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Israel pushes the Bedouins towards an Intifada

The government’s decision to adopt the Prawer report is the latest in a series of injustices towards Israel’s Bedouin citizens

As if the immolation of relations with Egypt and Turkey wasn’t enough, the Netanyahu government decided to open a new front, this time with the Israeli Bedouins.

The government approved yesterday a version of the Prawer report, which is the executive report of Judge Goldberg’s report on the Bedouin settlement in the Negev desert. The Prawer report, presented to the government in May, drew sharp criticism from human rights organizations, since it was a significant retreat from the Goldberg report – which it was supposed to implement. (I want to thank the people at ACRI and Adalah, without whose help this post wouldn’t have been written).

Judge Goldberg was the first official to use the explicit term “unrecognized villages,”  instead of the euphemisms preferred by the various Zionist apparati. It was also the first to recognize that the Bedouin are full and equal Israeli citizens, who have suffered a long-term injustice at the hands of the authorities. The official position of the authorities, parroted endlessly by hasbara trolls, is that the Bedouin are squatters and nothing more. In many case, this is not the case.

The Bedouin hold their lands by Ottoman common law, recognized by the British, without official registration of lands. I want to quote here a letter sent to the Minister of the Interior on 20 October 1952 by the “inner committee for settling the question of the Bedouin lands in the Negev,” which at the time was classified as secret:

It is a well known fact that during the Turkish regime, the Bedouin tribes refrained from, and in many cases actually opposed, registering their lands in the government estate books, claiming that land registration will bring about, sooner or later, them being seized for military service, which the Bedouins strongly opposed.

As the country was conquered by the British, all of the Bedouin lands – with few exceptions – were unregistered in the estate books. Even so, the Bedouin considered all the lands they cultivated as their own, even though they did not have the deed. The authorities, both Turkish and British, recognized this fact. […] For we know well, that during the Mandate, very great expanses of lands were registered in the names of the Bedouin, after proving these lands were cultivated by them during a period of limitations, and a significant part of these lands were transferred, after being registered, to the Jewish National Fund, as well as other Jewish companies and also private Jewish citizens. So we have hundreds of precedents in this issue, and we are of the opinion the government of Israel can’t, and shouldn’t, ignore them. Emphasis mine.

The military governor of the Negev in 1966, Sasson Bar Zvi, wrote the following to the Inspector General of Police regarding “the land problem of the Negev Bedouin”:

The lands of the Negev, unlike the rest of the country, was not registered by the Mandatory government in the estate books (the Tabu). The Bedouins, who refrained from registering their lands, did not suffer as a result, because the authorities recognized the Bedouins and their rights in the land, which was expressed in registering all the lands in the tax paying rolls (daftar habal), and in the agreement of the regime to recognize any land transfer from one Bedouin to another Bedouin or another person as a legal lease, and as agreement to register the land in the estate books as belonging to the buyer (in this way, the Jewish national Fund purchased thousands of dunums and registered them in its name.) Again, my emphasis.

What we see here is the continuation of the “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine” of the Zionist movement. When it so wishes, Ottoman laws serve its purposes in buying lands (or, in the West Bank, in stealing them); when it wishes otherwise, they are dead and gone.

There are two strange clauses in the government decision: The government will not grant lands west of Road 40, and it will not plan any Bedouin settlement west of that line; and that the agreement will not be in effect on anyone who demanded land after October 1979. The first one is particularly bizarre: Can anyone imagine that in the Jewish and democratic state of Israel, where everyone is equal before the law, the government can tell a specific public it cannot live in a designated area? Surely this is an error which will be swiftly remedied.

Bedouins protest in Tel Aviv, May 2010 (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

Bedouins protest in Tel Aviv, May 2010 (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

And, once we’ve had our bitter laugh, Dr. Thabat Abu Ras, an Adalah official and a specialist in political geography, explains this clause in a phone call: The lands west of Road 40 are important for two reasons. First, these are really good lands, very fertile, and shouldn’t be enjoyed by the Bedouin. Secondly, this entire move by the government – piloted by that noted expert on human rights and urban planning, Brigadier General Yaakov “shoot soldiers who flee battles in the head” Amidror – is intended to create a wedge between the Bedouin population in the Negev and the Palestinian population.

Israel, in short, fears a Bedouin Intifada, which is spoken about in whispers for several years. How strange, then, that it uses a policy which promotes such an Intifada. According to the estimates of Dr. Abu Ras, the government plan will uproot 40,000 Bedouins from the unrecognized village; the government speaks of 30,000, but Abu Ras notes that at least 10,000 Bedouin who are registered as living in their seven towns actually live in the unrecognized villages, as they prefer a non-urban way of life.

As far as can be ascertained – and this can change in the future – the government plan will not create a new Bedouin settlement, but will rather cramp more people into the existing towns, who are on the verge of collapse as it is. The government has promised it will spend a lot of money on the towns – several billions – but such promises are well known to human rights activists: They’ve heard them all before, often expressed in the same terms, and the money never materialized.

Oh, and that bit about October 1979? That was when the Bedouins were asked to officially claim their lands. They claimed 991,000 dunums, and the government automatically rejected most of those claims. The new decisions says the 1979 decisions could not be appealed. ACRI finds the Prawer report to suffer from several problems: Unlike the Goldberg report, it did not consult the Bedouins themselves; it suggests fuzzy planning standards, which cause a suspicion that they will serve the Zionist regime as a way to avoid its responsibilities to the evacuees; it conditions the planning of the resettlement on the Bedouins’ pre-agreement to evacuation; and while the Goldberg report said that Bedouin houses are not to be demolished until an agreed-upon solution is reached, the Prawer-Amidror plan disregards this recommendation.

Abu Ras says the Bedouins are asking for what every Jewish settlement can get, according to the National Zoning Plan: A recognition of every settlement composed of more than 50 families. After all, Israel is willing to recognize what it calls “solitary farms” – huge grants of lands to individual Jews, and only Jews – but it is unwilling to recognized the unrecognized villages, some of which predate Israel and others created by Bedouins expelled from their lands by the IDF. What is shocking here is the casual, devil-may-care attitude of the government – and with it, most of the Jewish public – to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. Then again, of course, we’re not dealing with real people: They are not Jews.

When the government decided to evacuate Gush Katif, stolen lands outside the borders of Israel, it evacuated only 8,000 people – and it gave them much, much more than it even dreams of giving the Bedouins. Even so, the Disengagement from Gaza brought Israel to the brink of armed rebellion. Abu Ras considers the government decision a declaration of war on the Bedouins in the Negev. MK Taleb A Sana says it is an invitation to a Bedouin Intifada. When it comes, and given the regime’s attitude to the Bedouins there’s no good reason to think it won’t, the average Israel Jew will utter the wail of the unjust, first aptly expressed by Dickens: But we gave them so much, and yet they are so ungrateful.

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    1. Delphine Goldberg

      You can not tell me this is not Apartheid? Being a South African I can see Apartheid a mile away but now maybe everybody else can begin to see it now.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Philos

      Yossi, have any journalists in Israel approached the J14 leadership about this? If not mainstream what about independent journalists such as yourself? J14 started with housing issues and at the tail-end of it we have this decision to deport 40,000 people from theirs homes!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Philos

      Sorry I realized my question was complete. That is to say has anyone approached them for comment on this “housing” issue?

      Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      Deporting 40,000 ARABS from their homes to make room for 400,000 Jews. J14 is probably behind the plan.

      What the Bedu ought to do is seceed from Israel and take the Negev with them.

      Reply to Comment
    5. RichardNYC

      @Yossi the logician
      So…first you quote someone saying:
      “For we know well, that during the Mandate, very great expanses of lands were registered in the names of the Bedouin, after proving these lands were cultivated by them during a period of limitations”
      …and then you quote someone saying:
      “The lands of the Negev, unlike the rest of the country, was not registered by the Mandatory government in the estate books (the Tabu).”
      Which was it? Was the land at issue registered under the Mandate or not?
      I’m also puzzled by your hypocrisy allegation: “When it so wishes, Ottoman laws serve its purposes in buying lands (or, in the West Bank, in stealing them); when it wishes otherwise, they are dead and gone.”
      Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t Israel look backward at the most recent applicable law? i.e., we look at Israeli law, and if not is applicable, then Mandate Law, and if none is applicable, then Ottoman Law. If there’s Israeli law on point w/r/t Bedouin land ownership, then why should Ottoman Law govern?
      Because the 1979 process wasn’t fair? How much of the land not approved as Bedouin-owned in 1979 is even at issue here? This seems like the crucial point, since otherwise its not clear there’s any hypocrisy at all. Just because you rely on Ottoman public property records for assigning desert in the WB that nobody owns privately doesn’t means its hypocritical to ignore other Ottoman laws that have become redundant.
      PS: There’s never been such a thing as “Ottoman common law.” Maybe you should call back Adalah and see if they’re comfortable with your advocacy on this issue…

      Reply to Comment
    6. annie

      this just disgusts me. unfortunately, i don’t find this shocking like i may have at one time. this just seems par for the course now. cruel, very cruel and heartless.

      thank you for all your work writing this Yossi.

      Reply to Comment
    7. ToivoS

      In the 1950s and 60s I recall when the Bedouin were allies of the Israelis. They were held up as examples that Jews and Arabs could live together. The story was that they were important members of the IDF as ‘trackers’. This was right after the Nakba. Many of the displaced Palestinians tried to sneak back into their former homes. As Benny Morris documents the IDF likely killed about 3000 of the Palestinians trying to return to their homes. The Bedouin trackers must have been an important factor at that time.

      This antagonism between the herder Bedouin and their more pastoral neighbors to the north must have been going on for centuries. Whatever, it was a good tactic for the founders of Israel to use these historic antagonisms for their purposes of conquering the Palestinians. The British were experts in using such differences to establish their colonial regimes.

      I guess what really puzzles me is that the Israelis are now turning on their former allies. Is the greed for more land so overwhelming that they want to add the Bedouins to their list of enemies? So far I have not seen much sympathy for their plight from the more pastoral Palestinians to their north. Perhaps the latter are still pissed off that the Bedouin turned against them. In any case, current Israeli policy is pushing them together in an alliance. I do hope that they can overcome the antagonisms caused by their grand parents.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Woody

      It’s almost like the government didn’t pay attention to what the Bedouins did in Sinai not 9 months ago, when they took over cities by force because they are armed and organized. If Israel ever wanted to start a war/intifada, this is the surefire way. Cross-border solidarity with Sinai could really spell the end of parts of the Negev for Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ah, RichardNYC the Hasbara troll.

      Rather simple, my boy. As long as the land remained in the hands of the Bedouins, the Turks and British did not register it. Once it changed hands, it was registered. Hence “in this way, the Jewish national Fund purchased thousands of dunums and registered them in its name”.

      Nice try, but you really have to try harder.

      Reply to Comment
    10. RichardNYC

      Even though its clear you down really aspire to have a strong reputation as a professional journalist (I don’t see Nick Kristoff calling anything a “troll” – you’re too old to use that word any Yossi its for the hip young people), I would at least imagine you’d understand that “Hasbara” as an epithet has antisemitic undertones because (1) it pejoratively implies the writer is Jewish (2) it implies the writer is PAID to express his opinion, since that’s why Jews do anything right? (3) it implies that the writer’s opinion is part of Jewish conspiracy. I know you’re not trying to be taken seriously – but just in case you ever do you might want to conceal your antisemitic conceit a little better :).
      “As long as the land remained in the hands of the Bedouins, the Turks and British did not register it. Once it changed hands, it was registered. ”
      That actually contradicts what’s quoted above: “…in the agreement of the regime to recognize any land transfer from one Bedouin to another Bedouin”
      I don’t really know what “nice try” is supposed to mean, since I was writing for clarification. It doesn’t make sense to write that mixes scraps of polemical nonsense with legal quotations taken out of context – your piece just doesn’t lay out a clear point. Like I said before, your analysis, if there is any, is very muddled. I do not agree with the Prawer plan, on practical grounds, but nothing you’ve written suggests what’s happened is illegal.

      Reply to Comment
    11. directrob

      I once heard a person from a national Jewish organization say he would always defend everything that Israel does good or bad. Your reaction here proofs to me you have the same attitude. Don’t you mind becoming co-responsible for the forced deportation of thousands of families?

      Reply to Comment
    12. RichardNYC

      What I’ve written proves nothing of the kind, though what you’ve written is antisemitic – so Jews who stand up for themselves are of one mind, and, no matter where they are in the world, are “co-responsible” (collectively responsible) for each other? If all of you faux anti-Zionists are sick of being called antisemites all the time, stop being antisemitic – its your problem not ours.

      Reply to Comment
    13. directrob

      I only wrote about you and your responsibility. There is no “Jewish” collective responsibility.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Mazhess

      A lot of the bedouins served in the Israeli army. This would be an intifada by very well trained people, with israeli passports

      Reply to Comment