Prawer Plan is symptomatic of wider system of racism in Israel: An evening with Noura Mansour

You can listen to an audio recording of Noura’s talk (in English with consecutive Korean translation) here.

Noura Mansour is a highschool teacher in Acre near the northwestern coastal city of Haifa. She is also a member of the National Democratic Assembly (Tajamoa Party) which currently has three representatives in the Knesset, offering perhaps the strongest voice for Palestinians inside Israel’s political process. Her ability as a debating instructor brought her to Korea with other international debating trainers to work with young Koreans. It also gave us the opportunity to invite her to hear from her about her own personal experiences as a Palestinian living inside Israel and Israel’s plan to forcibly evict tens of thousands of Bedouins from their homes in the Naqab (Negev). Palestine Peace & Solidarity’s very own Sarah helped out by providing interpretation for our Korean speaking audience.

Noura Mansour before her talk at fair trade Cafe Tripti on Tuesday, August 6.
Noura Mansour before her talk at fair trade Cafe Tripti on Tuesday, August 6.

She told us that the Israeli state has always treated the Palestinian minority to which she belongs with suspicion and mistrust. After 1948, Israel imposed a military regime which lasted for two decades, coming to an end in the early 1970s. The regime imposed military rule only on certain geographic areas which were mostly populated by Palestinians. She reminded us that Palestinians have not still forgotten the massacres committed by the Israeli military forces against their communities.

Following the military regime, Israel began to carry out a number of land confiscations, forcibly expelling many Palestinians living in Israel from their land. This continues today and the latest chapter is the so-called Prawer Plan which aims to expel tens of thousands of Bedouin communities from their homes and lands in the Naqab Desert (a subject to which we will return).

Having has lived her life as part of the Palestinian minority of Israel, often referred to as Palestinian citizens of Israel, she told us that she is constantly reminded that she remains in the land that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from in 1948. Palestinians today make up some 20% of the total population of Israel but face many obstacles and forms of discrimination. Part of this systematized discrimination includes separate schools for Palestinians and Jews.

Anti-Arab racism is common and many village councils actively encourage the Judiazation of their communities – the promotion of racially exclusive communities which of course entails the exclusion of Arab inhabitants – in the name of ‘cultural cohesiveness’. Another sign of what I will refer to as the deepening of apartheid with moves such as the potential passing of the so-called governability law which aims to force out minority parties such as Balad out of the Knesset by raising the voting threshold from 2% to 4%.

An engaged audience learning about what it is like to be Palestinian living inside Israel.
An engaged audience learning about what it is like to be Palestinian living inside Israel.

Every Palestinian has her or his own painful stories to tell. Noura discussed what is was like to lose her childhood friend during the Second Intifada who was executed by a gunshot to the back of his neck after tripping and falling to the ground while being chased by Israeli soldiers. She also discussed the time her father was attacked by angry neighbors after he raised the Palestinian flag in solidarity with his fellow Palestinians in the occupied territories during the First Intifada. The freedom to raise one’s flag, a simple act that many people take for granted, has a very different meaning to Palestinians, especially given that it is illegal to do so inside Israel.

While forced evictions and home demolitions are commonplace in occupied East Jerusalem and other areas of Palestine today, the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands inside Israel also has a long history. The latest chapter is the so-called Prawer Plan to expel tens of thousands, some estimates suggest up to 70,0000 Bedouin Arabs from their homes and lands in the Naqab (Negev) Desert. Noura has taken part in demonstrations inside Israel against this plan and discussed its history and the implications if it is to be fully carried out.

If it goes through, which is a likely possibility with only one more reading to pass through the Knesset, the plan will forcibly displace at least 30,000 Arab Bedouins from upwards of 35 villages and now perhaps as many as 50. These villages are considered ‘unrecognized villages’ by Israel and the state prevents them from accessing water, electricity and other basic necessities. One village, al-‘Araqib, has been demolished more than 50 times in the last two years but has rebuilt itself again each time. Essentially, the plan would see these communities forcibly resettled in established villages within 1% of the Naqab. It is believed that the emptied land will then be used for Jewish-only settlements and some is already marked out for the development of national parks.

The Prawer Plan, which has been condemned by the UN high commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pilay, Amnesty International and others, has two main components: ownership claims and compensation and planning arrangements. Ownership can be proven only by the holding of a deed to the land dating back to before 1979 and compensation will be set by law at about 50% of the value of the land and will not be subject to negotiation, meaning there will be no appeal process. There are some other rather strange clauses including a stipulation that in order for compensation to be applicable, the land must not exceed a 13 degree incline and must be productive agricultural land. Noura asked us to consider for a moment the fact that this land is all in the middle of the desert! The second component, planning arrangements, refers to the relocation plan, which would involve all 35 plus villages being resettled in a seven pre-existing villages.

prawer-english

Noura finished her talk with a question and answer session and the audience was deeply engaged and clearly moved by her talk. Sadly, she told us at the end that she is unable to get this kind of receptive audience and support back home. Palestine Peace & Solidarity was extremely grateful that she was able to spend the evening with us and share her personal experiences and also bring everyone up to speed on Israel’s plans to ethnically cleanse the Naqab. We hope that many were and will be moved to take action.

Click here to take action to demand the Prawer Plan is stopped! Please also help by spreading the word and sharing this post.

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Ethnic cleansing continues but so does the global BDS movement

Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to push for a referendum to consult Israelis about whether they would support any future peace deal with Palestinians. One wonders whether the democratic right to be consulted about the future of the military occupation which is being granted to the inhabitants of the occupying power will be extended to those living under occupation.

Carlos Latuff, 2009.
Carlos Latuff, 2009.

It is worth pondering what any possible peace negotiations might involve outside of further entrenching the military occupation and expanding Jewish-only settlements – which now house 500,000 illegal settlers. As has long been true, the removal of illegal settlements and settlers remains the startng point of any real negotiations. But settlement expansion continues apace, and perhaps even at an unprecedented rate if Peace Now is accurate in claiming that 1,500 new housing units have been approved for construction in the occupied territories by the new government since March.

Israel’s Prawer Plan which aims to empty the Naqab (Negev) desert of southern Israel of its Bedouin inhabitants passed in September 2011 without any consultation with those people it aims to displace. This campaign has been recognized for what it is by many – a clear case of ethnic cleansing in which the Bedouin population will be shoved into 1% of the land of the Naqab – not least the tens of thousands Bedouin inhabitants of those 35 villages earmarked for demolition under the plan.

One village which is not giving up without a fight is that of Al-Araqib which has been demolished and (rebuilt) 52 times in the past two years. It is not with a light heart that many are now referring to this planned mass eviction and expulsion as a second Nakba or tragedy.

Israel’s apartheid regime does not only discriminate against Palestinians. In a bid to reduce the number of African migrants in its borders, Israel is making agreements to trade humans for weapons and military training. This means that Israel is willing to send asylum seekers back to those regimes from which asylum is being sought in addition to bolstering them with arms. The mind boggles. Yet given the normalization of the exclusion of Palestinians from Israeli society and expulsion from their land even when under military occupation, this can be understood as a natural development in a state embracing racism as its modus operandi.

There has been some positive news. The European Union has taken steps to further recognize the illegitimacy of Israel’s colonial military occupation of  Palestinian territory and illegal settlements. According to new funding guidelines, Israeli ministries, public bodies and businesses operating inside the occupied territories will be ineligible for hundreds of millions of Euros in annual loans from the European Investment Bank and grants and prizes will no longer be awarded to any Israeli entities carrying out activities in the occupied territories. The guidelines do not amount to a complete ban on funding, though, as companies like Ahava who are registered to an address inside Israel but carry out most of their business inside the occupied territories, will still be able to apply for research funding for research carried out inside Israel. Nonetheless, the move is being described as a major step forward by the global Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Carlos Latuff. 2007.
Carlos Latuff. 2007.

There is real evidence that the global BDS movement is making headway. More and more Israeli’s are answering the call of Palestinian civil society for an effective boycott movement as the best possible nonviolent route to an end to occupation and justice for Palestinians. These voices are important and one can only hope that, like in South Africa, they will grow from the inside as they grow around the world. The following are words from Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:

“It’s difficult and painful, almost impossibly so, for an Israeli who has lived his whole life here, who has not boycotted it, who has never considered emigrating and feels connected to this country with all his being, to call for such a boycott. I have never done so. I have understood what motivated the boycott and was able to provide justification for such motives. But I never preached for others to take such a step. However, with Israel getting itself into another round of deep stalemate, both diplomatic and ideological, the call for a boycott is required as the last refuge of a patriot.”

The Unending Nakba – 65 Years is Enough!

Today marks 65 years since the beginning of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in which over 750,000 of its Palestinian inhabitants were driven from their homes and land, Palestinians whose familes had lived there for generation after generation. The Nakba or Catastrophe continues with the ongoing Israeli military occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the illegal siege of Gaza that continues to strangle its people.

This graphic from Visualizing Palestine offers a visual representation of displacement, dislocation and loss of homeland through the forced exile of Palestinians.

Disappearing Palestine

As this Al Jazeera documentary shows, the plan to cleanse the land of its Arab inhabitants goes back at least to a conquering and war hungry Napolean but took shape through the Zionist project with British colonial support involving Jewish militias and terror groups.

The massacre at Deir Yassen is the most well known symptom of this violent history but the loss of Palestinian culture and heritage through the organized robbery of Palestinian books is violence of another form. As this excellent documentary from Al Jazeera shows, the fact that these books remain inside Israel in a library that most Palestinians cannot visit is symbolic of the ongoing Nakba.

A commemoration of a tragic event that is still unwinding in military occupation and apartheid must be fuled by tears, but there are many sources of strength and hope. It is to the struggle of some of the most oppressed people on the planet we share that we must turn our attention also. As sweat next to tears, the cries of resistance are as deep as the wounds. Here is a collection of poems read aloud in his own voice by Palestine’s late national poet Mahmoud Darwish to the music of Le Trio Joubran.

“If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them, Their Oil would become Tears.”  – Marmoud Darwish

And, finally, here is a selection from Fatma Kassem’s 2011 book, Palestinian Women: Narrative histories and gendered memory (Zed Books) in which she tells the story of the ongoing Nakba through the lived herstories of Palestinian women now living inside the State of Israel on what was once Palestinian land.  I shall let the author describe in her own words which are taken from the opening lines of her book:
“This book traces and documents the gendered memory and narrative histories of a group of ordinary urban Palestinian women who witnessed the events of 1948, when the State of Israel was founded. Importantly, these women have all remained on their homeland after it subsequently became Israel, the Jewish state. Told in their own words, these women’s experiences serve as a window for examining the complex intersections of gender, history, memory, nationalism and citizenship in a situation of ongoing colonization and violent conflict between Palestinians and the Zionist State of Israel. Known in the Palestinian discourse of nationalism as the Nakba, or the Catastrophe, this event and those that have followed since 1948 still exert a powerful influence on the present-day lives of these women – as women, as members of the broader Palestinian community to which they belong and as Israeli citizens. Examined from a sociological perspective, the unique experiences of these Palestinian women from the margins can shed more light on the multiple continuing effects of the Nakba.”

The Nakba must end. Palestinians will be free. Until then, those of us with the freedom to raise our voices against injustice must.

Right to Return – and Resist: PPS film screening solidarity night

To commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Palestinian Catastrophe (al Nakba) in which over 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948 in what amounted to an ethnic cleansing of their land by armed Israeli forces, Palestine Peace & Solidarity in South Korea held a screening of Paradise Now in our office in Hapjeong, Seoul on Monday, May 13 (two days ahead of Nakba Day). 

Our event was held as part of a number of events organized by the Asian Peoples’ Solidarity for Palestine (APSP) which includes public conferences, rallies, exhibitions, seminars and other events in a number of locations across the region including 15 cities in Afghanistan, India, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and South Korea. This regional initiative is a part of the “Global Campaign to Return to Palestine” organized by members of the network to address the issue of the right of return for the millions of refugees who remain unable to return to their family homes.

The film depicts the story of two Palestinian friends living in the West Bank who volunteer to take part in a suicide attack inside Israel. The story addresses the issues of violence and nonviolence, hope and hopelessness in the ongoing Palestinian struggle under Israeli military occupation. The film screening was followed by a group discussion about different forms of resistance and the meaning of the ongoing daily Nakba for Palestinians and we shared some Arabic salad and hummus and flatbreads together. Thank you to all those who attended and for your patience and interesting input into our discussion.