The following article was written by Amos Gwirtz in response to the Israeli government’s request that the Knesset pass a law that will help them to force Bedouins out of their homes and their remaining lands.
Let us imagine this – hopefully impossible – event: a certain state in Europe (let’s say France) decides to concentrate its Jewish citizens in towns. In order to ‘encourage’ them to relocate in the towns assigned to them, that state impacts their businesses, demolishes their homes, and imposes strict limitations on the public services they are due, such as denying them running water, electrical power supply, health services, sanitation etc.
No overly developed imagination is needed to know how we and the rest of the ‘enlightened’ world would react to the anti-Semitic policy of such a state. The Israeli government would instantly recall its ambassador, and declare the ambassador of that state persona non grata. We, the citizens of Israel, left right or center, would engage in an international campaign against that state’s anti-Semitic policy. We would naturally boycott any products of that state and call upon the rest of the world to do likewise. We would demand that the UN pass a resolution defining that state as a racist, anti-Semitic state and subject it to sanctions, until it desists from its policy of concentrating its Jewish citizens.
So what exactly is the State of Israel doing to those of its citizens who, unfortunately for them, have been born Bedouin and live in the Jewish State?
Here is a short review: after the war of 1948 and the founding of the State, Israel continued to expel Bedouins out of its territory. These expulsions ceased only in 1960 (11,000 Bedouins then remained in the country. At present they number 200,000). Israel’s entire Palestinian population was ruled by military government until 1966. In the early 1950s Israel concentrated its Bedouin citizens in the Negev within the Sayag area. The lands emptied of Bedouins were then transferred by the government – through legislation – to the State. Pure land grab by law! In 1965 the Planning and Construction Law was passed, by means of which most of the Sayag lands were declared farming zones where construction is forbidden. Thus, by law, a situation was created where the Bedouins living in the Sayag area since pre-State times, as they claim their human rights to shelter, are in fact breaking the law. Worse even: those whom the State dispossessed and forced to move into the Sayag area without creating a legal base for their new dwellings, are now defined by the State as invading state lands! They too, upon wishing to act on their basic right to shelter, have become law-breakers.
This is by far not the end of Bedouin persecution by the Jewish state. In the late 1960s a new policy took shape: the Bedouins began to be relocated in towns. Seven of these towns were built, and slightly over one half of the Negev Bedouin population was re-situated there. Naturally, without employment infrastructures, and with an extremely low level of public services. The towns are a true failure, with record unemployment and impoverishment, and an especially high crime rate. This has been a failure in every respect. But never fear – failure has not been reason enough to halt the policy of moving Bedouins into concentration towns. Whenever the State is confronted with Bedouins who refuse to acquiesce and “enjoy” its bounty, it pressures them. Their grazing grounds are limited even more, some of their grain crops are destroyed, their homes demolished (in 2011, over 1,000 dwellings were demolished!), villages are ruined, electricity, water, health clinics, inner roads, etc. are denied them, all in order to make life impossible out in the villages and force them to move into the towns.
Most Israelis are not familiar with the dreadful reality in the Negev for a simple reason: not only the government practices an anti-Semitic policy against its own (Semitic) Bedouin citizens. The media too are complicit. They simply do not report this. When a Jewish outlaw who breaks Israeli law in the Occupied Territories (along with the State itself that violates international law) and builds an “illegal” outpost on privately owned Palestinian land receives a demolition order, the whole country quakes. The media are naturally filled with reports on the government’s cruel policy against the “pioneers” who “redeem” the Land of Israel. And here such idealists and their supporters demand of the Israeli government to treat far more harshly those people whose plight has been to be born Bedouins in the Jewish State.
Indeed their wish has been fulfilled. Now the government expects the Knesset to pass a law enabling it to speed up the eviction of tens of thousands of Bedouins from their remaining lands and villages into more towns to be built.
The rest of the world, too, remains silent in view of Israel’s anti-Semitic policy. Nearly no one ventures to protect the people in Israeli concentration towns as they are dispossessed. This kind of racism used to be practiced against Jews. Now it is practiced in their name…
And we – a painfully scant few – falter in view of this horrific reality, and all we achieve is to be condemned as self-hating traitors…
Amos Gwirtz is founder and director of Palestinians & Israelis for Nonviolence, a member group of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, based in Shefayim, Israel.