Thursday, August 23, 2007

No land, by law, to the Arabs

By Michelangelo Cocco, Translated for Axis of Logic by Diego Traversa and revised by Mary Rizzo, Tlaxcala

"This will be a powerful propagandistic weapon in the hands of those forces trying to de-legitimize Israel by accusing it of being an apartheid, racist system," an internet-surfer, whose signature is Jbb, writes. Another one, Kol, instead is persuaded that "Israel is under no condition a democracy," since "too many things carry a mark: for Jews only." Avrohom cuts the story short: "A dreadful law."

Pouring like a flooding river on the newspaper's website, readers' comments in the conservative-orientated Jerusalem Post reflect the outcry that has been aroused by the bill the Israeli Parliament passed last Wednesday evening. On a first reading, the Knesset passed a rule by 64 "yes" votes and 16 "no" votes (only one abstention) ­ put forward by the right along with Ehud Olmert's Kadima ­ which bans non-Jews from purchasing lands belonging to the Jewish National Fund, an institution which controls 13% of Israeli territory. In this way, the Knesset members are trying to by-pass a ruling by the Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, who announced last January that the Israeli Land Administration, which is the state organism supervising land sales, would have to rectify its 10-year-long policy of selling allotments only to Jews and to start giving them to the Israeli Arab population as well, who represent about 20% of the Jewish state's population.

Mazuz assured that, for each hectare sold to an Arab, the State would have to make up for it by giving the same amount to the Jewish Fund. Mazuz's decision was taken after Adalah, the center for the rights of the Israeli-Arab minority, and the Israeli Civil Rights Association had appealed to the High Court. Putting the "rectifications" ­ according to Mazuz's dispositions ­ into practice was supposed to be left to the Jewish National Fund alone, that was set up by Theodore Herzl at the beginning of past century and that, from the original end of buying Arab-owned lands in Palestine under the Ottoman Empire, ended up with controlling the 13% of the land. Land whose property ­ according to the Fund's charter can be exchanged between Jews only. As a result of this and other provisions, kibbutzim and moshavim are allowed to develop naturally and harmoniously, whereas the Arab villages, not being entitled to purchase pieces of land over which to extend, are increasingly crowded and resemble a sort of ghetto.

The two members who drafted the bill have patronized it and, meanwhile, revealed its purposes. "For generations, thousands of Jews saved to the last penny in order to be able to buy land for the Jewish people in Israel. The ILA has to comply with JNF’s aims and to respect the wishes of generations of Jews," declared Uri Ariel, member of the National Religious Party who lives in the illegal settlement of Kfar Adumim, near Palestinian Ramallah. To Ze'ev Elkin, member of Kadima and settler himself from Alon Shvut, south of Jerusalem, "this proposal has to heal a historical injustice and to prevent the State of Israel ­ through its High Court ­ from breaking the agreement it sealed with the JNF".

"Back in 2004, we lodged a set of demands to the High Court against ILA's discriminating policies"­ Joav Loeff, spokesman of the Israeli Civil Rights Association, tells il Manifesto ­"Yet we still haven't got any reply."

"If the law, whose Parliamentary procedure is still long, is put into force," Loeff continues, "it will counteract our petitions, forcing them to start from scratch."

For all those people, in Israel, in the Occupied Territories and all over the world, who fight for a single democratic state that may grant equal rights to Jews and Palestinians (who, during what the Israelis referred to as "War for Independence" of 1948-49, suffered the expulsion of over 700 thousand people and the destruction of some 400 villages - translator's note: even Israeli sources such as Ha'aretz admit that the number of 530 village is more accurates, see IMEU for a summary of the Nakba), the exclusivist possession of land is one of the cornerstones of a system allowing unequal rights to the two main communities of Israel’s population. "Only a crazy parliament might have pushed through a racist law legitimizing the large plunder of the land of 1948 and turn it into property for Jews only, in spite of the fact that its original owners are still dwelling on their land," the Arab member of the Knesset Wasil Taha, from Balad party, stated. For Hadash party's leader, Mohammed Barakeh, it's about a "loathsome legislation, a further step towards a range of racist laws that are passed every day in the Jewish state."

"How can you otherwise define, if not racist, this law which is referred just by some deputies of the Knesset as 'loathsome' and which serves to legalize the discrimination towards the non-Jews and an ethnically-founded democracy?" the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Luisa Morgantini, wonders.