The forgotten plight of the Bedouin in the Holy Land
The Bedouin of Israel and the occupied territories are easy to pick on. Self-identifying as neither Israeli nor Palestinian, not often considered as such by either community in return, their plight is less attention-grabbing, less politically-infused than that of other communities in the Holy Land. Accordingly, when their rights are apparently under assault, their suffering can easily disappear under the radar.
Never fully comfortable guests in either national camp, it is the actions of Israel that ostensibly have been the most cruel to the Bedouin. In July 2010, Israeli forces swept into the village of Al-Araqib in Israel’s southern Negev (Arabic: Naqab) desert, destroying houses, olive trees, animal shelters to clear the “unrecognised” land of its allegedly illegal occupants. Half of those displaced were children.
The villagers have since defiantly rebuilt their settlement, claiming ownership of their land dating back to the early twentieth century before Israel came into being in its current form. Gravestones in the village appear to indicate that this may be so. Having reconstructed, their village was destroyed again. The cycle has continued to the present day, with Al-Araqib having been reportedly deconstructed and rebuilt over thirty times to date.
The high number of demolitions led the Israeli Land Authority to initiate proceedings last year against 34 villagers from Al Araqib, seeking 1.8 million shekels in compensation for the costs of repeatedly destroying their homes.
Israeli authorities maintain that the residents have not provided adequate proof of their ownership of the land, and justify their destruction of Al Araqib and other Negev villages on that basis. They have, in recent years, resorted to means declared illegal by The High Court of Justice in order to try to move the “squatting” villagers on, including aerially spraying the land of Bedouin farmers with chemicals, risking the health of adults, children and livestock.
Serial critics of Israel gesture toward the Bedouin’s lack of Jewishness as the source of their apparent persecution, suggesting that the Knesset policy of replacement of Bedouin villages with “recreational land” and nature parks in the area is an excuse to enact a long-standing, untrumpeted policy: to shift the local demographics in an attempt to ‘judaise” the desert. This may sound extreme, but the notion is in my view, not baseless.
The Prawer Plan, an Israeli government strategy may yet uproot tens of thousands of Bedouin from villages in the Negev in order to deal with what Shimon Peres referred to in conversation with US diplomats as “a demographic threat” to the Jewish majority in Israel. Netanyahu has made the same point more publicly.
Bedouins in the West Bank face similar prospects. The Jahalin Bedouin living in the village of Khan al-Ahmar, not far from the Israeli settlement of Ma’aleAdumim have just about avoided immediate eviction and the forced transference to a site next to a municipal rubbish dump. The forced evacuation of villagers from the land to reportedly make way for the planned “natural growth” of Ma’ale Adumim would have swallowed up a primary school and in total twenty Jahalin communities (including Khan al Ahmar).
Israel has now withdrawn its plans to move the group to the land beside the dump, and after some pressure from the UN and EU, have promised to ensure that schools in the area – at least one built out of mud and tyres, indicative of the poverty of the community- remain until the Jahalin are relocated elsewhere.
Regardless of this reprieve,it is hard to accept talk of Bedouin villages as criminal from authorities within a state that has sponsored illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank for decades. Defence Minister Moshe Dayan admitted in an internal government memo in 1967 (discussed here, page 173) that: “”Settling Israelis in occupied territory contravenes, as is known, international conventions. But there is nothing essentially new in that.”
This was a view stated clearly enough to government officials advised by Israel’s most respected legal authority, jurist Theodor Meron, who was sure it violated the Fourth Geneva Convention. Not that his advice changed policy.
According to Israeli journalist, MyaGuarnieri, restrictions on liberty, freedom of movement and the ability to earn a livelihood remain endemic to the lived experience of Bedouin and other minorities. “When I went to Khan Al Ahmar,” she told me“I was just shocked by the conditions. The people there survive on agriculture, from herding, but their freedom of movement is very limited.” She added: “They can’t herd as they did in the past because Israel has expropriated the surrounding areas for settlement growth and a road. Israel doesn’t allow them to go to Jerusalem, to go their primary market to sell their goods.”
“Sadly their experience under occupation is not unique,” she reflected to me.“Israel hems in Palestinian and Bedouin communities with building and land use restrictions on both sides of the Green Line.In the occupied territories, freedom of movement is limited for non-Jews in general.”
The occupation of the Palestinian territories, accurately described by David Remnick as “illegal, inhumane, and inconsistent with Jewish values”continues with its attendant, unresolved human rights issues. As inter-community tensions rise again over last Friday’s incidents at Al-Aqsa, it looks likely that the Bedouin are likely to be obliterated from the news, having had some meagre coverage of their struggle this month.
Meanwhile, the communities of Al-Araqib, Khader Al-Ahram and many others must carry on with life as best they can in the face of great uncertainty.Tagged in: Al-Araqib, Bedouin, israel, Palestine
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