Ethnic cleansing in the Negev

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Hundreds of the thousands of Bedouins who currently live in the south of Israel are now facing ethnic cleansing. The Prawer plan is the largest act of displacement of Bedouin Palestinians in the Naqab (Negev) in decades.

The continued neglect of Palestinian Bedouins by Israel (but also the Palestinian authority and other Arab states) has contributed towards a situation where they are often omitted from political campaigns and solidarity. In the wake of this intensified attack placing those Bedouins in the Naqab at the heart of our solidarity and activity has to be a priority.

Before 1948 and the establishment of the Israeli state between 65,000 and 90,000 Palestinian Bedouins lived in the Naqab. During the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic, which refers to the creation of the Israeli state and the expulsion of more that 750,000 Palestinians from historic Palestine), around 85 percent of them were expelled from their land and were driven out to the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Egypt. By the 1950s only 19 out of the 95 original Bedouin tribes remained.

It is estimated that today around 190,000 Palestinians inhabit the Naqab; half of them live in 35 unrecognised villages. Unrecognised villages are communities, of a few hundred to several thousand people each, which are deemed illegal by the Israeli state - even though many existed well before Israel itself. They aren't on any official maps, and they are refused electricity, water, schools, sewage systems and other state services. Only seven residential areas in the Naqab are recognised today; the first was Tel Sheva in 1968.

Since the inception of Israel Palestinians have been seen and treated as a "demographic threat". The mere existence of Palestinians in Israel poses a contradiction for Zionism, which seeks to establish an exclusively Jewish homeland. In 2004 the former minister for minority affairs, Avishai Braverman, stated, "if Zionism is a motivating force, then it needs to travel south to the Negev, so that Israel does not turn into a Palestinian state." The following year Shimon Peres told US officials that Israel had "lost" land in the Negev "to the Bedouin" and would need to take steps to "relieve" the "demographic threat". In 2010 Netanyahu warned in a government meeting that a Negev "without a Jewish majority" would pose "a palpable threat".

The relocation of the largest number of Palestinians into the smallest amount of land has always been a defining feature of Israeli strategy.

Although Israel's Bedouin citizens are 30 percent of the Naqab's population, they only occupy 2 percent of its land. The Prawer Plan approved in September 2011 is the latest policy of home demolitions and dispossession of Palestinian land. The plan aims to move 40 percent of the Bedouins now living in unrecognised villages into government-planned townships (recognised villages). A special police unit was formed in August 2012 to "safeguard" and enforce demolitions and evictions in Bedouin communities throughout the Naqab. If the Prawer Plan is successful Naqab's Palestinian population will be confined to just 1 percent of the land.

According to a Haaretz report the cost of displacement would be between $1.7 billion and $2.4 billion, including $356 million for economic development in recognised Bedouin townships. However, residents of the unrecognised villages have no intention of abandoning their ancestral land. Many have deeds to their land dating back to Ottoman and British rule, but not a single one has yet been recognised by the state.

Furthermore, the "recognised villages" lack the most basic infrastructure. Khaled Alsana, the mayor of (recognised) Lakiya, describes it as "a motel. People sleep here and go to work outside. It's a permanent, cheap motel. There is nothing that keeps you attached to the place."

The plan has contributed towards a revival of activity and resistance in the Naqab itself. There have been mass demonstrations and, on 11 December 2011, a general strike of Palestinians in Israel. Incredibly, the village of Al-Aakeib has been demolished and rebuilt by its inhabitants 50 times.

But house demolitions, expropriation of land and displacement are not only taking place in the Naqab; they are part of the Zionist strategy on both sides of the Green Line. The homes and villages of Palestinians living in Area C in the West Bank (60 percent of the West Bank which is classified as a military zone) are continually demolished and illegal settlements are expanding.

However, today the political dynamics within the region are changing. The liberation of Palestine remains an intrinsic part of shaking off the chains of imperialism all across the Middle East and North Africa. Time and again the masses on the streets have expressed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation. Furthermore, within Palestine itself the revolutions have had an impact on the development of embryonic and fledgling groups inspired by the Arab Spring.

The fast growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement offers a way we can hold our governments accountable, put pressure on the Israeli state and be part of putting an end to the Zionist entity in the Middle East.