Now, with a top post in Netanyahu’s government, Ariel seems to have finally garnered the power and the political support to make his long-planned push to ethnically cleanse Palestinian communities a reality.
Photo: A Bedouin boy salvages timber after the demolition of his home in the village of al-`Araqib, in 2010. Israeli forces have demolished the village, located near the Palestinian city of Bi’r Sabi` (Beersheba, currently in southern Israel), for the 131st time in June 2017. Source: Tsafrir Abayov/AP.