Oren Yiftachel (Hebrew: אורן יפתחאל, born 1956) is an Israeli professor specializing in political geography. He lives in Beersheba and teaches political geography, urban planning and public policy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in that city.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Yiftachel studied in Israel and Australia. In 1983, he received a Bachelor of Arts in Urban and Regional Studies (with distinction) from the Western Australian Institute of Technology in Perth, and in 1986 a Post-Graduate Diploma in Urban and Regional Planning (with distinction) from same institution after it became Curtin University. In 1990, he received a Doctor of Philosophy from the Department of Geography, the University of Western Australia, Perth, and the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.
He has subsequently taught in urban planning, geography, political science and Middle East departments, at various institutions, including: Curtin University, Australia; the Technion, Israel; the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and UC Berkeley, in the United States; the University of Cape Town, South Africa and the University of Venice, Italy. He was a research fellow at RMIT University, Melbourne; the United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC; and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, Jerusalem.
Yiftachel is the founding and past editor of the journal “Hagar: Studies in Culture, Politics and Place”, and serves on the editorial board of Planning Theory (essay editor), Society and Space, IJMES, MERIP, Urban Studies, Journal of Planning Literature, and Social and Cultural Geography.
Yiftachel has worked as a planner and activist in a range of institutions, including the Perth City Council in Australia and the Kibbutz Movement in Israel. He specialized in advocacy planning and land consultancy. Recently he has worked on an Israeli-Palestinian plan for a bi-national Jerusalem, an alternative plan for the unrecognized Bedouin villages in southern Israel, and a plan for a multicultural Beersheba.
Yiftachel is also a board and founding member of several activist and professional organizations, including Faculty for Israel-Palestine Peace (FFIPP), PALISAD, The Coexistence Forum, Adva (centre for social equality), the Israeli Planning Association, Ekistics and the Habitat International Coalition. He is a regular op-ed contributor to leading Israeli newspapers, including Haaretz, Ynet and Ma'ariv.
Yiftachel works on critical theories of space and power; minorities and public policy; 'ethnocratic' societies and land regimes. In urban and planning studies he's focused on the ‘dark side’ of urban planning and has contributed to opening up planning theory to critical theory in general, and to issues of identity, colonising power and space in particular. In political geography, his work formulated the concept of ‘ethnocratic’ regimes, which has generated debates in ethnic and racial studies, regime theories and research in Israel/Palestine. His comparative work has focused on analyzing spatial policy towards minorities in a range of 'ethnocratic' states and cities, most particularly Australia, Sri Lanka, Estonia and South Africa.
In a series of books and articles, Yiftachel conceptualizes the Israeli regime as an ethnocracy, promoting a dominant project of ‘ethnicization’ throughout Israel/Palestine, in which ethnicity dominates citizenship. He documents the various practices of this project, and the manner in which it has constructed ethno-class identities and stratified citizenship through the process of expansion, development, projects of judaisation and politicization in the different regions of Israel/Palestine. His model highlights the privileged status given Jews of Ashkenazi descent over the Mizrachi Jews, discerning a pattern of discrimination between the centrality of the former group and the marginalization of the latter. Palestinians are relegated to the bottom of the social rung. A major focus of his work has been the ‘Zionist-Palestinian dialectic’, and the evolution of Zionist 'colonialism,' Palestinian resistance and counter mobilization. His work has also focused on other marginalized ethno-classes such as the Mizrahim (Eastern Jews), ‘Russian’ Israelis, Orthodox Jews, the Druze and the Bedouins.
Yiftachel uses a multi-disciplinary approach, inspired by Neo-Gramscianism thinking and by a range of 'related' Marxian and postcolonial critical theorists. In the study of Israel/Palestine he was one of the first to break the traditional scholarly divisions between analysis of Arab-Jewish relations and internal Jewish dynamics, and one of a handful of scholars to question whether Israel acts as a democratic state within the Green Line (Israeli pre-1967 borders). The Israeli regime, according to Yiftachel, has presided over the entire historic Palestine for over four decades, and should be analyzed according to the power structures he claims it imposed over the entire territory. Yiftachel developed the ‘settler-ethnocratic’ model to highlight the regime’s main historical-material logic, and the concept of ‘creeping apartheid’ to describe its recent manifestation.
Yiftachel’s work is rich in spatio-political theorization, with development of concepts such as ‘trapped minorities’, ‘fractured regions’, ‘ruptured demos’, ‘internal frontiers’, ‘frontiphery’, ‘creeping apartheid’, and ‘gray urbanism’. He attempts to ‘theorize from the South-East’ by providing alternative conceptualizations to the dominant theories and discourses generated by American and European academic centers.
Positions on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Yiftachel is highly critical of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and its continued occupation and colonization of the West Bank in the wake of the 1967 Six Day-War. By that time, Israel had, he argues, a homeland and therefore the takeover of those territories lacks any moral justification. In the long run he envisages as an ideal resolution of the conflict a unified state with consociational power sharing.
Bedouin Negev land court case
Yiftachel gave expert witness testimony in a case involving a Bedouin claim to land at Al-Araqeeb in the southern area of Israel. The Bedouin suing the State of Israel lost the case. In the ruling, the judge criticised Yiftachel for not being prepared, and criticised Yiftachel's evidence as unreliable. She accepted the evidence given by Ruth Kark who testified as an expert witness for the state. Yiftachel called the ruling "troubling" in that it "unjustly dispossesses many Bedouins who have simply inherited the land from their ancestors".
Yiftachel has published over 100 books, papers and book chapters. Among his books:
- Planning a Mixed Region: Political Geography in Galilee, Ashgate, 1991.
- Urban and Regional Planning in Western Australia (with D. Hedgcock), Paradigm Press, 1992.
- Planning and Social Control: Policy and Resistance in a Divided Society, Pergamon, 1995.
- Ethnic Frontiers and Boundaries (with A. Meir eds), Westview, 1997.
- The Power of Planning (with Hedgcock, Little, Alexander eds), Kluwer, 2002.
- Israelis in Conflict (with Kemp, Newman, Ram eds), Sussex, 2004.
- Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine, Pennpress, 2006.
- Uri Ram, Nationalism: Social conflicts and the politics of knowledge, Taylor & Francis, 2010 pp.63-67 p.66.
- 'Prof. Oren Yiftachel: Curriculum vitae (Short Version),' 2014.
- Joyce Dalsheim, Unsettling Gaza: Secular Liberalism, Radical Religion, and the Israeli Settlement Project, Oxford University Press, 2011 pp.102ff.
- Oren Yiftachel, ‘Ethnocracy: The Politics of Judasizing Israel/Palestine,’ in Laurence Jay Silberstein (ed.), Postzionism: A Reader, Rutgers University Press, 2008 pp.121-146
- Katie Attwell, Israeli National Identity and Dissidence: The Contradictions of Zionism and Resistance, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015 p.26.
- Joanna Paraszczuk and Sharon Udasin (March 19, 2012). "Court rejects 6 Beduin Negev land lawsuits". Jerusalem Post.
- Hebrew transcript of court case