Jesse Rosenfeld
The National
August 20, 2010 - 12:00am

It has been just over a year since Israeli settlers backed by the courts began evicting and taking over the homes of Palestinian families in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem. In response, neighbourhood residents have been joined by Israeli and international activists in weekly demonstrations, inspired by the protests against Israel’s Wall in the West Bank towns of Bi’lin and Ni’lin.

As Sheikh Jarrah’s struggle has brought together a diversity of groups, local community participation has been steadily decreasing. Yet, spanning both sides of the Green Line, Palestinian and Arab residents have a commonality in losing their homes at the hands of the Israelis.

In the occupied West Bank, Israel has continued its policy of knocking down Palestinian homes for which the military administration or Jerusalem municipality (in the case of East Jerusalem) has not granted permits. The family members of those suspected of being part of the resistance continue to be collectively punished by the army through the destruction of their homes.

In the Palestinian and mixed cities inside Israel, in which the Palestinian residents are Israeli citizens, large Israeli development companies have been working alongside local municipalities to build exclusively Jewish housing in the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods. At the same time, Palestinian residents are being systematically denied building and maintenance permits in a bid to pressure them to leave their homes.

And in the Negev desert, police backed by court orders recently demolished and evicted an entire Bedouin village, making way for the Jewish National Fund to continue planting its “Ambassador Park” forest. The police returned a week later and then twice more to demolish the tents and beginnings of reconstructed homes that villagers built on their land to which they have deeds dating back to the Ottoman Empire.

What happened at Sheik Jarrah last year has galvanised opposition against displacement of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians living in the West Bank, and bedouins living in the desert. Marking the anniversary of the beginning of the resistance to their eviction, demonstrations were held on both sides of the Green Line, including solidarity protests in Palestinian and mixed cities from Taibeh in Israel’s north, to Be’er Sheva in the south.

Nasser Ghawi, an evicted community member and organiser from Sheik Jarrah, told me at one demonstration last month why he has been travelling to the Negev to help organise.

“In Al Arakib the Israeli government wants to transfer the Arabs from their land. In Jerusalem it’s the same. Israel wants to transfer all the Arabs from their land,” he said.

The common identity that dispossession provides seems to have struck a chord, even with some in the Bedouin community, which has a history of distinguishing and distancing itself from any Palestinian identity.

As I walked between the remnants of the Al Arakib’s former homes, Farial Abu Midgen, several months pregnant, was seating beneath a canopy with her seven children nearby. She told me how the Israeli police surrounded her house and village in the predawn hours.

She described armed riot police removing and beating Israeli solidarity activists on the scene before evicting her family and destroying their home. She detailed the trauma her children felt and continue to experience and the pain she felt from her unborn child during the forced removal. For her, the link with Palestinians in the West Bank is now clear. “The Israeli government made this connection for us,” she told me.

Still, the community of the dispossessed remains fractured. Many Bedouins are nervous about the further implications of state repression if they openly connect with the Palestinians living in the territories occupied by the Israelis from 1967.

Mohammed Abu Madegam, a high school Hebrew literature teacher from Al Arakib – whose family was displaced when the police demolished their home – identifies with those around the world who have lost their homes because of state violence. Those who live in the West Bank, however, don’t elicit greater sympathy.

“The Palestinians [across the Green Line] are a different problem. We are citizens,” he tells me cautiously.

But the obstacles to developing a political consciousness among those displaced by the Israelis runs both ways. While Mr Ghawi has travelled on both sides of the Green Line to talk with displaced people, he makes a sharp distinction between the communities in Israel and the occupied territories.

“I am a supporter of the two state solution,” he said. “In East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza it’s the questions of a Palestinian state. In Al Arakib, it’s a human rights question.”

The parallels between modern-day Israel and apartheid South Africa are many. And there, black consciousness was not a given when apartheid began. A call to all those racially classed as “non-white” to unite under a black identity helped to solidify the movement.

But among those displaced by the Israelis, there seems to be a reluctance to call on those with a shared history and shared source of oppression to identify as Palestinians.

There may be a strong humanist connection amongst the oppressed Arabs between the river and the sea, but until there is a political consciousness, divisions will remain. It seems clear that Israel will continue to exploit them.


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