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Following tour to unrecognized Bedouin villages, conservative media personality has change of heart

Poll finds Israeli public extremely misinformed on Bedouin issue, majority believes land claims to be five times bigger than they really are.

Avri Gilad and Hura Mayor Dr. Muhammad Al-Nabari (photo: Avri Gilad’s Facebook page)

Media personality and talk radio host Avri Gilad is one of the recent favorites of the Israeli right. Gilad, a Tel Aviv celebrity, has voiced extremely conservative opinions on a variety to topics, from asylum seekers to Islam. In late April, Gilad posted on Facebook his impressions from a tour to the South with the settlers non-profit group Regavim:

I came back from a tour of the Negev conducted by Regavim. I am appalled by what I saw. There’s no more Negev. The Bedouin have taken it over completely by force…. this is unbelievable… Through shameless criminal activity, with insolence met only by fear and submission, the Bedouin have taken over the entire Negev.

Gilad accused the Bedouin of looting and murder, echoing Ragavim’s call not to hand them any land rights as part of the Prawer Plan, but rather treat them as invaders on state property.

The post received a lot of publicity, and Gilad was criticized for ignoring many aspects of the issue. Three days later, he admitted that he needs to study the subject matter. This month, Gilad went on a tour with activists from the Bedouin community and came back with a very different view.

This is his latest post on the matter (translation by Sol Sable):

My previous post on the Bedouin caused quite a commotion. Jewish residents of the Negev/Naqab identified with it in a big way. There was a lot of anger among the Bedouin and Jews from the country’s center. I committed myself to go on another tour, this time with the Bedouin, to hear about their situation. On Thursday I kept my promise.

Here are 10 more things I learned about the Bedouin in the Negev.

1) At Ben-Gurion University I viewed aerial photographs of the Negev taken by the British from 1945 onwards. It’s uncomfortable to admit, but most of Negev was settled by Bedouin, the entire land is cultivated; you can see the squares with the names of the tribes marked on. Whether they had ownership of the land, as Israeli law demands, is another matter. But what is clear is that they were settled there.

2) The Bedouin themselves openly admit the existence of Bedouin criminality, violence, destruction of property, theft, protection rackets, and wild driving. All these phenomena impact first and foremost on their own communities who suffer the most. They actually yearn for some courageous law enforcement to ensure that their dejected restless young people, are reined in. Non-enforcement is a form of racism.

3) They explained all these phenomena in terms of the huge disparity between us Jews, and them who live in galvanized iron shacks which are without electricity, running water, education, or other infrastructure. I heard a story about a young Bedouin fellow who every Holocaust Remembrance Day goes out to Be’er Sheba for a session of burning rubber with full-volume music blaring to express his anger. Obviously, had this second generation survivor ran into him on a Be’er Sheba street while the Yom Hashoah siren is blaring [when everyone is meant to show respect by standing still-tr], I’d be glad to stop him in his tracks and lie him down on the hot bitumen. Now, that I’m at home, sitting at the computer in air conditioned comfort and therefore a lot calmer I’m not sure that had I lived in tin shack without water, electricity, insulation, roads or a future, I would have managed to do something different to what he does.

4) The Bedouin have been deeply insulted by every single government plan to regulate their situation for one reason: they are excluded from the decision-making process. As we say in Hebrew, no one speaks to them at eye-level. No one includes them in the those discussions and planning for their own lives. They are used to being patronised by Jews, they are used to being seen as security risk. But just because they are used to it, doesn’t mean that they will cooperate with any solution that will be framed without them.

5) One of the main problems of the Bedouin is bigamy and polygamy. The Bedouin would be pleased to see the state will intervene on this score, and apply sanctions against men who take more than one wife, mainly because it primarily devastates Bedouin society itself. But the state? It prefers to pay social benefits and avert its eyes rather than deal with the matter. Seems strange to me. And cowardly.

6) In Hura, a comparatively new and well managed Bedouin town near Shoket Junction, I saw new residential homes. Adjacent to each home there was a shed or a barn with hundreds of sheep and cattle. The stench was terrible. I realized that you can take the Bedouin out of agriculture, but you cannot take agriculture out of the Bedouin. Forcing all the Bedouin to become townspeople instead of village-based farmers is just another patronizing idea that has caused great deal of harm.

7) The Bedouin themselves are willing to move into recognised villages and vacate lands where they are too thinly spread to be provided with infrastructure. They demand the recognition of villages that already exist and connecting services to them. It only seems fair to me that if a Jew in Israel can decide whether to live in a rural or urban environment, the same should apply to the Bedouin. Applying different laws to different people – this is the most difficult problem facing Israel.

8) And more on the subject of infrastructure: even recognized villages do not necessarily have electricity or running water. I saw the ORT schools, Pais (lottery-sponsored) community centres, a lot of good will, but without electricity and water. It’s just not right that any Jew who parks a caravan in the [Occupied] Territories gets connected immediately to the electricity grid and a Bedouin, in a recognized village, needs to cart around water tank trailers and install polluting generators all over the place. That’s not the way to build civic solidarity.

9) When a Bedouin leader arises who does not revert to the “it’s their fault” syndrome, such as Hura Mayor Dr Muhammad Al-Nabari (pictured), he manages to bring together the government, the Jewish National Fund, commercial enterprises and Jewish philanthropists from around the world to immensely transform his town. The Bedouin can take their fate in their own hands and take action. The Jewish state is yearning for visionary Bedouins. It would collaborate excitedly with any who gets out of the “victim’s room.”

10) In short, the Negev’s Jews suffer, the Bedouin suffer, the state does not dare to look straight into the problem and acts in non-transparent fashion. We should gather all those involved in a hotel near the Dead Sea (or a tin shack in Abu-Basma) to discuss the matter together. The solution is not impossible but it can only be achieved in the dialogue between equals, with good intentions on one side and a willingness to enforce the derived solution without compromise on the other. Do we have a leader who could do it? Do they have a leader who could do it? Or does it have to come to open warfare between us and them before we start thinking of a respectful arrangement?

My thanks to Dr. Thabet Abu-Ras who took me on tour, thanks to Professor Avner Ben-Amos and Professor Oren Yiftachel, thanks to lawyer Rawia Aburabia and Hula mayor Dr Muhammad Al-Nabari who met me, and shared their common knowledge with me.

Something personal to end this long post – once again I noted down that I tend to be persuaded too hastily, to respond too acutely and pass judgement in the presence of one side only. It is part and parcel of my ADHD impulsivity and my general tendency to superficiality. It’s likely that I probably won’t change significantly, but I’ll try my best. Readers must take this into account …

That’s Gilad. And now for the broader picture: a recent poll, conducted by Rabbis for Human Rights, concluded that most of the Jewish public has the same attitude as Gilad; at first, a clear majority saw the Bedouins as “invaders” in the Negev/Naqab, (in Israel’s south), but after hearing some of the facts, there was a small majority (47% vs. 34.6% percent) which thought that the Bedouins’ land claims were “fair.” Before being presented with the facts, Jews estimated the Bedouin’s land claims to be five time bigger than they really are.

Rabbis for Human Rights concluded that on the issue of the Bedouin population, there is “unprecedented incitement and misinformation” in the Hebrew media.

Collision course: Plan to displace tens of thousands of Bedouin passes first Knesset vote
WATCH: Jewish settlers await destruction of Bedouin village in Negev

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    1. aristeides

      “It’s just not right.”

      Reply to Comment
    2. A remarkable post, giving hope to a fuller civic Israeli society.

      “Applying different laws to different people – this is the most difficult problem facing Israel.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Joel

        That should also include abolishing bigamy and polygamy.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Haifawi

      Well, there’s my hopefulness for Israel today. Thanks.

      Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      But the Prawer plan passed its first Knesset reading anyway. In view of the results of RHR’s poll, can it be stopped at the second?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ayla

      Thanks Larry. I live in the Negev and have several Bedouin friends, one of whom is one of my closest friends. Certainly they resent not being included in their own planning (Rahat, for example, makes no sense for their lifestyle; women can’t just go to a park with their children in the middle of a city center, not to even get into the fact that when a people can’t keep their animals, they lose their livelihood and life as they know it). Also certainly they feel they deserve the right to choose between different ways of life (rural or urban), as Jews here can. I’ve never heard that anyone wants the state intervening in matters such as polygamy; from what I can tell, women want to make that change themselves, within their own society. It’s uncomfortable for *me* to admit, but there are still honor killings, even when a woman has been raped, and I personally feel the state should intervene there. Lastly, DUH they were settled there! Good God; how can we not know that? They also have land ownership under Ottoman Law which Israel accepted as legal in (or around) 1948. Our audacity in insisting that no one was here and no one was there, and the further audacity to believe that we are the educated, non-brainwashed ones, is, in my estimation, our biggest problem. And so I really admire Gilad for his willingness to admit his own ignorance. I hope he will inspire others. Meanwhile, I’d been feeling mildly okay about being a seventh generation jewish american settling, with citizenship, in the Negev, until recently. Thanks, Prawer, for making it impossible for me to ignore my own role, here. Did you know that every bedouin child knows the name “Prawer”? If the homes are demolished, my bedouin friends predict an intifada. Also, if I hear one more Israeli say that Bedouin like us, they serve in the army…. I think something between 60 and 100 bedouin serve in the army today, going on zero, and even they do it for reasons having nothing to do with loyalty to the state. And guess who’s coming in and offering the only alternative to the State? The Islamic Movement. Who would you choose if you were them?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ayla

      I mean thanks *Noam*!

      Reply to Comment