Fighting new Nakba in the Negev

By Ben White

This article was originally published on Al Jazeera English. It is posted on arenaofspeculation.org with kind permission from the author.

From the refugees in 1949 looking over the Lebanese border at the land from which they were expelled, to the students in the Gaza banned by the Israeli Supreme Court from studying in the West Bank, Israeli colonisation has fragmented the Palestinian people over the decades with walls, fences, guns, bureaucracy and propaganda.

Overcoming that fragmentation has become further complicated in recent times on account of the moribund state of representative bodies like the Palestine Liberation Organisation, as well as the long-running split between Fatah and Hamas.

In the last few years, however, there have been moments when particular circumstances have prompted coordinated resistance, at least on a grassroots level, amongst Palestinians wherever they may be. One such example was the widespread protests prompted by the massacre in Gaza in 2008-9 (otherwise known as Operation Cast Lead). Another example is when Palestinians coalesced around the prisoners’ hunger strikes to launch solidarity activities from Haifa to Ramallah.

Now, Palestinians have united around opposition to a pending Israeli government plan to expel tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouin from communities in the Negev that await destruction in the name of ‘development’.

The Prawer plan, some years in the making, is part of a historical drive by the Israeli government to prioritise and privilege Jewish settlement in the Negev while forcing Bedouin citizens – those who weren’t expelled in the first decade of the state’s existence – to live in approved zones and shanty towns.

On Monday, protests took place all across historic Palestine – in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and inside Israel – after the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab citizens of Israel called for a general strike and protests against Prawer. As plans for demonstrations were made from Nazareth to Hebron, Palestinians also hit social media to raise awareness and link up their actions, using hashtags like #AngerStrike and #StopPrawerPlan.

Bedouin community and activists demonstrate against the Prawer Plan on July 15, 2013, Beer Sheva. (Activestills.org)

In Beersheva, to the south, a city ethnically cleansed in the Nakba and not far from many of the villages the Israeli government will seek to uproot under Prawer, a demonstration was targeted by the police and a number of protesters were violently arrested. In the north, some 400 people took part in a protest near Sakhnin in the Western Galilee, where another dozen participants were arrested. There were further demonstrations by Palestinians at Umm al-Fahm and many other towns and villages.

Meanwhile, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were joined by those under military rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where demonstrators rallied in solidarity with the ‘Anger Strike’ in Ramallah, Hebron, and Nablus. Even in a small village like Hussan, near Bethlehem, Israeli forces broke up a peaceful demonstration against the Prawer plan. The coordinated day of action also reached prisoners, with Palestinians in Gilboa jail announcing their participation and support.

What is interesting here is not simply how, in the words of Palestinian activist and blogger Abir Kopty, “protests took place across Palestinian cities and villages from the river to the sea”, with people “communicating and organising, to defy a ‘border’ that”, Kopty told me, “separated us physically but failed to do so mentally”. Even more unusually, she pointed out, “Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza joined their brothers’ and sisters’ struggle within 48 hours, when it is usually the opposite”.

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrate against the Prawer Plan in East Jerusalem, July 15, 2013. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

A demonstrator chants slogans against the Prawer Plan during a protest in Ramallah on July 15, 2013. (Nidal Elwan/Activestills.org)

Salah Mohsen, spokesman and media director of legal rights centre Adalah, called the 15 July demonstrations against Prawer “an extraordinary show of solidarity”, with Palestinians from “the Galilee, the Triangle, and the Naqab joined by activists from around the world”. Kopty remarked how the protests, to her mind, show that “hope lies in the determination of the youth”.

As if to prove her point, West Bank-based Palestinian activist Linah Alsaafin linked the events to Land Day, describing the Anger Strike as “assert[ing] that despite political division, non-representative and collaborative leadership, Palestine remains from the river to the sea, with the Bedouins in the Naqab an integral component of the Palestinian population”.

This week has seen Palestinian flags raised and slogans chanted regarding the same outrage, from Jerusalem to Syria and Tunisia. Briefly, colonially-imposed borders seemed weaker, as Palestinians demonstrated that new strategies have emerged and will continue to develop as a means of confronting the age-old problems of fragmentation and artificial divisions.

Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. He is a graduate of Cambridge University.

You can follow Ben on Twitter @benabyad

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