Of late someone is pushing for a violent resolution of the many years of conflict between the Bedouins in the Negev and the state. Voices are heard of a new tsunami rolling toward us, it is already a major offensive, against the Bedouins wherever they may be.
Each day settler associations working against us pop up, such as Regavim (the movement for the protection of national lands – AIC). The State Attorney's Office comes out against academics who "cooperate" with the Bedouins. And it appears that an orchestrated campaign to uproot the "unrecognized" villages is beginning.
The campaign is not a surprise, there were such things in the past. However, unlike the past, our detractors are not making due this time with an attack against the "invasion" of "national" territory. The campaign is also coming out against state authorities with the contention that "you distributed land generously and permitted the Bedouins to do as they wish."
Where are the Bedouins in this discourse? Not surprising to discover that they are not there. The discourse is being conducted between the state and itself. We were transparent when they planned the future of our villages. We were invisible when they transformed our homes and lands and the surroundings in which we lived for hundreds of years into an airport, a settlement for Jews only or a forest. We were present absentees when they didn't count us in the regional council elections.
We were not part of the discussion when they decided to "advance" us and "settle" us in "permanent" areas. They planned and "established" for us a living area according to their standards and not ours. They expected that we come as a herd at the end of the day and settle in our pens. And now they are angry that not all the herd was gathered. And that the herd even has demands.
Suddenly the Bedouins have opinions. And they have associations. And suddenly from nowhere appear "invasions." And suddenly even stone houses. And everything is perceived as surprising: as if the Bedouins were not here first. And as if they do not have rights. And everything in an atmosphere of urgency. Protecting the state! The Zionists, of course.
And suddenly a wave of criticism appears: why are they marrying and having children? Why were villages established for them? Why are they clinging to the land of their ancestors? And it is as if everything is new and requires urgent attention. "Lost is the Negev and lost is the state." And where did it go? To its Bedouin citizens!
Yet what has not changed? We are still not really citizens. We are transparent and lacking in dignity. We are nothings! We are freely cursed and people want to deport us, to uproot, destroy, reduce the birth rate and annul welfare payments. And everything is open, right before our eyes. We are dispossessed of every right to the land on which we live and they want to cram us into centralized towns – and everything is clear and out loud. No shame and no democracy.
We are dying of thirst and on the other side of the road the sprinklers spread the last drops of water from the Sea of Galilee onto the onion fields of the moshav (collective farming community-AIC). It doesn't matter. 37% of the residents of Rahat are unemployed and this concerns no one. The important thing is that there will finally be "attention to the Bedouin problem!"
A military government ruled over us for years. And even when the military governor left, the government remained and the style was preserved. They demolished homes, destroyed villages, added more police officers, attorneys, bought bulldozers, threw us out, established committees, decided for us, cancelled welfare payments and forgot budgets…
We knew one thing: they are speaking up, but we are living down. We were living all the time and every type of life: without water, without electricity, without health care….we lived and will continue to live.
You can again try to cram us in. You already tried and failed. Yet if you want to solve the 'problem', come talk as equal human beings. Enough of trampling our dignity. It is best to try and act differently.
If the government wants a solution, it must immediately halt the plans for displacement that are being crystallized and display some sanity before the big mistake that will be impossible to correct.
We have much experience in displacements. This is not new. We are Israeli citizens and Israeli refugees. Perhaps it is best to attempt something new? Maybe not any more by force?
If they wish to try something new, it is good to begin by examining ourselves vis-à-vis the wave of fear mongering: we hear the warning that shortly 200,000 Bedouin citizens will "grab" 500,000 dunam of land. Perhaps. Why does that frighten you? The Jewish population exploits 12.5 million dunam of land and this frightens no one! We were asked in panic: why are the Bedouins "grabbing" the nation's land? Why is this so terrible? Where will we live? In the air? The Bedouins live on approximately 2% of the Negev area even though they are 28% of the area's residents!
Why are they arguing that "the Negev is lost"? Is it truly "lost"? Where did it go? Why should public opinion be frightened? And why now? Because the Bedouins began to demonstrate in Tel Aviv? Because finally in courts there are challenging hearings concerning the Bedouin rights to land? Because they wish to deter judges from ruling, heavens forbid, that a Bedouin has ownership over his land? Because it is pleasant and easy and comfortable to hate someone, more so if that someone is Arab?
They do not find a solution to the "Bedouin problem"? It is not so complicated. We will be happy to sit and plan our future. For example, villages with traditional Bedouin agriculture, which combine tradition with modernity…and for example, tourist villages; a moshav or two for Bedouins, a kibbutz or two. Why shouldn't we live in dignity, without unemployment and fear? What is wrong with us beginning to produce more, to pay more taxes? What is wrong if we truly change the situation?
We are weak. Excuse me, weakened. The one conducting this battle before us is the state, and it is very strong and drunk with power of late. What will we do? We will organize and seek advice. For now, as citizens, we will make due with passing a message to the government: do not push this peaceful and law-abiding community to dark corners. No good will come of this but the opposite We will send a second message, to the Jewish citizens, that they will not be caught up in the wave of racism: Friends, where are you when you are needed?
Dr. Awad Abu Freih is a member of the Al-Arakib Land Defence Committee. This article was originally published in Hagada Hasmalit, a left-radical forum in the Hebrew language. Translated to English by the Alternative Information Center.