I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers-Bedouin Proverb
by Roy Tov
On June 24, 2013, the Knesset broadcast an unusual speech that reached its peak with unprecedented violence toward a printed piece of paper. Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi, Palestinian from Taibeh, poured a glass of water over the Prawer Law and ripped it just before it was barely approved (43:40).
Contrary to what one may assume when watching the heated event, the act was carefully planned, and not only to avoid the embarrassing attempt to rip the tough piece of paper while dry.
The event was a late answer to Chaim Herzog, who as Israeli Ambassador to the UN gave the ultimate example on propaganda while ripping UN resolution 3379 in front of the astonished General Assembly.
Yet, the resolution defining Zionism as a form of racism was adopted with an overwhelming vote of a vote of 72 to 35 (and 32 abstentions) (see Zion, Sex and Resolution 3379). MK Tibi chose this protest when while the Knesset approved the first stage of the legislation process. The two remaining stages are being prepared; they promise to be no less photogenic.
Israel’s Hidden War
Some time ago, after the Land Day, I published Israel Bedouin War Intensifies, where I described what back then was the Prawer Plan. Following yesterday’s wet event, now it is already called the Prawer Law, which can be summarized as an attempt of the Israeli Government to evacuate and resettle tens of thousands of Bedouins* from the Be’er Sheva area. The latter is the largest city in the Negev Desert and serves as capital of Israel’s Southern District.
The map shows the current situation. The orange areas show Bedouin settlement which are recognized by Israel; black dots show unrecognized ones.** The Prawer Law aims to eradicate the black points, concentrating the scattered Bedouins in new towns.
In 2007, the Israeli Administration decided to put an end to the land problem it claimed exists in the Negev. The Goldberg Commission, chaired by retired Justice Eliezer Goldberg, recommended that unrecognized villages east of Route 40+ should be recognized on condition that they do not interfere with Israel’s development plans in the area. Structures in approved villages would be legalized, and a committee would be set up to settle Bedouin land claims.
This scandalous offer was rejected by the Bedouins. Hence, the Prawer Commission was set up to analyze the implementation of the Goldberg Commission recommendations. Ehud Prawer is a civil servant close to Benjamin Netanyahu; he headed the IDF Education Corps and directed an exclusive school in Rehavia, Jerusalem, next to Netanyahu’s Palace.
Among other atrocities, his report claimed that at least 30,000 Bedouins should be evacuated from their homes and relocated in government-designed and constructed towns. This would have been a new variation on the topic of concentration camps. The subsequent Bedouin protests led to this report being shelved for a while.
A third committee was created. This one was headed by Benjamin Begin, the son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In the last elections, he was relegated to an irrelevant place in the Likud list of candidates; he knew his political career was over. This combination of a transition government with a Knesset Member about to move into the Desert of Political Oblivion was good for Netanyahu. The Begin Committee issued the third report just after the elections, when everybody was busy trying to guess how Netanyahu’s new government would look.
This third report recommended moving on with the former plan issued by the Prawer Commission. Yesterday’s law was the result of this. Before passing to the last and disturbing section, let me emphasize that Bedouins are citizens who serve in the IDF.
“This is an Arab-Law,” said MK Tibi
More interesting—but less photogenic—than the glass of water spilled on the law were Tibi’s words.
“The Bedouins will block the bulldozers with their bodies. They will block the bulldozers. There would be no another expulsion. This will not happen.”
“This is an illegitimate law. This is a law that expels people from their homes. We will tell the people to disobey it.”
“Do Bedouins need to tell ‘thank you’ to the Jewish government expelling them? This is a forced-violation, a forced-violation, a forced-violation,” he repeated in the heat of his speech.
“There is no other democratic state in the world with such a law. This is a law for Arabs. They [the government] are bypassing the Court and are legislating a special law for Bedouins.”
Americayim, yesh mevin? Americans, do you understand? Israel is not a democracy. Remember that before signing your next blank-check to Israel’s New Brave World, a world where Bedouins will live in slightly disguised concentration camps. Freedom is neither a prerogative of certain religions nor of certain ethnic groups.
* Derived from an Arabic word for semi-arid desert, “Bedouin” is a term designating members of a large number of Arab tribes. Egypt features a 400,000 Bedouin population, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula; while Israel has 200,000 Bedouin citizens living in the Negev Desert and a smaller number in the Galilee. In the Sinai, most of them are loyal to their traditional ways. In Israel, the situation was different. Over 60% of Israel is within the Negev Desert, which was crossed by the historical Silk Road. Wandering Bedouins inhabited the area for thousands of years; their ancestors were traders along this romantic road. Since the mid 19th century there has been a slow process of settling down among them. In the 1950s, the Israeli army began limiting the Bedouins’ freedom, attempting to concentrate them in certain areas. Since the 1970s, the Israeli Administration began creating Bedouin towns, Rahat being the largest one.
** Nowadays there are roughly fifty Bedouin settlements in the Negev with a total of some two hundred thousand inhabitants, roughly half of them in recognized towns and villages, and the remnant in unrecognized ones. The difference between these two categories is vast. Recognized towns and villages get infrastructure and services from the state while unrecognized settlements get nothing. In exchange for recognition, the Israeli Administration often asks for relocation and for proper verification of ownership. Now, Israel’s law system is incomplete. Where laws do not exist, Israeli courts often refer to British Mandate and Ottoman Empire laws. In this case, Israel decided to work according to the Ottoman Empire law here, demanding from the Bedouins Ottoman “Kushan” ownership papers. Not one Bedouin has such documents. The result is violent friction each time the Israeli Administration attempts to regularize the situation of a given tribe.
|+ Seldom are things what they look like in the Holy Land; even rarer are cases when their names are accurate. Bahad 1 (Instruction Base 1) is the IDF officers’ school. Located in the Negev Desert, near the rim of the Ramon Crater, it provides unforgettable sights and experiences. Ramon Crater? The place is named “crater” and convincingly looks like one. It is one of three formations called “crater” in the Negev Desert. Yet, it is not a crater, but the result of an excavation made by flash floods. On the rare occasions when the stream carries water, the beast violently inundates the area taking away more than its share of sediments. Road #40 is one of the main routes in the country, connecting the central plains with the Arava Desert in the south. In an odd show of flexibility, the road descends into the crater. An eternal pilgrim reaching the area will see almost unobstructed views of the wonder, though from time to time, groups of tents block the views. “Bedouin pilgrims are passing by,” the eternal pilgrim thinks. Yet, he is wrong again. The crater is not a crater, and the Bedouins are not passing by, this is their ancestral home.||Road #40 at Ramon Crater|
Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards.
In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.