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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Negev Bedouins

Bedouin in the Negev Region
photo: Eliyahu Hershowitz/ Ha'aretz

At the end of June, 2013:
The Knesset plenary today (June 24) voted in favor (43 – 40) of the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, known as the “Begin-Prawer Plan” in its first reading. The bill will now proceed to committee.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights reiterate their strong opposition to the plan, which in its current form will only aggravate the alienation and discrimination of Bedouin residents of the unrecognized villages in the Negev.

The Begin-Prawer Plan, as it currently stands, will cause the displacement and forced eviction of dozens of villages and tens of thousands of Bedouin residents, dispossessing them of their property and historical rights to their lands, destroying the social fabric of their communities, and sealing the fate of thousands of families into poverty and unemployment. All of this while the government simultaneously promotes the establishment of new Jewish communities, some of which are even slated to be built on the ruins of Bedouin villages...

Attorney Rawia Aburabia of ACRI: “For years, the Bedouin citizens have lived in villages without basic conditions while around them more and more Jewish communities are built. The government must decide whether to seek a true and just solution that facilitates the inclusion of Bedouin in the Negev as equal citizens or a belligerent plan, that only increases the alienation, hostility and poverty in these communities.”

Urban planner Nili Baruch of Bimkom: “The key to a solution to the issue of the unrecognized villages in the Negev is planning. A plan to formally recognize the unrecognized villages (such as the one initiated by the village residents themselves) will afford them their rights to education, health, adequate infrastructure, and sources of employment. Such a process would not only be the most likely to succeed, but also the most just, coming after years of neglect of the unrecognized villages, most of which have been in existence since before the state of Israel was established.”

And who are the people, the Bedouins, and the ACRI which fights for their rights?
The Arab Bedouin minority of the Negev is one of the most discriminated groups within the Arab population and within Israeli society as a whole. More than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside in unrecognized villages, which the state refuses to provide with a planning structure and place under municipal jurisdiction. The government uses a variety of measures to pressure Bedouins into relocating to government-planned urban centers that disregard their lifestyle and needs. Whole communities have been issued demolition orders; others are forced to continue living in unrecognized villages that are denied basic services and infrastructure, such as electricity and running water.
ACRI seeks to protect the rights of the Negev Bedouin by promoting village recognition as a means of eradicating the constant threat of demolition and relocation, while beginning to improve living conditions and access to state resources. Additionally, ACRI opposes current and new settlement construction on land inhabited by residents of unrecognized villages.
And how do matters stand today, July, 2013?
In Ha'aretz, we read the Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg:
...Israel remains the country where our Jewish values are, should and shall be realized. We still hope for and believe in the Israel whose founders, less than three years after the Holocaust, presented to the world the remarkable vision of a country which "will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race, or gender; will guarantee full freedom of worship, conscience, culture and education" and live and legislate according to "the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Prophets of Israel."...

That is why so many of us care when Israel threatens to pass a law so deeply at odds with its own principles. "So long as Israel claims to be a Jewish state, it must act according to Jewish moral values," commented Gidon Remba, Director of the U.S.-based Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice. "The way a country treats its most disadvantaged citizens defines its moral character, and so too its Jewish character as a bearer of the Jewish moral tradition."

It’s not just that Diaspora Jews are pained by the prospect of watching on their national television Israeli bulldozers flattening villages and forcing thousands of men, women and children from their homes, actions which the Begin-Prawer plan could indeed entail. The matter goes deeper than the damage that would be done to Israel’s international reputation.

It relates to a profound moral instinct that Israel’s safety depends not only on military superiority and the skill and courage of its armed forces, but is connected in some unquantifiable way to its faithfulness to the age-old Jewish values of justice and human dignity.

It connects to those historical experiences of exile and persecution which Jews carry subliminally in their souls. As Theodore Bikel, who played Tevye in countless productions of Fiddler on the Roof, said, "What hurts is the fact that the very people who are telling them [the Bedouin] to “Get out” are the descendents of the people of Anatevka. My people."


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