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"

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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