- Amos Gvirtz, who was my generous host in his home at Kibbutz Shefayim two years ago, sends out a short weekly report on some current rights outrage committed by the government of Israel, under the title “Don’t say you didn’t know”. His latest email is longer than usual and comes with a short but heartfelt letter at the top:
I wrote this article after 9 of us were arrested when we tried to rebuild the homes of El-Arakib after the entire village was demolished again. This time the police arrived again and arrested 4 people from El-Arakib and 5 human rights activists that tried to help them to rebuild their homes. One human rights activist was arrested earlier that day.
I wish you could ask your Foreign ministers to intervene in this grave human rights violation by the Israeli government against defenseless citizens whose only crime is that they are Bedouins in the Jewish state. I wish you ask them to check the racist role of the JNF in this case.
All the best to you and thank you!
- Gvirtz’s report deals with a long-running campaign by “Bedouins”, who are transhumant Palestinian Arabs who are supposedly “full” citizens of the State of Israel (as opposed to mere “residents” of the OPTs)… to resist having their homes torn down by the Israeli authorities.
Here it is:
Martin Luther King Junior and the Struggle of the Bedouins
By Amos Gvirtz
On Monday January 17, 2011, America celebrated Martin Luther King Junior Day. In the 1960s King led a non-violent struggle against the racial segregation in the southern states. He was arrested many times during the course of this struggle for breaking the laws of those states. Nevertheless, his birthday was declared a national holiday in the U.S. – and this during the term of a right-wing president, Ronald Reagan.
How is it possible that the birthday of a serial criminal has become a national holiday? The difference between King and other criminals is that the latter break laws which are intended to protect all citizens, while Martin Luther King Junior broke laws which discriminated against some of the citizens – deplorable racist laws.
On Monday January 17, 2011, representatives of the State of Israel, accompanied by a large police force, destroyed the Bedouin village El-Arakib for the 10th time. They then proceeded to clear away the rubble in preparation for the planting of a forest by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) on the village land! That same day the police arrested 10 people at the site, residents of the village and human rights activists who protested against the state’s reprehensible act.
All the Bedouin tribes living on their lands in the area of El-Arakib were evacuated by the state in the early 1950s. They were not evacuated in the heat of battle in 1948, but by a political decision! The authorities notified the Bedouin that the army needed the area for military maneuvers, and promised that they would be allowed to return to their lands in six months. They broke their promise and instead, in 1953, passed the Land Acquisition Law which allowed the state to take over the Bedouin lands – a clear case of land embezzlement by means of legislation!
The state transferred the majority of the Bedouin who were evacuated from their lands in the 1950s to the Sayag area, between Beer-Sheba, Dimona, Arad and the corridor to the Kama Junction. As if this were not enough, in 1965 the Knesset passed the Planning and Building Law which, among other things, prohibited building in the Sayag area. In one stroke this legislation turned all the Bedouin villages in the area into unrecognized villages which were prohibited from building! The very government that had uprooted the Bedouins from their lands and homes and transferred them to another area, now declared that they were trespassers in this area, and as such were forbidden to build homes and to receive water, electricity and services from the state!
The state had created a situation in which its laws were in conflict with morality! A situation in which an honest person had to decide whether to be moral and break the laws, or immoral and accept them!
In the early 1970s the state allowed the Bedouin to submit ownership claims to their lands, and thousands did so. Instead of checking each individual claim, as the Ottoman and British regimes had done, in a political decision the state rejected the ownership claims, thereby robbing the Bedouin of their remaining lands.
The problem is aggravated when the Bedouin are unwilling to accept this highway robbery. Then the state punishes them: demolishing their houses, destroying their agricultural crops, demolishing entire villages, and so forth.
If, God forbid, the Iranian government started to demolish the homes of Jews, all of us would protest against the criminal acts of the Iranian government! But when the government of Israel systematically destroys the homes of Bedouins, whose only crime was being born Bedouin in a Jewish state, only a few of us go out and protest. Sometimes these protesters are arrested by the police.
If, God forbid, the French government started to concentrate the Jews in townships, all of us would go out and protest against the despicable policy of the French government! But here in Israel, when the government concentrates the Bedouins in townships, in order to steal their remaining lands, politicians dare to claim that they are doing it from concern for their welfare! And too few of us understand what the protest is all about.
Criminal law deals with the prevention of acts which are for the most part immoral. In contrast, land laws and planning and building laws are policy laws. When this policy discriminates against people whose only crime is not belonging to the right ethnic group, then this policy is racist and the laws supporting it are racist. It is our obligation to struggle for their abolition! That is what Martin Luther King Junior did in the United States, and it is what human rights organizations are attempting to do here in Israel.