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Zionism in the Present Tense


Gadi Algazi

he subject is broad, and we have little time on our hands. It is also


highly controversial. Let me single out some of the difficulties and
briefly sketch out the approach I adopt here.1
If you ask people in Israel what Zionism is, you are likely to get many different answers. Some would define Zionism simply as good citizenship.
Others are likely to identify it with Jewish nationalism, while others with
violent expansionism. This has led several observers to argue that Zionism
no longer actually exists or is no longer relevant. This situation also produces endless discussions about what Zionism really is. In some respects,
there is nothing peculiar about this state of affairs: Modern ideologies are
often amorphous; it is notoriously difficult to reduce them to a few clear
statements and Zionism is no exception to this rule. One might compare it to something like a modern state ideology, comparable to the way
nationalist practices and approaches are often labeled American in the US,
while some forms of challenging inequality or imperial domination are
labeled Un-American. In that minimal sense, Zionism currently refers to
a set of attitudes broadly consonant with the State of Israels basic policies.
There is much truth in this view, insofar as the State of Israel itself incorporates Zionist ideology in its institutional structures, parts of its legislation
and many of its long-term policies. This leads us directly to the focus of
this talk: Not the history of Zionism, not a survey of the broad spectrum
of Zionist ideas, but the ways that it suffuses existing power structures.
I was asked to talk about the legacy of Zionism, about its effects on structures of power and social inequalities in present-day Israel. I will hence
focus on its actual presence as a political force shaping present realities in
Israel/Palestine, and say as little as possible about its history, and very little
about it as a set of ideas. This requires some clarifications.
First, my focus is decidedly local: I will discuss the realities of our shared,
blood-soaked country, and not Jewish communities in different corners of
the world. Second, I will depart from a long-established tradition of debating Zionism in European, and specifically German, contexts. I do this for
two reasons: Our discussion has to be embedded in a specific social and

The article is based on the lecture held at the diAk Conference Israel 2012: Democracy
under Pressure, October 2628, 2012.

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political context. Clarifying the local context, the one of Israel/Palestine,


is complicated enough. Moving back and forth across too many contexts
would not yield a fruitful discussion and would make it difficult to consider the complexities of any single context. But beyond this pragmatic
consideration, insisting on viewing Zionisms role in shaping realities in
Israel/Palestine should counter, to some extent, the tendency for Israeli
and Palestinian societies to disappear as concrete realities from European,
and often German discussions of Israel and Palestine. The conflict tends to
be perceived knowingly or not primarily through Eurocentric lenses:
Israelis of all origins and colors stand for Jews, more specifically for European Jews as imagined in the Western tradition; Arabs, and especially Palestinians, are treated as having no history of their own, but often figure
as incarnations of forces and figures from European history.2 The Middle
East as a whole and Israel/Palestine in particular, is often reduced to a mere
screen upon which fears, wishes and memories are projected.
I will deal with Zionism primarily from the perspective of its actual political effects, focusing not on ideas and ideals but rather on its social functions
and the practices it suffuses and legitimates. Seeking to avoid an internal
approach which would lead us to endless debates about the true content of
Zionism and to the endless re-invention of an authentic, imagined Zionism, I opt for focusing on what Zionism does. This does not exclude other
approaches; ideas do matter a great deal, and even more important are
peoples reasons for adopting them. But it would be useful, I would argue,
to postpone an examination of political ideology from within in terms
of its promises to its adherents, their wishes and fears and to examine
its effects in the social world.

Colonizing the Occupied Territories


It was indeed not uncommon in the 1990s to say in Israel that Zionism
belonged to the past, perhaps to the period before Israels foundation in
1948, perhaps a bit later but certainly not to the present. Although PostZionism was only a specter and not a social or political reality, it was more
than a buzzword: it reflected the illusions of the Israeli elite.
The 1990s were the days of the Grand Illusion, of an endless peace process
that brought about the modernization of the Israeli occupation of the
Occupied Palestinian Territories (to a significant extent with financial aid

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Said, Edward W. (1980): The Question of Palestine, London, p. 54.

by the European Union), and in its wake the brutal resurgence of the
conflict after October 2000, an enormous amount of suffering, and the
construction of that great monument of modern civilization known as
the separation wall. Palestinians and Israelis have paid a dire price for
the illusions of the 1990s, most importantly, for failing to face the issue
of colonization and settlements, for the false promise of decolonization
light. The Oslo peace process carefully avoided the basic issues political
sovereignty, settlements, refugees, and the redistribution of resources. In
October 2000, large sectors of the Israeli elite were deeply disappointed
by the Palestinians who were no longer willing to keep waiting for nevernever day, having realized that throughout the years of the Oslo Process,
only one process left deep, solid traces in social reality: The expansion of
the colonies, as the number of Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories
more than doubled.
This reality, the one shaped by colonization and dispossession, is the heart
of the matter. It is clear enough now that at the heart of our tragedy the
crux of injustice and the most serious obstacle to any viable, acceptable
historical compromise between Israelis and Palestinians lies the settlement process.3
Although successive Israeli governments are politically responsible for
the settlement project, it is essential to see that in practice, it has always
been basically a joint project, driven by an alliance of three major players:
The state, political movements, and a few large-scale organizations. The
state acted through a broad spectrum of ministries (Agriculture, Construction, Defense, Tourism, etc.), but one should not overlook the pioneering role of the Israeli armys special Settlement Branch in this regard.
Soldiers were often used, especially until 1978, to occupy military outposts that would turn into permanent settlements, but the major source
of manpower was civil: Successive Israeli governments have worked in
tandem with Zionist political movements which provided the bulk of
the settlers and promoted the colonization process from the left Zionist
Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza ir to the messianic ultra-nationalist Gush Emunim.
Both government and settler movements have relied on the continuous
support of the Zionist movement more specifically, of its large-scale
organizations which have played a key role in financing and realizing the
colonization project.

Zertal, Idith/Eldar, Akiva (2007): Lords of the Land: The War over Israels Settlements in
the Occupied Territories 19672007, New York.

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We are now all familiar with the horrible reality in the West Bank a fragmented space, interspersed with Jewish settlements connected by a network of roads which separate Palestinian communities from each other,
and interlocking with a system of roadblocks, checkpoints, and the separation fence. This pattern has been shaped by two master-plans laid out in
19781979, one drafted in a government office, the other in the bureaus
of the World Zionist Organization (WZO): The Sharon Plan the blueprint for settlement prepared by Ariel Sharon, Minister of Agriculture in
Menachem Begins first government, and the Drobles Plan the blueprint
for colonizing the West Bank prepared by Matityahu Drobles, head of the
Settlement Department of the World Zionist Organization between 1978
and 1992.4
The role of the World Zionist Organization is not confined to strategic
planning. After 1967, the Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL) was involved
in purchasing land in the Occupied Palestinian Territories through Himanuta (a wholly-owned KKL subsidiary);5 shady land deals have repeatedly
given rise to accusations of corruption, forging documents and bribery.6
In addition, the KKL played a key role in building the infrastructure for
settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.7 In fact, in the first ten
years of Israels occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan
Heights, when colonization projects were not openly acknowledged by the
government, the KKL proved an efficient vehicle for promoting colonization through the back door.8 After 1977, as the right-wing Likud party took

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In fact, the Department already had a head the aging Raanan Weitz from Mapai
(Labor). For a while they served together, but right-wing Drobles, member of the Likud,
was the effective head, and stayed in this position for 17 years.
On Himanutas recent involvement in the eviction of Palestinian residents of Silwan
see Sheizaf, Noam (2011): Despite denials, JNF to continue eviction effort of Jerusalem
Palestinians, +972 Magazine, 28.11.2011 (http://972mag.com).
Sharvit, Noam (2005): JNF executives suspected of corruption and land fraud, Globes,
27.2.2005; Barkat, Amiram (2005): JNF-owned company bought land in the territories,
Haaretz, 17.2.2005; Levinson, Chaim (2013): Ex-IDF official in West Bank cuts plea deal
over bribery, Haaretz, 9.4.2013. For older cases involving accusations of forging documents and using bribes, see In Injunction Order issued against selling Notre Dame,
Davar, 13.12.1970 [Hebrew]; Bachar, Ilana/ Freud, Talma (1986): Two Lawyers and a
Land Broker suspected of forging land titles, Maariv, 19.6.1986 [Hebrew].
Three examples from among many: Preparing the Ground for Mevo Choron [Settlement], Davar, 26.5.1972; Preparing the Ground for a New Settlement in Pithat Rafiach, Davar, 13.4.1972; Tzvi Ilan, A Jewish Country is being created in the Shomron
Desert, Davar, 22.12.1972.
In one of the more prominent cases, the New York Times uncovered the construction of
a massive road in the West Bank the Allon Road in the Jordan valley. The road was

power, the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization took


over; the KKL still promotes colonization projects in the West Bank (especially in the Jordan Valley),9 but the usual procedure is for the Israeli government to allocate funds to the Settlement Division of the WZO involved
directly in constructing and expanding settlements in close cooperation
with settlers organizations.10 An Israeli journalist has recently found out
that so much money is being channeled to the Settlement Department in
this way, that even in times of budget cuts affecting essential social services,
it is quite regularly being granted significantly more money than was originally budgeted.11
This powerful triangle the state (including its security establishment), the
Zionist settler movements (providing the hardcore of new settlers and waging the day-to-day war on the ground), and the World Zionist Organization
(contributing money and infrastructure through its Settlement Department
and the KKL) has been the major force behind the colonization of the
West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. This alliance is still with us. All
the partners not only invoke Zionism as the ideological framework for their
joint efforts but are part of the Zionist movement and its institutions.
If political power is not just about managing everyday business, but primarily about making strategic choices about the future of political communities, then clearly the settlements are the most important single factor shaping the future of Palestinians and Israelis and the most serious obstacle to
any solution based on the principles of equality and self-determination. In
that respect, we are still dominated by Ariel Sharons vision; we still live in
the shadow of the Drobles Settlement Plan in its various continuations.
This is the single most important Zionist legacy that must be considered
in any discussion of a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The continuing, unbroken hegemony of this alliance for the past 45 years
is one important reason why political discussion in Israel nowadays has
become emptied of political content, avoiding the most crucial issue the

in fact built by the KKL: Talmi, Menachem (1973): The Allon Road What all the fuss
is about, Maariv, 23.2.1973.
9 Tarabut Report (2013): JNF in the Jordan Valley: Colonization Now, 8.2.2013, Tarabut
Website (www.tarabut.info).
10 More precisely, there are two different Settlement Departments; the Settlement Branch
of the Jewish Agency, controlled basically by its major donors, operates mainly within
pre-1967 Israel, while the Settlement Department of the WZO focuses on the Occupied
Territories but since 2004 also within pre-1967 Israel.
11 Levinson, Chaim (2013): WZO Settlement Department gets more money than it is
budgeted, Haaretz, 17.6.2013.

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Palestinian question. More than anything, this avoidance reflects political


helplessness in the face of this massive fact the weight of political choices
and projects undertaken by an alliance between state and non-state institutions, such as the KKL and the WZO, over which Israeli citizens let
alone Palestinians have no control. This largely invisible division of labor
between the deep state and the WZO makes it extremely hard to make
state institutions accountable: The state has been able to promote colonization through the backdoor, using the KKL the Jewish Agency or the WZO;
it can similarly register state land under the KKLs subsidiary, Himanuta a
private company so that this land cannot be leased or sold to non-Jews.12
It would have been irresponsible on my part to talk about power in Israel
while ignoring the occupation. Let us now cross the Green Line, setting
aside the territories occupied since 1967, and focus on Israel within its pre1967 borders. The most important and tangible ways Zionism is shaping
current realities in Israel are (1) through the control of essential resources
primarily land, (2) its key role in the radical, forced transformation of
the social-natural landscape, that is in colonization, and (3) by shaping
decision-making and disenfranchising Israeli citizens through established
patterns of collusion between the state and Zionist organizations, not
necessarily based in Israel. I shall illustrate each in turn while focusing
mainly on the KKL (the Jewish National Fund).

Controlling Key Resources: Land


Land is, of course, not everything, but in a settler-colonial society, such as
the Israeli one, it accounts for much and not for its symbolic value alone:
Land and water retain their importance for agriculture in a world preparing
itself for the end of the illusion of an endless food supply. In a society such as
Israels, where so many people are homeless, in which housing remains one
of the most pressing social issues and a crucial dimension of social inequality access to land is crucial; fortunes can be made in the construction business, and all major banks are heavily invested in mortgages for housing.
93 % of the land in Israel is in state hands; before 1948, Jews owned less
than 5 % of the land. Until 1948, Palestinians owned 82 % 84 % of the
land; now, the remaining Palestinians within Israel 20 % of its citizens
own no more than 4 %. This is blatant enough in terms of expropriation
and inequality. Most of this massive transfer of property occurred not dur-

12

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Blougrund, David (2001): The Jewish National Fund, The Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies, p. 10 (www.israeleconomy.org).

ing the war of 1948, but between 1949 and 1953, through two pieces of
legislation whose outcomes we live with to this very day: The Absentees
Property Law (1950) and the Land Acquisition Law (1953). All political
parties defining themselves as Zionist supported the two laws.13
Large parts of the landed property of the Palestinian refugees were transferred in several steps from the states custody to the main institutions
of the Zionist movement either as their property or for long-term use.
Israels Development Authority was invested with most the land; it was a
joint body consisting not only of representatives of branches of the government (the Ministries of Finance, Agriculture, Industry, and Labor), but
also of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund.
The Palestinian refugees most valuable lands were sold by the state in a shady
deal a true Nacht-und-Nebel-Aktion to the Jewish National Fund in order
to forestall any possibility of the state having to restitute the property to the
Palestinian refugees. On December 11, 1948 the UN adopted resolution 194
(III) recognizing the Palestinian refugees right of return or compensation for
their property. By January 1949 the government adopted the idea of selling
1 million dunam (1 dunam = 0.1 hectare) to the Jewish National Fund; the
deal was followed by a second One Million Dunam deal, but due to subsequent difficulties, the KKL gave back some of it to the state. The KKL did not
even pay the whole price agreed upon because it was able to use state funds
to pay the state for the stolen land it acquired.14 These lands according to
conservative estimates, total at least 1,5 million dunam more than double
the amount of land bought by the KKL since its foundation.15
The KKL still owns most of these lands; they are its most important source of
revenue. The KKL enjoys, as we shall see, a special legal status in Israel; it is
exempt from taxes, but it does not make its income public nor is it currently
subject to Israels Freedom of Information Law.16 Israels leading economic

13

Parliament members of the left Zionist Mapam were absent during the vote on the Land
Acquisition Law (1953).
14 Kremnitzer, Mordechai/Confino, Roy (2013): Legislation Note The Bill Regarding the
Land Exchange Deal Between the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Land Administration, 17.4.2008, Israel Democracy Institute Website (www.idi.org.il).
15 Oren-Nordheim, Michael (1999): The Crystallization of Settlement Land Policy in the
State of Israel from Its Establishment and During the First Years of the Israel Lands Administration (19481965), Ph. D. dissertation (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University), pp. 236
266 [Hebrew]. On the eve of the foundation of the state of Israel, the JNF owned 942,092
dunam; by August 1964 the JNF owned 2,604,916 dunam (ibid, pp. 51, 264).
16 Winograd, Alona (2013): What is going on in the JNF?, Haaretz, 5.7.2013; Hovel, Revital: JNF could be subject to state comptroller review if Israels justice ministry has its
way, Haaretz, 25.7.2013.

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newspapers published estimates according to which the landed property of


the KKL yields an annual revenue amounting to ca. 1 billion New Israeli
Shekel a year more or less the annual income of one of Israels biggest and
most successful IT companies, Matrix.17 The concentration of resources and
wealth in the KKL has made it the object of repeated, fierce fights for control
among Israeli politicians, involving serious charges of corruption.18
But the issue is not income alone, but power and systematic discrimination. The primary purpose of the JNF is the acquisition of land for the
purpose of settling Jews. According to the JNF company memorandum,
all its lands that is, including the Palestinian landed property acquired
through expropriation are to be leased to Jews only.19
You might say this is history. It is not. As it turns out, some of the KKL
lands are concentrated in the central area of Israel, around Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, and are among the most valuable land in the country.20
Any present discussion of housing problems in Israel, of the need for a just
division of public resources and at the same time, any serious discussion
about historical justice for the Palestinian refugees has to come to terms
with the fact that a single corporation, not controlled by Israels citizens, is
the sole owner of these valuable and essential land reserves.

Dispossession and Colonization


There is more to it. In 1961 the KKL signed a covenant with the State of
Israel, an agreement which is still in force.21 The KKL transferred to the control of a state organ the Israel Land Administration the management

17 In 2008 circa 972 million NIS from land rent; in 2009 1,133 million NIS; ca. 1,000
in 2011: Choresh, Hadar (2011): Israel Land Administrations Income ca. 4.36 billion,
Maariv, 3.8.2011; Blau, Uri (2011): Seeing the Forest and the Trees: The Untold Story of
the Jewish National Fund, Haaretz, 9.12.2011.
18 Sadeh, Shuki (2011): This is where Money actually Grows on Trees: What One really
does with your Donations to the KKL, Haaretz, 6.1.2011 [Hebrew]; Sadeh, Shuki (2013):
Whats between the JNF and Pro-Israel Graffiti in Hebron? Haaretz, 13.6.2013.
19 More precisely, to any Jew or any unincorporated body of Jews or to any company
under Jewish control which is engaged or intends to engage in the settlement of Jews
(Keren Kayemeth Le-Israel (JNF), Memorandum of Association, 1954).
20 Some data were divulged by the chairman of the KKL, Effi Stenzler, in a public lecture given
in June 2009; Zionism at its best both in the Negev and the Galilee, Karka 67 (2009).
21 Earlier still, the link between the State of Israel and the World Zionist Congress was
regulated. In 1952, a special law recognized the special status of the WZC and the Jewish
Agency as bodies authorized to act toward developing the country and its colonization.
A special covenant was drawn between the state and the WZC in 1954, and replaced by

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of its landed property without renouncing its ownership rights. In return,


it acquired a special status in the administration of all land in Israel. It is
represented in the highest echelons of the Israel Land Administration,22
and the Israel Land Administration undertook to administer KKL-owned
land according to KKL rules, that is, not to lease such land to Arabs. This
is the way things work to this very day.23
We do not have exact figures about the amount of land that switched
hands in the 1950s, nor do we have reliable historical accounts explaining
who precisely gained from this massive transformation and how. But it
cannot be denied that this huge transfer of land has far-reaching implications not only for the existing inequalities between Jews and Arabs
in Israel. It also brought about a huge concentration of resources in the
hands of a small group closely allied with the state and Zionist institutions. A colonial situation creates enormous possibilities for groups and
individuals to enrich themselves by virtue of their relative proximity
to centers of power. There was a huge amount of wealth to distribute,
directly or indirectly. Some of it is easily visible; for example, the debate
about the land allocated to Kibbutzim that erupted in Israel in the 1990s,
when the same privatization that created opportunities for making huge
profits out of landed property also brought to light the Kibbutzims share
in the spoils of Palestinian lands and the exclusion of other groups,
most notably Jews of Arab origin and culture from any comparable
share. Still, we do not yet have a social portrait of the elite that emerged
through these formative processes in the 1950s. As sociologist Shlomo
Svirski has shown,24 this elite was to a large extent state-made: it relied on

a second one in 1979. In the covenant, the purpose of the WZC is defined as agricultural
settlement, acquiring land and preparing it through its organs.
22 Until recently, KKL was entitled to be represented by half the members of the board
of the Israel Land Authority; now it is represented by two members, the other 7 representing different government ministries. It has been customary for the KKL board
member to head the Land Authoritys most important committee the Land Committee. As Im revising this paper for publication, Israeli newspapers report about
another major conflict over control between the extreme right-wing Construction and
Housing Minister and the KKL which may result in a shift in the composition of the
Land Authoritys board.
23 The lands of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael shall, moreover, be administered subject to the Memorandum and Articles of Association of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael
(Covenant between KKL and the Government of Israel, 1961).
24 Svirski, Shlomo (2005): 1967: A Social-Economic Turning-Point in Israels History,
in: Avi Bareli et al. (eds.): Society and Economy in Israel: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, Beer Sheeba: Ben-Gurion Research Institute, Vol. 1, pp. 91116;

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the allocation of resources through the state or the Zionist movement


and often on both.
The second aspect to be considered briefly is not the allocation of
resources but their transformation, that is, colonization. The Zionist
movement has been the force driving forward the internal colonization
of the Galilee and the Negev, no less than in the West Bank, the Gaza
Strip and the Golan Heights. This does not apply to the 1950s alone. The
Judaization of the Galilee since 1975, for instance, was a joint project of
the Settlement Branch of the Jewish Agency, the KKL , and of successive
Israeli governments from Labor to Likud. Here as elsewhere it is difficult to distinguish neatly state officials from Zionist functionaries, as
agents routinely crossed over from state service to key positions in the
Jewish Agency, for instance, and vice versa, so that cooperation is only
partly visible in formal institutional exchanges. Also, the Judaization of
the Galilee since the mid 1970s involved a familiar mixture of demographic arguments, security discourse, demonization of the Palestinian
citizens and the creation of venues for gentrification and social mobility
for Jews. In that respect, it foreshadowed the second, urban wave of colonization of the West Bank in the 1980s.

Trees and Citizenship


There is much more to be said about the role of the KKL in current Israel,
but Im limiting myself here to illustrating the structural implications of the
collusion of Zionist institutions and corporations with the state a particular pattern in which the state seems to renounce key elements of its sovereignty to a private corporation in a way that disempowers its own citizens.
Afforestation is a case in point. In its 1961 covenant with the State of Israel,
the KKL acquired a special authority usually reserved to the state. All future
reclamation and afforestation works would be henceforth concentrated in
the hands of the KKL: The KKL would develop afforestation plans and be
responsible for their execution. The governments Afforestation Department,
inherited from the British administration, was abolished only its research
department remained. Thus, the State of Israel renounced a core authority
and relegated it to a corporation not accountable to Israeli citizens.

Economy and Society in Imperial Times, Iyyunim bi-Tkumat Yisrael 16 (2006),


pp. 549592 [Hebrew].

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Why should the state do this? The foremost spokesman of the KKL, Yosef
Weitz, director of the Land and Afforestation Department of the KKL,
provided at least one argument: He claimed that the governments Afforestation Department was not attuned to the needs of colonization, whereas
for the KKL, afforestation was the pioneer that goes before the settlers.25
And in fact, the KKL Afforestation Department was not subjected to a
body entrusted with preserving open spaces or the protection of the environment, but to the KKLs Land Development Authority. Weitz claimed to
have invented the use of afforestation to secure control of land already in
the 1920s.26 This method is still in use.
Israels planning legislation only emerged in the 1960s; the KKL had no
rivals to contend with. It persistently ignored ecological critiques of its
afforestation projects. Until 2002 it refused even to submit its afforestation
plans to planning committees.27 Only recently did it co-opt some of its
green critiques, incorporated partly their critique and is now portraying
itself as the largest green organization in the world. Yet KKL afforestation
projects remain tightly linked to its core mission acquiring land and
preparing it for settlement.
My illustration is from the Northern Negev, a few kilometers north of Beer
Sheva. Here, the Israel Land Administration has been engaged for several
years in a campaign to demolish a Bedouin unrecognized village, al-Araqib, in order to force its inhabitants to relinquish their ancestral rights to
the land and move into townships. The JNF is the green pioneer of this
process; it kindled the conflict in the late 1990s by undertaking afforestation works in the area which for the Bedouins signaled that irreversible
facts were being established on the ground, making it impossible for them
to cultivate the land they claim as their own and making future court proceedings meaningless. These trees, they said, were soldier-trees, standing
for the still missing settlers.28 During a parliamentary debate on the issue
of afforestation works in al-Araqib, the Minister of Agriculture himself
an erstwhile candidate for chairmanship of the KKL admitted that it was
well-known that planting such trees was the best method for defending the
lands of the nation against encroachers that is, Bedouins, even though

25 Elhanani, A. (1959): Y. Weitz: Government Afforestation was not integrated in the Agricultural Economy, Davar, 21.8.1959.
26 Weitz, Yosef (1970): Forest and Afforestation in Israel, Ramat-Gan, p. 179 [Hebrew].
27 Israel Union for Environmental Defense vs. Minister of Interior, HCJ 288/00, Piskei
Din, Vol. 55(5), p. 673.
28 Cf. Algazi, Gadi (2010): From Gir Forest to Umm Hiran: Notes on Colonial
Nature and its Keepers, in: Theory and Critique, 37, pp. 233253 [in Hebrew].

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such trees may be uprooted in the future for other purposes.29 And in fact,
when a middle-class Jewish gated community next to Al-Araqib needed to
expand, such trees were indeed uprooted without further ado.
The multifarious use of trees in the colonization process to cover the
traces of demolished Palestinian villages, to secure property claims, to fortify a frontier, to create facts on the ground or, more fundamentally, as a
substitute for not yet available human settlers makes it at least comprehensible why the state has renounced afforestation to a private company
such as the KKL. The case reveals, however, a more basic institutional pattern: The Israel Land Administration has been using bulldozers to demolish
the Bedouin village; the KKL used trees to occupy the land. The ILA has
benefited from the positive public image of the KKL, which can rely on
a flow of donations from both individuals and government institutions,
seeking to contribute to making the desert bloom. Whenever confronted with public critique concerning its role in kindling the conflict
with Bedouin citizens, the KKL answered that it was only implementing
orders operating under the guidance of the Israel Land Administration
and government planning bodies. Yet plans for afforestation are submitted by the KKL to planning committees; its massive landed property and
political influence predispose such bodies to cooperate closely with the
KKL. More crucially: In the face of mounting critique from public opinion
in Israel and beyond, the KKL proved it was autonomous enough to decide
to stop albeit temporarily afforestation works in al-Araqib on its own.
Debunking the KKLs claims not to be responsible for its policies is less
important than understanding the basic mechanism revealed here: Shifting, fluid and obscure responsibilities, a close informal alliance between
state officials and Zionist organizations, an alliance which undermines
democratic control from below or citizens participation.
This might seem like a small example. Take Blueprint Negev a master plan for the Negev, comprising around 60% of pre-1967 Israel, its last
natural land reserves, and directly affecting the lives of 600,000 citizens.
Blueprint Negev foresees the massive colonization of the Negev by several
hundred thousands Jewish settlers: New immigrants, nationalist-religious
settlers, soldiers and their families, young couples from Israels peripheries
or families expected to relocate from the center to the periphery because
they are unable pay for housing. In May 2006, Shimon Peres announced

29 Shalom Simchon, Knesset Debate, 3.3.2010. See Hasson, Nir (2011): Evangelical TV
channel turns the Negev into a forest and removes the Bedouin from Al-Arakib, Haaretz,
11.2.2011.

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that as Minister of Development of the Negev and Galilee, his first task
would be the construction of a new Jewish settlement in the Negev, Karmit, as part of the Blueprint Negev. It was described as the first among
many such settlements designated for wealthy, young American immigrants who want to make Aliyah and live in style.30 A PR-article in Bnai
Brith magazine told prospective new settlers from the US and Canada that
the Negev is the closest thing to the clean slate (sic!) many of Israels prestate pioneers found when they first came to the Holy Land.31 The pioneers might encounter Indians or Bedouins, but this can be taken care of.
Blueprint Negev, however, was not prepared in Israel. It was projected
by the Jewish Agency, financed by JNF-USA, developed by McKinsey &
Company, the global management consulting firm in cooperation with
Israels military and the Ministry for the Development of the Negev of
the Galilee, charged almost openly with the Judaization of space.32 You
would easily recognize the participation of McKinsey as a familiar sign of
neo-liberal times, circumventing political accountability and democratic
participation,33 but the leading role of the JNF-USA and military planners
are peculiar to our colonial reality.34 It is one thing to realize that the
master plans for the colonization of the occupied West Bank were prepared by the Settlement Department of the World Zionist Organization
together with Ariel Sharon, another to realize that Blueprint Negev has
been prepared through a joint alliance of Zionist corporations, private
consultancy firms and government ministries without ever consulting the
citizens affected and certainly not the Bedouins comprising currently a
third of the Negevs population.
Zionism is part of Israels present. Beyond its role in colonization and the
control of key resources by institutions of the World Zionist Organization, Zionism deeply affects political structures: Israel cannot belong to its
citizens as long as the Zionist movement, its institutions and corporations,

30 Alush, Zvi (2006): New Southern Town Aims to Attract Affluent American Immigrants,
Ynet News, 5.2.2006.
31 Heilmann, Uriel (2008): Israels Desert Frontier: Settling the Undeveloped Negev, in:
Bnai Brith Magazine, pp. 2631.
32 Silvan Shalom, Minister for Development of the Negev and Galilee, expressed his vision:
Judaization of the Galilee, Judaization of the Negev and fulfilling the commandment of
settling the land of Israel. Shalom: Dont Be Ashamed to Say Judaization of Galilee,
Arutz 7, Israel National News, 7.1.2011 (http://www.israelnationalnews.com).
33 Resch, Christine (2005): Berater-Kapitalismus oder Wissensgesellschaft? Zur Kritik der
neoliberalen Produktionsweise, Mnster.
34 Manski, Rebecca (2006): A Desert Mirage: Privatizing Development Plans in the Negev/Naqab, News from Within, 22:8 (October/November 2006).

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enjoy a special, privileged status, being in a position to shape social and


economic reality to the detriment of Palestinians and behind the back of
all of Israels citizens. Palestinians cannot become equal citizens, individually and collectively, as long as Zionist institutions reproduce the privileged
position of Jews, who may be enjoying privileges directly and indirectly
now, through the state and its allies in the Zionist movement, and who are
likely to pay the price for this privilege in the long term: Dependence on
patrons and the hatred of the underprivileged.
This is structural: Democratic principles are fatally undermined when
citizens are not even formally sovereign. I do not underestimate the
importance of democratic liberties in Israel, limited as they are. But the
democratization of Israeli society even without considering the military
occupation, and even its hoped-for demise requires, very simply, equal,
democratic citizenship and full sovereignty; in practice, a complete separation of state institutions from the Zionist movement and the restitution of
key resources to the citizens, to all of Israels citizens.
What we have is neither the Zionist movement controlling a weak state,
nor the state manipulating Zionist institutions at will, but rather a conflict-ridden coalescence of state and public-private corporations capable of
undermining democratic control. I am not arguing that Israel is a weak
state, unable to withstand pressures from donors, NGOs or international
corporations. We have come to learn that some states are better understood
as cunning states feigning weakness when need be in order to shed off
responsibility, ruled by elites that constantly shift decision-making processes in order to make themselves unaccountable vis--vis the citizens, the
poor, the exploited and the excluded. The State of Israel is certainly not
weak: It is capable of moving and removing populations; it controls natural
resources to an extent unheard of in the global North, not to speak of its
military strength. But both the overt and silent cooperation between Israels
elites through the state with organs of the Zionist movement, primarily the
WZO, the Jewish Agency and the KKL, enables it to abdicate responsibility,
to externalize costs and to maintain concealed discrimination.
But talking about the state is still too general. Perhaps its time for us
to borrow concepts from our neighbors. In Turkey, one speaks about the
deep state (derin devlet) a grouping of influential coalitions and alliances
within the political system, comprising high-officials and military officers,
the judiciary and organized crime. Politicians come and go in Israel, but
core institutions such as the Israel Land Administration, the Ministry
of Interior or the military are no doubt long-lasting, powerful players,
pursuing long-term goals based on a shared outlook, itself often based on
common socialization patterns and multiple social ties within Israels elite.
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There is nothing particular about political elites working closely with big
corporations. What gives neoliberalism in Israel its particular flavor is
among other things the close, long-term alliance between the deep state
and the institutions of the Zionist movement.
This alliance stands in the way of the democratization of Israels polity
and any social transformation that would guarantee basic and equal
entitlement to welfare to all its citizens. To achieve historical reconciliation with the Palestinian people, colonization must stop both in the
Occupied Territories and within Israel. The institutions driving it forward,
such as the Jewish Agency, the WZO and the KKL, must go. Their control of essential resources within Israel stand in the way of any attempt to
achieve a measure of social justice within Israel through redistribution. As
long as they offer venues for institutionalized discrimination, for circumventing democratic power-sharing equal and unconditional citizenship
cannot be guaranteed. Zionism is therefore not a historical relic in Israel
and Palestine. It provides the template for channeling the flow of power
and resources; it underpins an exclusivist, colonial vision of Israeli society
embedded in innumerable practices.
No Zionist party offers Palestinian citizens equal rights both individual
and collective. All maintain their membership in the World Zionist Organization and all cling to the KKL and its considerable resources. Clinging to
them stifles protest and channels it, again and again, to combating the
real enemy, the Palestinians. In September 2011, toward the end of Israels
summer of social protest, the chairman of the Students Unions demanded
from the government to financially support the settlement of the periphery
as a solution to the plight of good Israelis of middle-class background
who perform full military service. This is a historical chance to fulfill the
Zionist vision and to settle the periphery, he wrote, ignoring not only the
Arab citizens, but the Jewish inhabitants of Israels periphery as well. This
is the well-known logic of building your future on the ruins of the poor
and of indigenous communities a colonial logic. To bring about social
change in Israel, this logic must be challenged through social alliances that
cut cross ethnic divisions, alliances that offer Palestinians full equality, and
can offer Israelis a real, viable future outside the fortified ghetto, without
separation walls and fences.

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