FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

God-TV Helps Israel Oust Bedouins

by JONATHAN COOK

Nazareth.

A sign posted a few kilometres north of Beersheba, the Negev’s main city, announces plans to plant a total of a million trees over a large area of desert that has already been designated “God-TV Forest”.

The Jewish National Fund, an international non-profit organisation in charge of forestation and developing Jewish settlements in Israel, received $500,000 from God-TV to plant some of the trees, according to the channel’s filings to US tax authorities last year.

A coalition of Jewish and Bedouin human rights groups have denounced the project, accusing God-TV and the JNF of teaming up to force the Bedouin out of the area to make way for Jewish-only communities.

No one from God-TV was available for comment, but in a video posted on its website, Rory Alec, the channel’s co-founder, said he had begun fundraising for the forest after receiving “an instruction from God” a few years ago. He said God had told him: “Prepare the land for the return of my Son.”

Standing next to the “God-TV Forest” sign, Alec thanked thousands of viewers for making donations to “sow a seed for God”, adding: “I tell you Jesus is coming back soon!”

Part of the forest has been planted on land claimed by the Aturi tribe, whose village, al-Araqib, is nearby.

Al-Araqib has been demolished eight times in recent months by the Israeli police as officials increase the pressure on the 350 inhabitants to move to Rahat, an under-funded, government-planned township nearby.

Earlier this year, Joe Stork, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, criticised the repeated attempts by Israeli authorities to eradicate the village and displace its residents.

“Tearing down an entire village and leaving its inhabitants homeless without exhausting all other options for settling long-standing land claims is outrageous,” he said.

Human Rights Watch and other international human rights groups have criticised Israel for harsh measures taken against the people of al-Araqib and the other 90,000 Bedouin who live in Negev villages that the Israel refuses to recognise. They accuse the government of trying to pre-empt a court case moving through Israeli courts aimed at settling the Bedouin ownership claims.

God-TV’s involvement in the dispute has prompted fresh concern.

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, said the JNF, which has semi-governmental status in Israel, had set a “dangerous precedent” in accepting money from God-TV.

“The Israeli authorities are playing with fire,” he said. “This dispute between the Israeli government and the Bedouin is a long one that until now focused on the question of land rights. But the involvement of extremist Christian groups like God-TV is likely to turn this into a religious confrontation, and that will be much harder to resolve.”

The JNF did not respond to questions about its involvement with God-TV or the Negev forest.

Gordon said it was particularly worrying that Alec was using the language of Biblical prophecy in justifying his decision to finance the forest.

The channel, which has become one of the most popular global evangelical stations since its founding in Britain 15 years ago, claims a potential audience of up to a half-billion viewers, including 20 million in the United States.

Stephen Sizer, a British vicar and prominent critic of Christian Zionist groups, described God-TV as part of an evangelical movement that believes Israel’s establishment and expansion are bringing nearer the “end times” ? or the moment when, according to Christians, Jesus will return for the second time.

Its followers, he added, believed that, by dispossessing Palestinians of their land and replacing them with Jews, Jesus’s return could be expedited.

“Funding aliyah [Jewish immigration] and planting trees in the desert may look innocuous but it’s actually their way to side with the Israeli right’s hardline policies towards the Palestinian population.”

Sizer said there was increasing co-operation between Israeli institutions and Christian evangelical groups, which have begun basing their operations in Israel.

God-TV has proclaimed itself the only television channel to broadcast globally from Jerusalem, following its relocation there from the UK in 2007.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the Union of Reform Judaism in the US, has repeatedly called on Israel to sever contacts with Christian Zionist and evangelical groups, describing them as opposed to “territorial compromise under any and all circumstances”.

God-TV has close ties to Christians United for Israel (Cufi), an umbrella group founded in 2006 by John Hagee, a Texan pastor, that lobbies on behalf of Israel in Congress.

Hagee, a frequent preacher on the TV channel, has regularly courted controversy with comments seen as anti-Semitic. Most notoriously, in a sermon in the late 1990s, he called Adolf Hitler “a hunter” who carried out God’s plan for the Jews to return to Israel by leaving them “no place to hide” in Europe.

Cufi and the other evangelical groups have lobbied strenuously in Washington on behalf of the illegal settlements in the West Bank and for Israeli control over the holy sites in East Jerusalem, said Sizer.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has been especially keen to seek out support from Christian evangelical groups, according to Shalom Goldman, a professor at Atlanta’s Emory University, who recently published a book on the Christian Zionist movement.

Last year Cufi announced a $38 million marketing drive to bring more Christian tourists to Israel, including the establishment of a “task force on global Christian relations” jointly overseen by Hagee and Netanyahu.

Haia Noach, the director of the Negev Coexistence Forum, which campaigns for Bedouin rights, said her organisation feared more of God-TV’s trees would be planted on Bedouin lands in the coming weeks. A depot has recently been established close to al-Araqib to store four bulldozers.

“The villagers refuse to abandon al-Araqib, even though it has been destroyed many times. But once a forest is planted there, there will be no chance to go back,” she said.

She said she feared the goal was to build Jewish communities on Bedouin land. She cited the case of Givat Bar, which was secretly established by the government on part of al-Araqib’s lands in 2003.

Repeated letters to the JNF for information about their forestation programme had gone unanswered, she said.

Awad Abu Freih, a community leader at al-Araqib, said the house demolitions and forest-planting were only the latest measures by the government to remove the villagers.

Repeated destruction of al-Araqib’s crops by spraying them with herbicides was ruled illegal by Israel’s Supreme Court in 2004.

Efforts to move 90,000 Bedouin off their lands close to Beersheba have been intensifying since 2003, when the Israeli government announced plans to move them into a handful of townships.

The Bedouin have resisted, complaining that the official communities are little more than urban reservations that languish at the bottom of the country’s social and economic tables.

JONATHAN COOK is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

 

 

 

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail