Democractic, as Long as You’re Jewish

Non-Jews enjoy less and less democracy. Just ask the Bedouin of Umm al-Hiran.

Aeyal Gross
Aeyal Gross
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Aeyal Gross
Aeyal Gross

When discussing democracy in Israel, some people seek to distinguish between what happens within the Green Line and what happens beyond it – an undemocratic regime of occupation. They believe the occupation doesn’t weigh on Israel’s democratic character, both because it’s a temporary situation and because it has the distinction of taking place outside the state’s borders.

But the claim of temporariness has steadily eroded as the occupation nears its jubilee, and the claim that the situation is different and distinct from what happens inside the state has been eroding as well, given the similarity of many practices on both sides of the Green Line. This is exemplified by the cases of Susya and Umm al-Hiran.

The government’s decision to settle Jews on the lands of the Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran entails evacuating and demolishing one of the state’s “unrecognized” villages – communities that, despite being inhabited by citizens of the state, have no master plan, and whose residents don’t receive basic services like water and sewage. Some of these unrecognized villages have existed since before the state was established, and some are the result of the expulsion of Bedouin citizens from their lands. Israel’s military government expelled Umm al-Hiran’s residents from their original village in 1956 and relocated them to the Nahal Yatir region.

In the public discourse, the Bedouin are portrayed as invaders of state lands. But in fact, the state is the one that invaded their lands, or expelled them from these lands. Now, it’s seeking to expel them from the place to which they were expelled, in order to establish a Jewish town whose planning procedures ignored the Bedouin. The picture is clear: An Arab community will be razed and its residents evacuated, for the sake of establishing a Jewish community. One must hope the Supreme Court, which discussed the issue this week, will not lend a hand to this injustice.

A few dozen kilometers from Umm al-Hiran, a similar scenario is expected to take place: The Palestinian village of Susya – in which some 300 people live, also without water or electricity – is liable to be destroyed as well, since the master plan it filed was rejected and the state has decided to issue demolition orders against its buildings. Umm al-Hiran’s residents are being told to relocate to Hura, while Susya’s residents are being told to move to the nearby city of Yatta.

Residents of Susya have already been expelled from their lands twice, and now, the state is seeking to demolish their current place of residence. They are the victims of Israel’s discriminatory planning policy in the territories, and their case, too, is expected to reach the Supreme Court soon.

Umm al-Hiran and Susya are two similar stories: State agencies and Jewish settlement organizations working together to evict and destroy entire villages via discriminatory planning policies, for the sake of ensuring contiguous Jewish settlement. One of these villages is located within the Green Line, and its residents are citizens of the state. The other is located in the territories, and its residents are Palestinians living under occupation. But the scripts are similar, and they show that the distinction between democracy inside the Green Line and occupation outside it is invalid.

The policy of Judaizing the land, even when it means dispossessing non-Jews of their land, is in force on both sides of the Green Line. This is the story of Israel as an ethnocracy, in which ethnic affiliation is more important than citizenship or political borders.

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