Historical archive reveals Israel's plans to expel Negev Palestinians
Newly studied archives showing Israel's intention to forcibly displace thousands of Palestinians from the Negev Desert (also known as the Naqab) could help Bedouins claim back their lands, Israeli media reported on Monday.
Professor Gadi Algazi, a historian from Tel Aviv University, uncovered archives documenting a 1951 Israeli military operation to forcibly expel Palestinian Bedouins from their lands in the Negev, a large desert historically inhabited and cultivated by Bedouin tribes.
The archival materials were originally released in 2017.
They include a letter written by Moshe Dayan, then head of the Israeli army's Southern Command, and a document written by the military government in the area. According to Algazi's research, the two documents prove the army's intention to forcibly move the Bedouins from their lands in order to seize them.
“There was an organized transfer of Bedouin citizens from the northwestern Negev eastward to barren areas, with the goal of taking over their lands. They carried out this operation using a mix of threats, violence, bribery and fraud,” Algazi told the Israeli daily Haaretz.
Some believe the documents could shift the balance in favour of displaced Negev Palestinians in various lawsuits against the Israeli government, and create a legal precedent.
Bedouins from the Negev have testified for years that Israeli soldiers expelled them but this is the first time historical research provides evidence of an orderly state expulsion plan.
Israel's official stand on the Negev is that Palestinian Bedouins left their land following Israel's 1948 declaration of independence, and never returned.
Known as the Nakba - or Catastrophe - by Palestinians, this dramatic event witnessed the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from massacres committed by Zionist militias, who seized their villages and towns.
In 1953, Israel passed laws expropriating all land whose owners had been absent and not returned by April 1952, effectively seizing the property of Palestinians who left during the Nakba.
The new archival revelations come as protests continue in the Negev against an afforestation plan led by the controversial Jewish National Fund (JNF), a quasi-state organ whose aim is to buy a maximum amount of land on behalf of Israeli Jews. The protests began in early January.
The Israeli Land Authority assigned some 1,300,000 square metres of land belonging to a Bedouin tribe to the JNF, with 370,000 square metres being allocated for forest planting.
Several protests have taken place across Palestine in solidarity with Negev residents. The latest one took place on Sunday in Jerusalem.
Israeli forces have arrested dozens of activists and demonstrators, including several children, since the start of their campaign to "Save the Negev".