In recent days there has been an onslaught from all directions on Israel because of its plan to resettle the Negev Bedouin, via the Begin-Prawer Bill. The onslaught has come from the leftist media – Haaretz in Israel, and the usual suspected in the international media and from agitators on the ground itself. An excellent article in CifWatch is a perfect example of the propaganda emanating from the Guardian.
The Guardian once again is trying to promote the idea that these are Bedouin living in little villages that are the equivalent of the quaint villages one sees in reruns of “Midsommer Murders”. The reality, however, is far different.
Had Sherwood and the signatories ever bothered to take a drive down Route 40 from Beersheva, they may have found that they rather approved of the idea of relocating Bedouin from ramshackle tin huts in slum-like groups that have no running water to planned communities which provide the modern conveniences and sanitary conditions that they themselves expect and enjoy.
The photo below (which I took myself last year) depicts one “unrecognized village” a few miles south of Beersheva seen from Route 40.
It is “unrecognized” because it is simply an ad hoc assembly of tin and cardboard huts.
Researchers who have spent much of the past several decades studying and documenting the Bedouin Arabs of Israel’s Negev Desert claim that a government plan to relocate tens of thousands of Bedouin would be a gross injustice.
The Prawer plan, which the government approved on September 11 and is supposed to take effect in three weeks’ time, would appropriate land where between 20,000 and 30,000 Bedouin are living in villages that are not recognized by the state and which do not receive government services, such as electric power and other utilities.
Some of those Bedouin will be compensated for their losses, receiving either a cash payout or deed to another piece of real estate elsewhere in the country. But not all of the Bedouin who have land claims are able to produce documentation that meets the requirements laid out in the Prawer plan.
“They’re giving the Bedouin much too little, much less than they deserve,” says Bailey, who has reported on Bedouin life since the late 1960s. “It doesn’t really relate to all the Bedouin population, whereas it should, in terms of reparations for land that’s been taken, in land or in money.”
The Elder rebuts the argument thus:
This is a pretty typical article from the media on this topic which downplays Israel’s legal rights and romanticizes the Bedouin as majestic creatures of the desert fighting for their way of life.
The facts are a bit different.
A legal scholar on a mailing list I receive describes it this way (referring to a similar article from a couple of months ago, and I’m putting together portions from several posts):
Like most articles about the phenomenon, this one misleads the reader into thinking that the problem is that Israel is refusing to grant zoning rights and recognition of existing municipalities, and that it is denying Bedouin property rights, when the real problem is that the Bedouin are illegally squatting on state land and stealing water and electricity as well as the land itself. A group of land squatters on state land are land thieves even if they prefer to call themselves an “unrecognized village.” The land thieves don’t have “traditional property rights” just because they have what the writer considers a quaint lifestyle. Observing that the Bedouins are living on stolen land does not constitute evidence that Israelis are racist.
Bedouin get the same welfare services as everyone else, and they exploit them to the fullest. What Bedouin don’t get is state subsidies of municipal services to fictitious municipalities on stolen land. Jews don’t either. The state of Israel doesn’t collect garbage in Jewish municipalities either. I would be delighted if the Bedouin would compare their situation to Jews and demand equal treatment. They would receive far less generous treatment from the state. It is crazy to have villages created on stolen state land. It would be yet more crazy for the state to pay the thieves to build schools, water and electricity infrastructure and garbage collection systems.
There is a very good and largely sympathetic article in Jewish Ideas Daily today, by Diana Muir Appelbaum, that shows an analogy between the Bedouin of the Negev with the Irish Travelers (Gypsies) of the UK:
Read the entire article and accompanying links for a fuller understanding of the issue.
The best way to understand the issue is from the original source. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (via Elder of Ziyon again) has issued a detailed explanation of the Begin-Prawer Plan, with background, statistics and an infographic (left). Here are some excerpts but read it all:
The Bedouin in the Negev, numbering approximately 210,000, is one of many communities which comprise Israel’s pluralistic society. Unfortunately, historically this community has been ranked low in socio-economic indicators.
Recognizing that the Bedouin of the Negev need assistance, the government of Israel created a comprehensive policy – called the Begin Plan – aimed at improving their economic, social and living conditions, as well as resolving long-standing land issues.
To this end, Israel has allocated approximately 2.2 billion dollars (8 billion shekels), including over 330 million dollars (1.2 billion shekels) for specific economic and social development projects.
This January 2013 policy – named after then-minister Ze’ev Binyamin (Benny) Begin – is designed to solve a wide range of problems affecting the Bedouin population. Among the numerous initiatives that have begun or are planned are the expansion of technological and adult education, the development of industrial centers, the establishment of employment guidance centers, assistance in strengthening Bedouin local governments, improvements to the transportation system, centers of excellence for students and support for Bedouin women who wish to work or start businesses.
Israel is working with the Bedouin community on all aspects of the Begin Plan. Indeed, the plan was developed through dialogue and in close coordination with the Bedouin: In an attempt to expand on the previous Prawer Plan, Minister Begin and his team met with thousands of Bedouin individuals and organizations during the development stage. As a result, Bedouin traditions and cultural sensitivities were taken into consideration, and a plan was formulated to reinforce the connection of the Bedouin to their culture and heritage.
Furthermore, contrary to some claims, Israel is not forcing a nomadic community to change its lifestyle. The Bedouin in the Negev, who moved to the area starting at the end of the 18th century, began settling down over a hundred years ago, long before the establishment of the State of Israel. By now, most Bedouin citizens live in permanent homes.
Still, one of the major problems facing the Bedouin is housing. Almost half of the Negev Bedouin (approximately 90,000) live in houses built illegally, many of them in shacks without basic services. Isolated encampments and other Bedouin homes may lack essential infrastructures, including sewage systems and electricity, and access to services such as educational and health facilities is limited.
There are solutions to this problem and to the many other difficulties facing the Bedouin. For example, under the Begin Plan, the government is giving every Bedouin family (or eligible individual) that needs it, a resident plot. These lands are being developed to include all the modern infrastructures and will be granted free of charge. Bedouin families can then build houses according to their own desires and traditions. Those that move will be offered their choice of joining rural, agricultural, communal, suburban or urban communities.
Most of the Bedouin citizens will remain in their current homes. 120,000 already live in one of the seven Bedouin urban centers or eleven recognized villages. Of the remaining 90,000 that live in encampments or communities that are not zoned, only 30,000 will have to move, most of them a short distance (a few kilometers at most). The other 60,000 will have their homes legalized under Israel’s initiative, which will develop their communities and grant the residents property rights.
There have been attempts to attack the Begin Plan (which its detractors deliberately misname the Prawer Plan in order to associate it with an outdated proposal). Many of those acting in the international arena against Israel’s plan for the Bedouin belong to the camp which seizes upon any opportunity to harm Israel’s reputation. Others have purer motives, but have based their opposition on false information distributed by Israel’s opponents.
This opposition is unfortunate, particularly for the Bedouin who will benefit greatly from the Begin Plan. This new policy constitutes a major step forward towards integrating the Bedouin more fully into Israel’s multicultural society, while still preserving their unique culture and heritage.
Most importantly, the Begin Plan guarantees a better future for Bedouin children. No longer will they have to reside in isolated shacks without electricity or proper sewage. Now they will live closer to schools and will be able to walk home safely on sidewalks with streetlights, alongside paved roads. They will have easier access to health clinics and educational opportunities. Their parents will enjoy greater employment prospects, bettering the economic situation of the whole family. To oppose the Begin Plan is to oppose improving the lives of Bedouin children.
Again, read it all to fully understand the complexities of the issues and how Israel is trying to deal with them.
Veteran journalist Ben Dror Yemini, writing in the Times of Israel, describes how Israel is being demonized in the international media over the Bedouin resettlement plan, giving the example of a “blood libel film“:
For the past several months a campaign has been under way in Israel and around the world, backed by an endless budget, aimed at aggravating the relationship between the State of Israel and the Bedouins. This campaign included the recent release of a propaganda film portraying the expulsion of Bedouins from their land.
The main star of the film is Theodore Bikel, who was recruited for this role mainly because of his past portrayal of Tevye the Milkman in Fiddler on the Roof. The film, in a propagandized play on words, is called Fiddler with no Roof, and that is nothing compared to the film’s content. The Bedouins are portrayed as the victims of the terrible expulsion decree that was issued against the Jews in the dark days of the anti-Semitic Tsarist regime, as described at the plot of Fiddler on the Roof. And a plot is just what it is. Difficult to believe, but the film was produced by Rabbis for Human Rights.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with this film, as usual, is Haaretz, which provides innumerable articles, all with the same angle, all presenting the same position, about the thieving and oppressing state, and about the expelled Bedouins. Freedom of debate and expression has never looked as neglected as it appears in this uniform, Bolshevist perspective of the newspaper for people who all think the same.
The debate over the proper procedure of the settlement of the Bedouins is an important debate. Some say that the Bedouins are nomads, that their entire claim to land ownership is fictitious, while others claim that the state should recognized their claims of ownership even if these are not consistent with recognized registration methods, from the Ottoman period, then the British, and now, of course, the Israeli.
This is no simple matter. There is a clash between a nomadic tradition and a modern country. Israel is not the only country that, over the course of its establishment, has had to contend with the claims of population groups with different lifestyles. Australia had issues with its aborigines, in the U.S. it was the Native Americans, in Scandinavian countries it is still the Samis who complain about historical and current deprivation, and many other countries have gypsies.
The propaganda film does not present the tough dilemmas. The film makes life easy for itself. Israel is portrayed as the cruel anti-Semitic ruler, expelling and disinheriting and destroying and robbing, and the poor Bedouins stand helpless in the face of this abysmal cruelty. There is nothing like the expulsion of the Jews in Fiddler on the Roof to accentuate the tragedy, and to play on the most sensitive heartstrings of the world in general, and of Jews in the U.S. in particular. Here we have one more proof of what Israel is doing to its minorities. Here is one more proof of apartheid, racism, and other accusations from the familiar list.
There is, of course, just one problem with the plot of this film. It never happened.
After setting sail on the sea of lies, it’s worth returning to the solid ground of facts. First, the Bedouin members of the Al-Qian tribe, who are the focus of the current fuss, were transferred to the Yatir region of the Negev decades ago, of their own volition and at their request, due to a dispute with another tribe.
Second, when Hiran was being planned, a little over a decade ago, there were only a few Bedouins there, if any. The move to Umm al-Hiran occurred mainly in the wake of the plans for the new town. Aerial photographs prove this.
Seventh, and here we’re in for a surprise, most of the tribe – 3,000 of the 4,000 members – actually felt this was a fair arrangement, and they indeed moved to Hura.
Eighth, Hiran is not designated only for religious Jews, and also not only for Jews. Any Bedouin who wishes to buy land there is invited to do so and is entitled to do so. Of course, that would cost money. In Meitar, for example, Bedouins from the surrounding area decided to buy plots of land. No one stopped them.
This campaign, however, is not criticism, but rather deception, disregard for the basic facts and incitement against the state. The campaign that is spreading like wildfire all over the world portrays the racist anti-Semitic style expulsion being perpetrated by Israel. Even the well-known self-righteous Norman Finkelstein has joined the fray, completely caught up in the excitement over Bikel’s heart-wrenching words. Finkelstein never misses an opportunity to goad Israel.
In the background a campaign has being going on for a long time, crafted by Haaretz. There have been a lot of baseless claims, but I will make do with just two that were published this week. Oudeh Basharat claimed that Israel was robbing the Bedouins of land in Umm al-Hiran, and immediately called this apartheid. One day later, Prof. Eyal Gross claimed that Bedouins were being evicted from their homes in order to build a Jewish town. When a lie is repeated a thousand times, it becomes fact.
When “rights groups” and Haaretz automatically side with the Bedouins who oppose the arrangement, rather than with those who support it, the arrangement is doomed to failure. Just like the “forces of progress” in the world, who fan the flames of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign and the fantasy of the Arab Right of Return. This is no way to reach an arrangement, and only bolsters the objectors. This perpetuates the suffering and the conflict and the bloodshed. What the “progressives” are doing for the Palestinians, the “rights activists” are now doing for the Bedouins.
Truth be told, it is doubtful if there is a population anywhere in the world with similar characteristics, native or nomadic, that has been awarded such a generous settlement. But the propaganda film has managed to reverse this picture, such that matters must be returned to the proper perspective. It’s not that Jews are doing to the Bedouins what anti-Semites did to the Jews. Just the opposite. It is the “rights groups” and Rabbis for Human Rights, and it’s Haaretz that are continuing the old, despised tradition of libels. In the past it was against the Jews. Now it’s against the State of Israel.
Read the whole article; it blazes with righteous (and rightful) fury.
Proving Ben Dror Yemini’s point, here is a video (via the redoubtable Elder of Ziyon) of a Bedouin who supports the Begin-Prawer plan. The anti-Israel propagandists should listen to him rather than to their own distorted opinions.
What should give the propagandists pause for thought is that even Israel’s very leftist liberal President Shimon Peres has approved of the Begin-Praver plan and insists it should be carried through.
It is a disgrace, but unfortunate no surprise, that Israel is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. For all the years that the Bedouin have been neglected Israel has been criticised for not providing proper housing, taking care of their needs and generally neglecting the Bedouin. And now that Israel is finally prepared to resettle them permanently in a very generous arrangement, Israel is demonized by its detractors and haters from home and abroad.
We need to ignore the propagandists and bigots and act in our own – and the Bedouin’s – best interests.