There is a straight line connecting the Palestinian village of Sussia in the southern West Bank and Atir/Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin community in the Negev. This was highlighted last week by the justices of the Supreme Court. These are two communities of Palestinians that the Jewish state expelled from their homes and land decades ago, and whose families have lived ever since in “unrecognized” villages in shameful humanitarian conditions, forced on them by the Israeli government. One community settled on its agricultural land and the other in an area that the government moved them to during the early years of the state, when the Arabs citizens were under military rule.
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These are two Palestinian communities that Israel is depriving of their planning rights. Instead, it demands of them to crowd in the pales of settlement it has allotted to them, so Jews can fulfill and rejoice and thrive in their new and expanding suburban fantasies.
The justices have allowed the state to demolish these two Palestinian communities, which are just 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) apart, but are separated by Israel’s 1967 border, the Green Line. On May 4, Justice Noam Sohlberg allowed the state, the Israel Defense Forces and the IDF Civil Administration to demolish Sussia’s tents, tin shacks and livestock pens as they see fit. The community petitioned against the Civil Administration’s decision to reject the master plan it had prepared, and what would be more natural than to stop home demolitions while the hearing of its case was still going on? But without a hearing, Sohlberg rejected the request filed by the community’s representatives – lawyers of Rabbis for Human Rights – for an interim injunction suspending implementation of demolition orders.
The Civil Administration is demanding that the residents of Palestinian Sussia relocate close to the West Bank Palestinian town of Yata, purportedly for their own good. Yata is in Area A, an enclave under the control of the Palestinian Authority. In other words, the CA intends to squeeze Sussia in one of the West Bank’s Bantustans, as it does and intends to do with Bedouin and other Palestinians who live in Area C, under total Israeli control.
In good faith?
Next to the tin shacks of today’s Palestinian Sussia (after the army expelled the residents of their ancient village in 1986 and turned it into an archaeological site where Jews could celebrate), Jewish Susya now wallows in its greenery and abundance. After all, it has to grow and doesn’t want to see Arabs living in shacks and buying water at exorbitant prices from tanker trucks.
Can a judge who permits demolition work to be carried out as an interim step then in good faith consider a petition challenging the residents’ final expulsion? And is it relevant that Sohlberg is a resident of a West Bank Jewish settlement?
It is no more and no less relevant than the fact that the other justices of the Supreme Court and their families, and every other Jewish Israeli (including myself), are entitled at any time to move to a West Bank Jewish settlement, and that they – we – live on the Israeli side of the Green Line in manicured neighborhoods for Jews only and in some instances on land from which Palestinians were expelled 65 years ago or yesterday.
On May 5, two other Supreme Court justices, Elyakim Rubinstein and Neal Hendel, allowed the authorities to demolish the unrecognized village of Atir/Umm al-Hiran. In the face of opposition from their fellow justice, Daphne Barak-Erez, they dismissed a petition filed by the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel that challenged the state’s decision to expel the residents for a second time, from the location to which they were expelled in the 1950s. Go to Hura, the state tells them, and the justices agree – to that Bedouin township that, like similar townships, was designated to condense Bedouins after their primary expulsion from their land. After all, how can we set up expansive farms for Jews and build pioneering communities such as Hiran if we recognize the Bedouin as citizens with rights, history and heritage?
The honorable justices were ingratiating Habayit Hayehudi even before this party was selected as the fox that guards the hen-house – through its appointment of Uri Ariel as the agriculture minister (who is in also in charge of Bedouin affairs) and Eli Ben-Dahan as a deputy defense minister responsible for the Civil Administration (which carries out the expulsion of Palestinians and the settlement of Jews in the West Bank). Don’t worry, you folks at the Jewish Home, we support the right of Jews to disposes Palestinians in Area C and the Negev, so say the judges. We, like you, are in favor of crowding the Arabs into Bantustans.
Even before the Supreme Court justices knew that Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) would be the next justice minister, even before they knew that her mentor, party leader Naftali Bennett, would be entrusted with the education of our children as education minister, they were telling us in a loud voice that the justices’ reputation was not what people feared, that the right wing has unjustly portrayed them as a monster seeking equality and justice. The justices had proven that their image as defenders of human rights, even if those humans were Palestinians or left-wing, had been totally twisted.
Just weeks before, on April 15, they had enthusiastically embraced the Boycott Law. That’s the law through which the right wing is threatening with financial penalties left-wing Israeli dissidents who publicly support sanctions on Israel and a boycott of its institutions and settlement products, as part of the struggle against institutionalized inequality and discrimination.
That very day, the justices endorsed the law that permits Israel to rob land owned by residents of Bethlehem, Beit Sahur, Beit Jala and Abu Dis. The land is where it has always been since before it was annexed to Israeli-ruled Jerusalem. Its owners remain living where they always did – a few kilometers away from their private land. But now the state declares them “absentees”: beyond the separation barrier.
The justices dismissed the petition challenging the application of the Absentee Property Law in their case, thus continuing the tradition from the 1950s. That is when we coined the oxymoron “present absentees” in order to facilitate the demolition of villages and robbery of land of Palestinians that remained, those that we failed to expel.
In the justices’ consent to the demolition of Sussia and Umm al-Hiran, they have drawn a direct line linking 1948 to today. They have confirmed what Israel’s most virulent critics say about the country – that it is a colonialist, dispossessing entity. The justices have parroted what the state has been screaming all along: It’s my right to dispossess, my right to expel, my right to demolish and crowd people into pens. I have demolished and will continue to do so. I have expelled and will continue to expel. I have crowded people in and will continue to do so. I never gave a damn and never will do.