Extract taken from Chapter 3: Judaisation and the Demographic Threat
The Negev, or al-Naqab in Arabic, is an area that has been consistently targeted by Israeli governments, along with agencies like the Jewish National Fund (JNF), for so-called ‘development’, i.e. Judaisation. In parallel to the indigenous Bedouin Palestinians being expelled and forcibly relocated (see Chapter 2), private resources have been mobilised in order to ‘settle’ the Negev with Jews. As a Human Rights Watch report put it in 2008, ‘the state’s motives’ for ‘discriminatory, exclusionary and punitive policies’ in the Negev ‘can be elicited from policy documents and official rhetoric’. The Israeli state’s aim: ‘maximising its control over Negev land and increasing the Jewish population in the area for strategic, economic and demographic reasons’. Professor Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University has put it bluntly: ‘the government wants to de-Arabise the land’.
In 2003, the then Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, announced a new initiative calling for 30 new towns, most in the Galilee and Negev. Apparently, Sharon had concluded that after investing in ‘settling the [occupied] territories’ it was now ‘necessary to settle the Galilee and the Negev’. At the time, the PM’s Adviser on ‘Settlement Affairs’ told a radio station that a key issue ‘in the establishment of these settlements’ is to locate them ‘in places that are important to the state, that is, for Jewish settlement; in other words, ‘to strengthen settlement in areas sparse in Jewish population’.
Just the previous year, in the context of a different plan to establish 14 new communities, Sharon told a government meeting: ‘If we do not settle the land, someone else will do so’. In the lead up to Israel’s evacuation of its colonies from the Gaza Strip in 2005, President George W. Bush wrote in a letter to Sharon how in the context of the ‘disengagement plan’, the US understood the importance of bringing ‘new opportunities to the Negev and the Galilee’. Discussing the aid Israel sought from the US to ‘cover the costs’ of disengagement, American-Jewish newspaper Forward noted that an Israeli government goal – ‘less explicit when pitched in Washington’ – is to ‘solidify a Jewish majority’ in the Negev and Galilee.
The Negev is the location for classic, unfiltered Zionist frontier discourse. The Jewish National Fund in the UK talks about supporting ‘the pioneers who are bringing the desert to life’, while the JNF in Israel boast of their ‘major role’ in ‘redeeming and reclaiming land’. An article in the Zionist magazine B’Nai B’Rith called the Negev ‘the closest thing to the tabula rasa [literally “blank slate”] many of Israel’s pre-state pioneers found when they first came to the Holy Land’. In the space where ‘redemption’ meets ‘tabula rasa’, is the rhetoric of Bedouin Palestinian citizens as a threat.