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Where is the 'inevitable' Bedouin Intifada Israel guaranteed?

In 2004, Israeli officials were up in arms about an impending Bedouin Intifada. But the Bedouin didn’t rebel and now, despite plans to expel tens of thousands of them from their homes in the West Bank and the Negev, things remain relatively quiet. Why?

Bedouin village Al Arakib after demolition in September 2010 (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

As Israel steps up its expansionist policies both inside and outside the Green Line, the Bedouin community has come under particularly intense pressure.

Inside Israel, the state seeks to Judaize the Negev (Naqab) desert. This “development” includes last  year’s Prawer plan, which recommends that Israel relocate between 30,000 and 40,000 Bedouin citizens, ripping them from their villages and sticking them in impoverished townships, to clear the area for Jewish-only settlements.

After the Israeli cabinet passed the Prawer plan in September 2011, Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel likened it to “a declaration of war.”

Al Arakib could be considered an opening battle. The state first demolished the unrecognized village in July 2010—destroying homes and tearing olive trees from the ground to make way for a forest to be planted by the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF). After the Bedouin residents of Al Arakib rebuilt their village, Israeli forces returned and destroyed it again. Since then, Al Arakib has been demolished and rebuilt over 30 times.

Israel’s policies are just as inhumane on the other side of the Green Line, where the so-called “Civil Administration” seeks to remove 27,000 Bedouin from Area C in order to expand illegal Israeli settlements. The Civil Administration’s plans will be carried out over the next three to six years.

The United Nations tells +972 that Israeli forces demolished 44 Palestinian-owned buildings in East Jerusalem and the West Bank last month, including 14 houses. A total of 66 people were displaced, 40 of whom were Bedouin.

Recent years have seen Israel escalate its campaign to push Palestinians and Bedouin out of their homes. According to the UN, nearly 1,100 Palestinians and Bedouins were displaced by Israeli house demolitions in 2011—approximately 80 percent more than 2010.

So where is the Bedouin Intifada?

***

In 2004, the Israeli daily Haaretz called a Bedouin uprising “practically inevitable.” Lurching from one alarmist quote to the next, the article labeled the Bedouin a “ticking bomb,” a “keg of dynamite,” depicting them not as native inhabitants but as criminals who have taken over the Negev.

Amidst the hysteria came a fetishizing remark from Reuven Gal, then-Deputy National Security Advisor for Domestic Policy, who commented that, to the Bedouin, “honor is more precious than money.”

The writer concluded, ominously, “Every plan to develop the Negev is likely to face violent opposition because of the Bedouin who live in the area.”

The article drips with racism and colonialism—Israeli plans to displace the Bedouin constitute “development.” Not only are the Bedouin sure to oppose such “progress,” they are likely to be “violent.” And then there are the Orientalist depictions of the Bedouin as reactionary, volatile beings unable to control their impulses, especially when “honor” is at stake.

But it would be wrong to blame the writer and his interviewees alone.

In his book Good Arabs, Hillel Cohen describes an incident that took place in 1950, when the Israeli army’s chief of staff visited a Bedouin tribe, reporter in tow. The journalist recounted a “royal meal,” eaten against the backdrop of “the echoes of gunshots” and “riders’ galloping.” The evening climaxed with a ceremonial “presentation of the sword of the desert.”

Cohen explains that the reporter’s depiction “fit well with that period’s common portrayal of the Bedouin as hospitable noble savages…”

An Orientalist view of the Bedouin is deeply rooted and, as the 2004 Haaretz article suggests, persists. So feverish proclamations about a Bedouin Intifada should be taken with a camel-sized grain of salt.

We should also consider the motives behind such “warnings.” As Jaber Abu Kaf, a representative of the Regional Council for Unrecognized Bedouin Villages, told Haaretz in 2004, claims of an imminent Bedouin Intifada “are baseless and are intended to promote a political agenda.”

***

But, for argument’s sake, let’s say that the Bedouin would like to revolt, violently, against Israel’s discrimination.
Let’s set aside the quiet acts of resistance, the small, silent intifada, already taking place: rebuilding demolished homes; the day-long general strike held in December of 2011; the massive protest outside the Prime Minister’s office on the same December day.

And let’s set aside individual agency and pretend the Bedouin can only react, collectively, to Israeli policies. So why hasn’t that “ticking bomb” exploded?

The answer lies, in part, in the state’s founding. Before Israel was established in 1948, some 91,000 Bedouin lived in the Negev. After the war, only twelve percent of the original population remained. Many of the Bedouin facing forced transfer from the West Bank today are refugees whose families fled or were driven from the Negev during the Nakba.

Shattered and scattered, the Bedouin were subject to additional Israeli efforts to divide and rule. A number of those who had managed to hang on to their land in the Negev were pushed off of it. In some cases, the state appointed local mukhtars, pitting families against one another, and putting weak leaders, or those who would serve Israeli interests, at the head of villages.

Israeli authorities also sowed seeds of disunity by actively encouraging–and rewarding–collaboration. That some took the bait undermines the Orientalist assertion that the Bedouin value honor more than money.

Israel has also fomented poverty in the Bedouin community. In the 1970s, the state built seven townships for the Negev Bedouin that are home today to approximately 80,000 Bedouin. These ghettos have the country’s highest unemployment and school dropout rates as well as the social problems that accompany poverty and hopelessness, including rampant drug abuse.

Those who remained in the desert have not had it much easier. Despite the fact that many Bedouin live in villages that predate the state itself, Israel does not recognize most of these communities. Some 80,000 Bedouin live in the unrecognized villages that lack infrastructure and high schools. Rawia Aburabia, an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), calls the status of Bedouin education, “catastrophic,” pointing out to a drop-out rate that tops 40 percent.

There is also the contentious issue of military service. Some Bedouin tribes serve in the Israeli army; many do not. This creates tension within the community and serves as yet another obstacle to the unity needed for a successful uprising.

With Palestine’s Bedouin divided between Israel and the surrounding countries; split between those who serve in the Israeli army and those who don’t; struggling to survive; lacking leadership and a cohesive national strategy – an organized and sustainable uprising is unlikely. The international community, then, has a responsibility to stop the home demolitions and forced transfers that Palestinians and Bedouin face in the West Bank and inside Israel.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Volodinjev

      @Mya Guarnieri “As Israel steps up its expansionist policies both inside and outside the Green Line”
      .
      It was my impression Israel was only being expansionist outside its internationally recognized borders, those preceding the 1967 war. It looks as if +972 Mag is a podium for anti-Israel extremism.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      Volodinjev – are you not aware that the Negev, where Israeli expansion is most aggressive against the Bedouin, is within Israel’s 1948 borders?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Jazzy

      Here we find some interesting ultra-leftist cognitive dissonance. If one expects Bedouin to react violently to maltreatment, one is an Orientalist. Got it. But what ever happened to sympathizing with Palestinian terrorists? If we expect Palestinians to fight the occupation with fire, since this is obviously only a natural reaction to checkpoints and night raids, does that also mean we’re Orientalists? Maybe post-colonial theory isn’t and never was the right paradigm for making sense of this conflict.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Volodinjev

      @Aristeides
      .
      That was exactly my point. When you talk about Israeli expansionism in the OPTs (acquired in 1967), you have international law on your side. When however you talk about Israeli expansionism in Israel’s borders of the 1949 armistice, her internationally recognized borders, it is not support for the rule of international law but the wish to eliminate Israeli self-determination that drives you. There’s no other way to interpret it.

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      Volodinjev – there are certainly other ways to interpret it. As ethnic cleansing. As apartheid. As racism.

      .
      It is not the case that, within a nation’s boundaries, anything goes under the excuse of “self-determination.” This is the entire concept of international law based on universal human rights.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Volodinjev

      @Aristeides
      .
      I was talking about interpreting your use of the term “expansionism” to refer to Israel’s actions within her internationally recognized borders. There is no other possible interpretation of such terminology than eliminationism. You and Guarnieri are eliminationists, supporters of depriving the Israelis of self-determination.
      .
      You could stand for the rights of Israel’s Bedouins without calling Israel’s actions “expansionism.” Your use of that term reveals your goals. There is no workable peace solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict that puts restrictions on Israel’s freedom within her internationally recognized borders. You can get Israelis to agree with you on abandoning expansionism (as truly used) in the West Bank, but the other side of the green line is sacrosanct. If you insist that Israel changing things within its internationally recognized borders is necessary for an I/P peace solution, you’re out of the mainstream.
      .
      Even Jimmy Carter said his apartheid analogy only applied to the West Bank. Like I said, +972 Mag is of an extremist orientation.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Steve

      Mya Guarnieri writes really strange, extreme anti-Israel stuff that goes beyond reason.

      Example: She wrote: “As Israel steps up its expansionist policies both inside and outside the Green Line”

      What’s that even mean? Israel is expanding within Israel, and outside of Israel?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Steve

      Also, what’s with the “village” photo that Mya Guarnieri posted?

      Is that really a “village?”

      If there’s an empty dirt field somewhere, and a few people sneak in and build some shacks on it, is it now a “village?”

      Reply to Comment
    9. Yo

      This Steve guy is a troll who belongs on CiF Watch. Maybe it is the editor of CiF Watch or Richie Millet.

      Reply to Comment
    10. DTA

      Mya: Thank you very much for this powerful article, although I admit I got depressed and sad reading through the facts that you presented.

      Volodinjev: I think you are overreacting. Why don’t you debate on the facts (or claims if you dispute them) that are written in this article rather blaming 972 for extremism?

      Reply to Comment
    11. aristeides

      V – yes, “eliminationism” certainly does fit. Israel is engaged in a program of eliminating Bedouin communities, both within and outside its borders.

      .
      I will point out that the term “expansionism” is not mine, but I agree with it. Israel, as a racist state, is expanding Jewish settlement at the expense of other ethnic groups. There is even a name for this – Judaization.

      .
      Where you are wrong – grossly, criminally wrong – is to assert that this activity within Israel’s borders is “sacrosanct.” Violation of human rights can never be sacrosanct. This situation is really disconnected from the I/P conflict. It’s an internal matter within Israel. But that doesn’t make it sacrosanct. It just makes Israel a racist state conducting ethnic cleansing against its own citizens.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Steve

      If Israel does all this “ethnic cleansing” how come there are a million Israeli Arab Muslim citizens still?

      How come Egypt, Jordan, etc. don’t get accused of “ethnic cleansing” even though their entire Jewish populations are now gone (or dead)?

      Reply to Comment
    13. Volodinjev

      @Aristeides “Israel, as a racist state, is expanding Jewish settlement at the expense of other ethnic groups. There is even a name for this – Judaization.”
      .
      You want total war, then. You want to deprive the Jewish people of their state. I understand. Just one request, don’t call yourself pro-peace. The only thing your eliminationist dreams can lead to is war without end.
      .
      “But that doesn’t make it sacrosanct.” Go tell the vast majority of Jewish Israelis, all of them except the fraction of a percent that writes here, that they can’t have their state even within the internationally recognized borders. Go tell them they have to share with the Arabs not just half and half between the West Bank for the Arabs and Israel proper for the Jews, but three quarters for the Arabs in the West Bank and Israel proper, and the quarter that’s left as a “generous” offer for the Jews they should feel grateful for.
      .
      For all your talk of Orientalism and its imperious behavior, it looks as if the imperious behavior is more to be found on the anti-Israel side.

      Reply to Comment
    14. aristeides

      V – what talk of Orientalism? You are making stuff up.

      .
      The matter is simple. I will happily tell Jewish Israelis that they may have their state as long as they follow the rules of international law, refrain from ethnic cleansing and observe the human rights of non-Jews. Just like all other states are supposed to do. In short, yes, you have to share with the Arabs who are citizens of your state. And share fairly.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Volodinjev

      @Aristeides “V – what talk of Orientalism?” Read the article.
      .
      You’ll tell Jewish Israelis they must put up with the Palestinian ROR and love it. Will you be telling any of the Arab states to treat their minorities fairly, including but not limited to the Jews they ethnically cleansed some 60 years ago? I’m not holding my breath.

      Reply to Comment
    16. sh

      @Steve – “Is that really a “village?””
      .
      You’ll see a photo of old stone structures here: http://uprootedpalestinians.blogspot.com/2010/08/nakba-of-al-naqab-negev-tour-to-al.html
      and there’s also a cemetery. You’ll also see a photo of land deeds dating from the 1920s. So yes it’s really a village.
      .
      A detail Mya omitted about that JNF forest: the money for it was donated by GOD TV, an American Christian Zionist Evangelical TV station. They explain themselves here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ao7jJfvmOyE

      Reply to Comment
    17. Mati Milstein

      Interesting article. Though I would add that it was not just Israeli officials who have been warning of an impending Intifada.

      Bedouin leaders themselves have long been issuing similar warnings.

      In 2002, MK Taleb a-Saana told me: “Within six months to one year, the situation will explode… And then it will already be too late to attempt to solve these problems.”

      Local village committee chief Hussein Abu Tresh, that same year: “People are angry. In the end, there will be problems. No one will leave the land, we will die here.”

      As far back as 1999, Prof. Ismael Abu-Saad, then-director of the Center for Bedouin Studies and Development at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told me: “The Bedouin community in the Negev Desert is a time bomb… [If the Bedouins’ situation does not improve] we’re going to lose the community. It’s going to become hostile rather than loyal to the state.”

      Reply to Comment
    18. aristeides

      V – I didn’t write the article. The words you place in my mouth are not my words.

      .
      I certainly will be telling Arab states that they must treat their minorities fairly. Would you agree that, for example, the borders of Iran make it “sacrosanct” if it decides to exterminate its large and largely loyal Jewish population? Or would you declare that minorities such as Jews have human rights that must not be violated?

      .
      Or would you just continue to rave on?

      .

      Reply to Comment
    19. mya guarnieri

      hi mati, thanks for the comment. regarding bedouins who have been warning of an intifada, i’ll refer you to the 2004 haaretz article: “Jaber Abu Kaf, head of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages and a resident of Um Batin, represents Bedouin who refuse to move to the seven townships that the government has established for them. Abu Kaf says that claims of Bedouin militancy, whether made by Jews or by the Bedouin themselves, as well as warnings of an impending Bedouin intifada, are baseless and are intended to promote a political agenda.”

      Reply to Comment
    20. AYLA

      Mya–thank you. I live in the Negev, and spend a lot of time in Tel Sheva where one of my best friends, who is Bedouin, lives. (that sounded like such an American cliche–Some of my best friends… :). but to give context for where my intuitions are coming from…). First, I don’t think the issue about relocating Bedouin is about sticking them in “impoverished townships”. Although Tel Sheva is actually the poorest township in all of israel according to the data, it doesn’t feel poor inside. Everyone is eating well, for example, and living richly with their families, in a way. The deepest problem is that by, yes, “ripping Bedouin from their homes” and sticking them in townships, we are putting a round peg in a square hole. We are asking people to live an entirely different life. Bedouin have always been a proud, dignified, generous people with a self-sustaining, abundant lifestyle; now they have to live a sedentary life without enough land for their animals. Yes, dear Israeli critic, they get the same dunum, or chetzy dunum, you get, but they have bigger families and extended families who live together and they have livestock who are their livelihood. Suddenly, for everything (food, utilities…) they have to pay a different kind of bill, and need a different kind of job for which they are a) not prepared, and b) goes against the grain of many people. I should say, many Bedouin are making this shift by choice, but for many, it is being forced on them.
      *
      Regarding the lack of intifada, my friend, for one, still feels Israeli. Also, she’s a lover, not a fighter… I don’t think she’s alone in either regard. Regarding still feeling Israeli, she is lately very conflicted, and there is a lot of pressure on Bedouin, from within the community, not to identify with Israel. This is what Israel has done to her most loyal citizens.
      *
      To me, what’s heartbreaking about relocating Bedouin falls under the umbrella of Israel’s lack of humility, respect, and appreciation for what makes this land so rich and beautiful for ALL of us. I moved here, to the Negev, after living in a tent, watching Bedouin women herd their goats each morning. Yes, I’m a romantic. But for the record, my Bedouin friends romanticize that lifestyle, too, with nostalgia. Then, I felt I was living in the living Bible, or, simply, thousands of years ago. This was outside Mitzpe Ramon. Down here in the Negev, I still feel that depth of history, that belongs so deeply to all of civilization. The more we try to make it Jewish Only, the more we force our agenda, the less we are listening to what makes this place so holy for everyone else as well as for ourselves. And the more we insist, falsely, Mine, Mine, Mine, the more inevitable that the Truth–the Land knows better, as does anyone reading the Torah with his/her own mind and heart–will erupt, somehow.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Passerby

      Ayla, Israel is not a large country. The Bedouin population continues to grow and their lifestyle is difficult to maintain inside such a small territory. It is very sad, but the world has changed dramatically in the past 100 years. If you think about it, many Israeli families who came from rural or small towns in the Arab world also had to change their lifestyles in significant ways. You can still see some, though not many, of the old Moroccan grandmothers who never learned to speak Hebrew, for example. Imagine how difficult their transitions were.

      Reply to Comment
    22. AYLA

      Passerby, you have a good point that I’ll come back to, but first, the way Bedouin were living before, they were a) mostly not on any particular land that other people want to build on (we want it now for things like army training…) and b) moving so as to live sustainably on the land (to graze animals). You are correct when you say that times are changing, and I’d add to that that pastoralists are being settled in other countries as well, so it’s not all about the conflict, here. This is happening all over Africa, and elsewhere, and everywhere it is sad for the same reasons, perhaps mostly environmental reasons. However, Israel has a profound obligation to care about the needs of people who have been on this land for-something-like-ever, and no one is really working with Bedouin regarding these plans for townships; their unique needs and desires are being completely overlooked. I’m not even talking about amount of land. For example, people have planned parks that women and children can’t use, because of their relationship to public space. Israel is being completely patriarchical (sp?) and thoughtless; you’d think they’d include a few Bedouin in the planning, or brainstorming. But no. I’ve heard Bedouin say that they are being offered only one way to live, whereas Jewish residents of Israel have many choices regarding lifestyle.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Steve

      People find strange reasons to criticize Israel

      Reply to Comment
    24. Morderchai ben Yosef

      What really is strange is how some people justify the racist, colonialist, undemocratic policies, laws, and practices of the Israeli government by citing those of some Arab governments. I guess to some, the Torah teaches that you only need to behave towards your neighbor as some of your other neighbors behave toward others.

      Reply to Comment
    25. mya guarnieri

      hi ayla, thank you, as always, for your thoughtful comments. it’s always a pleasure to see your name in the discussion thread. best, mya

      Reply to Comment
    26. AYLA

      aw, thank you, Mya; means a lot coming from you. thank you, as always, for the excellent reporting.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Passerby

      Ayla, I agree that Israel could be doing more. I just think it’s caught in a very complex situation. Its current plan did come through a committee process. I believe they did ask Bedouin to participate, though I confess that I don’t know to what degree. Even if they had, I’m not sure what the Israelis can do to satisfy the Bedouin considering the profound changes that are taking place. I think a key problem here is that the Bedouin aren’t represented on a political level. The Druze and Israeli Arabs have some politicians in mainstream Israeli politics, but I don’t know of any Bedouin in key positions in these parties. I think there would be a positive change if there were a couple of Bedouin politicians (and they would need to join mainstream parties, not the Arab parties which tend to harm the interests of their constituents).

      Reply to Comment
    28. Jazzy

      Ayla and Mya: besties 4ever

      Reply to Comment
    29. AYLA

      the people who don’t use their real names are always the most absurd; go figure.
      *
      Passerby (you too–why not use your name? you do more than pass by, here)–some good points. and we found some common ground. And, we need to work a lot harder than that, too. I wish Israelis could see this not as charity, but as for the sake of our own land and what makes it unlike any other land on earth. We actually treat many Jews (ethiopian, Mazrahi (sp?)) with similar arrogance, which may hurt us most of all.

      Reply to Comment
    30. Ruth

      @Steve,
      “Mya Guarnieri writes really strange, extreme anti-Israel stuff that goes beyond reason.”
      Totally agree. She is has this extremely weasely way of arguing her points.

      Reply to Comment
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