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Home > News & Analysis > From the Media
Why does Bush talk about Israel's Negev and Galilee?
Nadia Hijab, Institute for Palestine Studies, Jul 29, 2007

Policy Note No. 18

It is unusual for the president of one country to take an interest in regional development in another country. Yet United States president George W. Bush talks about Israel's Negev and Galilee regions as well as about America's commitment to Israel as a "Jewish state." Why does he do so? What's going on in the Negev and Galilee? And what should be done about it?

In his 16 July 2007 speech on the Middle East, President Bush declared: “Prime Minister Olmert has also made clear that Israel's future lies in developing areas like the Negev and Galilee – not in continuing occupation of the West Bank.” Bush also restated US “commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people.” No mention was made of a homeland for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, a fifth of the population. Yet they would be seriously impacted by any development plans that favored Jewish citizens in the Galilee, where they constitute a majority, and in the Negev, where they are a significant minority.1

What Lies Behind the Bush References?

Bush’s first and most serious reference to the Galilee and the Negev was in 2004.2 At that time, former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was parlaying Israel’s plans for disengagement from Gaza into an end to the conflict with the Palestinians on Israel’s terms. Sharon’s efforts resulted in the controversial 14 April 2004 exchange of letters with Bush. The letters alarmed the Palestinians under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem because Bush said that any final status agreements would have to reflect “realities on the ground,” thereby giving his imprimatur to permanent Israeli possession of large tracts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in violation of international law. They alarmed the Palestinian Diaspora because he sought to close the door on their right of return to what is now Israel, in violation of international law. And they deeply worried the Palestinian citizens of Israel because he made two references that went beyond the focus of the Oslo accords on the territories occupied in 1967.

* Bush’s reference to Israel’s plans to “bring new opportunities to the Negev and Galilee” suggested support for a continuation of longstanding Israeli government policies to limit the growth of the Palestinian population and its access to land.

* Bush’s references to Israel as a “Jewish state” suggested an acceptance of the unequal status of its Palestinian citizens.3

The fact that Bush’s July 2007 speech referred again to Israel as a Jewish State and to the development of the Negev and Galilee cannot have reassured the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The Links Between Israeli Policies in the Territories and Within Israel

Perhaps unwittingly, Bush’s statements draw attention to the similarity between Israeli government policies in the occupied territories and within Israel itself.4 For example, Israel has since 2000 effectively frozen some 120,000 applications for family reunification for Palestinians in the occupied territories. Similarly, within Israel itself, the Knesset voted on 21 March 2007 to extend - and broaden - a Citizenship Law that denies the Palestinian citizens of Israel the right to give their nationality to Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories.5 Amnesty International condemned an earlier extension as “institutionalized racial discrimination" that was “primarily motivated by demographic, rather than security, considerations - that is, a determination to reduce the percentage of Israeli Arabs among the country's population." 6

And, while there has been some international reaction against Israeli land confiscation and Jewish-only roads in the West Bank, it is less well known that much of the land of the state of Israel is available to Jews only. As recently as 18 July 2007, the Knesset approved – 64 to 16 - the first reading of a bill that would void the Attorney General’s recommendation that land owned by the Jewish National Fund should henceforth be made available to the Palestinian citizens of Israel.7

Reports from the Galilee and the Negev

The Bush remarks are so worrying to Palestinian citizens of Israel because they have experienced extensive loss of land since the state was established. Memories are still fresh of official Israeli programs to “Judaize the Galilee” in the 1960s and 1970s that have left Palestinian citizens with a fraction of the land they had when the state was created in 1948, with little room for the natural growth and development of their towns and villages. Moreover, many of these citizens were internally displaced at that time, and were never able to return to their original land.

And in the Negev, the Israeli government has been relocating some 80,000 Bedouin into seven townships and refusing official recognition to existing villages.8 Most recently, the Israel Land Administration destroyed Bedouin homes in Attir and Umm Al Hiran to establish a Jewish community.9 According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Attir villagers were moved to that site in 1956 and their original land was transferred to a kibbutz. The Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev said that overall 110 Bedouin homes have so far been demolished in 2007. Meanwhile, Haaretz reported on 29 March 2007 that the Israeli government planned a new town in the Negev for army training camps partly to “ensure the hold of state lands by preventing the establishment of unlicensed Bedouin communities.”

The reports discussed above are just the tip of the iceberg of an Israeli reality that has existed since the foundation of the state and that is being completely ignored in Bush’s statements. While there is still racism and discrimination in American society, this is neither official US policy nor sanctioned by law. Accordingly, at a minimum, the statements and positions of the US president should steer clear of any indication that the US might promote policies based on anything other than international and US standards of human rights and equality.

Nadia Hijab is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies and co-director of its Washington office.

[1] 52% of Israel’s Northern District and 15% of its Southern District; Statistical Abstract of Israel 2006.
[2] Beginning in 2004, Bush has made at least four references to the Negev and the Galilee, according to an analysis by the Institute of presidential documents at http://www.gpo.gov/nara/nara003.html. He has referred to Israel as a Jewish state at least 10 times between 2002 and 2007.
[3] See Jamil Dakwar’s analysis in “Underclass Citizens: Palestinians in Israel,” Journal of Palestine Studies 35 no. 3 (Spring 2006). See also http://adalah.org/eng/index.php and the Arab Association for Human Rights.
[4] For a discussion of the parallels see, e.g., “1967” by Gadi Algazi of Tel Aviv University http://www.alternativenews.org/news/english/1967-20070704.html.
[5] The law, originally passed in 2003 and now extended to July 2008, applies to Palestinian men aged 18-35 and women 18-25 from the occupied territories as well as from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran (Haaretz 21 March 2007). See also “Racism by any other name,” by Yitzhak Laor in the Haaretz of 7 April 2005
[6] http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde150422006
[7] Haaretz 19 July 2007. It is estimated that the Jewish National Fund owns about 12% of the land.
[8] There are 110 “unrecognized” villages throughout Israel; Arab Association for Human Rights arabhra.org
[9] Haaretz 25 June 2007. For more information see www.bustan.org
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Published by the Institute for Palestine Studies www.palestine-studies.org. The Institute has produced authoritative studies on Palestinian affairs and the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1963. Its flagship Journal of Palestine Studies accounts for nearly 20% of all articles downloaded from Middle East publications carried by JSTOR, the leading US database of scholarly journals. Email contact policynotes@palestine-studies.org


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