Archive for the ‘Bedouins’ Category

Bedouin Update: Civil Protests in Front of the Knesset Draw Attention to Negev Home Demolitions

I’ve been writing for a couple of years about the disturbing sequence of events in the Bedouin communities of the Negev, as home demolitions incite greater frustration among the Bedouin communities and their leaders.  Recent protests at the Knesset seem to be getting more attention from the Israeli authorities (I received this message July 23 from Faisal Sawalha, spokesperson for the RCUV, whom I met with Hussein Al-Rafay’a on a trip to the Negev in 2005):

Thanks to the RCUV’s [Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages] pressure: the evacuation and home demolition in Um Al-Hiran Stopped

Mr. Hussein Al-Rafay’a, the RCUV’s chairperson, and the RCUV leadership who are in the Refugee Camp for the Victims of Home Demolition in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem since July 16 got information this morning that a large number of policemen with their vehicles and bulldozers were near Omer on their way to demolish homes in the village of Atteer Um Al-Hiran, where 20 homes were demolished three weeks ago. Mr. Al-Rafay’a called people in the relevant ministries and governmental offices asking them not to demolish homes. After that, they received a call from the Ministry of Housing saying that the forces will not demolish homes today.

Mr. Al-Rafay’a sad, "We started the Refugee Camp last week to protest against home demolition. After that, we talked to people from different governmental ministries. The Ministries of Interior and Housing said that they will stop home demolition if the Legal Counselor of the government approves this agreement. We are still waiting for his decision. There are people in the governmental offices in the Negev that do not want this agreement. When I called the ministries this morning, they did not know about the home demolition that was planned today."

المجلس الاقليمي للقرى غير المعترف بها في النقب
המועצה האזורית לכפרים הבלתי מוכרים בנגב
The Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev
tel: 972-8-6283043
fax: 972-8-6283315

There are two sides to every story, of course, but, in my view, the Bedouin community issue will not be resolved through government stonewalling.

Is Anything Improving for the Bedouins in Israel?

A couple of years ago, I met with Faisal Sawalha, spokeperson for the Regional Council of the Unrecognized Villages (RCUV) of the Negev, on a visit to Beer Sheva.  This visit has been documented in this blog.  On Friday, September 1, I received another update from Faisal on the latest Bedouin home demolitions in the Negev desert:

From his email:

"What can we do?" Mrs Talalqa asked again and again, as she sat on a mat in the tent that the government buldozers did not demolish today. What can we do? Where will we go when it rains? And the sheep – they all ran away to the hills when the government buldozers destroyed the pen. Where will I make dinner? How can I wash dishes? Where will the children sit to do their homework? And the bathroom… we don’t have a bathroom!

This morning at 9:00am, when the men were at work, three government appointed buldozers, accompanied by about 50 police people came to destroy ALL the homes in the village of Twiel abu-Jarwal. Today there are 34 more homeless children.

Every year the Government of Israel demolishes more than one hundred houses in the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Israeli Negev. This year they have doubled their efforts…

The Bedouin problem in Israel is currently lost in the continuing roar of the crisis in Gaza and the wrenching self-criticism that is the aftermath of the Lebanese war.  But it is a problem, and it is not going away.  As with many other unresolved socio-political and economic issues in Israel, the basic math is not good for the future of the State of Israel– how many homeless citizens with no hope of a better future does it take to convert into radical fundamentalists who only care about destroying "the other"?  Not many.

There are 130,000 or more Bedouins in the Negev, and they are Israeli citizens.

Instead of demolishing homes, the government should be emphasizing job creation and facilitating Bedouin participation in the economic enterprise zones that are being established in the Negev.  This may already be happening, and if it is, I, and perhaps many others, would love to hear about it.  But the only email messages I am receiving from the Bedouin leadership are about increasingly organized protests and more home demolitions. 

The Bedouins Take Their Civil Rights Program on the Road

Bedouin Invitation, originally uploaded by levensohn_pascal.

Beginning on June 13, 2006, a traveling civil rights tent will go to every unrecognized village in the Negev and meet with interested citizens. Speakers will include Hussain Al Rafaya, RCUV Chairperson, and two Arab Members of the Knesset– Talab Al Sana and Hanna Swaid. This program is being funded by Oxfam G.B.

Al Jazeera Reports on the Deepening Bedouin Crisis in Israel

I first wrote about the Bedouins in this blog on June 23, 2005, shortly after meeting in person with Hussain Rafay’a, President of the Regional Council for the Arab Unrecognized Villages in the Negev.  My visit to Ber Sheva and to the Negev desert included visiting several of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the region.  My post from this visit includes pictures of what I saw.  I was accompanied by Anat Hoffman of the Israel Religious Action Center, and we also met with Faisal Sawalha, who is responsible for Resource Development and Public Relations for the Regional Council for the Arab Unrecognized Villages in the Negev.

In short, my observations then were that the Bedouin situation is deplorable, that the Bedouins deserve better as Israeli citizens, and that Hussain Rafay’a was a level-headed businessman who could be reasonable in negotiating on behalf of the people that he represents (he was elected to his position).

To read all of my posts on this subject, you can search this blog by entering "Bedouins" in the Site Search box in the left column.

Almost one year later, having posted updates on this situation several times, things appear to be getting worse for the Bedouins.  In my view, the Israeli government should engage with the current leadership of the Bedouins and not continue to stand behind the bureaucratic position that they will not negotiate with unrecognized representatives of an unrecognized group.  Why do I feel that I’ve seen this movie before? And I don’t like the way that it ends…

Al Jazeera has caught on to the Bedouin story and recently reported on the latest developments in the region.  for a link to the full story, click here.  Based on my own independent research and discussion on the Bedouins with people that I trust, this article does capture the essence of the problem.

Some excerpts:

According to Bedouin leaders, the Israeli government is intent on removing about 40 Bedouin villages in the Negev region that are inhabited by as many as 80,000 people – an allegation the government denies.

Last week, Israeli police reportedly stepped up the destruction of Bedouin homes and outbuildings in what are termed "unrecognised villages".

"Like they are doing to our Palestinian brothers in the West Bank, they are doing here to us," said Talab al Sani’e, a Bedouin and a member of Israel’s Knesset.
"They are destroying our homes and stealing our land and trying to concentrate us in small reservations in order to take our land and give it Jewish settlers."

Sani’e told there was "systematic discrimination" against the Bedouins.
"Some of these so-called unrecognised villages predated the state of Israel.

I wonder who needs recognition from whom," said Sani’e.
"Israel has created 140 Jewish towns and villages in the Negev. And now they want to destroy Bedouin villages."

Hussein Rafaya’a, president of the Regional Council of the Unrecognised Villages, accused the Israeli government of illegally confiscating more than 98% of Bedouin land.
"Between 1948 and 1966, Israel seized 12 million dunams [one dunam is 1000 square meters], and in 1978, they confiscated more than 100,000 dunams. And now they chasing us to steal our remaining land."

Saqr Salouk, editor-in-chief of the Naba News Agency, a local news outlet covering the Bedouin community in southern Israel, accuses Israel of committing "ugly acts of racism against Bedouins."

It is my experience in business that two parties can negotiate an acceptable solution to a problem as long as both sides genuinely wish to come to the table and each side is willing to give up something to get to a resolution that benefits both sides.

It is clear that the State of Israel cannot negotiate with Hamas as long as Hamas will not renounce terrorist violence and continues to refuse to recognize the existence of the State of Israel.  Looking at the Bedouin situation from the outside and with some, though limited, personal exposure to a few of the leading players in this scenario, I believe that it would be in the best interests of both the State of Israel and the Bedouins for a constructive negotiation to occur now in order to resolve the plight of the Unrecognized Villages of the Negev.   

Israeli Arabs and the Security of Israel

The article below comes from the publication Forward (click here for a link).  It is a concise statement of the need for immediate, greater focus on promoting the socio-economic integration of the Israeli Arab minority into the mainstream of Israel and raises many points that I have been making through anecdotes on this blog since its inception.

This blog identifies specific efforts to promote improved Arab Jewish relations in Israel.  For example, (1) through early childhood bilingual education in the Hand in Hand schools; (2) by drawing attention to the plight of the Bedouins in the Unrecognized Villages of the Negev; and (3) through the advocacy work promoting religious pluralism by the Israel Religious Action Center.

Why Israeli Arabs Are a Jewish Issue

The leadership of several major American Jewish organizations recently established a task force to improve relations between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews and to address the disparities of opportunity and discrimination confronting Arabs in Israel. The task force comprises 50 Jewish organizations and aims to generate awareness among both North American Jews and Israelis, with the aim of advancing civic equality in Israel and, in certain cases, leveraging financial resources to provide effective solutions for long-standing problems.

With all the many issues on the agenda of American Jewry and the complex character of the Israeli Arab situation, it is reasonable to ask why American Jews should bother.

After all, the threats to Israel’s security today are arguably greater than they have been in some years. The Hamas victory, the nuclearization and even greater radicalization of Iran, the continuing international assaults on Israel’s good name and, here in the United States, the discourse about the "Israel Lobby" resulting from the Mearsheimer-Walt paper seemingly provide more than enough challenges to focus our attention. At the same time, one hears and reads about signs of fundamentalism and radicalism among segments of the Israeli Arab community that suggest a desire to challenge the Zionist character of Israel and a willingness to identify with Hamas, even as they eschew their terrorist means.

None of those points can be ignored. There is, indeed, much on our plate. It is, however, exactly because the internal and external challenges for Israel are so great that we believe our community must see the issue of Israeli Arabs as one of immense and immediate importance.

There are many reasons why. First, it is in Israel’s strategic interest to address this growing problem. During the past 58 years, Israel has constantly defended itself against enemies who have denied its legitimacy. Calls for unity within the Israeli public, usually meaning its Jewish public, are sounded time and again.

But what has existed and should not be taken for granted is an Arab minority in Israel — about 20% of the population — that has, despite experiencing inequities and discrimination, remained loyal to the state. We do not discount the examples of Israeli Arab violence or the provocative critiques of Israel emanating from some segments of Israel’s Arab community, but Israel’s ability to confront extreme foes committed to its destruction without having to face conflict from within has been a remarkable boon to the Jewish state.

The riots by the Israeli Arab community in October 2000, however, signaled that there was no guarantee that the civil peace would last. The Or Commission, which was appointed by the state to investigate those riots, concluded that the Israeli Arab issue "is the most sensitive and important domestic issue facing Israel today." That commission and, indeed, common sense tell us that if the condition of Israeli Arabs continues to be neglected, the consequences for the security and stability of the state will be immense.

Second, Israel’s treatment of its minority population is an issue of Jewish values. Israel’s strength lies in its Jewish and democratic nature. One characteristic without the other would undermine the great country that means so much to all of us.

These values, embodied in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, are the root of cohesion for a nation whose people come from diverse backgrounds and political ideologies. The fact that the Arab sector does not receive its fair share of state resources, and that not enough is being done to uproot pervasive societal discrimination, are examples of Israel not meeting the principled aspirations that it has set for itself.

Third, addressing the issue will enhance Israel’s image in the world at-large and among Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. Image is not a peripheral matter but fundamental to Israel’s strategic interest. Of course, we are not so naïve as to believe that addressing Israeli Arab equality will turn around those in the world who engage in unrelenting anti-Israel bashing.

Many others, however, are more ambivalent about Israel and what Israel does can have impact, as was seen in the reaction to its disengagement from Gaza. Treatment of underprivileged minorities is an issue in dozens of countries; Israel can set an example in how it addresses the problem.

Many American Jews, particularly those who are unaffiliated, might open their eyes to the significance of an Israel that takes seriously the responsibility to realize ideals of a Jewish and democratic state. And many in the United States and around the world would welcome it as a model state that successfully internalizes and synthesizes core values based on a combination of religious traditions and contemporary human rights principles.

Let us be clear: In calling for American Jews to make this issue a priority, we are not saying that we should tell Israel what to do. We respect Israel’s sovereignty and do not underestimate the complexity of its societal challenges.

But American Jews do matter in the world Jewish community. As on other issues, when we pay attention, when we direct funding to certain projects, we send an important signal about our priorities to Israelis of all backgrounds.

To the many organizations participating in this task force, this is a not a left-wing or right-wing issue. Rather, it is a subject that Jews of whatever ideological stripe should consider important for the well-being of the Jewish state and our own sense of identity.

Kenneth Jacobson is associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Larry Garber is executive director of the New Israel Fund.