It seems the case to some observers that the Israeli state has increasing recourse to naked violence in seizing Palestinian land either via settlers with the support of the Israeli military or utilising the military itself through declaring areas as required for its Firing Zones or for what are called “security reasons.” To what extent is this overt and unashamed violence a new development?
We’ve grown used to the claims of the JNF that it’s taking over of Palestinian land is to regenerate the land by planting trees or building reservoirs in desert areas. The JNF was for many decades the public face of Zionist colonisation, but it was never the whole story as an article by Professor Zachary Lockman of New York University written as long ago as 2012 makes clear. He argued that the apparently more ‘pacific’ nature of Labour Zionism and the JNF – seizing land and control of the labour market by economic means – was essentially just the result of a tactical decision, forced on it in the period when the Zionists did not control state power in ways they did later. Once they had that control, the violence implicit in the essential project could be unleashed (though they still had to consider international pressures.)
Today, there remains for the Zionist state, notwithstanding that it now has a monopoly of state violence, the problem of maintaining control over the land mass that they covet. For this they want the Jewish population to spread out more widely and break up Palestinian population concentrations. (See Allegra and Maggor, Political Geography 2022.)
As alluded to above, one method of doing this – and an area of JNF activity over the years – is the confiscation of Palestinian land for national parks, forests, and so on at the same time as the army has “needed” firing ranges where Palestinians happen to be living or raising their animals, but the other major method it seems, is by housing development or what the two academics call “metropolitanization”. While the JNF’s land seizures continue to be presented in Israeli propaganda as limited to agricultural and environmental development, some of the land under its control and its environmental projects are used for the Israeli state’s housing development schemes on Palestinian land. JNF publicity boasts of creating “open public spaces and gardens for urbanites to improve their quality of life and well-being.”
A major form of Jewish colonisation of the West Bank, in terms of population transfer, has been by the expansion of settlements serving as suburbs mainly for Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. This is a bonanza for private developers in neoliberal Israel but also draws a wide section of the Israeli population into supporting further colonisation by making available cheaper housing to them (subsidised by the state).
So, it’s not just a few Zionist fanatics who are driving this process – claiming ownership of certain archaeological sites or asserting fundamentalist readings of their holy texts as justification for throwing Palestinians out of their homes or attacking Palestinian farmers, chasing off their animals and destroying their crops. Different social groups are being coaxed into acting as state operatives, consciously or unconsciously, in the new housing developments.
What this has meant is that kindly-disposed, liberal Israelis, who are apparently merely seeking a family home that they can afford, have been given a vested interest in the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the state apparatus, whether in post-48 Israel or the West Bank.
Might this be another reason why each Israeli government is more right-wing than the last and the armed forces of the state are increasingly brutal in a whole range of circumstances where Palestinians are concerned?