Grapes of wrath for Negev Bedouin
Pylons on the hillside, water station in front, but neither power nor water supplies to this Bedouin village not far from Be'ersheba
(see 'Unrecognised villages in the Negev expose Israel's apartheid policies'
Bangani Ngeleza and Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 21 December 2005
ISRAELI authorities are carrying out a new scheme in the Negev to negate the rights of the Bedouin to live on their land. Since expelling many Bedouin when it was established, the Israeli state has adopted a policy of treating the remainder as a nuisance, a novelty for tourists, or a potential source of cheap labour and soldiers (mainly trackers), but never as full human beings, citizens with rights, and certainly not rights to live in dignity and develop their communities on their own land.
They tried to herd the Bedouin population into a small area that forms only a very small part of their original tribal lands, the land from which they had been expelled. As Neve Gordon, professor of politics at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Be'ersheva writes, "These Bedouins had to give up all claims to their ancestral land in order to be granted the dubious privilege of living in these overcrowded townships".
"The remaining half of the Bedouin population, which today totals about 75,000 people, were unwilling to give up their property rights and are now scattered across the Negev in forty-five villages that have never been recognized by the state".
Not being recognised means you can go to work. pay tax, and have electricity pylons marching over your head, but don't expect electricity, or piped water for your home. You can come home and find the Green Patrols have harassed your kids and confiscated the flock they were herding, your crops have been sprayed with poison, or the army has demolished your shack. But such seeming random attacks are forming into a definite plan.
In an article called "Bitter Wine for Israel's Bedouins" in the May 23 online edition of the US magazine The Nation, Neve Gordon describes a new Israeli government scheme that enlists private entrepeneurs and the tourist industry in disregard, not to say deliberate contempt for Bedouin rights.
The Israeli government is currently carrying out a land-use scheme that further violates the land rights of the Bedouins and intensifies their alienation from Israeli society. The "Wine Route" plan authorizes the construction of thirty private farms, which are supposed to cater to Israeli tourists. Some of these farms have already been built and are located on the same land that the Bedouins consider their own; all of the farms--built and planned--will receive the services that the Bedouins have been denied for several decades: running water, electricity and paved roads.
The "Wine Route" plan exposes the lie informing Israel's treatment of
the unrecognized Bedouins. For years, Israeli officials have emphasized the need to concentrate the 75,000 Bedouins in large townships, stating that their forty-five villages are too small and scattered along a fairly large area, making it very difficult to provide them with infrastructure. This served to justify the policy of not recognizing them. And yet now, the very same officials
are handing out permits to scores of scattered farms, which stretch across thousands of dunams (a dunam is approximately a quarter of an acre), each one home to a single family.
But the "Wine Route" does much more than expose Israel's lie. The
farms, explains Ariel Dloomy of the Negev Coexistence Forum, insure that only Jewish citizens have access to large segments of the Negev; in this way they undermine the Bedouins' attempt to reclaim their ancestral land. One government document clearly states: "The reasons for initiating [these farms] is for protecting state land...and offering solutions for demographic issues." Incidentally, Dloomy adds, one farm was given to a Bedouin to serve as a fig leaf covering Israel's blatant discrimination against them.
Professor Oren Yiftachel, a political geographer from Ben-Gurion University whose work focuses on the relation between space and ethnicity, adds that the "Wine Route" initiative "draws a link between, on the one hand, Israel's longstanding efforts to restrict and circumscribe the space which its non-Jewish citizens are permitted to occupy and, on the other hand, new entrepreneurship projects. The state, in other words, is using entrepreneurs to advance its
discriminatory practices, adopting, as it were, a new mechanism to prevent the Negev's Bedouin inhabitants from returning to their ancestral lands. Thus, in addition to demolishing their homes and spraying their crops with poison, now the government is building farms on their land."
"How," Abu Sheita asked the members of the Negev Coexistence Forum, "will you help us counter this initiative?"
"Our friends don't have access to the corridors of power, and we can't expect them to stop the longstanding discrimination of all past Israeli governments," the person next to him immediately answered.
"Perhaps not," Abu Sheita continued, "but we can expect them to try." And after a short silence he added: "The discrimination against the Bedouins is like a big boulder; a pickaxe can never break it with one fell swoop, but if you continue hitting for many years, it will eventually shatter."
Well-aimed blows can reduce the time it takes to shatter a rock. Even at a distance, if the resonance is right. As Joshua found out, you have to make enough noise. By linking their anti-Bedouin policy to investment, tourism, and presumably an export crop, the Israeli authorities could find they have made it vulnerable to well-aimed blows from outside. If we make enough noise.