PROPERTY BILL EMBARASSED ISRAELIS - AND U.S. MEDIA, TOO
by Prima Soho
American Reporter Correspondent
DALLAS, July 15, 2002 -- No one should be surprised by last weekend's vote of the Israeli Cabinet - with most Labor members absent - in support of a bill that would bar Palestinian citizens of Israel (both Christians and Moslem) from buying houses in Jewish communities and from acquiring parcels of state-owned land. But all Israelis should have been ashamed of themselves -- and apparently enough were that the bill died an ignominious death yesterday, when the Cabinet - with Labor members present - voted 22 to 2 to kill the bill be sending it to committee.
But the practice of allowing only Jews to own certain lands has long been a tenet of Zionist ideology, even if conflicts with the principles of democracy: That tenet holds that once land becomes "Jewish" (even if forcibly consfiscated from non-Jews), it is inalienably "Jewish."
eight days ago the author of the bill, National Religious Party Knesset member Rabbi Haim Druckman, called the cabinet's decision a "victory for Zionism." And Education Minister Limor Livnat, who sponsored the resolution in the cabinet, said that the measure "does not stem at all from discrimination, but from the main tenet of Zionism - the so called return of the Jewish people to its land." But "Pyrrhic" is the most apt phrase for the Cabinet's decision, given the firestorm of criticism it engendered around the world.
Denying that the measure is undemocratic, Livnat said that each communal grouping in Israel should be allowed to live on its own - in other words, in segregated communities. It is the same proposal both black and white separatists sometimes make in America, usually to an overwhelming and contemptuous silence in response.
Less than 10 percent of the land in Israel is privately owned, and most of that was confiscated from non-Jews. Ninety-three percent falls under the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), which either appropriated state lands or expropriated Palestinian property. Israel took this undemocratic course last weekend because the Jewish community owned only a small percentage of the land in the 78 percent of Palestine it captured in 1948.
Although the ILA is bound by law to allocate this land without discriminating on the basis of ethnicity or religion, the fact is that cities that include Palestinian citizens of Israel (18 percent of the Israeli population) have jurisdiction over only 2.5 percent of the land.
Shulamit Aloni, founder of the Citizens Rights Movement in Israel that has become the leftist Meretz Party, summed up the situation by saying that Israel had become a segregationist state by seizing Arab land, designating it as "state land" and ruling that it should be exploited solely by Jews.
This task was accomplished largely by the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund, which are given state land by the ILA for the development of exclusively Jewish communities. While these Zionist organisations have been building small Jewish communities in areas thinly settled by Jews, the government has been squeezing out the Christians and Moslems.
In the Negev, the government has been demolishing "illegal" communities built by Bedouins who are not granted permission to construct houses, a discriminatory practice widely used by the Israeli occupation authorities in the West Bank. Similarly, Jewish communities are being planted in Galilee, where the expansion of Palestinian municipalities is strictly circumscribed. "Illegal" non Jewish constructions are bulldozed, but illegal Jewish structures remain in place.
While the declared purpose of the proposed legislation is to prevent Palestinian citizens from moving into Jewish communities, the adoption of the bill by the Knesset has far greater import for Israel and its inhabitants. It could be used in the medium- to long term, to deprive all of Israel's non-Jewish citizens of all their land rights, already heavily infringed.
It is significant that Labor Party ministers absented themselves from the cabinet session at the time the vote was taken. Labor leader Binyamin Ben-Eliezer claimed that right-wing ministers waited until the Laborites had departed before calling for a vote. But this was no excuse: Labor's ministers had been informed ahead of time that the measure was on the agenda.
Only one Labor member, Ephraim Sneh, voted against the bill the first time around. Indeed, the attitude of Labor towards this racist proposal demonstrates that the party has shifted significantly to the right of the Israeli political spectrum, and that it no longer cares about non-Jewish constituents. One Israeli commentator made the point that since the human rights demonstrations of October 2000, Palestinian citizens of Israel have actually come to be regarded as "the enemy" by many Israelis - a situation that ought to be be familiar to Japanese-Americans who were rounded up and placed in camps while white Americans looted their homes and property during World War II.
Israeli editorialists and commentators have expressed concern that this measure will revive the formulation "Zionism is racism," and that critics will equate Israel with the apartheid state of South African regime before its racist legislation was repealed and democracy given free rein.
In truth, Zionism is, indeed, racism, and Israel has always been a de facto apartheid state. While many Israeli analysts recognize these harsh facts, few are ashamed of them, and Western commentators seem to shut them out altogether. It is interesting to note that many leading papers in the United States and Europe chose to bury or ignore the Israeli cabinet decision: clearly their proprietors and editors do not wish to revive the "Zionism is racism" accusation - even if it deserves airing as much as segregationist policies in the Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) deserved to be exposed.
Occupation, involving the rule of one people over another, always produces a feeling of racial superiority in the mind of the occupier. Meanwhile, Israel continues to expropriate Palestinian land, discriminate against its Palestinian citizens, build Jewish settlements, confine Palestinians to shrinking islets of territory and pass special laws for Palestinian inhabitants of these "bantustans."
Since March, Israel has besieged, blockaded and invaded Palestinian towns and cities, imposed punitive curfews on hundreds of thousands and arrested thousands of Palestinians. The army's actions are supported by a large majority of Israelis who have no feelings for the Palestinians and no comprehension of their sufferings.
Most Israelis simply do not want to know, argues Amira Hass, the Jewish daily Haaretz reporter most conversant with the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. The Meretz Party's Aloni summed up the situation in a few words: "By right of might, we are acting as a racist nation."
Thus, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers abuse, assault and shoot Palestinians with impunity. Recently, five innocent civilians, including three children, were killed by Israeli troops in Jenin because the Palestinians mistakenly rushed into the streets believing the curfew had been lifted. This week, a woman and her two-year-old child driving in a car in Gaza were murdered because Israeli troops thought the "profile" the Palestinians presented was threatening. Although the Israeli army says it investigates such incidents, offending soldiers are never brought to justice.
Israel's right-wing government justifies its behaviour and abuses by claiming the country is waging a "war against terror," which in fact is a campaign to crush Palestinian resistance to the occupation and the Israeli land grab.
Meanwhile, liberal commentators and politicians in the Western world shut their eyes to the unpleasant sights, close their ears to the cries of the victims of Israel's racist policies and practices, and purse their lips to prevent the emergence of comments critical of Israel.
Have they, too, no shame?
Prima Soho, a telecom entrepreneur based in Dallas, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org