By Ethan Bronner
Thursday, May 8, 2008
After the United Nations General Assembly voted in late 1947 for two states in Palestine, one Arab and one Jewish, local Arab militias and their regional supporters went on the offensive against Jewish settlements. Zionist forces counterattacked. Hundreds of Palestinian villages, including Lajoun, were evacuated and mostly destroyed, the nakba.
Palestinian Arabs became refugees in Lebanon as well as the West Bank, which Jordan occupied after the war, and the Gaza Strip, which Egypt occupied. But some, like Mahameed, stayed in Israel, taking refuge in other towns and villages. They were made citizens and were promised equality but never got it.
Those who had left or been expelled from their villages were not permitted back and spent the next 60 years watching their lands farmed or built upon by newcomers, many of them refugees from Nazi oppression or Soviet anti-Semitism.
In 1953, the Israeli Parliament declared about 120,000 hectares of captured village land to be state property for either settlement or security purposes.
Mahameed and his 200 fellow complainants all live in Um el-Fahm, an overcrowded town near their former land. "Our claim is that since the land has not been used all these years, there was no need to confiscate it," said Suhad Bishara, a lawyer with Adalah, a Haifa-based group devoted to Israeli Arabs' rights.
Bishara lost that argument in the district court, which agreed with the state that the planted pine trees around Lajoun and a water treatment plant there constituted settlement.
It is not hard to detail the gap between Arabs and Jews in nearly every area - health, education, employment - as well as the gap in government spending in each sector. There are three times as many Arab families below the poverty line as Jewish ones, and a government study five years ago spoke of the need to remove "the stain of discrimination."