By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
“Jews-only land policy is at issue” was the title of an article in my US town local newspaper. It is about a housing discrimination story in Israel against an Arab Israeli couple Baha, an attorney, and Fouad Abu Raya, a dermatologist from the Israeli town of Sakhnin, referred to them by the paper as Muslims. According to the paper, the couple offered to buy a house in the Israeli town of Karmiel. And when these buyers went to the local land registry to transfer the ownership “the clerk told [them] she couldn’t transfer ownership because the house was built on land belonging to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and it is illegal to sell JNF land to Arabs”. The JNF is the biggest Israeli land owner.
The paper should be given credit for publishing the story in the US although it was buried in the “Religion Calendar” section on page 14 suggesting either the story is not important or it is old news that no body cares for since it is about Palestinians victimized by Israel. If ordinary Americans who care to read page 14 have just discovered Israel as it is, a country for all the Jewish people in the world but not for all its citizens, Israeli Arabs have been living this nightmare since the creation of Israel.
Israeli Arabs today is a large minority that accounts for twenty percent of the total Israeli population. They are the remnants of the indigent Palestinian Arabs who constituted eighty-five percent of the total population and owned individually and collectively more than ninety percent of historical Palestinian land before the State of Israel was established. After the 1948 war, Israel was left in control of five million acres of Palestinian lands. It barred the return of the Arab refugees, destroyed their villages and took over their land and other property. Palestinians were removed to create room for millions of Jews from all over the world.
Research done by Don Peretz concluded in 1954 that majority of Jewish immigrants to Israel lived in homes abandoned by Arabs. Today majority of the Israelis are living in confiscated Arab land and homes. David Hirst cites Ha’Aretz on April 4, 1969 “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You don’t even know the names of these Arab villages, and I don’t blame you, because these geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahala arose in the place of Mahlul, Gvat in the place of Jibta, Sarid in the place of Haneifa, and Kfar-Yehoshua in the place of Tel-Shaman. There is not one single place built in this country [Israel] that did not have a former Arab population”.
According to the historian Benny Morris, 213 villages and towns were cleansed before the 1948 war while the area was under the British Mandate, 264 localities during the war. The signing of the armistice agreement did not end cleansing where 54 localities were ethnically cleansed after the signing of the agreement according to Morris. The 3,000 remaining residents of Falujah and Iraq al-Manshiah were evicted by the Israelis after signing the armistice agreement is only two examples. Cleansing was usually preceded by massacres that terrorized the Palestinians into leaving. There were well documented 33 massacres in 1948 committed by the Jews against the Arab Palestinians including the infamous Deir Yassin massacre that was carried out by the Jewish Irgon terrorists. Menachem Begin, the leader of Irgon and the future prime minister of Israel said with evil satisfaction “The Arabs began fleeing in panic, shouting Deir Yassin”.
The Zionists were not satisfied with the removal of eighty-five percent of the native Palestinians within the nascent Israeli state and the plunder and destruction of their homes. The remaining Palestinians who decided to stay in their homeland, the so called the “Israeli Arabs”, have been subjected to laws that deprived them of their land. Israel enacted more than thirty statutes for the purpose of transferring private Arab lands to the state. We are talking about land in proper Israel not the occupied West Bank that has been transformed into a Bantustan. Israeli Arabs also include refugees estimated in 1948 to be around forty-thousand individuals who were expelled from their homes and remained in the area occupied by Israel during the war. They were evicted from their homes in the Galilee, West Jerusalem, Lydda and Jafa, but decided to move to the next safe villages hoping one day they would return to their homes. They have been living in Israel but are not allowed by the Israeli government to return to their towns and villages. After being denied citizenship for many years, they ultimately became Israeli citizens but are not allowed to reclaim their homes and lands that are within few miles from where they live. They became known as “Absent-Present” a name coined by Israel to mean they are absent from their homes and present in the state.
There was another form of forced eviction of the Arab villagers when Israel decided in 1948 to clear its border areas of any Arabs to a depth of four to eight miles creating more internal refugees. Residents of many villages within this area, including Iqrit and Bir’im and Tarshiha along the Lebanese border and Zakariya near Jerusalem, were expelled from their homes and farms, declaring it military areas. Salman Abu Sitta lists hundreds of Palestinian localities that were ethnically cleansed between 1948 and 1950. Fifty years later, they are still not allowed to return to their homes while agricultural and industrial Jewish only settlements and towns have been established on their lands. And in December 1998, the Knesset defeated a bill that would have allowed the villagers of Iqrit to return to their homes.
The confiscated Arab lands have been sold or leased only to Jews. Arabs are not allowed to apply as in the case of Baha and Fouad Abu Raya. Most of the JNF land holdings that is allocated to Jews only has been expropriated by the Israeli government from Arab owners and transferred to the JNF. Arab land acquired by the JNF in 1961 exceeded 3,500,000 dounums (875,000 acres) according to a Hebrew University study.
Denying the civil rights of the Arab citizens by confiscating their land and refusing to allow them return to their own homes or even to buy or lease property because they are not Jews, has been overlooked by the US hypocrites who keep calling Israel “the only democracy in the Middle East”, suggesting that Israel is a liberal democracy. The US policy makers and journalists have been condemning human rights violations everywhere except in Israel. They do not have the courage and the conviction to describe Israel as it is “a country for all the Jewish people but not for all its citizens”.
-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D, is a political analyst.