by Orly Noy
Israeli citizens who may be feeling doubtful about the efficiency of their country’s institutions should take a hard look at the Jewish Agency’s Settlement Division.
According to Haaretz, the division has set forth a new plan to establish Jewish towns adjacent to Arab communities in the Negev Desert and the Galilee, in such a way that would hamper the development of the latter.
The Settlement Division, funded entirely by the Israeli government, is the most accurate representation of the regime’s ability to envision and implement its long-term thinking. Established following the 1967 war in order to “export” Israeli knowledge and experience in “redeeming the land,” the division is also the most precise articulation of Israel’s ethnocratic colonialism, as well as its attempt to engineer the country for the benefit of Jewish supremacy. Or in other words: its “Jewish and democratic” nature. After receiving a mandate to begin work on the Galilee and the Negev, the settlement division has continued its work unabated. The goal might be new, but the policy has never actually changed.
The new plan won’t surprise those who refuse to be blind to the demographic war Israel has been waging against its Arab citizens — primarily but not exclusively through its land policies — since the state’s founding. “Jewish and democratic” is one hell of a beast, and it demands both demographic and geographic domination.
The Settlement Division’s plan reminded me of something a Palestinian friend once told me. “In your ‘Jewish and democratic’ hallucination,” he said, “the ‘democratic’ aspect is far more dangerous to us than the ‘Jewish’ one.” He is right, of course. Were we to get rid of Israel’s “democratic” nature, we would get full-blown apartheid in which the minority rules forcefully over the oppressed majority — which lives in quasi-autonomous enclaves — through discriminatory laws. Who knows, perhaps the world would have put an end to this shameful reality long ago.
But the pretense of imposing Jewish supremacy through “democracy” is what truly dictates the demographic war. One that will allow for Jewish control through ostensibly democratic means, rather than through “exceptional measures,” such as in an apartheid regime.
It’s not that Israel ever refrained from using such “exceptional measures.” The process of building the Zionist colonial project began with the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of people, who were either expelled or fled from their land without being able to return. Israel understood from the onset that in order to maintain its demographic power, it would need — along with actively encouraging Jewish immigration to Israel — to restrict Arabs’ expansion and development. This is where the state’s land policies came in.
Since the founding of the state, land belonging to the Arab population — which makes up 20 percent of the total population — has been halved, while Arab local authorities are in charge of less than four percent of the land in the country. Take the city of Sakhnin, for example whose territory decreased by 15 percent after Israel’s establishment. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that since 1948, over 1,000 new Jewish communities have been established across the country, while not a single Arab town has been built to serve the needs of the Palestinian population. The exceptions have been townships such as Tel Sheva and Rahat in the Negev, built to concentrate the Bedouin population in underdeveloped ghettos so as to allow the state to more easily expropriate Bedouin land.
Due to years of misdeeds committed in the occupied territories, most Israelis link the division to the settlement enterprise. It is easy to say that Israel “imports” these practices from the West Bank to Israel. This view sits well with the “slippery slope” narrative, which warns against the dangers of the occupation corrupting Israeli society from within, lest we fail to put an and to it. But precisely the opposite is true: the Settlement Division grew out of a governmental body that actively Judaized the land long before the occupation in 1967. In fact, it was established for the purpose of exporting those colonial practices — implemented in Israel after 1948 — to the occupied territories.
Israel knows that the fiction of “Jewish and democratic” will be put to the test not in Hebron or Ofra, but in the Negev and the Galilee. While Netanyahu and Liberman fantasize about shortcuts using “population exchanges” for maintaining demographic dominance, the Settlement Division has been persistently promoting a policy of strangling Arab communities, all while continuing to Judaize the land. Yes, this may be a far more effortful task than swiftly causing hundreds of thousands of Arab citizens to disappear in an instant. But no one ever said this whole “Jewish and democratic” thing was going to be a walk in the park.