Real-estate nationalism in this country has found itself a tattered target: The Bedouin in the Negev are again invading state lands (Israel Harel, "Democracy is (not above) existence," Ha'aretz, July 11). They are seizing every square inch of land they can get their hands on, they are plundering the state's land reserves and they have the effrontery, these cheats, to return to land for which they have already been compensated in the past. "No one in the political establishment, including the prime minister, who is well-acquainted with the problem, has the courage to deal with the problem," Harel writes.
This is not the first time that inventors have complained about those who stole ideas from them. In fact, political logic obliges the settlers to view these Bedouin as their allies, or at least a legal precedent: as long as the state does not evacuate these Bedouin settlers, there is no reason to complain about the Jewish settlers in the territories. Both groups are residing on what is defined, more or less, as state lands, both groups are on these lands illegally, and in both cases it is true, as Harel notes, that no one in the political establishment is daring enough to cope with the phenomenon.
The Bedouin in the Negev desert lay claim to ownership of about 650,000 dunams (1 acre = 4 dunams), after having ceded about 150,000 to the state in return for compensation. Attempts to arrive at a compensation arrangement encountered tremendous difficulties, both because the state agreed to pay only low amounts of money - NIS 5,000 per dunam in built-up areas and between NIS 2,000 and NIS 3,000 in open areas (by comparison, the evacuees of the Yamit settlement in Northern Sinai, following the peace treaty with Egypt, received $4,000 per dunam) - and because the Bedouin are not ready to give up land as a source of livelihood.
The "peace law" that was enacted by the Knesset following the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt transferred to the state, in return for compensation, another 35,000 dunams, on which the Nevatim Air Force base was built. Several thousand Bedouin have now moved into the area around the base. Since the original agreement, arrangements have been reached in connection with another 115,000 dunams. Lawsuits filed by the Bedouin to recognize their ownership of land have been rejected, or in most cases the decision has gone against them. Now, contrary to the good will the state showed in the 1970s, when it acknowledged that from a humanitarian point of view it was wrong to remove the Bedouin without compensation (even if the state did not recognize their title to the land), the state wants to go back and reexamine the ownership issue, knowing full well that the Bedouin will have a hard time presenting proof of ownership.
The Bedouin, for their part, are waging their struggle in a familiar way: To prove ownership, they are establishing illegal outposts scattered across wide areas and adding more and more relatives to each site. They had good teachers. There is one difference, though: In the West Bank, no one sprayed thousands of dunams with poisons to prevent land from being tilled, for fear that land on which crops were grown would serve as proof of ownership.
And there is another small difference: The Bedouin are citizens of the country. People who talk about land reserves in the Negev that are being plundered by the Bedouin would do well to remember that those reserves are intended for all the country's citizens, including them. And here's another difference: the state is in no hurry to hook up the Bedouin settlements to the power and water grids, and the education network also ends somewhere along the main road.
How angry can the settlers be at the "plundering" of land in the state that they left to go live in the Palestinian Diaspora? It is perhaps in inverse proportion to their ability to understand the anger of their Palestinian neighbors on whose land they set up the illegal outposts. If the concern for the arid land of the Negev, which was not enough to attract the representatives of the settlement enterprise, is now generating their outcry, here is the remedy: Let the settlers in the West Bank and Gaza arrive at a compensation agreement with the state and then build their homes in place of the Bedouin "land grabbers." (It's a safe guess that the compensation they will be offered will be somewhat larger than what is being proposed to the Bedouin.)
There's another possible solution, too: Suggest to the Bedouin that they convert to Judaism. Because as Israel Harel informs us in connection with the bill submitted by MK Haim Druckman (National Religious Party) according to which state land will be allocated to Jews only, "If the Arabs were, for example, to convert to Judaism, the law's [sponsor], Haim Druckman, would surely welcome them into the ranks of the Jewish people and into its settlements with open arms." If so, dear Bedouin citizens, you have three options to choose from: compensation, spraying and conversion. Just don't accuse us of racism.
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