“Unrecognized” Palestinians

“Unrecognized” Palestinians

by Stephen Lendman

Israel’s population today is about 7,150,000. About
5.4 million are Jews (76%) plus another 400,000 Jewish
settlers in over 200 expanding settlements on occupied
Palestinian land in the West Bank that includes
Palestinian East Jerusalem. They’re the chosen ones
afforded full rights and privileges under the laws of
the Jewish state for Jews alone.

Palestinian Arabs are another story. Their population
is around 5.3 million (plus six million or more in the
Palestinian diaspora). Around 3.9 million live in
occupied Gaza and the West Bank, and another 1.4
million are Jewish citizens of Israel (20% of the
population), including about 260,000 classified as
internally displaced. Palestinians get no rights
afforded Jews even though those inside Israel are
citizens of the Jewish state, have passports and IDs,
and can vote in Knesset elections for what good it
does them. They’re subjected to constant abuse and
neglect, are confined to 2% of the land plus 1% more
for agricultural use, and are treated disdainfully as

Arab Israeli citizens live mainly in all-Arab towns
and villages in three heartlands - the Galilee in the
north; what’s called the “Little Triangle” in the
center that runs along the Israeli side of the Green
Line separating Israel from the West Bank; and the
Negev desert region in the country’s south. These
communities aren’t geographically consolidated and are
surrounded by established Jewish communities, hostile
to Arab neighbors, and with Israel’s full military
might backing them. A minority of Palestinians also
live uneasily in mixed Jewish-Arab cities like Tel
Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Jerusalem in the West Bank
and others.

The Plight of Palestinian Nonpersons in “Unrecognized

The term is Orwellian in its worst sense. How can
something real not officially exist? Around 150,000 or
more (accurate numbers are hard to come by)
Palestinian Arabs today live in over 100 so-called
“unrecognized villages,” mainly in the Galilee and the
Negev desert. They’re unrecognized because their
inhabitants are considered internal refugees who were
forced to flee their original homes during Israel’s
1948 “War of Independence” and were prevented from
returning when it ended.

These villages were delegitimized by Israel’s 1965
Planning and Construction Law that established a
regulatory framework and national plan for future
development. It zoned land for residential,
agriculture and industrial use, forbade unlicensed
construction, banned it on agricultural land, and
stipulated where Israeli Jews and Palestinians could
live. That’s how apartheid worked in South Africa.

Existing communities are circumscribed on a map with
blue lines around them. Areas inside the lines can be
developed. Those outside cannot. For Jewish
communities, great latitude is allowed for future
expansion, and new communities are added as a result.
In contrast, Palestinian areas are severely
constricted leaving no room for expansion. Their land
was reclassified as agricultural meaning no new
construction is allowed. This meant entire communities
became “unrecognized” and all homes and buildings
there declared illegal, even the 95% of them built
before the 1965 law passed. They’re subject to
demolition and inhabitant displacement at the whim of
Israeli officials. They want new land for Jews and
freely take it from Arab owners, helpless to stop it.

All Israeli public land is administered by the Israel
Land Authority (ILA) that has a legal obligation to
treat all its citizens fairly. Instead and with
impunity, it serves Jewish interests only using
various methods to do it.
It restricts and prohibits Palestinian land
development by:

—putting large Arab areas under its control through
the creation of regional councils;

—zoning restrictions mentioned above;

—transferring public land adjacent to Arab
communities to Jewish National Fund (JNF) ownership
that mandates it’s only for Jews;

—connecting the cost of leasing land to military
service that discriminates against Palestinians not
required to serve and almost none do;

—declaring national priority town areas for Jews

—delaying, restricting and prohibiting local
development in Arab communities;

—ignoring Arab needs in regional and national plans;

—allowing Palestinians little or no representation
on national planning committees;

—enforcing a policy of forced evictions and
demolitions of buildings without appropriate permits.
In “unrecognized villages,” no permits are allowed
Palestinians on their own land. Entire villages thus
face prosecution in the courts and loss of their
homes, land and possessions through a state-sponsored
policy to remove them judicially.

It gets worse. No new Palestinian communities are
allowed, and existing “unrecognized villages” are
denied essential municipal services like clean
drinking water, electricity, roads, transport,
sanitation, education, healthcare, postal and
telephone service, refuse removal and more because
under the Planning and Construction Law they’re
illegal. The toll on their people is devastating:

—clean water is unavailable almost everywhere unless
people have access to well water,

—the few available health services are inadequate,

—many homes have no bathrooms, and no permits are
allowed to build them,

—only villages with private generators have
electricity enough for lighting only,

—no village is connected to the main road network,

—some villages are fenced in prohibiting their
residents from access to their traditional lands,

—in the North, only one school remains open and
children must travel 10 - 15 kilometers to attend
another; as a result, achievement levels are low and
dropout rates high.

It’s worse still when home demolitions are ordered. It
may stipulate Palestinians must do it themselves or be
fined for contempt of court and face up to a year in
prison. They may also have to cover the cost when
Israeli bulldozers do it under a system of convoluted
justice penalizing Palestinians twice over.

Discriminatory Israeli Law

Israel is a signatory to the 1966 International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Its
Preamble states “the obligation of (signatory) States
under the Charter of the United Nations to promote
universal respect for, and observance of, human rights
and freedom.” It then covers what states must observe
in 53 Articles that stipulate the following:

—“All people have the right of self-determination.”

—“Each state party….undertakes to respect and
ensure to all individuals within its territory the
rights in this Covenant, without distinction of any
kind” for any reason.

—“Every human being has the inherent right to life,”
to “be protected by law,” and no activity may be
undertaken to destroy any rights and freedom covered
under this Covenant.

—“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

—“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or

—“Everyone….within the territory (shall) have the
right to liberty of movement and freedom to chose his
residence (and) to be free to leave any country (and
not be) deprived of the right to enter (or return to)
his own country.”

—“All persons shall be equal before the courts and

—“Everyone shall have the right to recognition
everywhere as a person before the law.”

—“All persons are equal before the law and are
entitled without any discrimination to the equal
protection of the law.”

—In states with “ethnic, religious or linguistic
minorities (those persons) shall not be denied the
(same) right(s)....as the other members.”

In Israel, for all intents and purposes, the ICCPR is
a nonstarter. It applies to Jews alone, not to Arabs
and other non-Jews. Israeli laws allow it by
subjecting non-Jews, and specifically Arabs, to three
types of discrimination:

—legal direct discrimination guaranteeing Jews alone
the right to immigrate and become citizens; it also
gives various Jewish organizations in the country
quasi-government status serving Jews only.

—indirect discrimination through “neutral” laws and
criteria applying principally to Palestinians;
government preferences and benefits are predicated on
prior military service most Palestinians don’t
perform; the categorization of the country into
preferential zones for Jews provides them privileges
and benefits denied Palestinians.

—institutional discrimination through a legal
framework facilitating a pattern of privileges
afforded Jews only; they’re allocated through budgets
and resources showing preferential treatment for Jews
and discrimination against Palestinians; Israeli
courts enforce the bias by refusing to hear cases
where Palestinians claim their rights have been

—even when courts hear cases and rule favorably,
Palestinians get only crumbs; an example was in the
early September Supreme Court decision that Israel
reroute part of its illegal apartheid wall and return
a small portion of stolen land to the people of
Bil’in; a far greater issue was ignored by allowing
the illegal Modiin Illit settlement on Bil’in land to
remain intact; for anti-occupation Gush Shalom, the
court decision message to settlers is do as you
please, build fast and expect court approval

Israel professes to be a democracy. It is not by any
reasonable standard. It defines itself as a Jewish
state which contradicts its claimed democratic
credentials. It treats Jews preferentially and
entitles them to special consideration denied non-Jews
who are discriminated against as second-class citizens
and denied comparable rights.

Israel has no formal constitution and instead is
governed by its Basic Laws that before 1992 guaranteed
no basic rights. That year, the Basic Law: Human
Dignity and Freedom passed authorizing the Knesset to
overturn laws contrary to the right to dignity, life,
freedom, privacy, property and to leave and enter the

country. The law states “There shall be no violation
of the life, body or dignity of any person. All
persons are entitled to protection” of these rights,
and “There shall be no deprivation or restriction of
the liberty of a person by imprisonment, arrest,
extradition or otherwise.”

For a nation committed to violence, the irony is
particularly galling that a section of the Basic Law
also deals with “The Right to Life and Limb in Israeli
Law.” It states “Israeli law has abolished the death
penalty for murder (and corporal punishment).” It
notes this penalty exists in principle but only under
limited circumstances such as for treason during war
and under the Law for the Prevention and Punishment of
Genocide. It further notes Israel’s 1998 Good
Samaritan Law requires assistance be given in
situations “of immediate and severe danger to
another.” Omitted from the Basic Law is the right to
equality so all rights in it apply to Jews only.

Palestinian Arabs have none, yet can stand for public
office in the Knesset. Some do, a few are elected but
have no power beyond a public stage to state their
views and be shouted down or ignored. They’re also
constrained by the 1992 Law of Political Parties and
section 7A(1) of the Basic Law that prohibits
candidates for office from denying “the existence of
the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish
people.” No candidate may challenge the fundamental
Jewish character of the state or demand equal rights,
privileges and justice under the law for Arabs and
Jews. The essential Zionist identity is inviolable,
the rule of law works for Jews alone, and Palestinians
are denied all rights, equal treatment and justice
under a legal system for Jews that discriminates
against Arab Muslims. In South Africa it was called

The Current Plight of Palestinian Israeli Citizens in
the Negev

About half the 160,000 Bedouin Arabs today face forced
displacement in the Negev. Why? Because they live in
dozens “unrecognized villages” making their homes
illegal under Israeli law. They face imprisonment and
fines if they refuse to leave so their land can be
cleared, homes demolished, and the area Judaised for a
Negev development plan. It’s described as “A Miracle
in the Desert” that aims to populate the area with a
half million new Jewish residents in the next decade.
Plans are for 25 new communities and 100,000 homes on
cleared Bedouin lands. For the past two years, Israel
has been ethnically cleansing the Negev and erasing
Bedouin villages to make it possible.

All Bedouin Arabs in “unrecognized villages” face what
those living in Tawil Abu Jarwal endured in January.
The entire village was destroyed when the Israeli
military (IDF), a large police contingent and special
task forces, a helicopter and bulldozers came in
January 9. They demolished all 21 of its homes that
consisted of shacks, brick rooms and tents. It
followed a month earlier assault when 17 other homes
were destroyed and their residents forcibly displaced.
The people became homeless, and 63 of them in January
were children. In late 2006, Israel’s interior
minister, Roni Bar-On, announced his intention to
destroy all 42,000 “illegal structures” in the Negev
in a bandit declaration of planned forced ethnic
cleansing against people helpless to stop it.

It’s happening in Al-Sadir, Tel-Arad, Amara-Tarabin
and on June 25 to Bedouin families in the small
villages of Um al-Hiran and Atir that are homes to
about 1000 people. Hundreds of police and Israeli
security forces destroyed over 20 of their homes to
make way for a Jewish community called Hiran to
replace them. People living in them lost everything
including their possessions they had no chance to
remove. Haaretz reported Atir villagers lived there
for 51 years after being transferred to the area in
1956 under martial law. The article continued saying
the Israeli Regional Council of “Unrecognized
Villages” will move displaced families to a refugee
camp in the center of Jerusalem (where Bedouins don’t
wish to live) “as part of the government’s (forced
ethnic cleansing) relocation project” to make the
“desert bloom” for new Jewish only communities.

This is what all Negev Bedouin Arabs now face unless
something can stop it. Large numbers of them attended
an early August protest conference. It was held in
solidarity with unaffected Palestinians who together
called on Arab and other countries to support their
right to remain in their homes and denounce Israel’s
racist apartheid laws.

Arab Knesset member, Talab Al Sane, spoke on their
behalf. So did Hussein Al Rafay’a, head of the
regional council of the “unrecognized villages,” who
said Israel wants Palestinians to be refugees in their
own lands and has been forcing them into this status
by a policy of home demolitions and continued
displacement. Arabs once owned 5.5 million dunams of
land (550,000 hectares) in the Negev, he said. They
now own less than 200,000 (20,000 hectares) and are
threatened with losing all of it. “We will resort to
the Security Council, and the international court (in
the Hague) to provide the residents and their lands
with needed protection.”

With an assured US veto in the Security Council and
Israel’s record of ignoring UN resolutions and World
Court rulings against it, there’s little chance for
success and every likelihood legal Israeli Arab
citizens will continue being displaced from their own

Advocacy for Palestinian Arabs in “Unrecognized

Israel denies all Palestinians their basic rights.
However, those living in so-called “unrecognized
villages” face a special threat - demolition of their
homes, loss of their land and possessions, and
frightening displacement that will make them refugees
along with millions of others in their own land. Few
organizations advocate on their behalf, but a group
that does is called The Association of Forty.

It’s a grassroots NGO in Israel committed to promoting
social justice for Israeli Arabs and to gain official
recognition for their “unrecognized villages.” It was
formed in December, 1988 when Arab and Jewish
residents from several of the affected villages and
other areas formed the Association. It now “represents
the residents of the ‘unrecognized villages’ and their
problems, and promotes support locally and
internationally” on their behalf. It seeks official
recognition for the villages, an improvement in their
living conditions, and “full rights and equality for
the Arab citizens of the state” of Israel.

Its work consists of initiating “the preparation and
implementation of active projects within these
villages such as paving roads, improving existing
roads and helping the residents to achieve their
rights, to connect their villages to the network of
water, electricity and telephones, to establish and
operate kindergartens and clinics for mother and child
care, and to obtain educational non-curricular
activities for the schoolchildren….” It publishes a
monthly newspaper, Sawt Al-Qura, has photographic
exhibitions, films and documentaries that reflect the
plight of the villages. It also organizes study days,
holds local and international conferences, and
participates in other international ones.

The Palestinians Enduring Struggle for Freedom and

Palestinians today live under horrendous conditions.
By any standard, they’re appalling, repressive and in
violation of fundamental human rights principles under
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating:

—“All human beings are born free and equal in
dignity and rights.”

—“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and
freedoms….in this Declaration, without distinction
of any kind.”

—“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and
security of person.”

—“Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere
as a person before the law.”

—“All are equal before the law and are
entitled….to equal protection.”

—“Everyone has the right to own property (nor shall
anyone) be arbitrarily (be) deprived of his property.”

Israel offers these rights to Jews alone. It denies
them to Palestinian Arab Muslims in violation of its
own Basic Law professing “Fundamental human
rights….founded upon recognition of the value of the
human being, the sanctity of human life, and the
principle that all persons are free.” It continues
stating the Basic Law of Israel “is to protect human
dignity and liberty….(that) There shall be no
violation of the property of a person….(that) All
persons are entitled to protection of their life, body
and dignity….(that) All government authorities are
bound to respect the rights under this Basic Law.”

The Basic Law also states Israel is a Jewish state,
and the message is clear. All rights, benefits,
privileges and protections are for Jews alone. All
others are unwelcome, unwanted, unprotected, and
unequal under the law. For them, justice unrecognized
is justice denied and for Palestinians it’s willful
and with malice.

They face constant harassment, abuse and near daily
assaults in the West Bank and even worse treatment
under virtual imprisonment in Gaza. Their
democratically elected government was ousted by a
US-Israeli orchestrated coup in June to the shameless
applause of Western leaders and silence from Arab
ones. They’re now isolated, surrounded and dangerously
close to a humanitarian disaster affecting 1.4 million

It’s no better for Israeli Palestinian citizens.
They’re nonpersons in their own land, are treated like
intruders, given no rights, face constant harassment
and mistreatment, get no justice, and face imminent
loss of their homes, land, freedom and lives any time
Israeli authorities wish to act against them. Yet they
persist and endure as do their brethren in the
Occupied Territories. They reach out to the world
community, press their case, and a delegation from
occupied Palestine stated it at the World Social Forum
in Nairobi, Kenya in January.

It was a call to action and cry for help for “freedom,
justice and (a) durable peace” and an end to six
decades of repression. It called for a “global
Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against
Israel until it ends its apartheid-like regime of
discrimination, occupation and colonization, and
respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees
and internally displaced persons.”

It called for “Consumer boycotts of Israeli products;
boycott of Israeli academic, athletic and cultural
events and institutions complicit in human rights
abuses; divestment from Israeli companies (and)
international companies involved in perpetuating
injustice, and pressuring governments to impose
sanctions on Israel….”

Silence is not an option, and people of conscience can
help. Noted author and documentary filmmaker, John
Pilger, believes “something is changing,” and he saw
it in a recent full page New York Times ad having a
“distinct odour of panic.” It called for boycotting
Israel, and Pilger senses the “swell….is growing
inexorably, as if an important marker has been passed
(and it’s) reminiscent of the boycotts that led to
sanctions against apartheid South Africa…..once
distant voices,” notes Pilger, have “gone global,” it
caught Israel off guard and may signal change. But not
easily or fast and may not happen at all unless global
pressure becomes mass public outrage that this
injustice no longer will be tolerated by people of
conscience anywhere.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
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Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to the Steve Lendman News and Information Hour
on TheMicroEffect.com Saturdays at noon US central