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Ben-Gurion University
BGU Oren Yiftachel - CUNY, Nov 8: "‘Grey Spacing & the Contemporary City: Between Liberalism & Urban Apartheid"

BGU Professor Oren Yiftachel - yiftach@bgu.ac.il

Editorial Note:
Oren Yiftachel (BGU) is a critical political geographer, who pioneered the notion that Israel is a "creeping apartheid state." Over the years, Yiftachel, a prolific writer and academic activist, has lectured widely on the issue. On Thursday he will lecture about his new linguistic invention is "urban apartheid," and "ethnocratic cities," a fancy name for urban segregation, caused by the machination of "urban elites" who manage the "unwanted/irremovable" in their cities.

Those who may wander how such critical lexicon has made inroads into the once respectable field of urban planning, should note that one of the hosts of Yiftachel at the City University of New York (CUNY) conference is Critical Social/Personality and Environmental Psychology Program. The field has been inspired by Peter Marcuse - the son of the Herbert Marcuse - who injected his famous father's neo-Marxist, critical theories into urban planning. The younger Marcuse, a retired professor of urban planning at Columbia University, is the author of the Critical School of Urban Planning, a legal and political movement to integrate Afro-American slum dwellers and other "dispossessed minorities" into white urban environments.

Peter Marcuse merits an entry into the IAM chronicle of "radical hypocrisy of the radical left" - he has lived in some of the most privileged (read white) neighborhoods across the United States.

Yiftachel lectured less than a week ago on Indigenous Challenge to Legal Doctrine: Bedouin Rights in Israel/Palestine at the International Human Rights Clinic, part of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School (see below) with Ahmad Amara. Amara's article Moving Towards Full-Scale Judicial Boycott in the Naqab is also below.


CUNY Graduate Center



Date(s) - 08/11/2012
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Oren Yiftachel (Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba Israel) – ‘Grey Spacing and the Contemporary City: Between Liberalism and Urban Apartheid


3:00 – 4:30 PM
ROOM 6304.01


The lecture conceptualizes what appears to be an emerging new urban order, flowing from structural tensions on the transformation of urban regimes and citizenship.

It draws attention to the pervasive emergence of ‘gray spaces’; that is, informal, temporary or illegal developments, transactions and populations. ’Gray-spacing’ has become a central strategy through which urban elites manage the unwanted/irremovable, putting in train a process of ‘creeping urban apartheid’. These tensions and trends will be illustrated by highlighting research findings from cities around Europe, Africa and Asia, with special focus on the ‘ethnocratic’ cities of Israel/Palestine.

Co-sponsored by the Graduate Programs in Urban Design (CCNY), CriticalSocial/Personality and Environmental Psychology and Earth and Environmental Sciences at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Prof. Yiftachel teaches urban studies and political geography at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba. His research has focused on critical understandings of the relations between space, power and conflict, with particular attention to ethnic, social and urban aspects of these relations.

He published over 100 articles and ten authored and co-edited books, including Planning a Mixed Region in Israel (1992), Planning as Control: Policy and Resistance in Divided Societies(1995), Israelis in Conflict (2004), Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine(2006), andIndigenous (in)Justice (co-author, 2012 forthcoming).

Yiftachel now serves on the editorial boards of seven international journals, including journals such as Urban Studies, Society and Space and IJMS. He is an essay editor in the journal Planning Theory and a contributing editor of MERIP.

Yiftachel has been an activist in a wide range of human rights and social organizations, including the RCUV – council for unrecognized Bedouin villages, and Adva – center for social equality. He is currently the chair of one of Israel’s largest NGO - B’Tselem – monitoring human rights violations in the Palestinian Territories. He has been a team member in the planning projects Israel 2020, and in devising plans for Beersheba, Kibbutz movements and Bedouin villages.

For more information or inquiries please contact: Cindi Katz (ckatz@gc.cuny.edu)



Thursday, Nov. 1: Bedouin Rights in Israel/Palestine

November 1, 2012

“Indigenous Challenge to Legal Doctrine:

Bedouin Rights in Israel/Palestine”

A Talk by Oren Yiftachel and Ahmad Amara

12- 1 pm

3007 Wasserstein

Professor Oren Yiftachel, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Ahmad Amara, Palestinian human rights lawyer and PhD candidate at New York University, will discuss a recent challenge launched in court (the ‘al-Uqbi case’) against a longstanding Israeli ‘empty Negev’ legal doctrine which has made it all but impossible for traditional land holders to gain legal ownership. The current challenge relates to global debates on issues of indigenous rights, customary law, legal pluralism and transitional justice.

Amara and Yiftachel co-edited a forthcoming book, “Indigenous (In)Justice,” which will soon be published by the Human Rights Program and distributed by Harvard University Press.



Harvard University Press

The indigenous Bedouin Arab population in the Naqab/Negev desert in Israel has experienced a history of displacement, intense political conflict, and cultural disruption, along with recent rapid modernization, forced urbanization, and migration. This volume of essays highlights international, national, and comparative law perspectives and explores the legal and human rights dimensions of land, planning, and housing issues, as well as the economic, social, and cultural rights of indigenous peoples. Within this context, the essays examine the various dimensions of the “negotiations” between the Bedouin Arab population and the State of Israel.

Indigenous (In)Justice locates the discussion of the Naqab/Negev question within the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict and within key international debates among legal scholars and human rights advocates, including the application of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the formalization of traditional property rights, and the utility of restorative and reparative justice approaches. Leading international scholars and professionals, including the current United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, are among the contributors to this volume.

Not yet available



$26.00 • £19.95 • €23.40

ISBN 9780979639562

Publication February 2013

Available 01/28/2013


Mada al-Carmel

Jadal, Issue 13, May 2012 www.mada-research.org

Moving Towards Full-Scale Judicial Boycott in the Naqab

Ahmad Amara*

“We play the legal game. We are not equal to nor do we have the power of the state.

I know we will lose, but we play anyway. We know the court’s decision before we

even file.”

So answered a resident of al-Sirra, an unrecognized village in the Naqab, when

asked why he endorses taking the al-Sirra case to the Israeli court despite its bias.

This “Viewpoint” tackles the same question, exploring the implications of

legitimization and the dynamics of the engagement of the Israeli judiciary by Naqab

Palestinians claiming their rights to land ownership.

In 1974, when Salim al-Hawashli brought claims of land ownership before the

Beersheba district court, he saw no point in hiring a lawyer to register his land. It

was obvious to him that he owned this land, given that he and his forefathers had

possessed and lived off the same piece of land in the Naqab for centuries, long

before any utopian, nationalist, colonialist, or adventurist Zionist ideas had emerged

or gained credibility in Europe. The Israeli judiciary and government (State

Attorney Office litigating the case) did not accept al-Hawashli’s claim and the court

ordered that the land be registered under the state’s name. His case and numerous

others show that the Israeli government and judiciary refuse to recognize that

Bedouins can hold “legal” land ownership.

Employing heavily manipulated legalistic discourse inherited from Ottoman and

British legislation, the courts consider the Naqab lands as mawat (dead land), which

automatically falls under the authority of the state. One may list quite a few

contradictory elements inherent in any such conclusion: Naqab Arabs have lived in

the Naqab for centuries and at times have cultivated up to three million dunams

therein; both the Ottoman and British governments granted Naqab inhabitants

almost full autonomy; in 1899 the Ottomans purchased 2000 dunams from al

Azazme tribe to establish Beersheba; the 1946 Survey of Palestine stated that

Bedouins may have rights to over 2 million dunams; disputes over unregistered

lands in the Naqab were adjudicated before the Palestine Supreme Court; and the

Jewish National Fund (JNF) purchased 60,000 dunams from Bedouins in the Naqab

before 1948.1 Consequently, one would wonder, why do Arab claimants continue to

resort to Israeli legal processes to assert their claims? Wouldn’t such engagement

serve to further legitimate the Israeli government policies of land dispossession by

providing a cloak of legality?

Processes of legitimization in the Weberian sense are widely discussed.

Governments attempt to establish their practiced authority as legitimate in the eyes

of their subjects. For self-proclaimed “democratic” governments, law is a key

platform and tool for legitimation, since the rubric of “the rule of law,” such

governments argue, is impartial. Israel’s decidedly legalistic approach to carry out

political strategies has played a primary role in legitimating Israeli policies. In broad

terms, most Israelis conform to the government’s Zionist policies, and most

Palestinians view Israeli law as a political tool to advance Zionist goals, particularly

regarding land. To date, the nationalization and Judaization of 93% of Israeli land

has been accomplished through “legal” means. Thus, the Naqab land case ought to

be discussed within a framework of a continuous process of Palestinian land

dispossession. The existing political polarization renders the subject of

legitimization to be relevant not to the subjects of Israeli authority, Israelis and

Palestinians, but rather to the international community.

To international audiences, the Israeli government utilizes a legalistic discourse to

justify its policies, including those concerning the Naqab. Additionally, it convolutes

the claim by presenting the Naqab case as a mere encounter between a modern

state and an anachronistic nomadic society. It is thus able to normalize its policies

by comparing them to other states’ policies of modernization. Between such

discourse of dis-ordered nomadism and the aforementioned mawat claims, the

Naqab Arabs are portrayed as people with no tangible connection to the land, and

their centuries of cultivation and possession are rendered, in the legal sense,

meaningless. Thus, in the state’s view, monetary compensation can account for the

“incidental” connection to the land that Naqab Arabs have—after all, the land is

“wasted” until it is “redeemed and developed” by the state.

Judicial processes diffuse the public outrage against racist policies and channel it

toward a “controlled” site operating under pre-determined rules. Similarly, the

NGO’s role in mitigating the results of the state’s failure or those of discriminatory

policies contributes to this diffusion, creating a smoke screen of a healthy society

that enjoys sufficient checks and balances. Thus, the argument of legitimization

applies in various degrees to other forms of engagement within the Israeli

constructed civic order. Within this complexity, I seek to stress one major point as

apparent in the statement of the al-Sirra resident.

1 For references to these claims and for further discussion on the Israeli legal position and its

contradictions, see Yiftachel, O., Kedar, A., and Amara, A. (2012) Re-Examining the ‘Dead Negev

Doctrine’: Property Rights in the Bedouin-Arab Space. Mishpat Umimshal. (Hebrew).

The quote complicates our understanding of power as it is practiced over subaltern

subjects. While many scholars view power as absolute over passive subjects, the al

Sirra resident presents an alternate narrative of conscious engagement of the

judiciary, including of the resulting ramifications. Lacking the power to influence the

system as a whole, subaltern groups have taken the strategy of utilizing the legal

apparatus as it stands. Similar to Governments, subaltern groups use courts for

political ends and as a political stage for mobilization and publicity, particularly

when mass popular resistance is absent, as it is nowadays in Israel/Palestine. Some

other possible considerations in such engagement are: short-term maximization of

benefits; management (rather than resolution) of the dispute; resistance of the

system; and making sure government policies do not go unchallenged. The Naqab

Arabs are aware that the courts cannot and will not bring justice (“The master's

tools will never dismantle the master's house”). 2 However, and without

romanticizing Naqab Arabs’ resistance, the Israeli government is also aware that it

cannot solve this case in courts alone. Until today, there were dozens of extra-

judicial governmental committees established to “solve” these cases, but to no avail.

Israeli Supreme-Court justices have stated the need for extra-judicial solutions,

which indicates that state power is fragmented and that formal law has revealed its


In addition to judicial engagement, Naqab Arabs resist state policies through protest

and domestic and international lobbying. However, the noblest form of resistance is

the commitment by most Naqab residents to continue to live in many of the lands

they claim, despite the miserable conditions to which they are subjected (besides

the fact that they have no alternative housing). Furthermore, some claimants refuse

to participate in the judicial process, resulting in dozens of court decisions against

them, exhibiting an active means of delegitimizing the judiciary.

One final question one might raise is: why not undertake a full-scale boycott of the

judiciary? Since Naqab Arabs pay the highest price for the injustices in question and

have the best understanding of the power in play, they are the authority on

strategies of engagement. Others ought to respect their decisions and work with

them to execute them. Surely, a collective decision in favor of boycott or another

form of engagement is the key to success. Before I read the court-decision of al-Uqbi

case, 3 I was in support of litigating one major case and accompanying it with

attempts at popular mobilization, given the increasing political and scholarly

attention paid to the Naqab cases and new historical evidence for legal Arab

ownership. I thought such actions would push courts closer to a precipice at which

they would have to either make a flagrant political decision endorsing land

dispossession or recognize the land rights of the Naqab Arabs. This, I thought, would

be the last serious judicial attempt and opportunity for resolution before a boycott

2 Lorde, A. (1984) Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. Berkeley, CA. Crossing Point.

3 C.A. 7161/06. al-Uqbi, S. et al. v. State of Israel. March 15, 2012. Beersheba District Court. Full

text available in Hebrew at http://www.lawpubshop.co.il/?CategoryID=266&ArticleID=6662

strategy would become inevitable. The al-Uqbi case convinced me that boycott is

now a better decision and that efforts towards international advocacy and local

mobilization can offer results not possible through Israel’s courts.

* Ahmad Amara is a lawyer and Ph.D. candidate at New York University

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