A Step too far: The Guardian again gives Neve Gordon the chance to delegitimize Israel

Thirty pieces of silver have apparently morphed with time into the £75 said to be paid by the Guardian for commissioned articles including those, no matter how far removed from the facts, which delegitimize and defame the Jewish state.

Regular readers of CiF will by now have become accustomed to the ideologically dictated rants of Neve Gordon and his rather unfortunate habit of spitting into the well from which he drinks, but with his latest CiF article Gordon and the Guardian have gone a step too far in their mutual crusade against the State of Israel and crossed the all-important red line between criticism (however biased or ridiculous) and libel.

The title of this diatribe is “Ethnic cleansing in the Israeli Negev” and the theme is continued in the body of the article itself which means that we cannot let Gordon off the hook by blaming some editor with comprehension difficulties; this is a joint effort. The definition of ethnic cleansing is “the attempt to create ethnically homogenous geographic areas through the deportation or forcible displacement of persons belonging to particular ethnic groups”. This is not what happened at Al Arakib on July 27th, and as a resident of the Negev, Neve Gordon knows that full well.

What did take place at Al Arakib was an attempt by the Israeli authorities to enforce the laws of the land in a geographical area with a population regrettably notorious for flouting them. The events of that morning are merely the result of years of refusal by the evictees to comply with the law and this particular case is only the tip of a very large iceberg.

For around a decade Israeli courts and various official bodies have been dealing with the case of Al Arakib and the numerous appeals presented by the Al Aoukab Bedouin tribe regarding this particular piece of land. The amount of documentation on the subject is huge, but the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court from 2006 gives an insight into the case which Neve Gordon obviously did not bother to investigate before he put digit to keyboard.

As explained in this Jerusalem Post article, those evicted this week have refused time after time to comply with court orders.

“The Israel Lands Administration issued a statement on Tuesday saying the demolitions came after “a legal and physical struggle that stretched over many years.” Eleven cinderblock buildings and 34 made of tin were demolished, the ILA said.

Some 850 trees were removed and will be replanted elsewhere. The ILA said the uprooted trees had been planted by residents to strengthen their claim to the illegal settlement.
In the statement, the ILA said that residents first “invaded” the area in 1998, were soon evicted, and returned a year later.

The ILA said residents had been asked to rent the land for agricultural purposes for NIS 2 per dunam (0.1 hectare), but “they refused to pay and continued to infiltrate the land year after year.”
After an eviction notice was issued in 2003, the residents filed a petition that made its way to the High Court of Justice.

While the petition was being heard, the residents “continued to infiltrate and squat on state-owned land, and in fact expanded their infiltration through constructing illegal and unproved buildings, crudely trampling on the law,” the ILA said.

In 2007, the Beersheba Magistrates’s Court dismissed residents’ request for a delay in implementation of the eviction orders and ruled that residents were “infiltrators repeatedly seizing state land after being evicted.”

This type of illegal squatting and building is commonplace in the Negev where there are 50,000 illegal structures and 1,500 to 2,000 new ones are added each year. The 2008 Goldberg Report, commissioned by the Israeli government to tackle the issue of regulation of Bedouin settlement in the Negev, concluded that

“There is no longer a place for turning a blind eye to the subject of law enforcement. Enforcement must be carried out in a determined and energetic manner in order to communicate a clear message that the Negev is not the country’s back yard and that the country’s laws are not to be categorized as recommendations only”.

Retired High Court Judge Eliezer Goldberg recommended the retrospective recognition of some of the ‘unrecognised’ (illegally built) Bedouin villages, but the decision as to which ones is in the hands of the official authorities as it is in any other developed country, with factors such as ecological considerations and quality of life being taken into account. Israel is currently undertaking the construction of additional towns and villages designed to house the Negev Bedouin population which doubles in number every 13 years.  As the Israel Lands Authority explains:

In recent years, some of the Bedouin residing in the dispersed areas have started claiming ownership of land areas totaling some 600,000 dunams (60,000 hectares or 230 square miles) in the Negev – over 12 times the area of Tel Aviv!

The Israel Land Administration (ILA) is doing everything in its power to resolve the problems of the landless Bedouin in the Negev. Although this matter is exceedingly complex given the large number of claimants (15,000) who represent the clans of the original claimants, investigation of all land ownership claims has been recently expedited… Instead of prosecution, Israel proposes to settle the conflict by offering extremely generous settlements in return for the withdrawal of the Bedouin’s ownership claims. By 2006, the ILA’s efforts to reach compromise agreements with Bedouin land claimants had resulted in agreements regarding 150,000 dunams out of the 800,000 dunams under dispute.

Neither are such problems of illegal land grabs confined solely to the Negev. Similar problems exist in the Galilee, the Judean Hills and recently in the northern Golan. Obviously no country which operates under a rule of law which designates equal rights and equal obligations for all its citizens can tolerate a situation in which certain sectors of the society who wish to build a house must pay for the land upon which they build, apply for the relevant permits, abide by planning permission regulations and pay municipal taxes whilst other sectors ignore these rules and regulations completely and then raise false cries of discrimination when brought to account.

Of course Neve Gordon and his friends from the extreme Left (who, from the television coverage of the event which I watched, seemed to be the people most engaged in physical and verbal resistance to the police, creating a dramatic item for the TV cameras)  inevitably remain significantly silent on the subject of land grabs, sometimes of designated nature reserves, by non-Jews, harassment of Israeli farmers in the Galilee or evictions conducted by Hamas. Their moral outrage – and that of the Guardian too, of course – appears to be reserved solely for instances in which it is possible to make political capital en route to a total deligitimisation of the State of Israel.

In this instance however, Neve Gordon and the Guardian have gone way too far. The false accusation of ethnic cleansing is a libel which should be challenged in a court of law if not immediately retracted by Gordon and the Guardian with an appropriately visible apology. With the highest number of lawyers per capita in the world, Israel has no excuse for allowing such libels to stand in the public domain and thereby contribute to the ‘drip drip’ erosion of its very moral legitimacy.

This libel is also an insult to the hundreds of thousands of people in this world who really have suffered ethnic cleansing and reduces the term to the point of politicized ridicule – something to which every person truly concerned about human rights, regardless of religion or nationality, should strongly object.

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