Fight hots up as lies exposed and Prawer passes to rightist mob and indicted war criminal
“The first time since I have been watching the Middle East that the Israelis blinked, drawing back from the brink of more racist madness which would certainly have tipped the global balance against them.”
For two weeks in early December 2013, Israel’s power centres looked weak and confused. There was talk of an unprecedented re-think of their planned new round of ethnic cleansing, with its impending legislation to destroy three dozen villages and evict their Bedouin citizens. And the international campaign (and this website) celebrated with the slogan “Prawer Did Not Pass”.
But it wasn’t to last, and the following week it was back on track. So just what had happened?
On Thursday 12 December, at a formal press conference called at the Defense Ministry, Benny Begin, co-author of the Prawer Plan (whose passing into law was expected in a matter of days or weeks) stated that it had been “shelved”.
There seemed to be two main reasons for this unprecedented retreat by Israel from its usual ironclad resolve to go its own way.
First, it had been a bad week on the international front, with pressure coming thick and fast, and big gains for the BDS boycott movement.
♦ The American Studies Association had voted by a two thirds majority to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
♦ A major Dutch infrastructure company withdrew from a West Bank water deal.
♦ PM Netanyahu and President Peres thought it safer to self-boycott themselves from Mandela’s memorial events, fearing reminders that Israel had been on the wrong side of Mandela’s struggle then, and is on the wrong side of the “apartheid” definition today.
♦ An op ed in Israel’s daily Haaretz talked of an imminent “tipping point” when condemnation of Israel, with consequences such as sanctions, would become the norm.
♦ And now, the Prawer law was provoking street protests across Israel, the Occupied lands, and around the globe, putting Israel’s ethnic cleansing in “its own” backyard into the spotlight, and placing in question the legitimacy of the whole country from the River Jordan to the western seaboard.
Secondly, under this pressure there came a dramatic unravelling of the script they had carefully crafted to cover the forced removal of thousands of people on ethnic grounds. The official line was that the protesters were all outsiders using the Bedouin for their own political ends, whereas the government truly cared about the Bedouin, had conducted long consultations and negotiations with them, and insisted that 80% of the Bedouin peoples had said “yes” to the Bill: this, they explained repeatedly, was not about politics at all, but merely a planning issue to upgrade living standards.
And then suddenly the propaganda was shattered, when Netanyahu’s main coalition partner Avigdor Lieberman said: it was not about planning but a “fight for Jewish land”, and the Bedouin should be carted off to high-rise tower blocks.
At that point left wing Knesset member Dov Khenin produced a map that no-one had seen before, showing just how little land had been allocated to re-house the evicted Bedouin villagers. Begin himself now complained that he had been misquoted about the Bedouins’ agreement, that the map was new to him so the Bedouin could not have agreed it, and that in fact they had not even been consulted.
When Begin himself then announced at an official government press conference that the Plan had been shelved, it seemed like a major tactical retreat, if not the end of the story: if the Bill had threatened to inflame the growing BDS threat, it could be shelved in favour of a return to the previous piecemeal harassment, demolitions and evictions. A slightly less urgent threat, but much more insidious and harder to fight against.
But it seems even that was too rational for Israel’s politics. And when the pragmatic Likud Right announced they were shelving the Plan, the ultra-Rights picked it up again, now with one of their own, Lieberman’s follower Yair Shamir, in charge: these are the people who said the Bill was too generous to the Bedouin!
And Major General (Res.) Doron Almog is tasked with its implementation. This is the man who in 2008 refused to step off a plane at Heathrow airport because a British court had indicted him on a charge of war crimes, and police had arrived to arrest him. His war crime: the punitive demolition of 40 homes in Gaza. Now he expects to be demolishing nearly 40 whole villages.
Whether or not the Bill will muster the votes it needs to get passed, and whether or not it will be amended, will depend on the campaign against it: so far it has held together and grown in power despite the on-off-on vacillations of the politicians. It has picked up on the lies about consent (echoed by Knesset members demanding to get an honest account for a change) and is collecting signatures from all 36 villages, and demanding full recognition and equal rights to services. On 19th December the planned Day of Action went out headlined “Marching for Recognition”.
A new UK group has been launched to defend the Bedouin, and in Israel the main campaign has put out offshoots to defend those arrested on 30 November’s Day of Rage.
There is no doubt at all that if the Prawer Plan proceeds, and with the new faces at the helm, it will be met with international disgust: it can open doors to BDS at the highest levels. As one observer commented on Facebook, it was “The first time since I have been watching the Middle East that the Israelis blinked, drawing back from the brink of more racist madness which would certainly have tipped the global balance against them.” Now they’ve returned to their task with a more vicious crew, we need to be there to join the dots and push at the doors.
Even if Netanyahu’s coalition has reversed its temporary retreat, the events of 30 November and the weeks since have been a milestone for a confident and mature international movement led with energy and creativity by Palestinians in Israel. This is history in the making.
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