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The Judaization of the Galilee

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The Judaization of the Galilee
A Long-Lasting Strategy Faced by a Bulwark of Palestinian Tenacity

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During the British Mandate period in Palestine, the destiny of Galilee––both the land itself and its Arab inhabitants––represented a fundamental concern for the Zionist movement. This concern was reflected in a number of positions and plans, which culminated in the occupation of Galilee and the removal of the majority of its Arab population in 1948. Despite the imposition of Israeli sovereignty, however, an Arab presence in Galilee persisted. Today, the Arab population’s demographic growth and rising militancy worries state officials, prompting the creation of a series of additional plans under various names: “Judaizing Galilee,” “Developing Galilee,” “population redistribution,” or “Settling Galilee’s Wasteland.”

The “Judaizing Galilee” project dates back to the second half of the 1930s. In July 1937, the British Peel Commission, charged with investigating the events of the Palestinian revolt, proposed a plan to partition Palestine into two states––one Arab, the other Jewish––in addition to a region that would remain under the direct control of the Mandate. The plan placed most of the district of Galilee (with its five subdistricts: Acre, Nazareth, Safad, Tiberias, and Baysan) within the Jewish state.

The British Woodhead Commission presented a report in November 1938 containing three possible plans. Plan A was effectively the same as the Peel Commission’s suggestion. Plan B placed the majority of the subdistricts of Acre and Nazareth in the zone under Mandate control, and the remaining subdistricts of Safad, Tiberias, and Baysan within the Jewish state. Plan C placed the entire Galilee within the Mandate zone. Although neither commission proposed placing any part of Galilee within the borders of the Arab state, the Mandate’s equivocation about the future of Galilee prompted concerns within the Zionist movement, which subsequently worked to undermine any possibility that Galilee would be outside the borders of the anticipated Jewish state, whether in part (as in the Woodhead Commission’s second option) or in full. For this reason, Zionist leaders put a plan into place called “Stockade and Watchtower” (Homa ve-Migdal), which accelerated and intensified Zionist settlement, with the intention of imposing a new demographic reality.

Until 1947, however, the Zionist movement was unable to enlarge its grip in the Galilee region and change its demographic balance in a tangible way––with the exception of Safad and Tiberias, to a certain degree. This may have been reflected in the partition map adopted by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 181, which placed parts of Acre and Nazareth subdistricts within the borders of the Arab state. This map notwithstanding, the Zionist leadership made the occupation of the entire Galilee one of the goals of “Plan Dalet,” which it launched in April 1948. Plan Dalet was designed to create geographical continuity between various new Jewish settlements scattered throughout Galilee, expel its Arab population, and destroy its Arab towns.

Despite the widespread destruction and mass expulsions, nearly 160,000 Palestinian citizens remained in the land on which the state of Israel was established in 1948. The majority of these Palestinians lived in Galilee. Most of them were subjected to military rule until 1966. In the early 1950s, plans were put in place to restrict the Arab population, seize their livelihoods, and prevent them from accessing their fields––all in the context of undermining the Arab presence in Galilee and preventing demands to return to the borders of the partition plan. Massacres were carried out to create a state of panic and fear among Palestinians, so that they would emigrate. Live ammunition was used to prevent the “infiltration” of Palestinians who wanted to return from their places of refuge behind the ceasefire lines.

At the same time, Israel developed “legal” mechanisms that allowed for the seizure of the greater part of Arab property, reduced the area of Arab villages, and limited the natural growth of these villages. In its first decade, Israel took over all lands belonging to Arab villages and cities that had been registered in the name of the British High Commissioner during the Mandate period, in the absence of local authorities to administer them or zoning maps. Israel also took over the lands and properties of the internally displaced, whom the Israeli “dictionary” labeled “present absentees.” In that first decade, nearly a million dunams of land were confiscated and taken over by the state of Israel for “security” reasons, or in the name of the “public interest.” Later, the majority of those lands, which had been Palestinian private property or publicly owned (“village lands”) were classified as “state land” before they were transformed, after a brief period, into Jewish settlements, or placed at the disposal of such settlements. State authorities also transferred ownership of some lands to the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund.

Next to restricting the Palestinian population and taking over their lands, settlements represent the third pillar of the Judaization of Galilee. Directly after the end of the war, Israel established settlement outposts on its northern borders (such as Yir’on, Shomera, Malkiya, and Sasa) in order to separate the Arab inhabitants that remained in Galilee from their brethren on the other side of the borders. Due to the difficult economic conditions that Israel experienced at the time, there were not many of these outposts, nor were they high density, in the initial years after the state was founded. Starting in the mid-1950s, however, various governmental or quasi-governmental Israeli institutions worked to surround Arab villages with Jewish settlement belts. Settlement cities were established (Nazareth Illit, or “Upper Nazareth,” in 1956, Ma’alot in 1957, Karmiel in 1964), while settlement blocks were developed, like the “Segev” block near the villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, Sha‘ab, Kawkab, and Kafr Manda.

Israeli efforts to settle Galilee continued in the early 1960s, as the settlement division of the Jewish Agency lobbied government departments to issue an official decision to settle Jewish inhabitants in Galilee in light of the steady increase in the Arab population there and the decreasing Jewish population. By 1966, this led to the development of a major settlement project in Galilee, known by the name “Samekh Samekh” (which is derived from a Hebrew expression, “Sof Sof,” which means “at last”). The Israeli prime minister at the time, Levi Eshkol, adopted the project and pushed for its implementation, encouraging quasi-governmental organizations (the Jewish Agency and National Fund) to carry out its objectives. The Ministerial Committee for Planning and Economic Affairs, which was headed by the prime minister, approved it in 1967. Its implementation was put on hold by the outcome of the 1967 war, after which the majority of settlement efforts were transferred to the West Bank, particularly Jerusalem, as well as the Gaza Strip.

In July 1972 the Israeli parliament amended the Law on Property Tax (Amendment 8), making owners of land––whether for agriculture or for building––liable for an annual tax equal to 2.5 percent of the value of the land (meaning that over 40 years, the owner has paid the equivalent of the full value of the land). The amendment was intended to make land a purchasable commodity and to impel Arab property owners to sell their land.

The 1973 war reintroduced concerns over the possibility of the separation of Galilee. The architects of official plans within the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency became aware that “Arab enclaves” within Israel were in dire need of “treatment,” especially since the most important of them are situated in the northern part of the country and constitute a natural extension of Syria and Lebanon. After the Jewish Agency completed its plan to settle Galilee (1974), it began to apply pressure on government departments to undermine the Arab presence in the region through settling areas around and inside its Arab towns.

As a result of this pressure, in early 1975 the Israeli government under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin began to issue decisions to confiscate many pieces of land, or declare them military zones as a first step toward confiscating them and annexing them to Jewish settlements. In the autumn of 1975, the government approved a project for the “Judaization of Galilee.” (The official expression, announced in the monthly bulletin of the Ministry of Agriculture in November of that year, was “developing Galilee.”) The basis of the project was a strategy that aimed to “create barriers in the heart of large, crowded regions inhabited by non-Jews.” This was the same strategy that was followed in Jewish settlement operations in the West Bank starting in the early 1970s. Meanwhile, in mid-January 1975, the Knesset Working Committee had recommended intensifying efforts to move “military factories from the center of the country to central Galilee, because moving these factories, which all depend on Jewish labor, will lead thousands of Jewish employees and their families to Galilee,” which would help change the region’s demographic makeup.

On 1 March 1976, Yisrael Koenig, the Interior Ministry’s District Commissioner for the Northern District, addressed a secret memorandum to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin entitled “Proposal—Handling the Arabs in Israel.” The memorandum, which became known as “the Koenig Memorandum” (after it was published in September 1976), included a description of the dangers––from the Israeli viewpoint––posed by the Palestinians in Galilee. It presented a number of recommendations, including intensifying Jewish settlement, encouraging Jewish investment projects that limited the number of their Arab workers, “diluting” Arab population concentrations, penalizing unlicensed construction, refraining from paying social benefits to large Arab families, encouraging Arab students to study abroad, and creating obstacles to their return. Palestinian Arab groups and institutions confronted Judaization of Galilee projects by announcing a general strike on 30 March 1976 in defense of Arab lands. The strike prompted clashes that led to the deaths of six unarmed citizens, killed by the Israeli police.

Israeli efforts to Judaize Galilee continue to this day. Israeli authorities have adopted an intensive plan to expand settlements throughout Galilee, by establishing “lookout” communities (observation posts aimed at preventing Arab expansion) and the so-called “Misgav” regional council, which includes several settlements built in areas around large Arab towns, and by creating incentives to draw Jewish settlers to these areas.

Despite these efforts, the Arab presence in Galilee has been maintained and its political activity and sense of its Palestinian identity continue to grow.

 

POPULATION OF GALILEE (in thousands): Selected Years and Percentage of Arabs

Subdistrict
2016
2008
1995
1983
1972
1961
08 Nov 1948
 
Total Population
1352.4
 
1201.7
 
916.5
 
636.2
 
473.4
 
337.1
 
144.0
 
Safad
116.0
 
104.5
 
82.0
 
64.8
 
56.7
 
45.6
 
10.8
 
Tiberias
114.0
 
101.4
 
82.5
 
62.6
 
49.6
 
43.3
 
19.5
 
Marj Ibn 'Amir and Nazareth
498.1
 
441.9
 
340.3
 
232.5
 
173.7
 
120.1
 
59.0
 
Acre
624..3
 
553.9
 
411.7
 
276.3
 
193.4
 
128.1
 
54.7
 
 
Arabs
No.
%
No.
%
No.
%
No.
%
No.
%
No.
%
No.
%
Total Population
727.3
53.78
633.8
52.74
458.0
 49.97
316.0
49.67
217.5
45.94
142.8
42.36
90.6
62.92
Safad
 12.4
10.69
10.9
10.43
7.5
9.15
5.3
8.18
4.1
7.23
3.0
6.58
1.9
17.59
Tiberias
33.6
29.47
29.8
29.39
22.1
26.79
15.7
25.08
11.2
22.58
7.9
18.24
5.1
26.15
Marj Ibn 'Amir and Nazareth
272.3
54.67
238.2
53.90
171.6
50.43
117.4
50.49
81.4
46.86
53.5
44.55
34.9
59.15
Acre
409.0
65.51
354.9
64.07
256.8
62.38
177.6
64.28
120.8
62.46
78.4
61.20
48.7
89.03
Jews
 
Total Population
581.6
 
531.4
 
447.4
 
320.1
 
255.7
 
194.3
 
53.4
 
Safad
99.4
 
88.8
 
72.8
 
59.5
 
52.5
 
42.6
 
8.9
 
Tiberias
76.6
 
68.0
 
59.3
 
46.9
 
38.4
 
35.4
 
14.4
 
Marj Ibn 'Amir and Nazareth
209.5
 
190.0
 
165.7
 
115.0
 
92.3
 
66.6
 
24.1
 
Acre
196.1
 
184.6
 
149.6
 
98.7
 
72.5
 
49.7
 
6.0
 

Source: Central Bureau of Statistics. Statistical Abstract of Israel 2017. Table no. 2.16. at cbs.gov.il

NB

 

Selected Bibliography

Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim A. (ed.). The Transformation of Palestine: Essays on the Origin and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1971.

Falah, Ghazi. “Israeli ‘Judaization’ Policy in Galilee.Journal of Palestine Studies 20, no.4 (Summer 1991): 69-85.

The Koenig Memorandum. Journal of Palestine Studies 6, no.1 (Autumn 1976): 190-200.

Nijim, Basheer K. and Bishara Muammar. Toward the de-Arabization of Palestine/Israel, 1945-1977. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1984.