Throughout Israel, Palestinians are being suffocated

Despite growing understanding of the struggles of Palestinian communities, we still need to move bey

Shortly after I had arrived in Palestine last month, I visited the devastated community in the Jordan Valley where the Israeli army had, just days earlier, demolished around 70 "illegal" structures. The same week, I visited Dahmash, an "unrecognised" village between Ramla and Lod, inside Israel, where Palestinian citizens face pending demolition orders. Finally, a few days later, I woke up to the news that the "unrecognised" Palestinian Bedouin village of al-Araqib, in the Negev, had been destroyed in a raid involving 1,300 armed police (and cheering volunteers).

Whether under military rule in the West Bank, or as citizens in Israel, Palestinian communities' ability to grow naturally is compromised by laws, "zoning" plans and permit systems designed to enforce a regime of separation and inequality. In 2008, a UN report detailed how 94 per cent of Palestinian building permit applications are denied in "Area C" of the West Bank, an area that covers 60 per cent of the territory.

"Area C" is also where major Israeli colonisation efforts have been focused. The Israeli human rights NGO B'Tselem estimates the total area controlled by settlements at over 40 per cent of the West Bank.

Inside pre-1967 Israeli borders, the state's approach to the Palestinian minority blows apart the myth of Israel as "the only democracy in the Middle East". As one recent study has shown, a quarter of Palestinian towns and villages inside Israel lack a building "master plan" and are thus ineligible for permits. In addition, while roughly a thousand new Jewish communities have been established since 1948, not a single Arab town has been created -- even as the minority population has multiplied by seven.

In Dahmash, ironically described as "Israel's best-kept secret", residents struggle to survive on land that has been designated "agricultural", while next door the zoning status was changed to facilitate a housing development aimed at Jewish Israelis.

As an "unrecognised" village, Dahmash is denied basic services and threatened with home demolitions. Activists on the ground see links with the struggles in East Jerusalem -- in other words, "internal colonialism is not yet history in Israel". As Arafat Ismayil, head of the Dahmash village committee, said to me, "We're in the heart of Israel, but we're not here."

In the Negev, long-standing policies of "Judaisation" -- similar to what has happened in Galilee -- shape the demolitions seen recently (a point made by the Israeli professor Neve Gordon). What Human Rights Watch called Israel's "discriminatory policies" occur in a context where Jewish National Fund forests, and maintaining a "Jewish majority", are prioritised over and above the rights and dignity of Palestinian Bedouin citizens.

On the same day as the destruction of al-Araqib, it was reported that the Israeli government plans to help army officers move to the Negev, part of moves to "strengthen" the area.

Naturally, the legal context differs. In the West Bank, restricting the Palestinians to certain areas and freeing up land for colonisation is effected using the military's prerogative to deny permits in "Area C", as well as the cover of "military necessity" and cherry-picking laws from Ottoman times and the British Mandate. Inside Israel's pre-1967 borders, the tools are land confiscation laws and manipulating planning procedures.

Yet the core dynamic is the same. The bulldozers in Silwan, al-Walaja and al-Araqib are advancing the same goals.

There is significance in drawing the connections between the struggles of Palestinian communities, whether they are in the heart of the West Bank or Galilee. In the west, and especially the UK and Europe, there is a growing understanding of, and solidarity with, the struggles centred on the likes of the siege of Gaza, the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and the illegal Separation Wall. While this is welcome, there is a risk of missing the bigger picture -- and excluding Palestinians in Israel and the refugees altogether. It is about moving beyond the framework of "the occupation", and reintegrating the "Question of Palestine", with a fight for rights, justice and equality at the centre.

Who has done the most to fail to distinguish between pre-1967 Israel and the settlements? Who has "erased" the Green Line? The answer is the Israeli state, which for decades has pursued policies of colonisation, control and segregation in all of the territory under its control.

When the government sets its (discriminatory) plan for "National Priority Areas", West Bank settlements and Galilee are included alike. It means the adviser to the prime minister on settlements under Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert affirming his "commitment to bolstering the Jewish population" of the Golan, Galilee, Negev and West Bank, as "settlement is settlement". It is why the current minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee, Silvan Shalom, can talk of the need to "settle all parts of Israel, including the Negev and Galilee and Judaea and Samaria".

From the West Bank to the Negev, differences in geography and legal regime can conceal the disturbing reality: that events have a great deal in common, both practically and strategically.

Seeing these developments from a more holistic perspective has important implications for how we understand the conflict in Palestine/Israel, as well as consequences for the nature of our response.

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

Getty
Show Hide image

Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.