“We have found a creative solution to the problem like they do in the settlements. We have copied them, what’s the problem?“ said Yair Maayan, head of the Authority for Bedouin development in the Negev, who lives in the settlement of Nokdim. He was speaking during a recent episode of the television show “Hamakor” (“The Source”) about the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran. This off-hand statement revealed some of the methods of the project for Judaizing the Negev, which the government has promoted for years while severely harming the Bedouin citizens.
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In addition, the statement reveals another, deeper process, one that creates a new reality between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and which can be described as a "reverse annexation": The leadership of the settlers, their organizations and supporters have had enough of the never-ending Israeli debate over annexing the territories, and enough of evasive responses and the lack of action on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. So instead of waiting, they have started annexing Israel to the settlements.
They want, in practice, to erase the Green Line – but only for Jews, leaving the Palestinians without political, legal or economic rights in the Israeli regime that controls their lives. In doing so they are acting to turn today’s quiet colonial apartheid into an open, formal apartheid regime. The move is advancing on three main fronts: policy, legal and public discourse.
On the policy front, government actions common in the territories have been spilling over into Israel for years, led by settlers in key policy positions or their supporting circles. The most prominent is the violence against Bedouin citizens in the south, including a record number of over 1,000 home demolitions a year (a much higher figure than in the West Bank). At the same time Israel has nullified the Bedouin demands for land in a manner similar to the way it treats landowners in the West Bank.
At the same time, as in the West Bank, Israel is establishing new settlements for Jews only, led by the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, a body that was previously allowed to operate only in the territories. It is also using practices imported from the West Bank, the settlement of more than 70 religious “core” groups around the country and particularly in development towns and Arab neighborhoods in cities such as Jaffa and Acre. Similarly, dozens of individual farms illegally built by Jews have been “whitewashed,” in other words legalized, just like the illegal outposts in the West Bank.
On the legal front, the most prominent example is the law to retroactively expropriate land (known as the "Regulization Law"), which was promoted by the settlers’ representatives and for the first time will officially apply Israeli legislation to an area over the Green Line. This practice has been used for years in an unofficial manner, or through the fiction of orders issued by the military commander in the West Bank, but the settlers have bent the arm of the ruling coalition to make this process formal and official.
In addition, the proposed Jewish Nation-State Law also includes giving Jews formal legal preference, which will provide the settlers living outside the Green Line with a superior civil status over Arab citizens residing inside sovereign Israel.
Other steps promoted to speed up the annexation include legalizing unauthorized outposts, the continued registration of Palestinian agricultural land as state-owned land, recognition by the Council of Higher Education of Ariel University and extending Israeli criminal law and basic laws on Jews in the West Bank – but not on Palestinians. In addition, the IDF units responsible for the territories are staffed by a growing numbers of settlers. All are steps promoted strongly by settlers, with a structural effect on "bringing the state" into their fold.
This reverse annexation was highly conspicuous when on the jubilee anniversary of the Six-Day War in 1967, all Knesset committees held special sessions, co-organized' with the Yesha Council of Jewish Settlers, to mark 50 years since the “liberation” of the territories. Here the settlers' leadership was dictating the formal celebration of the victory in that war, as part of subjecting state institutions to their agenda.
The third front, public discourse, has witnessed, a campaign of intimidation and silencing against the opponents of colonialization and annexation. Here the activities of the right-wing organizations, such as Regavim, Im Tirtzu, the Institute for Zionist Strategies and Academia Monitor stand out. The campaign includes a consistent attack on human rights organizations, and never-ending efforts to silence critical university faculty members and researchers, including the recent "code of ethnics" promoted by Naftali Bennett, who wishes to set up supervisory committees on campuses and prevent professors from dealing with political issues.
As part of the campaign, activists who oppose the occupation, including some of the most important Jewish intellectuals in the world such as Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, have been prevented from entering Israel. These silencing efforts have reached the art world too, with attempts to cancel plays and projects dealing with the occupation and oppression of Palestinians.
It is easy to understand the actions of the settlers, who want to advance their long-term goals. It is harder to understand the silent majority in Israel, which accounts for over 90 percent of the population, who accepts the process apathetically.
Philosopher Antonio Gramsci labeled this phenomenon "the passive revolution." He observed how most intellectuals and middle classes tend to quietly accept new frameworks of power. In Italy, this entailed accepting the onset of wild capitalism and destructive fascism. By their passivity and tendency to support the agenda of aggressive groups, they allowed a revolution that turned Italy into a dictatorship with devastating consequences.
Will the Israeli majority wake up and prevent this reverse annexation and the deterioration into apartheid? Will we reach the day when a Palestinian state arises and Yair Maayan will no longer be able to say with a wink that we have copied the colonial politics from the West Bank inside of Israel? There is no time like the jubilee to begin the decolonization of the Palestinian areas. Otherwise, as acutely observed recently by author David Grossman – "the question mark hanging over the settlements will increasingly shift to hang over the entire Israeli state."
Prof. Yiftachel teaches political geography and urban planning in Beersheba.