Rene – Privatising Zionism

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Privatising Zionism
Increasingly, Israel is handing over its `Judaisation’ project to
private firms – leading to a corrosion of accountability
Published on Friday, December 14, 2007 by The Guardian/UK
by Neve Gordon and Erez Tzfadia
For less than four dollars an hour, the Jewish teenagers removed
furniture, clothes, kitchenware and toys from the homes and loaded them
on to trucks. As they worked diligently alongside the many policemen
who had come to secure the destruction of 30 houses in two unrecognised
Bedouin villages, Bedouin teenagers stood by watching their homes being
When all the belongings had been removed, the bulldozers rapidly
destroyed the homes. All those present, Jews and Bedouins, were Israeli
citizens; together they learned an important lesson in the
discrimination characterising civic life in the Jewish state.
The current demolitions are part of a strategy that began with the
foundation of the state of Israel. Its ultimate objective is the
Judaisation of space. In this case, the demolitions were carried out in
order to establish two new Jewish villages. Their establishment,
though, is part of a much larger plan that includes the construction of
about 30 new Jewish settlements in the Israeli Negev, the seizure of
Bedouin land for military needs, and the creation of dozens of
single-family farms on land that has been inhabited by Bedouins since
they were relocated to the region by the state in the early 1950s.
After witnessing the demolitions, a Bedouin activist asked one of the
Jewish teenagers why he had agreed to participate in the eviction.
Without hesitating, the teenager replied: `I am a Zionist and what we
are doing here today is Zionism.’
The teenager was not wrong. And yet he was probably too young to
recognise that even though Zionism’s major goals have not changed, the
methods deployed to realise them have been undergoing a radical
transformation. While, traditionally, the state itself performed the
task of Judiasing space, over the years the government has been
outsourcing more and more of its responsibilities to private firms. The
teenager himself was hired by a personnel agency, which was employed by
the state to carry out the job of expelling Bedouins from their homes.
The process of privatising Zionism has been slow. For over five decades
the state was the sole agent responsible for all planning of new
villages, towns and cities, and only the construction was carried out
by private contractors. Now, land from which the Bedouins are being
expelled is sold at rock bottom prices to big real estate moguls, who
are then responsible not only for building Jewish villages and towns,
but also for planning them. The private contractors manage to garner
larger returns than ever before, since the difference in price between
`unplanned’ land and land that has undergone `planning’ is enormous.
The personnel agencies and contractors are, however, not the only
heroes in the crusade to privatise Zionism. A five-minute drive
separates the two unrecognised Bedouin villages whose houses were
demolished from a number of single-family Jewish farms established in
the last few years. The state gives these Jewish farmers large plots of
land and connects them to basic infrastructure like water and
electricity, and, in return, expects them to be part of an apparatus
whose role is to contract and restrict Bedouin movement and development
and to help the security forces keep an eye on the Negev’s indigenous
If one drives a few kilometres further and crosses the Green Line into
the occupied Palestinian territories, one may notice that military
checkpoints are also being privatised. In the past year, at least five
such checkpoints have been handed over to subcontractors and are
currently managed by corporate warriors. The difference between IDF
soldiers and corporate warriors is that the latter operate within the
gray areas of the law. They are Israel’s Blackwater. Thus, as this
privatising trend continues the checkpoints in the West Bank, which
have already earned notoriety under the management of the Israeli
military, will surely become sites of more misery for Palestinians
trying to pass through.
The checkpoints, though, are just a recent development in a process
that has been going on for several years in the occupied territories.
In the early 1980s, the Israeli government allowed private contractors
to appropriate land within the occupied territories and sell it at
great profits, while the military created settler militias to help it
police the Palestinian inhabitants. These civilian militias were given
military-issue personnel carriers, weapons, and communications
equipment and were asked to patrol around their settlements, which, in
practice, often meant policing nearby Palestinian villages.
Zionism’s privatisation does not symbolise a strategic change but
rather a tactical one. The state has been shedding some of its
responsibility, while private entities have been taking on the tasks
that until recently had been carried out by the government. The major
difference is that the private firms are even less liable than the
state. Hence, the use of teenagers to evict Bedouins from their homes
is not only a reflection of this insidious process of privatisation,
but also the unrelenting corrosion of moral accountability.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev,
Israel. He is the author of From the Margins of Globalization. His book
Israel’s Occupation will appear in 2008 (University of California
Press). Erez Tzfadia teaches public policy at Sapir College in Israel.