Magazine article Moment

Israel's Other Land Grab: American Jews Need to Stop Turning a Blind Eye to the Resettlement of Israel's Bedouins

Magazine article Moment

Israel's Other Land Grab: American Jews Need to Stop Turning a Blind Eye to the Resettlement of Israel's Bedouins

Article excerpt

In August, despite the fragility of the newly resurrected peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli government announced plans to build 1,187 new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem and the West Bank This came hard on the heels of the 1,096 new units promoted by the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] Civil Administration and the 91 settlements the government recently added to the "national priority list," presumably rendering them non-negotiable.

With the eyes of the world focused on this defiant expansion of Israeli "facts on the ground," few were paying attention to a simultaneous land grab taking place in the Negev: Israel's systematic expropriation of areas that for generations have been inhabited by Bedouins.

On my first trip to Israel 37 years ago, I was hosted for dinner in a Bedouin tent in the desert. Our delegation of eight or ten American media types sat on beautiful hand-loomed rugs. We ate with our hands. We heard about Bedouin culture and traditions. The men who sat with us in that tent (the women were behind a curtain, though we saw one peeking out) were warm, welcoming and responsive to our questions. Only later did it occur to me that our travel agent or the Israel tourism authority was paying the Bedouins to exhibit their "native" ways to visiting foreigners. And while other stops on our itinerary--Masada, Mea Shearim, Rachel's Tomb--were introduced with extensive background information, the Bedouins were presented as ethnic exotica, a people without a history. Only later did I wonder how they really felt about these encounters.

Since then, the Jewish state seems to have become markedly less appreciative of Bedouin culture and traditions. Hundreds of times over the last few years, Bedouin homes and villages have been summarily demolished by IDF and Jewish National Fund (JNF) bulldozers.

Media sources and advocacy groups such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel and the New Israel Fund report that Bedouins have been beaten, shot and forcibly evacuated from their ancestral lands so that this fertile area can be developed for Jewish agricultural development, JNF forests and Jewish habitation.

In 2007, the government appointed the Goldberg Commission to address the Bedouin "problem." (Needless to say, there were no Bedouins on the commission.) Their findings led to the Prawer Plan, a proposed law that would relocate up to 40,000 semi-nomadic Bedouins, concentrating them in seven "officially recognized" urban townships that rank at the bottom of every Israeli socioeconomic measure, with an infant mortality rate four times worse than that of any Jewish Israeli community. Last June, the Prawer Plan passed its first Knesset reading by a slim majority. The final two readings needed in order for the Knesset bill to pass are expected in October.

Somehow, it's unthinkable to evacuate thousands of Jews from their West Bank settlements in the interests of Israeli-Palestinian peace. …

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