IAM's investigative report, 31/1/07
We are all too familiar with the claim that the Arab nomadic tribes in the Negev have been living there for ''hundreds of years'' despite other claims to the contrary. And who are spearheading this campaign ? A handful of Israeli academics.
The modern state of Israel is at pain to solve once and for all the ongoing problem of its Bedouin community that refuses to establish itself in recognized towns and villages. The last attempt to integrate this population into the Israeli society was made last October when the government established an independent eight member committee, headed by the former state controller, to regulate their settlement in the Negev area.
However, despite the goodwill and the authorities' determination to learn from past mistakes, the opposition to any solution comes from the Israeli academia. Thabet Abu Ras, Professor of Geography and Environmental Development at Ben Gurion University, rejects the idea: "What is its mandate?" he told the daily Ha'aretz. "The problems have not been solved for decades and they are supposed to come up with recommendation within six months and with only two Bedouin representatives on the Committee. It's not going to work".
This self-explanatory comment is echoed by other colleagues at the same university. Oren Yiftachel, a professor of Political Geography, Planning and Public Policy have been championing the Bedouin cause for many years. He argues that the government wants to ''de-Arabise'' the land and branded the master plan to house the Bedouins as a "crime". In his opinion the disputed land was their possession according to customary law…He put the blame on the British mandate that gave everybody at the time the chance to register their land within two weeks, something the Bedouins did not do for various reasons. The Israeli government exploited their ignorance and from then on was hell-bent to deny them basic rights.
Dr. Sandy Kedar of Haifa University wrote extensively about the issue and supports the assertion that the Bedouins fall within the definition of indigenous people and as such they are entitled to claim ownership to the land they live on. "Israel grossly violates the principle of equality set forth in international law. It is a discrimination policy which is prohibited by the international convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid", he wrote in the newsletter of Adallah, the Arab NGO. He also regards most of the Arab Bedouins, who were moved to the Northern Negev, as displaced persons. As such they have the right to return to their homes and places of residents.
Unmistakably, the term ''Apartheid", so popular among Israeli radical-leftist academics, is repeated time and again in the debate to describe Israel's attitude towards the tribes in the Southern part of the country. Others hotly argue that the state can not force them to change their traditional life style. "The forced urbanization of this population has been disastrous," says Prof. Alean Al-Krenawi, chairman of the BGU Department of Social Work. "The Bedouins lost the basis of their traditional economy of flocks and farms, and became dependent on the Jewish economy for which they were not trained."
Another BGU professor, Ismael Abu-Saad, accuses the authorities of inflicting untold suffering on the tribes. In his view the government wants "to concentrate as many Bedouins as possible in urban locales to prevent them from cultivating and claiming ownership of the lands the state had expropriated." He was referring to about half the Bedouin families in the Negev - mainly those who did not have land claims – that moved to the townships. The rest, viewing town life as a threat to their traditional lifestyle and insisting that the land is theirs, refused. These are the Bedouin tribes and clans that today live in the "unrecognized villages," or as the Israeli authorities refer to them, the "dispersion," since they tend to live in spread-out clusters. There are some 80,000 people living in the "dispersion" today.
"I'm not surprised at the results of taking people suddenly from their traditional way of life and expecting them to adapt overnight to modernization without preparation," comments education lecturer Abu-Saad, who is the co-founder and first director of the BGU Center for Bedouin Studies and Development ."They moved to the towns and there was nothing, no economic infrastructure and it was unsuitable for the lives the Bedouin were used to. So overnight they turned into unskilled laborers, because they'd lost their traditional livelihood."
A similar view is taken by Dr. Yeela Raanan, public affairs representative for Leaders of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (RCUV), an organization established by residents of the unrecognized villages. She says that the Bedouins understand that they will have to give up some land in order to receive services, "but they will agree only if the periphery of the village gives them lands for agriculture and industry. They must be able to have work. Why can't the government strengthen these communities by giving them the same help they give the Moshavim?" she asks. "People have a right to maintain their culture, even if the general culture is different. Israel can't allow them to be semi-nomadic, but it can let them remain living in a rural setting, to be community-based," argues Raanan, who teaches public policy at Sapir College in the Negev.
Yiftachel, again, can not resist the Apartheid metaphor. "The desire to make the metropolis Jewish and to leave the Bedouins in exile is covert apartheid, but even if at the moment there is a situation of creeping apartheid toward the Bedouins and the residents of the development towns, it can still be stopped. We have to break out of the mindset, and at a relatively small cost to Israeli society we can establish a different metropolis here."
Interestingly, Prof. Al Krenawi puts the blame, fair and square, on the government for the depressing statistics. The Bedouins, who make up 30 percent of the population of the Negev, have the highest unemployment rate in the country. Impoverished, uneducated and dependent, they also have the highest fertility rate in the country, perhaps in the world, doubling their population every 15 years. Surely, the professor does not suggest that Israel has to take the blame for their birth rates as well…
If we all wish the Bedouins a better future in Israel, we should give them only one advice: stop listening to the inciting professors who are launching a campaign on your back. Instead, put your suspicions aside and start cooperating with the state. Only a genuine dialogue can offer you the prospect of a prosperous life in the country. Becoming Israel's wanted children is certainly within your reach.
A Bedouin Circus in Ramat Aviv
The bias in which the "Bedouin problem" is represented is about to be demonstrated at Tel Aviv University, on Thursday, 10 January. The Arts Department and the "Co-existence Forum for civil equality in the Negev", will dedicate half a day to the subject curiously titled "The Bedouin – unrecognized citizen". The line up include rectors, deans and lecturers (including the relentless Oren Yiftachel of BGU, Avner Ben-Amos from TAU and Toby Fenster also from TAU), and of course many Bedouin leaders. The minister for science, Rhaleb Magadllah, will top the list.
But who would not be represented in the event? Those who might offer a different view of the issue, like Government officials, experts who do not belong to the Extreme-Left side of the divide, even not a member of the committee recently established to regulate the status of the nomadic tribes in the South. In short, the ''other side'' has been deprived of the right to response. The speakers will preach to the converts and everyone on the harmonious platform will be happy.
The University is hosting a political circus with the aim to promote a certain group that uses the Bedouins to question the legitimacy of the authorities that try to bring a genuine solution to the problem that cast a shadow on Arab-Jewish relations in the Negev. Whoever thinks that universities are about free exchange of ideas, should think twice about the true nature of TAU. Time and again they prove that left-leaning prejudice is their trademark.
The title of the happening also speaks for itself. The Bedouin is a recognized citizen in most parts of the Negev. Those who live in the so called ''unrecognized settlements" are being accused by the Government of land-grabbing. Yet this side of the argument has been gagged in Tel-AvIv. The well known mantra that the Bedouins are part and parcel of the Negev for centuries would certainly be repeated on 10 January.
The "Co-existence Forum" is financed by the New Israel Fund. Yet in Tel-Aviv we would see a ''unilateral forum" in which the other opinion would be tried and executed. The highlight of the evening will be ''Bedouins'', a play, directed by Nola Chelton that would highlight the plight of the protagonists from a very certain point of view.
If you decide not to miss this double bill, go to Ramat-Aviv and tell those acrobats what you think of them.
This report is also published on http://web.israelinsider.com/views/12533.htm