Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel Takes Still More Land from Bedouin Village of Ramya for Ever-Expanding City

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel Takes Still More Land from Bedouin Village of Ramya for Ever-Expanding City

Article excerpt

Once the tiny Bedouin village of Ramya enjoyed uninterrupted views of the grassy uplands of the central Galilee. Today the huddle of shacks and tents is surrounded on all sides by luxury apartments-a new neighborhood of the ever-expanding city of Karmiel, here in northern Israel.

"We are being choked to death," said Salah Sawaid, Ramya's village leader. "They are building on top of us as though we don't exist. Are we invisible to them?"

His fears for the future have grown rapidly in the past few months, after a court ruled that the Bedouin village must be bulldozed to make way for Karmiel's further expansion. The decision, the culmination of what Sawaid called "betrayals" by successive Israeli governments, ended a decades-old legal battle by the villagers to remain on their land.

Salim Wakim, the lawyer who represents Ramya's 45 families, said the only avenue leftwas "popular struggle."

Yoav Bar, an activist from the nearby city of Haifa, is among a small group of Jews who have supported the families. "The apartheid here could not be more apparent. You look at Ramya and the homes in Karmiel and you see how democratic Israel really is if you are not Jewish.

"Ramya is living under a siege, little different from the one against Gaza," Bar added. "It is designed to force them to leave."

The contrast between the lives of the 180 inhabitants of Ramya and their neighbors in Karmiel is stark indeed.

Although the modern apartment buildings are now only meters away, the people of Ramya are living in a different era. They are denied connection to the electricity and water grids and other public services. Generators provide power for a few hours a day, and makeshift, above-ground pipes channel in a trickle of water.

Their homes, classified as illegal by the Israeli authorities, are tin shacks or modest breeze-block huts. Anything else would be certain to be demolished, said Sawaid.

And yet the village's purchase of the land was registered in the 1930s-before either Israel's founding in 1948 or Karmiel's creation 16 years later.

"We have the tabu [title deeds] for this land," said Sawaid. "And yet Israel refuses to recognize our right to live here. They have made us criminals. They say we are squatters. It is nonsense."

Karmiel, today with a population of nearly 50,000, was built in 1964 on agricultural lands Israel confiscated from several communities, including Ramya, that belong to Israel's Palestinian minority-those who avoided expulsion during the 1948 war.

Today, one in five Israeli citizens belong to this minority, a group that the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has described as "the forgotten Palestinians."

The official aim in establishing Karmiel was to "Judaize the Galilee," a government campaign to reverse the Palestinian minority's demographic hold on Israel's north by encouraging Jews to migrate and settle there. They were offered incentives of subsidized land and housing.

Palestinian citizens of Israel long have claimed that they suffer systematic discrimination and are denied basic rights. Suhad Bishara, a lawyer with Adalah, a legal center for the Palestinian-Arab minority, said the discrimination was especially acute in relation to land.

Israel has nationalized 93 percent of the country's territory for the benefit of the country's Jewish population, taking much of it from the Palestinian minority through mass confiscations, she said. Palestinian communities are lefton slivers of privately owned land.

In addition, dozens of Palestinian communities inside Israel, such as Ramya, are not recognized by the state, and the inhabitants' "presence in their homes has been made illegal," according to Bishara.

Bar and other activists joined the struggle to save Ramya after Israel's high court ruled last year that the Bedouin must leave within 90 days. The group staged its first demonstration in December in front of Karmiel's municipal building, followed by weekly protests in the city's main shopping area. …

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