A spectre is haunting Israel ‒ the spectre of the Intifada continuing to spread beyond the limits of the Occupied Territories. A “Green Line” notionally separates Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel from Jordanian passport holders in the West Bank and the non-citizens of the Gaza Strip. However, Zionist oppression has hardly respected this line, and neither have Palestinian protests.
When Israeli politicians disagree on strategic responses to the Intifada, they are responding to widespread fears that it will destabilize acceptance of the Zionist state by Palestinian-Arab citizens. Although Israel relegates them to second-class status and officially registers their “nationality” as Arab, they have sustained a provisional loyalty to Israel ‒ at least until recently. Now, with the prospect of Palestinian national aspirations spreading from the Occupied Territories across the Green Line, there have been diverse strategic responses as well by Israel’s Palestinian-Arab leaders, most of whom seek to hold the Green Line. Although Palestinian Arabs comprise only 18% of the Israeli citizenry, their disruptive potential can be seen from their economic role in performing the construction and service jobs shunned by most Israelis, though formerly done by many Oriental Jews.
The “Green Line” took its name from the generic map-colour of military armistice lines [of 1949], but the colour can be seen to have an ecological meaning as well. The border mediates a relentless exploitation of land and water, even their potential exhaustion, by an Israeli state determined to usurp these resources from the Palestinian Arab population on both sides of the Green Line. The Israeli government’s great resistance to Palestinian demands derives partly from its growing economic reliance upon this systematic theft, an ecological imperialism intended to subordinate or even strangle Arab agriculture.
In the course of the Intifada, Israeli oppression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories has become well known, but its counterpart within Israel is less well known. Since the State of Israel was founded in 1948, its Palestinian-Arab citizens too have had their land confiscated, their water sources diverted and their houses blown up. As their population has increased five-fold since 1948, Israel has usually refused permission for them to extend the residential zones of their towns, and then has destroyed new houses built without licence. Palestinian-Arab citizens have also faced the punishment of “administrative detention” ‒ internment without trial ‒ for suspicion of political opposition.
The response from Palestinian-Arab citizens within Israel has included annual general strikes on Land Day, the 30th of March. This event commemorates the day in 1976 when the Israeli police and army shot dead several such citizens who were protesting against confiscation of their farmland in Sakhnin in the Galilee (northern Israel); the conflict over land use there had been festering since the State of Israel was founded. The period around Land Day 1989, the second one since the Intifada started, brought to a head a set of tensions around both economic exploitation and national identity.
Land Day 1989
On Land Day 1989 in East Jerusalem, youths raised the Palestinian flag and blocked roads. Schoolgirls erupted into demonstrations chanting “PLO! PLO!” in the direct view of soldiers, who predictably retaliated with plastic bullets, to which schoolboys responded with stones gathered from local building sites. Although Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day War and granted some rights to its population, the State did not grant citizenship, so this revolt could be seen as entirely outside the Green Line.
However, even within Israel’s 1948 borders (the Green Line), young Palestinian-Arab citizens displayed the flag, threw petrol bombs at police cars, and cut water pipes to Jewish settlements. This occurred in several places, especially in the Galilee. An Israeli journalist quoted such youths as saying that they saw little difference in treatment by the Israeli authorities on their side of the Green Line. That is, they saw their Israeli citizenship as no protection from the sort of oppression inflicted upon Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
Following clashes with police in Nazareth on Land Day 1988, local Palestinian-Arab leaders decided to move the 1989 Galilee protests to villages to the north, with a march from Sakhnin to Deir Hana for a rally there. As Sakhnin had been the site of the original 1976 killings, certainly this decision had a strong symbolic significance. Yet it can also be seen as a pre-emptive move by the local leadership, particularly the Israeli Communist Party (Rakah), the leading electoral force among Palestinian-Arab citizens within Israel. An unstated aim was to limit any public confrontation with the Israeli authorities, particularly around display of the Palestinian flag.
Not only is such display illegal, but it challenges Rakah’s policy of displaying the Israeli flag ‒ and even singing “Hatikvah”, the Zionist national anthem. The conflict with many Palestinian-Arab citizens arises from the party’s insistence that they already have a country, Israel. According to Nazareth lawyer ‘Aziz Shehadeh, Rakah tries to stop youths from raising the Palestinian flag as “part of its deal with the Establishment, to gain legitimation in Jewish society”. As put more bluntly by ‘Ali Jedda, of the Alternative Information Centre (Jerusalem), no police were needed at Deir Hana because “Rakah were the border police” (interview with the author, Spring 1989). His comparison refers, of course, less to physical repression than to an ideological policing of Israeli versus Palestinian national loyalty.
Shortly before Land Day, many Israeli politicians warned demonstrators against displaying the Palestinian flag. “We will not tolerate attempts from any group to incite violence. We have said that there will be no illegal slogans or signs. Anyone acting to the contrary will be stopped”, said ‘Abdel Wahab Daraousha, Knesset Member for the Arab Democratic Party (Jerusalem Post, 29 March 1989). Blaming demonstrators in advance for any Israeli retaliation, he assured Israeli Jews that Land Day “is not a day against the state”.
As it happened, the self-policing attempt failed in Deir Hana. The flag was carried briefly by the contingent from Abna al-Balad (Sons of the Village), the only Palestinian-Arab group within Israel who considers the PLO to represent them. They displayed the flag while chanting “This land is Arab land; Israel get out”. By these actions, they did far more than defy Israeli law and defend land rights; in effect they were also challenging identification with the Israeli state.
It is true that the Galilee demonstrators more generally shouted, “We want the same rights as Israeli Jews”, and “The Intifada will continue until winning a Palestinian state”. Most Palestinian-Arab politicians within Israel portray this latter slogan simply as solidarity with Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. Yet, coming in response to the insatiable Zionist grab for land and water, the wider forms of revolt suggest a potential challenge to the Israeli state itself. That prospect has been broached, in almost comically alarmist terms, by Israeli newspapers which carried such headlines as “Intifada in Haifa” (Ma’ariv) or which claimed that the PLO “instructed the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories to drag the Palestinian-Arab citizens within Israel into the uprising”‘ (Yedi’ot Aharonot, 27 March 1989).
Threat to Israeli survival?
A similar conspiratorial logic had guided the government in 1988 in closing down two Arab-language newspapers, even though their contents were regularly cleared by the official government censors. Both papers were circulating news from the Occupied Territories among Palestinians within the Green Line. Most extraordinary was the official reason for the closures. The newspaper produced by Abna al-Balad, Al-Raya (The Flag), was accused of being a front for the PFLP; Jews and Arabs producing the other banned paper, Tariq al-Sharara, were arrested for supposed membership in the DFLP and some editors given prison sentences. In the dominant Zionist demonology, both these sections of the PLO epitomize the bloodthirsty “terrorist” who wants only to infiltrate Israel to kill Jews. By using such accusations to close the two newspapers operating inside the Green Line, the authorities were attributing protests there to an external plot, aimed at destroying Israel.
While Zionism thrives on such conspiratorial paranoia, it is not mere paranoia for Israel to perceive the Intifada as a threat to its agro-economic stability, given the country’s dependence upon expropriated land and water. The Zionist establishment has responded to this threat with two main strategic responses: indirect versus direct control. This strategic choice parallels a similar one faced by all modern imperial powers, particularly by 19th-century Britain. Around the time of Land Day 1989, the choice was epitomized by two Israeli politicians, Peres versus Arens.
Pursuing the strategy of indirect rule, Vice-Premier Shimon Peres expressed willingness to consider some conditional concession of “land for peace”. In this way, he sought to resolve the Intifada before it further aroused nationalist aspirations among the Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel. In his view, it was better to get some puppet regime to police the Palestinians on behalf of Israel, which of course “does not wish to rule another people” (Jerusalem Post, 21 March 1989). For him, the proposed elections for the Occupied Territories might help to salvage something from the “Jordanian option”, which the Israeli Labour Party dropped when King Hussain had renounced any claim over the West Bank.
Continuing the strategy of direct rule adopted in 1967, Foreign Minister Moshe Arens argued that any concessions would encourage Palestinian national aspirations and lead to demands for yet more concessions. If Israel were to recognize the PLO, warned Arens, the PLO could “impose itself upon the Palestinians in the Territories, subjugate the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and destabilize Jordan” (Jerusalem Post, 21 March 1989).
A more extreme version of Ahrens’ logic sees Israel’s survival threatened by the very presence of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories or even within the Green Line. Hence the rise of the “Homeland” Party, which advocates wholesale “transfer” ‒ a euphemism for mass expulsion. While justifying their proposals in terms which strike an observer as paranoid, their designs on the Biblical Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) simply extend the expansionist process which founded the State of Israel and which has guided its expropriation of resources since then. Indeed, when Zionist politicians resist all Palestinian demands as a threat to Israel’s survival, a grain of truth lies in the term “survival”, considered in terms of ecological imperialism.
Making the Desert Bloom?
Put in statistical terms, it has been estimated that at least one third of Israel’s water supply is pumped from the subterranean watertable of the West Bank. Israeli control over the West Bank’s water even predates the 1967 Six-Day War. Long before then, Israel pumped water along the 1949 armistice line by using deep-drilled artesian wells. “After the West Bank was conquered by guns, the looting became much simpler”, argues a recent report (I. Jaquemet and S. Jaquemet, Land and Water, report prepared for the International Co-ordinating Committee for Non-Governmental Organizations on the Question of Palestine. Available from ICCP, PO Box 2100, 1121 Geneva 2, Switzerland). That is, Israel dug wells much deeper than the Palestinians’ existing wells, which then became exhausted or more saline.
Within 1948 Israel (the Green Line), the government had already regulated new well-drilling through licences, which were usually denied to Palestinians. After 1967 this control was extended to the Occupied Territories. The state imposed fines on anyone who pumped more than a fixed quota of water and expropriated wells belonging to “absentee landlords” ‒ Palestinians who fled the invading Israeli army, even if they subsequently attempted to return. According to Israeli government plans, by 1990 the West Bank’s projected 100,000 Jewish-Israeli settlers would have access to nearly as much water as the area’s one million Palestinian Arabs. By 1989 the number of settlers had fallen far short of that figure, though the government is stepping up attempts to convince Soviet Jews to colonize the West Bank rather than emigrate to the USA.
In 1982 the West Bank’s entire hydrological system was integrated into the Israeli national water company Mekorot. A suppressed report, prepared a few years ago, saw this integration of water systems as an obstacle to Palestinian independence: “… [T]o the extent that the basic public water services in the Occupied Territories have been interwoven with, and made dependent on, Israel’s own public water services, the former eventually will find it difficult to manage independently such essential services as water distribution for domestic, municipal, agricultural and industrial uses. It may thus become practically and politically impossible to sever the water administration of the Occupied Territories from those of Israel” (quoted in Jaquemet, op cit).
Israel further undermines Palestinian agriculture by subsidizing its own agricultural exports to the Occupied Territories and restricting other countries’ exports. As a result, the Territories have become a literally captive market: for example, Palestinians there can buy Israeli milk and eggs more cheaply than those produced locally. Subsidies also maintain three-quarters of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank as commuters to jobs in Israel ‒ not even as subsidized farmers using the land expropriated from the Palestinians. As Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared in 1985, there will be “no permits given for expanding agriculture or industry that may compete with the State of Israel”.
If we take into account all Israeli restrictions imposed on formerly Arab land, then by 1987 the extent of land expropriation had exceeded 40% of the Gaza Strip and 50% of the West Bank, including half the Jordan Valley farmland. Not only have the Palestinians suffered reduced access to land and water since 1967, but they have faced punitive measures since the Intifada: further Israeli restrictions on crop exports, irrigation and new enterprises; higher taxes and fines; curfews even in rural areas, etc. Many have abandoned agriculture for low-wage jobs in Israel. For all the above reasons, at least 10% of the West Bank’s farmland has been lost to agriculture since 1967 (ibid).
As economist Hisham Awartani has argued, the Territories’ economy has been “subordinated to that of Israel in a model of dependency that is much worse than typical models commonly reviewed in economic literature”. Israeli policy aims at “undermining independent economic development to pre-empt the viability of a future Palestinian state”, as well as “drawing surplus cheap Palestinian labour into the Israeli labour market” (interview with the author, Spring 1989). Far from making the desert bloom, Israel is strangling Palestinian agriculture by ecological imperialism.
Since long before the Intifada, one Palestinian response has been the “unauthorized” planting of olive trees. This can have only symbolic effects in a situation where the Israeli Army regularly blows up Palestinians’ houses, obstructs access to their fields, burns their crops and uproots trees. On several occasions it has justified such uprooting by claiming that orchards were being used as hiding places for throwing petrol bombs at Israeli Army vehicles (Ashkar, 1989). This pretext illustrates the paranoid logic that regards Palestinian agriculture, and the Palestinian presence itself, as a security threat.
Land expropriation has proceeded as well inside the Green Line: since the 1948 War of Independence, Israel has taken away roughly 80% of Palestinian-Arab land, including much of the most fertile. As in the Occupied Territories, Palestinian-Arab farmers inside the Green Line face severe restrictions on well-drilling. These policies have blocked the expansion of Arab villages, during a period when the Palestinian-Arab citizenry within Israel has increased roughly five-fold to 750,000. In the case of Sakhnin, site of the 1976 massacre commemorated on Land Day, most local people were once farmers but now commute as wage-labourers to Jewish-Israeli towns.
According to Mansour Kardosh, of the Nazareth-based Human Rights Association, many second-generation Palestinian-Arab citizens within Israel already earn more money than they could earn from agriculture, yet they have “absorbed their parents’ dream of returning to the land”. Even those without such aspirations feel strongly that the Israeli government should at least compensate farmers for the true commercial value of the land already expropriated, allow more housebuilding, irrigation, etc. (interview with the author, Spring 1989). And there remains the continual threat of further expropriations in the name of “nature reserves” or military use.
Some observers suggest that the Intifada has led the Israeli government to hold back on further measures against the Palestinian-Arab citizenry inside the Green Line, for fear that the revolt would spread to them. This may have lent some credibility to the attempt by the Palestinian-Arab parties there to restrict the struggle to one for democratic rights within the State of Israel. Yet many people argue that the Zionist state does not respect such boundaries and, therefore, neither should the struggle.
‘Ali Jedda criticizes those politicians who promote the illusion that Palestinian-Arab citizens within Israel can achieve full citizenship rights there: “Many of us are coming to understand that the problem is the nature of the Israeli state ‒ not just the occupation” (interview with the author, Spring 1989). For him, as for many Abna al-Balad supporters, only the collapse of that state can overcome the Palestinians’ oppression on both sides of the Green Line. Indeed, given the engineered economic underdevelopment of the Occupied Territories, a two-state solution may create a Palestinian Bantustan, while reinforcing the second-class status of Palestinian-Arab citizens within Israel.
When they express solidarity with the Intifada, their actions tend to merge with demands on their own behalf, and this link carries the potential for extending Palestinian national aspirations across the Green Line. The two-state solution, currently promoted by the PLO leadership, may falter not just because of Israeli intransigence but also because of that extended revolt. Will the Zionist counter-insurgency, along with “soft policing” by some Arab politicians within Israel, succeed in holding the Green Line?
Or will Zionist ecological imperialism provoke a response that destabilizes the Israeli state itself?
The Water Supply of Eretz Yisra’el
“It is necessary that the water sources, upon which the future of the land depends, should not be outside the borders of the future Jewish homeland… For this reason we have always demanded that the Land of Israel include the southern banks of the Litani River, the headwaters of the Jordan, and the Hauran region from the El Adja spring south of Damascus. All the rivers run from east to west or from north to south. This explains the importance of the Upper Galilee and the Hauran for the entire country. The most important rivers of the Land of Israel are the Jordan, the Litani and the Yarmuk. The Land needs this water.”
David Ben-Gurion, 1921 (cited by S. B. Cohen, Jerusalem Bridging the Four Walls, New York, Herzl Press, 1977, page 90).