At the most general level, however, ethnic cleansing can be understood as the expulsion of an "undesirable" population from a given territory due to religious or ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or ideological considerations, or a combination of these.
Many domestic apologists for the Israeli system of "hafrada," or separation/apartheid, point to the existence of "Israeli Arabs" as proof that the Jewish state cannot be compared to the South African policy of racial and ethnic segregation. There is a kernel of truth to this criticism of the apartheid label; after all, approximately twenty percent of the Jewish state's population is ethnically Arab, including Muslims, Christians and Druze citizens. In theory, they are afforded "all" of the rights granted to Israel's Jewish citizens. In practice, they are routinely denied the full benefits of citizenship, and often targeted by the state for special abuse. As was the case today, when Al Jazeera and other outlets reported that 300 Israeli Bedouins witnessed their homes destroyed by Israeli police, pursuant to a court order that is over ten years old:
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld confirmed the early-morning operation, saying the homes had been "illegally built" and were destroyed in line with a court ruling issued 11 years ago which was never implemented.
"Around 30 shacks were removed and several hundred people were taken back to the Rahat area where they originally came from," he said, referring to a nearby Bedouin town in Israel's arid south.
He said three people had been detained for questioning but were later released without charge.
The ethnic cleansing and mistreatment of Israel's indigenous Arab population has been documented by international human rights organizations for years. In 2008, Human Rights Watch reported that the Bedouin were victims of "systemic bias" at the hands of the State of Israel:
Israel should declare an immediate moratorium on demolitions of Bedouin homes and create an independent commission to investigate pervasive land and housing discrimination against its Bedouin citizens in the Negev, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.
The 130-page report, "Off the Map: Land and Housing Rights Violations in Israel’s Unrecognized Bedouin Villages," documents how discriminatory Israeli laws and practices force tens of thousands of Bedouin in the south of Israel to live in "unrecognized" shanty towns where they are under constant threat of seeing their homes demolished and their communities torn apart.
Human Rights Watch based its findings on interviews conducted in 13 unrecognized Bedouin villages and three government-planned Bedouin townships in the Negev. It interviewed dozens of Bedouin residents, as well as activists, community organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academics, and lawyers in Israel. Human Rights Watch submitted a detailed letter to the government in 2007 with preliminary findings and questions, and incorporated relevant information from the Ministry of Justice’s response into the report.
And let there be no doubt, this ethnic purification is being done at the behest of the highest levels of Israel's government:
Although the international spotlight has long been directed at the harsh measures being taken against Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, few observers outside Israel have noticed the threatening mood developing in the Negev, as the government plans a potentially violent assault on the rights of its Bedouin citizens.
In late June, some 23 members of the Abu Elkian tribe, mostly women and children who were not at work, were injured when paramilitary police forces entered the village to demolish seven homes, including that of Raed's 90-year-old grandfather, Moussa Abu Elkian. On the same day, another member of the tribe, a 24-year-old teacher, Youssef Abu Elkian, was mistakenly shot in the shoulder by the army in a separate incident.
The harsh measures being taken against the Abu Elkian tribe are being repeated across the Negev against other Bedouin villagers, as the state begins implementing a scheme, known as the Negev Development Plan, personally devised by the prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
The "ambitious" development plan is designed to "make the desert bloom," at the expense of its indigenous inhabitants, none of whom are mentioned in the glowing Jewish National Fund press releases:
Taking in the crowd of young families, children, members of the Regional Council, and representatives of JNF, he said: "Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, was the man behind the modern vision of developing the Negev Desert. His passion and foresight are what brought you all here today. I am honored to be part of the team that will take Givot Bar and the Negev to the next level."
Development of the Negev Desert -- 60% of Israel's landmass but home to only 8% of its population -- is vital for the future of the country. Blueprint Negev, JNF's $600 million campaign to develop the region, will lead to a 70% growth in the Negev's population, close the existing economic and educational gaps, reduce the unemployment rate, enhance quality of life for all residents, and build a stronger Israel.
The plan, which includes a government investment of over $4 billion, non-profit investment of $600 million, and private investment of $2.5 billion, includes infrastructure; housing loans and incentives; education; employment opportunities; tourism; partnerships; bolstering existing towns; the military; building new communities; creating opportunities for the Bedouin; safeguarding the environment; and water.
It is important to remember that from 1949 until 1966, the Bedouin lived under a military occupation and were considered "guests" of Israel, not full citizens. During that time, Israel's government units passed several laws enabling Jewish confiscation of Arab lands. Before the state graced these Arabs with citizenship, it devised a scheme that would prove to be a major obstacle to their continued possession, use and enjoyment of their territory:
The 1965 Planning and Building Law, examined in greater detail in Chapter V, created a hierarchy of planning bodies that drew up master plans at the national, district and local level. The first Israeli master plans in the late 1960s identified existing and projected built-up areas in every part of Israel. The authorities did not acknowledge
the existence of the populated Bedouin villages on the original master plans and zoned their land as agricultural. As a result, although six villages have subsequently been recognized (see below), most of these still do not have a detailed outline plan and thus cannot receive permits to build.
In addition, none of the still unrecognized villages (39 in total) can apply for and receive permits to build, and all the structures, even those existing before passage of the 1965 law, the state deems illegal. Another section of the 1965 Law holds that unlicensed buildings cannot be connected to utilities such as water, electricity, or telephone networks, thus leaving all the homes in the unrecognized villages without these basic state services. Finally, the law also allowed for the confiscation of land for public purposes, which led to another round of state confiscation of Bedouin land in the Negev, including the land that the state used to build the first government-planned Bedouin townships as well as land later used to build Jewish towns and other state projects.
It is important to remember that in Israel, legal remedies for Arabs are paper thin, even after Justice Aharon Barak's 1995 "constitutional revolution." In practice, this has not resulted in the invalidation of Knesset legislation, but has given the Israeli Supreme Court the powerful tool of judicial review, including the construction of statutes and ordinances enacted by various government bodies. In any event, the guarantee of due process afforded to Arabs by the Court has largely proven to be a fig leaf, as the Knesset routinely votes to extend the "Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law," which restricts family unification for "Israeli Arabs" or, as they are known outside of the Jewish state, Palestinians. Even if Israel's Supreme Court acted as a true guardian of individual rights and stood up to the emergent security and apartheid state, the Basic Law can be amended and modified by a legislative majority, as long as the Knesset follows some elementary formalities.
There is another, excellent diary up today on this subject. It is worth pointing out that the development projects in the Negev receive substantial support from American private donors. Even American attorneys are encouraged to support the JNF's "development" work, and the Fund makes it easy to see just how far your donations will go, and what your income and tax benefits will be.
What makes this development striking is that it puts the true face of Israel, including its discriminatory practices and policies behind the so-called "Green Line" representing the 1949 armistice lines established between Israel and its neighbors, on public trial. If by "Jewish democracy" the State of Israel's defenders here in the United States mean "democracy for Jews," that is what the emerging state of Israel is becoming: a full fledged ethnocracy with which the US, a nation that supposedly rejects ethnocentrism and racism as inherently evil, enjoys a "special relationship."
"The only democracy," indeed.