From East Jerusalem and the West Bank to the Negev in the far south, the Israeli authorities continue their relentless forced displacement of Palestinians in favor of occupation projects without legal accountability, in violation of Israel’s obligations under the relevant international laws.
Since August 2021, the Jewish National Fund’s (KKL-JNF) bulldozers have repeatedly stormed unrecognized Arab villages in the Negev in southern Israel. They destroy Palestinian homes and raze their lands under heavy protection by the Israeli police—which prevents Palestinians from expressing any objection or resistance due to its heavily armed elements, military vehicles, horses, and canine units.
These violations did not receive the appropriate attention, or even solidarity from Palestinian rights activists until 10 January, when the residents of the Bedouin villages in the Negev decided to protest against the demolition of their homes and the bulldozing of their lands. They went on strikes and organized sit-ins, in an attempt to stop the Israeli measures they believe are paving the way to displace them and seize their lands to expand Israeli cities and towns. It is what happened between 2013 and 2019 when Israeli forces demolished more than 10,000 Bedouin homes in the Negev, and in 2019 when they announced a plan to forcibly displace 36,000 Palestinians from unrecognized villages to other towns.
The Israeli police confronted the protests with excessive force and assaulted the protesters with rubber bullets, batons, sound bombs, and tear gas, and arbitrarily arrested a number of them. These confrontations intensified in six villages extending over an area of 45,000 dunams, where nearly 30,000 Palestinians from the Negev Bedouins live. They are Bir al-Mashash, al-Zarnouk, Bir al-Hamam, al-Ghara, Khirbet Watan, and al-Ruwais. The attacks were also concentrated in the lands of Sa`wa-al-Ruwais village, belonging to the al-Atrash family.
The Israeli campaign of violence and repression—which also used drones, cavalry, and skunk water cannons—led to dozens of arrests, and about 15 residents—including women, children, and the elderly—sustained various wounds.
The Israeli authorities see planting trees in Palestinian Bedouin lands as one of their top priorities in the Negev, which comes within the plans of the Israel Land Authority, which manages the Jewish National Fund. The plans include planting 45,000 dunams in the Negev “to preserve open spaces and nature from illegal control,” without taking into account the fate of the thousands of people who will be displaced and become homeless.
Israel claims that the Negev Bedouins do not have the right to dispose of these lands, and denies them any benefit from them, whether for housing, farming, or raising livestock. This further worsens their situation, especially since these villages already suffer from weak government support and poor infrastructure, including a lack of means of transportation, paved streets and bridges, and the most basic services such as water and electricity.
The Israeli authorities target about 51 Arab villages in the Negev, which they do not recognize, and turn the lives of their residents into an endless nightmare, especially with regard to land registration. Between 1970 and 1979, Israel opened the way for the Negev Bedouins to submit applications of their ownership of their lands under the so-called Land Settlement Law, which was enacted in 1969. Indeed, residents submitted applications to register hundreds of thousands of dunams, but the authorities have not processed their applications for the last 40 years. This confirms Israel's reluctance to grant the Arab Bedouins their rights and its attempt to seize their lands.
On the other hand, the Israeli government does not hesitate to build settlements and towns in the Negev, in clear contradiction of the Land Settlement Law, which explicitly prohibits the transfer of ownership of lands that are subject to property registration procedures and their ownership has not yet been resolved. In other words, KKL-JNF’s afforestation operations on the lands of Arab villages, transferring them to its ownership, or giving it the freedom to dispose of them, is illegal and contradicts the Israeli Forests Ordinance, which prohibits the afforestation of private lands.
In addition, Israeli practices clearly contradict the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which Israel ratified in 1991. According to which, forced evictions are acceptable only in “extremely exceptional circumstances,” and Israel is supposed to respect the right to adequate housing, adhere to human rights principles, consult with affected individuals or communities, identify a clear public interest that requires eviction, ensure that those affected have a real opportunity to challenge the eviction, provide appropriate compensation and adequate land and alternative housing arrangements. And these criteria are almost completely missing in the processes of forced displacement carried out by Israel in the Negev for decades.
The covenant also prohibits Israel from discriminating against minorities with regard to land and housing rights. This provision specifically renders all land tampering in the Negev illegal. Inasmuch as the authorities claim that their main goal is environmental development, the real goal is to build a Jewish community on the rubble of homes and community lands of the Palestinian Bedouin, within the framework of the Israelization and apartheid policy that successive Israeli governments continue to peruse.
Unfortunately, Israel practices its racist policies without the slightest international accountability and with great reassurance that it enjoys an open record of impunity. Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the international community has not taken decisive positions towards it to push it to respect the rights of the Palestinians and stop persecuting them and practicing all kinds of violations against them.
The eviction of residents from their homes and the complete dispossession of their property cannot be justified by economic development or environmental modernization programs without providing minimum legal or livelihood guarantees. What is the value of these projects if they are based on racist schemes that closely resemble ethnic cleansing?