Israeli government approves massive new evictions in the Naqab

Nazareth – Late last night, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government approved the Prawer Plan Law. This law was passed by the Knesset in 2011 and it legitimizes the displacement, dispossession, and eviction of tens of thousands of Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, while not recognizing their right of ownership of their ancestral land.

The Prawer Plan is presented as a “development plan” for the “improvement of living conditions” for all citizens of the Naqab, but with the mass expulsion of the Bedouin Palestinian citizens at the heart of the proposal.  This approval paves the way for the next Knesset to implement it components, which stipulate the seizure of more than 800,000 dunams of land (about 200,000 acres).  The plan will recognize around 30 unrecognized Bedouin villages, affording the residents the legal right to ownership of their homes, with a land area of around 48,000 dunams (about 12,000 acres), while the rest of their ancestral territory is confiscated.

In effect, the execution of this plan is extortion. The Bedouin are forced to acquiesce in order to win legal ownership over their homes, but in doing so they give up their rights to their land.  Furthermore, the Plan entails a five-year period for the Bedouin to accept the meager compensation or lose their rights to everything. This is basically a warning from the government.  They will begin demolishing all but the recognized villages to make way for the development of Jewish settlements in the Naqab in the next five years and if the Bedouin protest, they will lose what small area they have.

The Prawer Plan was designed and approved without any consultation with the Bedouin indigenous to the Naqab. The head of the Council of Unrecognized Villages responded yesterday, “We want the conditions improved. We don’t accept the outlined proposal. We’re all for regulating the unrecognized villages, but only in cooperation and coordination with the people living in them.”

This most recent decision is disappointing, but not unexpected.  The Prawer Plan has already justified the destruction of many homes in the Naqab.  However, Sunday’s decision marks a significant step forward in the spread of destruction.

The timing of this decision is also suspect.  It comes in the weeks leading up to the formation of a new government (the American equivalent is a president’s lame duck period), but also the day after the High Court of Justice ruled in defense of the Prawer Plan.  It will be difficult for advocacy groups to hold the new government that will form in a few weeks accountable for this abuse committed by its predecessor.

The Arab Association for Human Rights calls on the government to overturn this decision and to uphold the rights of the Bedouin Arabs of the Naqab to their land and their homes. Furthermore, the HRA would like to denounce the clandestine manner in which the ruling was processed.

Mohammad Zeidan, general director of the HRA, responded to the decision, “The Bedouin Arabs have a right to live in the lands they own and should not fear encroachment from Jewish settlements.  It is not right to force an exchange of land for a promise not to destroy homes.  The Bedouin land that is confiscated should not be a viewed merely as potential zone of development; this is the source of the Bedouin lifestyle and their livelihood. It destroys their indigenous way of life and forces them to integrate into a society that does not respect their traditions.  To force this exchange on the Bedouin of the Naqab is to deny them their human rights.”



Declaration of the Arab Association for Human Rights on International Human Rights Day 2012

Nazareth – 24 years ago, the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) was established with the mission to protect and promote the human rights of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.  Today, the condition of human rights inequality in Israel is no less dire.  This past year has seen a gross violation of human rights in the form of Israel’s assault on Gaza, it has seen the Haifa District Court reject the appeal for justice on behalf of the family of Rachel Corrie, and it has seen the upgrade of Palestine’s status in the United Nations to non-member observer. On International Human Rights Day this year, the HRA would like to highlight the major developments in the human rights situation for the Palestinian minority in Israel.

In October, the European Union Parliament voted to pass the ACAA protocol. This trade agreement may set a precedent for further advancement of EU-Israel trade and it represents a significant missed opportunity for the EU to exercise its institutionalized conditionality of human rights concerns in all trade deals.

Over the course of the year, a spate of new legislation, proposed policies, and actions of lawmakers affected the condition of the Palestinian Arab minority’s human rights. In January, the Israeli High Court upheld the “Nakba Law”, which denies funding for any organization that recognizes the “Nakba”. Also in January, the “Prawer Plan” for Bedouin relocation was accepted.  It will force the relocation of 70,000 Bedouin from their lands in the Naqab.  On the 11th of January, the Supreme Court denied the petitions of many human rights organizations to revoke the discriminatory “Citizenship Law” which divides families of Palestinians in Israel. Also in July, MK Michael Ben-Ari published a video of himself ripping a Christian Bible in half; a clear polemic against religious minorities in Israel and an extremely troubling indicator of racism among public officials.

These developments, international and local, are each troubling in their own right; however, the effect on the Jewish Israeli public is much more frightening. As a result of institutional discrimination, the Jewish Israeli population has become polarized and racism has become a mainstream political opinion.  This process was the subject of an illustrative poll taken in September of Jewish Israelis in Tel Aviv. It found that 42% of Jewish Israelis do not want an Arab child learning in the same classroom as their own child, 33% favor legally blocking Palestinian citizens from voting in the Knesset, 59% favor preference for Jews in government hiring, and 42% do not want an Arab family as a neighbor.

With the region as politically and socially tumultuous as ever, this should be an occasion to remember the Human Rights inside Israel as well.  There are some disturbing trends that show no sign of stopping. Looking forward to the challenges we face in the future, the support of the international community will be as important as ever.  This International Human Rights Day, the HRA reaffirms its dedication to the principles of freedom and equality. Our organization will continue advocating Israeli adherence to international humanitarian law and we will continue protecting and promoting the human rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

An Open Letter to Mitt Romney from an American Living in Israel

                      Hello, Governor!

Mr. Romney,

Welcome to Israel!  As an American living here in the Holy Land I am thrilled that you are coming to visit.  Your statisticians surely could tell you this, but I have to say that this visit is quite exciting for people like me.  I’d like to help you out though, because there are some tricky problems here.  I’ve been here a few weeks longer than you and I have some advice you can use.  First order of business: try the hummus, it’s excellent.  The second point is a bit more complicated.  Here goes:

If your campaign messages are to believed, Israelis need to get ready for a return to the halcyon times of strong American-Israeli relations.  You’ve promised a rededication of American spirit (and money) to Israel and better military cooperation.  On your website, you applaud Israel for being a “beacon of Democracy and freedom” and you promise to fight the worldwide “anti-semitic” campaign to delegitimize Israel.  This is an honorable goal. There is a lot of anti-semitism in the world and it is a problem.  What could be better than a strong relationship between two nations equally dedicated to the implicit social contract inherent in any good democracy?  Short of a bucket of orange slices after a peewee football game in the fall or some cheesy grits, not much.  Unfortunately, your website doesn’t stop there.

As you know, the final line on the Romney 2012 website’s “Israel” section reads, “Israel’s existence as a Jewish state is not up for debate”.  My question, on behalf of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel is, Why not? What’s wrong with a good debate between equal players who have a safe forum to express grievances in so doing they may together find some middle ground on their differences.   And heck, you’re pretty good at them.  A debate can also be a forum for ideas. Given the absence of a foreign policy focus in your campaign so far, it seems like you could use some new ideas.

How about this one? The “Prawer Plan”, an Israeli initiative to redistrict the Negev desert is going to cause a mass dislocation of its Arab Bedouin residents.  Up to 70,000 people could lose their ancestral homes. By 1837, only 46,000 Native American Indians had lost their land in the Southeastern United States.  This “Prawer Plan”, which American aid is implicitly sponsoring, represents a tragedy for almost twice as many people as the infamous “Trail of Tears”.  That’s one thought.

Here’s another. I know how much your parents love each other; what if your mom wasn’t allowed to see your dad because he was born in Mexico? This is the case for many Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. These citizens of Israel can’t legally see their husbands and wives just because of their spouse’s nationality.  Of course, to discuss these Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and their lack of the basic human right to raise a family might bring the “debate over Israel’s existence as a Jewish state” to the forefront.  Your advisors will tell you, and they are right, that bringing this up would not be popular with the American public.  You will probably lose a bunch of percentage points against Obama in key swing states, just like they say.  I know you said you wanted to do the opposite of everything Obama has done on this issue, but your advisors are right.  It wouldn’t be a safe move to differentiate yourself here, if your top priority is winning the election at any cost.

But, it would be the right thing to do.

If this is going to be the “American Century” like you say, it is time to rededicate ourselves to the American values that made our country great; freedom, liberty, and justice for all.  That is the American creed and it should be the foundation of any American incursion abroad.  $3 billion of aid flows from the US to Israel every year on the grounds of our shared values and purports to defending the Israeli democracy in the Middle East.  Maybe we could spend some of that political capital to start a conversation about human rights and the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel. That would be a great way to kick off your “American Century”.

Call the next hundred years whatever you want, when you are walking around the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City this weekend, you are going to want try some of that famous hummus. Mr. Romney, should campaign calculus determine the ethnicity or religion of the person who sells it to you? I’m telling you, it’s all delicious.

-Paul Karolyi