On July 24, 2010 I traveled with a group of peacemakers to the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib. Located just north of Beer-Sheva in the Negev Desert, the Bedouin are indigenous Arabs with Israeli citizenship. Forced off their land in 1948, many returned in the mid-1950’s only to be relocated to a restricted area called the Siyag Zone. When we met with the villagers, they were currently in a state of flux. Having been given demolition orders by the state of Israel, they anticipated the destruction of their homes within then next few days. I talked with one of the men, Aziz. He introduced me to his wife and five children. He told me, “All I want is to be free. I want to live on the same land as my father and his father. If I move to a town, our way of life is ruined. The land is our home.” Three days later his whole village was destroyed, leaving 300 homeless.
Al-Arakib is just one instance in which the notion of exclusive property rights results in the domination of a whole people group. In the coming months, the Civil Administration in Israel has adopted a plan to “relocate” 27,000 Bedouins, Arab Israeli citizens, from their land. As early as January, 2300 persons will be forcibly removed to a Jerusalem refuse dump that is characterized as a health hazard. You can read more about the relocation of the Bedouin from the Negev here.
Property and its subsequent use lies at the heart of modern Western economics. During the English Industrial Revolution, a fundamental shift occurred in our understanding of property. Namely, that there exist such a thing as “private” property. In essence, the rise of the early market system was built on the commodification and commercialization of labor and land. Karl Polanyi notes the subordination of both nature and people to the market system: “But labor and land are no other than the human beings themselves of which every society consists and the natural surroundings in which it exists. To include them in the market mechanism means to subordinate the substance of society itself to the laws of the market.” And of course, the laws of the market hoist rugged individualism as its core, even if the “individual” remains a nation-state.
If we recognize that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, then we must counter these kinds of claims and search for ways to once again reclaim property as communal. When Thomas Aquinas wrote that “man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need [sic],” he acknowledges the problem that possessions have a way of isolating us from others, that what we believe is our property to control excludes others from the means of life. Israel’s exclusivist claim on the land fits well into a colonial expansionist understanding of property rights. Such a claim asserts a type of power and control over and against others. We saw this very same ideal carried out against the Native Americans in their expulsion from the colonial territories. In the case of the Bedouin of the Negev, the land itself is literally the means to life and freedom, and it’s being stripped from them.
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