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Recognition of the Bedouin Villages? --- Wonders, questions and answers regarding Prof. Oren Yiftachel‘s article “Toward Recognition of the Bedouin Villages” ---

There wouldn’t be a happier person than me seeing true brotherhood between the Jewish Nation and the ethnic Bedouin minority in our country, The State of Israel. Such an eventuality would have established a true covenant between two ethnic groups that the Arab minority opposes in every possible way. This is not an empty statement; the evidence is there and we shall touch upon it below.      

The joy felt for this possibility, which beats in my heart even now, before it is fully established, is rooted deeply not only in an innate natural sense of justice, but also in acquired principles that were instilled in me from home by a wondrous person whom I have the privilege to call mother, and by education in one of the bastions of socialism and brotherhood in Israel, kibbutz Gan-Shmuel.

The joy is founded also on the conviction that such an alliance would serve as an additional seal for the Jewish argument for the ownership of the Land of Israel, by the implicit recognition of the sovereign, The Jewish Nation. This, as if truth needs authorization, but what can one do and the Arab untiring mendacious propaganda that turned victim into aggressor and vice versa has its day in the hearts of many good people, decent people, for whom their neighbor’s trouble is theirs, and this, without asking too many questions to find whether it holds water or not, and so they are deceived, but this is a subject for an altogether separate essay.

The joy is founded too on the conviction that such an alliance would serve as an additional nail in the coffin of the failing, and ultimately perjurious Arab argument in every regard about ownership of the Land of Israel, except that which has its hold in the alienated, conceited and haughty mind of the extreme Left in Israel and abroad, and in the Arab fabled belief that allegation is verity.

Sorrily, this doubly-rooted joy is adulterated with sadness in the face of the cognizance that those who so wish the good and the welfare of the Bedouins and argue for it so vehemently and out of a deep sentiment of mission for justice, all those who sign on the manifesto accompanying the article, do so disregarding issues and implications that give rise to quite a few concerns and wonders in the reader’s mind.

I find it hard to believe that this disregard, which finds its expression in the above mentioned lack of reference of issues and implications even for just a bit, is accidental. It cannot be that the persons who signed the manifesto are unfamiliar with them, especially considering the repeated evocation of the utmost importance that a solution of the problem carries. 

The question, then, begs to be asked: Why the oversight? Is it accidental or deliberate? If accidental, why then would I think that their arguments are accurate and valid? If deliberate, then where is the justice for which they so argue and invoke? Moreover, if deliberate, are we witnessing an impudent manipulation? This is not what I would expect following the emotional call for justice for the length of the article. Note also that I noted spelling, punctuation and syntax mistakes through the length of the article, mistakes that I found myself correcting automatically, until I caught myself and stopped. And I wonder, did a professor write it? But why would we pick at such petty things when the honorable professor raises such weighty issues?  

To our business, then.

Indeed, glaring issues and questions are raised in this article and even if only obliquely in some instances. The most important to me is the connection between the Jewish people and the Bedouin minority. This statement, and the transformation of the connection into an alliance, cannot be exaggerated, for the reasons brought above. 

And yet, beside those important themes, some not so few questions rose in my mind left and right. They reverberated in my ears during the length of the article. They screamed in my ears. Where are we, asked they? And, indeed, where are they?

Well, to argue for you and to do justice to you, I come.

But before everything and ahead of anything else.

It is absolutely and totally unacceptable for me and for any Zionist, uncontestable and without any possibility for a second thought, the use of the term “Palestinian ‘nakba’” by the writer of the article. This, as well as the Jewish signatures on the article and the implied endorsement of this expression. And I’m in good company here. Of this I’m sure as I’m sure of the sunrise tomorrow. You, ladies and gentlemen, have crossed lines! Under the circumstances, your act is grave, grave in the extreme. I call upon you to erase without a trace the false, untrue, mendacious, untruthful and perverse expression, one that is rooted in the pensive musings of the one ruminating on it.

I am confident that there is no need to detail why, but, if by chance, there is someone that wonders about the reason for my call and adamant demand, then here it is: This land, The Land of Israel, belongs to the Jewish Nation, e basta! Period. On this, there can be no discussion, compromise, negotiation and debate. What the Jewish people is doing with it, whether it will show generosity and will recognize ethnic groups out of humanitarian reasons and will act accordingly, is the Jewish Nation’s prerogative and only the Jewish Nation’s prerogative. In the light of past experience, we are entitled to expect a behavior in accordance with accepted norms among the family of nations, in spite of what the hallucinatory Left together with a noisy, impudent and traitorous fraction of the academia in Israel and abroad as an out-side right says. Moreover. We are witnessing a revival of the nation-state entity, as the recent Georgia-Russia war and the reaction to it from the individual states of EU, and the treatment that, again, some individual states of EU gave to the fiscal global crisis, showed. This quite surprising phenomenon has an undeniable implied support for the ultimate humanitarian idea of the reestablishment of the State of Israel this, by the renewed approval of the rationale for its existence, its raison d’etre: A country for the Jewish people, a Jewish nation-state.

I cannot understand the Bedouin cosignatories, too, giving their consent for this unnecessary and frivolous term. This, in the light of the overt Arab opposition to Bedouins, as shown by the objection by local villagers to Bedouins who came to live among them (They are considered alien corn there; in 1997, for example, the local council of Kafr Qasim advertised a proclamation that carried an animadversion against the Bedouin neighbors there, demanding their expulsion; “The Bedouin in Israel”, Dr. Joseph Ben-David, associate researcher at the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies), and in the light of the lack of support from Arabs for the Goldberg committee, to the point of ostracizing it, indeed half-heartedly, but ostracizing it they did.

The boycott had been applied in spite of the massive interest that the Bedouins showed for the committee and its recommendations, and in spite of their readiness to cooperate with it as expressed in the presentation of their stand before the board. In declaring boycott on the committee, the Arab leadership planted purposefully an obstacle before the Bedouins and their hopes. Whatever their reasons might have been, the expected result would have been, without doubt, in the Bedouins’ detriment.     

And you, my Bedouin friends, yes, friends, adhere to the use of this deceiving term, ‘nakba’? Why, what happened? If the Jews jumped from the roof, you have to jump too? This is not a way of doing things! No, no! Not by supporting a victim that is actually the aggressor, the Palestinians, you will win my support and others’ like me.

Moving on.

Naturally, after the above issue, we shall proceed and ask why the support that the Bedouins gained among the various organizations has been so small. From the article: “…but in parallel (to the Arab boycott of the committee; .DB.), the majority of the human rights and the planning organizations, the Arab ones in particular, which clearly included the terrible situation of the Bedouin villages in their agenda, kept being absent from the committee[‘s meetings; D.B.]. Only a small number of organizations located out of the Negev (by far the main place of Bedouin residence; D.B.), among them, worth mentioning, ‘Instead’ and the Human Rights Assn., arrived… .”

I don’t have an answer to that and I don’t have to. The one obliged is the writer of the article and the Bedouins. Yet the question remains and I am curious to know the answer to it, so, in the absence of such, let us throw around some conjectures: Lack of agreement? Such a deep dissension? If yes, then about what? Lack of interest?

If one adds the Arab boycott of the committee to the lack of participation of the above mentioned organizations, a picture of lack of support for the Bedouin case takes shape, whose very existence and causes give rise to doubt towards it.

Let us continue from here to the issue of land property rights concerning then Bedouin minority in the Mid-East countries, and then, in comparison, in Israel.

In the majority of these countries, the Bedouin minority does not have land ownership rights, it has only use rights. Israel, in comparison, agreed in 1970 to recognize the land ownership rights of the Bedouin minority. This, contrary to the Israeli law, which is based mainly on the British Law, which, in turn, includes many parts of the Ottoman Law, which stipulates that he who did not registered his land in the land registry cannot claim ownership. From this, the conclusion can be made that Israel recognized historical facts as valid in the eyes of the law for the issue at hand.

Here, I do have a question.

Why is this fact of denial of land ownership for the Bedouin minority in many Mid-East countries, which is central for the issue, not mentioned in the article? Its mention would have put Israel in a different light altogether, a very positive one, for two reasons.

First, before Israel committed itself to recognize land ownership rights for the Bedouin minority, it was in ‘good’ company, a group of countries that the Bedouins are an integral part of their ethnic fabric, blood of their blood, Arab countries, and the question begs to be asked: What’s good for the goose is not good for the gander? 

Second, of course not, and many are the reasons and obvious. Therefore, Israel acted as it acted and did what it did because of these reasons humanitarian, social, historic, and so on and so forth. All this, out of a full agreement with the approach of transitional justice, long before other countries with similar issues adopted it (Australia did so with its Aborigines [only; D.B.] in 1992, as mentioned in the article itself), and long, very long before the year 2007, the year in which the UN Gen. Assy. ratified the “Native Peoples Declaration”, thirty seven (37!!!) years before that.

A point for Israel. A very important point.

Moving on, I am asking.

Maybe the general and the individual conditions of the Bedouins in Israel, not only regarding the land ownership rights, are noticeably remarkable, head and shoulder above the rest, in comparison with their kin in other Mid-East countries?   

Indeed so. They are. It is aggravating, and hurtful, to see that there is no mention, not in the least, of the tremendous improvement in the living standards of the Bedouin minority in Israel on an individual level and the significant advancement that took place in the Bedouin society in general, advancement and improvement that can be defined only, and without exaggeration, as gigantic. 

All this, it must be said, and loudly, under the guidance, and with the instructions of the state authorities, the State of Israel. All this, as can be well imagined, battling constantly all those brakes, known from similar societies under similar circumstances, brakes that a traditional half-nomad tribal society places against the unavoidable advancing march of progress and modernization in all its aspects.

Examples of the advancement and improvement of the Bedouin minority in Israel? Anyone? In plenty! (All the following data are from Dr. Joseph Ben-David, ibid.)

To put things in the proper light and in the right proportions, and to fill a, surprising and I must say honestly and with all the respect and honor due, even suspicious, absence of information about the subject in the article under review here, and to make a proper argument about the gigantic improvement in the life conditions of the Bedouin minority in Israel, let me mention first the numbers in question. There are appr. 170,000 Bedouins in Israel; of them, c. 110,000 live in the Negev desert, c. 10,000 in central Israel, and c. 50,000 in the north.

Again, to put things in the proper light and in the right proportions, the above numbers show that the Bedouin population grew tenfold since the reestablishment of the State of Israel in 1948. This is a nine hundred percent growth in about half a century. 900% in 50 years! Now, isn’t this amazing? How can that be?

The answer is health services that are improved beyond belief when compared with the past and with the surrounding countries with a Bedouin minority.

Now, beside the high birth percentage as a traditional thing in the Bedouin society, this surprisingly high number is a result of external factors that only governmental authorities, Israeli, that is, something to mention with pride, can produce and make accessible and available to all, including the Bedouin minority.   

These factors are modern health and medical services for all, leading to a decreased infant mortality rate and an increased life expectancy among those who enjoy them, in our case, the Bedouins. High birth rate as tradition alone did not bring such numbers in the past and would have not brought such numbers in the future.

The facts and the numbers are no less surprising in the education field.

In only one generation, the illiteracy rate among the Bedouins decreased from 95 to 25 percent, a decrease of 73.7 percent, equaling about three thirds of the Bedouin population. The illiterate are among the 55 years old and up. Again, without contestation and without any need to be modest about it, these are amazing and incredible numbers. 

So, it’s hard to deny facts   and those brought above, are only a part of a much broader set of positive data and it’s even harder not to be impressed and feel true amazement in the face of the magnitude of the achievements that the State of Israel can only be proud of, and the Bedouin minority be blessed with, each for his own reasons.

True and it should be said right away. In all the unrecognized villages, to reach the school or the clinic, one has to travel to another place and sometimes a great distance.

True and it should be said right away. In all the unrecognized villages, there is a lack of municipal services, such as water, upkeep, waste management, road services, electricity, and more.

But, and a great BUT.

This is exactly the dilemma that the State of Israel faces and which it is trying to solve, this time with the help of the Goldberg committee: How and with what means to do it.


But, ignoring, as the writer of the article did, the achievements of the State of Israel in the matter and the improvements that it brought to the Bedouin minority in plenty and in such a short time, relatively; ignoring the fact that problems and obstacles not less serious exist in the Jewish sector too; ignoring the almost complete impotency and helplessness of the Bedouin municipalities in the permanent settlements (urban townships) in taxation and in providing basic services to the residents; ignoring the downright, out-and-out lack of cooperation that the Bedouin resident demonstrates in these settlements; ignoring the unrestrained, wild rampage of Bedouin drivers in the northern Negev (which I mention because of its scope and seriousness) and the unceasing burglary phenomenon (phenomenon being the only word defining it accurately) in plain daylight and overtly in the Jewish settlements in the region with open threats toward the owners of stolen property (I mention this as first hand knowledge following a personal connection to Be’er Sheva, the biggest city in the area, and to the nearby Omer and Lehavim villages), a phenomenon that the residents of all of these places are confronting everyday; ignoring the soft hand that the police show toward the criminals and toward the organized crime (protection, drugs, contraband in-state and across the border) perpetuated by the Bedouin in the Negev; ignoring the breaking of transnational water pipes by Bedouin shepherds to water their sheep herds; ignoring and not mentioning even offhandedly the positive in the situation of the Bedouin minority throughout the length of the article, does not honor the writer, does not honor the State of Israel, and does not add credibility to him, to his thesis and to the message that he wants to bring across. 

The achievements with which the Bedouin minority has been blessed in such a short time, bear witness to the effort that the State of Israel invested in every domain that one cares to come up with. Ignoring it will not deny it nor nullify it and certainly will not decrease it.

I expect from the average Bedouin to recognize it wholeheartedly, so we, the Jewish neighbors, won’t think that there is imperviousness that we face. We don’t need thanks to flatter our pride; we need recognition for our deeds, something that will only bring us nearer to the Bedouins among us and will strengthen in our consciousness the feeling that there is a possible ally in the noble act of building a place common to us both, for the benefit of us both.

As you, Bedouins, expect recognition of land ownership rights based on historical facts, so does the Jewish Nation, and I, expect of you to recognize the historical right of the Jewish people for this land.

The road to a solution for your problems is not an easy one, probably, but, with good will and mutual respect, absolutely possible.

These words are brought to you, the Bedouins, with respect and with brotherhood feelings.

Dan Barkye is a writer and a poet.

December 8, 2008



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