Just an ordinary Sakhnin day

by Uri Davis, October 2001

I currently live in an Arab city called Sakhnin in central Galilee, northern Israel (population of some 22,000), less than an hour's drive from the port city of Haifa.

I came to live and work in Sakhnin - not to settle, colonize or Judaize Sakhnin. I came to live and work in the Arab city of Sakhnin as I had previously come to live and work in the English city of Exeter in Devon, south-western UK (population of some 110,000) , less than an hour's drive from the port city of Plymouth.

I believe I am the only Jewish citizen of Israel who lives in the Arab city of Sakhnin. I came to live there because I was offered work there as Director of External Relations with the Arab Institute for Vocational Completion. My contract has come to an end - but I saw no reason to change my place of ordinary residence. I only hope all of my friends, wherever they may reside, are as lucky as I am with their next door neighbours. I happen to have splendid neighbours.

I need to add, however, that, as far as I am aware I am the only Jewish citizen of Israel who lives in the Arab city of Sakhnin. But unlike most other Jewish citizens of the State of Israel who choose to live Arab localities, I came to live and work in Sakhnin - not to settle, colonize or Judaize Sakhnin.

Exeter is a University city, a regional capital, whose state history dates well over 2000 years. It is a tourist focal point for the Devon "Riviera", a model European English city with exquisite flower baskets hanging from the lamp-posts along the High Street as. The city boasts with parks, swimming pools, cinemas and theatres and prides itself with a number of industrial parks.

Sakhnin, whose state history also goes back well over 2000 years, is not a University city; not a regional capital; not a tourist focal point for the Galilee's "little Switzerland", not a model Palestinian Arab city with exquisite cobbled alleyways weaving through its old centre, and has no parks, no cinemas and no auditoria for cultural events. Its industrial park has no industrial plants to speak of.

But the city of Exeter has not been the victim of half a century of internal colonialism. The city of Sakhnin has.

Under the British Mandate (1922-1948) the Palestinian Arab people of Sakhnin owned and had access to some 70,000 dunums (17,500 acres) of land. In 1948 the State of Israel was established and today the municipal jurisdiction of Sakhnin is less than 10,000 dunums. The balance of some 60,000 dunums has been confiscated by the various authorities of the State of Israel for exclusively Jewish settlement, development and cultivation.

After I get up in my flat in Sakhnin, brush my teeth, shave, comb my balding scalp, dress and go out to the veranda to greet my neighbours, I see my city of Sakhnin surrounded by a circle of rather lovely leafy rural suburban communal residential localities. These include Hararit, Yahad, Avtalion, Yodfat ,Raqefet, Atzmon, Yuvalim, Eshar, Eshbal and more, mostly perched on the mountain tops around the city and incorporated in the Regional Council of Misgav.

The Misgav Regional Council controls some 185,000 dunums incorporating 6 Palestinian Arab settlements, classified in Misgav's literature as "Bedouin", and 28 Jews-only communal settlements around Sakhnin and beyond. The total population of Misgav Regional Council is less than 15,000.

A stone-throw away west of Sakhnin, ten minutes at most by car, the Misgav Regional Council has its beautifully garden-sculpted administrative facilities and education campus.

South of Sakhnin, the industrial park of RAFAEL: Israel Armament Development Authority is located, where, inter alia, the Derby and the Python air-to-air missiles are produced.

Closer to Sakhnin, the western approach road to the city is flanked on the North by the Teradion industrial park and on the south by a new military depot, whose perimeter fence laps the compound of Sakhnin Intermediate School B. The depot was moved from Kurdana in the Haifa Bay to its new location adjacent to Sakhnin. Presumably Haifa Bay real estate values became too attractive for the army to resist, and the depot was moved to its current location next to Sakhnin in order to vacate the land in the Haifa Bay for developers.

The Teradion industrial park, however, does not come under the municipal jurisdiction of the Sakhnin City Council. It comes under the jurisdiction of the Misgav Regional Council as do, presumably, RAFAEL armament development authority and the new military depot.

Sakhnin gets the pollution and the environmental fall-out. Misgav gets the municipal taxes (Arnonah) - a hefty portion of its regional municipal income.

North of Sakhnin, twenty minutes at most by car, the city of Karmiel is located.

The city of Karmiel is barely half a century old. Founded in 1964 (population of some 50,000), it is the home of the prestigious Brauda Academic College, a regional capital, a tourist focal point for the annual Israeli dance festival, a model Israeli Hebrew new town with air conditioned shopping malls. The city boasts with parks, swimming pools, cinemas, an auditorium for cultural events, and prides itself with a flourishing industrial park.

The city of Karmiel was established on lands confiscated from the neighbouring localities, notably Deir al-Asad, Bi'na and Nahf as well as Sakhnin.

When the city of Karmiel was established in 1964 it was declared for Jews only. The city was planned for Jewish residence alone and was proclaimed the linchpin of the Government "Judaization of the Galilee" programme. In addition to state domain, private land, owned by inhabitants of the neighbouring indigenous Palestinian Arab localities, was confiscated towards what was stipulated in the confiscation order signed by the Minister of Finance to be "the public good" - except that the public in question did not apparently include the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. They were kept out by the Military Government which ruled their lives from the year of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 through to 1966, subjecting them to the draconian Defence (Emergency) Regulation of 1945, introduced by the British Mandate Government of the day.

As researched by Sabri Jiryis, these regulations were described by Jewish lawyers at the time, including Yaaqov Shimshon Shapira, who a few years later was to become Legal Advisor to the new Israeli Government, as being unparalleled in any civilized country. "Even in Nazi Germany", Shapira pointed out at a conference of the Lawyers' Association in Tel Aviv in 1946, "there were no Such laws".

The Military Government inside Israel was dismantles in 1966. This was the same Military Government and the same Defence (Emergency) Regulations of1945, that were introduced by the Government of the State of Israel as a belligerent occupying power into all the territories occupied by Israel a year later, following the 1967 war.

With the removal of the massive barriers of the Defence (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, keeping the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel out of the city of Karmiel, and through the progressive economic, social, cultural and political empowerment of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel - the apartheid objects underpinning the establishment of Karmiel are progressively undermined.

Today Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are beginning to purchase properties in Karmiel.

Travelling from Sakhnin westward, past Teradion industrial park on the right and the new military depot on the left, past Misgav Regional Council, also on the left, past the largely yuppified only for Jews communal settlement of Atzmon, also on the left, one would pass the also only for Jews largely yuppie communal settlement of Ya'ad on the right.

Ya'ad is not built on Sakhnin lands, alienated by the relevant Israeli authorities for Jewish settlement only. It is built on the lands of the destroyed Palestinian Arab village of Mi'ar.

The Palestinian Arab inhabitants of Mi'ar were expelled from their village by the Israeli army in 1948. Some of the Palestinian Arab refugees of Mi'ar are refugees in refugee camps in Lebanon and elsewhere outside the borders of the State of Israel. Others sought and found refuge in Sakhnin and other localities inside Israel. Those who found refuge inside Israel became internally displaced persons, "present absentees" in local parlance. They are very much "present " as citizens of the State of Israel. But they are also "absent" in that under Israel's Absentees Property Law of 1950 they had lost their rights to all of their properties (immovables such as lands and homes as well as movables such as furniture, jewellery, safe deposit boxes, shares and bank accounts) which were now, by the force of the said law, vested in the Custodian of Absentees Property and through the Development Authority then applied to underpin settlement, development and cultivation almost with no exce! ption for Jews only.

Ya'ad is surrounded by lush pine tree forests, planted there by the Jewish National Fund. Visitors seeking recreation in these forest may come across the ruins of the Palestinian Arab village of Mi'ar. There are some 450 destroyed Palestinian Arab localities inside Israel similar to Mi'ar, many, likewise, veiled under Jewish National Fund recreational forests.

It seems that Jewish National Fund afforestation priorities are informed, inter alia, by the desire to hide the enormity of the war crime and by their desperation to attempt to prevent the Palestinian Arab refugees and internally displaced persons from re-possessing the title to their properties inside Israel.

When the Teradion industrial park, the new military depot and RAFAEL armament development authority come under the municipal jurisdiction of the Sakhnin City Council so that Sakhnin gets the municipal tax income and not just the pollution and the environmental fall-out - then Sakhnin will, like Exeter and Karmiel, be able to boast with parks, swimming pools, cinemas, theatres and air conditioned shopping malls, an auditorium for cultural events as well as a number of flourishing industrial parks.

This is what I see from the veranda of my flat when I get up in Sakhnin in the morning.

And I would be happy to show you the place if you care to drop by for a visit.