From the streets of Jerusalem to the desert of the Naqab, Israel’s drive to snatch Palestinian land is sparking new battles between protesters and the state.
In the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah—where last year’s Palestinian uprising began—Israel forced a family out onto the streets then demolished their home.
And in the Naqab desert—known by Israel as the Negev—thousands of Palestinian Bedouins fight heroically to stop Israel forcing them from their land.
At 3am on a cold, wet January morning, Israeli counter terrorism and riot cops stormed the house of the Salhiya family in Jerusalem last week. After arresting five of the family, the cops evicted the rest of the large household.
Then they bulldozed the building, leaving the Salhiyas with nothing. It was an abrupt, violent end to a decades long struggle by the Salhiyas to stay in the home they’d lived in since 1948.
“My father was asleep when they took him. They didn’t let him put a jacket or shoes on,” Yasmin Salhiya told the Middle East Eye website. “They separated everyone that was there and started beating the young men before detaining them in the jeeps and taking them away.
Meanwhile in the Naqab, just a few miles south, more Israeli cops have used rubber bullets and teargas-dropping drones on protesters. They have arrested at least 140 people there in the past month—almost half of them children.
Israel wants to get rid of entire Bedouin villages there so that it might build new military and industrial infrastructure there, and grow the Israeli population. And it has enlisted the help of the Jewish National Fund (JNF)—a charity with close ties to the state.
It funds the building of new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. And through innocuous sounding tree planting projects, it takes hold of and transforms Palestinians’ land, erasing their presence.
When the JNF began planting trees on land Bedouins use for farming, thousands of Palestinians marched to stop it.
In both cases, Israel is using the discriminatory laws that form the fabric of its system of apartheid and force Palestinians from their land.
In Jerusalem, the Salhiyas are victims of the “absentee law,” which allows the state to confiscate the land of Palestinians who fled when Israel was created in 1948.
In the Naqab, Israel says the Bedouin villages are simply “unrecognised” settlements on state land. By denying Palestinians the right to live where they want, the state hopes to push them into ever smaller enclaves.
So, in both cases, there’s also a direct link to the Nakba—the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 that Israel was built on.
The Salihyas actually arrived in Sheikh Jarrah in 1948, after fleeing their home in the west of Jerusalem.
But Israel says the house is on land that once belonged to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem—and that it took the right to confiscate it after invading east Jerusalem in 1967.
So, as Human Rights Watch put it, the Salhiyas’ eviction “turned them into refugees twice.”
In the Naqab Israel demolished Palestinian villages in 1948—erasing any trace of them—as part of its efforts to ensure Palestinians would be a minority in the new state.
Now the JNF says explicitly that its goal is to establish a stronger Israeli presence in the desert.
On the JNF’s website introducing its Negev blueprint, it outlines a plan to settle 500,000 people from elsewhere in the region.
“The Negev Desert represents 60 percent of Israel’s landmass but is home to just 8 percent of the country’s population,” it wrote. “And in those lopsided numbers, we see an unprecedented opportunity for growth.”
That’s why the Palestinians in both Jerusalem and the Naqab see their battles as part of a long struggle against ethnic cleansing.
“We will go back to our home. No matter what they do to us, we will go back,” said Yasmin. “Our message to everyone is stay in your homes. Don’t leave it. Don’t sell it. We’re losing Palestine bit by bit.”
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