Clouds Form Over the Negev




I received the article below from Anat Hoffman this morning.  Anat, who is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC),  accompanied me on my visit to the Negev to meet with Hussein Al Rafaya two weeks ago.  Her staff at the IRAC translated the article from hebrew to english.  It is a response by Hussein Al Rafaya (see my previous post) to press reports quoting recent comments regarding the growth of the Bedouin population in the Negev by Giora Eiland, Head of Israel’s National Security Council.

In my view, these remarks are not likely to lead to constructive dialogue in resolving the larger coexistence issues facing Israel and the Bedouins.      

BEDOUIN BABY BOOM

Sterilization and castration, starvation or equalization of conditions – the only way for Giora Eiland to reduce our birth rate

by Hussein Al Rafaya

In the course of a visit to the Negev, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Giora Eiland, Head of Israel’s National Security Council, expressed great concern over the birth rate in the Negev Bedouin tribes. "At this rate," Eiland – a known expert on hyper fertility problems – was quoted in the press as saying, "the Bedouin population will double within 15 years. We have to do something to stop the birth rate in that sector." It should be noted that a similar utterance, by a public official, with regard to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, in which the "birth rate" is no lower, would have given rise to an immediate demand for his or her dismissal, on the grounds of anti-Semitism.

So what can we do? How do we cope with the "Bedouin problem" which threatens national security? Three courses of action which will help the security experts to lower the birth rate are proposed below.

1. Performing vasectomies on the adult males, or sterilizing the females. This is an especially effective method, which will certainly reduce the Bedouin birth rate. On the other hand, difficulties may be expected in getting the native population to accept the idea. This will require especially sophisticated experts, who will certainly offer some of the natives radios, or color TV sets, in order to charm them into agreeing. Give the natives a few transistors, and they’ll get off their camels and come to hear the miracle. At that point, it will be possible to perform a swift and dynamic targeted elimination, for the glory of the State of Israel.

2. Denying, or significantly cutting back, child support allowances for Bedouin couples. It’s hard to believe that this will lower the birth rate (it didn’t really work for the ultra-Orthodox Jews), but at least it will transform the dirt-poor into starvation victims. It should be borne in mind that the seven Bedouin settlements in Israel are also the seven poorest official settlements in Israel. The 45 unrecognized settlements in the Negev are even poorer. The unemployment rate reaches, or even exceeds, 30%. The child allowances enable the citizens, albeit with difficulty, to keep their heads above water. Denying them will push the population across the starvation line, and may have the result of reducing it. The accompanying phenomena may look unpleasant in the initial stage, but the public eye will quickly become all too accustomed to the swollen bellies of malnourished children. Admittedly, the infant mortality rate in the unrecognized settlements of the Negev is already equal to that of the most backward Third World countries. No one seems to be upset by this fact any more, however – with the exception of a few pink-cheeked, complex-ridden human rights activists.

3. To implement a radical change in the existing situation. This method is likely to be especially efficient, although not as quick as those listed above. Today, 81,000 Bedouin live in 45 settlements in the Negev. Most of those settlements were founded during the British Mandate, and a few after the establishment of the State of Israel, when the authorities transferred the Bedouin from the northern Negev southward, in order to make room for army camps and Jewish settlements. The Bedouin settlements, incredibly, have not yet been recognized by the State. They do not appear on the map; they are not connected to the power, water or gas mains; nor do they have the infrastructure – roads, sidewalks, schools and kindergartens – which is taken for granted by any other citizen. The State wants the lands on which the Bedouin live, and is accordingly refusing to recognize their settlements, destroying their houses and plowing their fields precisely when the crops mature. No recognition means no building plans, no construction permits, nothing. No recognition means that everyone living in those places is a criminal, a trespasser and a violator of the building code.

Since the Declaration of Independence, Israel has been ignoring its Bedouin citizens, treating them as if they were invisible. This policy has made them into a burden on society – proving that "those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind". The Bedouin citizens’ genetic makeup is neither criminal nor illiterate by nature. The reality around them has made some Bedouin turn out that way. Giora Eiland, like the other policy-setters and decision-makers, will surely be glad to hear that this situation can be changed. Israel’s Bedouin citizens can easily be transformed from a burden into an asset. But for that, it will be necessary to sit down and talk with us. To date, no one has ever spoken with us; everyone’s been too busy making "plans" for us. You know what? Talk with us, recognize our settlements, give us what every citizen of the State of Israel has by right – not one grain more – and I promise to stop being a national problem.

Hussein Al Rafaya, Chair of the Council for Unrecognized Villages

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