'Judaise the Galilee’: Israel is expanding segregation

'Judaise the Galilee’: Israel is expanding segregation
6 min read

Ben White

08 June, 2023
As diplomats & journalists focus on Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank, there’s less attention on an expansion of segregation & racialised planning in the Galilee as the Israeli government intensifies historical policy, writes Ben White.
Yitzhak Wasserlauf, Israel's minister for the development of the periphery, the Negev and the Galilee bluntly stated: “we want to Judaise the Negev and the Galilee", writes Ben White. [GETTY]

The Israeli government’s latest efforts to expand illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank have been attracting attention from diplomats, journalists, and analysts, whether it is expanding transport infrastructure, re-establishing the evacuated Homesh colony, or moves to formalise the status of dozens of ‘unauthorised’ settlement outposts.

In the meantime, however, another key initiative of the government is going somewhat under the radar – even though it too is characterised by the priorities of segregated housing and racialised planning policy. But rather than taking place in the hills around Nablus or Ramallah, this project concerns territory within the Green Line.

On Monday, Haaretz published a report titled: Israeli Cabinet Advances Plans to ‘Judaize’ Galilee, Expand West Bank Settlements. As the article put it, “the government is advancing a number of steps to encourage Jewish families to move to communities in northern Israel, a region with a large Arab population.” Why, according to cabinet members? “To save Jewish settlement in the Galilee.”

“Settling Jews” in the Galilee

The project of ‘Judaising’ the Galilee goes back many decades, but this current Israeli government – with its religious-nationalist and far-right components – has given it a new lease of life.

The coalition agreement between Likud and Religious Zionism specified that ‘the new government will draw up and execute plans to ‘Judaise’ the Galilee and the Negev.’

This built on content within the Religious Zionism’s platform, which stated that “civilian possession of the land is a precondition for the sovereignty of the State of Israel”, adding that “weakening of the settlements, especially in sensitive parts of the country such as the central Galilee and the northeastern Negev, constitutes a danger of the first order to Israeli society” (my emphasis).

Religious Zionism’s Yitzhak Wasserlauf, appointed minister for the development of the periphery, the Negev and the Galilee, is blunt: “we want to Judaise the Negev and the Galilee.” Wasserlauf’s chief of staff is Yakhin Zik, formerly of far-right settler group Regavim.

MK Yitzhak Kroizer, of the far-right Israeli political party Otzma Yehudit, made an early foray as a lawmaker to ‘Ramat Arbel’, an unauthorised Jewish community in the Galilee that was described enthusiastically by him in exactly the same terms as West Bank outposts: “The time has come for us to strengthen the Jewish settlement in the Galilee, the time has come for us to establish settlements in all parts of the country.”

Like other themes of this government, ‘Judaising’ the Galilee has a continuity with historical policy, as well as constituting an escalation or intensification.

In the 1970s-1980s, dozens of small Israeli towns were created in the Galilee called ‘mitzpim’, or ‘look outs’. In press coverage of the inauguration of one such new “settlement” in 1980, it was noted that the purpose of these new communities was ‘stopping the rapid process of Arab villagers taking control over vast areas in the Galilee.’

Such preoccupations repeatedly return to the fore; in 2003, the then-treasurer of the Jewish Agency and later Kadima lawmaker, Shai Hermesh laid out a multi-agency plan to settle Jews in the Galilee and the Negev, citing a higher birth rate among Palestinian citizens that threatened “our majority there.”

In 2013, the World Zionist Organisation’s Settlement Division formulated ‘a plan to settle more Jews in the Galilee to achieve a demographic balance with the Arab population.’ The plan was intended to build on the mitzpim plan of the ‘70s-‘80s, ‘with the goal of “giving expression to Israeli sovereignty through settlement activity’ so as to ‘create a meaningful demographic balance.’

These are some noteworthy examples, but perhaps the best illustration of how this current government represents both continuity and escalation is the role of admission committees.

Housing segregation

Such committees – sometimes known as selection or acceptance committees – vet or screen potential residents in hundreds of Israeli communities, an important tool in a much broader institutionalised system of housing segregation and discriminatory planning.

According to a senior correspondent at The Jerusalem Post, the committee is a ‘uniquely Israeli invention,’ as ‘no other country in the world allows 90% of its rural communities to operate committees that restrict who may live in them’.

The committees are not new; kibbutzim, moshavim, and community settlements have long operated through cooperative associations to decide on potential residents – in the Naqab/Negev, for example, over 90% of Jewish communities use admission committees to screen residents.

‘Non-desirables’ – principally but not exclusively Palestinian citizens – can be rejected on the grounds of “lack of suitability”, as per articles of association adopted for that purpose. As Human Rights Watch put it as early as 2008, admission committees ‘have notoriously been used to exclude Arabs from living in rural Jewish communities.’

Thus, by the time that the Israeli government enshrined in law, in 2011, the committees’ function in communities of up to 400 households, it was formalising a long-established practice. In 2014, when the law was appealed to the Supreme Court, the justices refused to overturn the law, a decision which legal experts said effectively legalised the principle of segregated housing in 43% of all towns in Israel.

Now, the current Israeli government is seeking to expand the role of such committees – an objective included in the coalition agreements.

On Sunday, Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation backed a proposed bill that would expand the formalised applicability of admissions committees to community towns of up to 1,000 households, and in areas beyond the Galilee and Naqab - including West Bank settlements.

The law would thus hold the dubious distinction of being noteworthy as a deepening of both institutionalised discrimination and de-facto annexation.

On Wednesday, the bill – technically an amendment to the existing Admissions Committees Law – passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum by a majority vote of 39-15.

Building on ideologies and practical policies whose origins can be traced all the way back to 1948 – and earlier – today’s Israeli government is making crystal clear the nature of the de-facto single state which exists on the ground today, from the hilltops of the West Bank to the Galilee.

Ben White is a writer, analyst, and author of four books, including ‘Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel’.

Follow him on Twitter: @benabyad

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.