We reap what we sow

In February 2002, eight Israeli planes sprayed herbicide over the fields of ten Bedouin villages — no warning was given. Farmers and four hundred pupils at Kharbet Al-Watan village school were also sprayed. Crop destruction from the air has continued in 2003 — most recently on 2 April. The presence of villagers in the fields at the time of spraying has consistently been ignored.

“We should transform the Bedouin into an urban proletariat in industry, services, construction and agriculture. Eighty eight per cent of the Israeli population is not farmers; let the Bedouin be like them. Indeed, this will be a radical move, which means that the Bedouin would not live on his land with his herds, but would become an urban person who comes home in the afternoon and puts his slippers on.” (Moshe Dayan 31 July 1963)

Approximately 140,000 Bedouins live in the region of southern Israel known as the Negev. Since 1948 they have experienced whole-scale land confiscation. Before then the Bedouins owned ‘de facto’ 98% of that land. Today the territory they live in comprises just 2% of the Negev and approximately half of the 140,000 strong population has been settled in seven townships — effectively ghettos. The remaining 70,000 people survive in forty-five Unrecognised Villages deprived of municipal services and representation, without access to water, electricity or sanitation. House demolition is a constant threat, as is the destruction of crops and trees by the inappropriately named Green Patrol.

What is going on here? Two interrelated government goals — the dispersion of the Jewish population throughout Israel, and the establishment of a Jewish majority in all parts of the state — that’s what.

“Negev land is reserved for Jewish citizens, whenever and wherever they want. We must expel the Arabs and take their place - and if we have to use force, then we have force at our disposal.” (David Ben Gurion, 5 October 1937)

The relocation policy of shifting the Bedouin population into official settlements has the added benefit of creating a cheap source of labour for the Jewish economy. Life for the Bedouins is made as difficult as possible in order to pressure them into making that move. With the help of the legal “hocus pocus” involved with the 1965 Planning and Construction Law, Unrecognised Villages became “de-legalised” — existing buildings were unable to obtain permits and those which already possessed them, schools for example, had them rescinded. Whole communities became illegal.

As is this were not bad enough, the villages were then liable to being “zoned over” — rezoned for an alternative use. It was as if they no longer existed! No surprise, then, that the 1965 law included wide-ranging powers of house demolition.

Under the Ottoman authorities and the subsequent British Mandate, Bedouins’ land-rights were respected. Israel, in contrast, has set in train a process of expropriating even the remaining 2% of Bedouin land not already in state hands. Compensation for the Bedouins will be minimal. The Judaization of the Negev has to date spawned 123 Jewish communities — towns, villages and kibbutzim — as well as individual farms, ranches and closed militarily zones.

In October 2002 the Jewish Agency announced a plan to bring 350,000 Jewish immigrants to the Negev and Galilee by 2010 —Galilee is the other Arab-dominated area in Israel — to ensure a Jewish majority in both places. Already, the traditionally pastoral Bedouins are prevented from “living on the land” in any meaningful or traditional sense. Ninety per cent have become wage labourers.

The future looks bleaker still. In January 2003 the Israeli government announced a five-year plan — with a budget of US$300 million — to “conclude” the Bedouin lands issue. Bedouins from all Unrecognised Villages will be forcibly moved into three settlements. It is a plan opposed by every sector of the Bedouin community and is being received as a virtual declaration of war.

Having read the above, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Bedouins are not Israeli citizens. You would be wrong; they are. Bedouins vote in national elections. They pay state taxes. And yet all seven of the recognised Bedouin settlements are amongst the ten poorest towns in Israel. Seventy one per cent of Bedouins living in the Negev region suffer from malnutrition. Unrecognised Villages have no dentists, no eye doctors and no health education. Only ten villages have health clinics. Infant mortality for Bedouin Israelis is 17.4 per 1000 as compared to 6.3 per 1000 for Jewish Israelis.

Why is this injustice allowed to continue? Can democracy survive when minority groups are so blatantly discriminated against? The Bedouins are not alone. Other Israeli Arabs are also disadvantaged. They, too, have the vote they, too, pay taxes. Do they have equal rights with the Israeli Jewish community? No. Property regulations and social security rules are stacked against them.

And what about Palestinians in the Occupied Territories? They are not allowed to vote, but they do pay taxes and yet have no rights at all. Taxation without representations. Wars have been fought over this elsewhere…

The Road Map for peace does not address the internal Israeli issues of Israeli Arab rights. It was not designed for that purpose. Nor does the Road Map remotely fulfil the aspirations of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. The question Israelis must ask themselves is: can they seriously expect to live in peace when their elected representatives in the Knesset continue to orchestrate such obvious injustices — not just in the Occupied Territories but also in Israel itself? I think not.

Particularly worrying is a recent survey by the Israeli Democracy Institute, which points out that more than half the Jewish population of Israel is opposed to equal rights for Israeli Arabs. It concludes that Israel is a democracy in form and name, but not in substance.

(Anyone is free to circulate this document provided it is complete and in its current form with attribution. Reports and photos by Nick on: www.whatmatters.org.uk . Nick can be reached at: upretzlik@yahoo.co.uk .)