Displacing the Bedouin

It's hard to understand why Israel is pushing a significant sector of its citizens toward extremism and crime.

Twice last week employees of the Israel Lands Administration, with the help of a large police contingent, demolished the homes of around 300 residents in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al-Arakib in the Negev. Most of them, citizens of the State of Israel, including many children, were left not only without homes, but humiliated, frustrated and shocked. Both times the police were brutal, and neither time did the state offer an alternative, compensation or assistance, either material or psychological, for the people whose village was demolished and world was destroyed. That's how a country treats its citizens.

Even if there is substance to the state's claims that the village's lands belong to the state and not to the inhabitants, it should have offered other solutions besides sending in bulldozers again and again. There is a large cemetery at Al-Arakib and water wells that the residents say denote their possession of the land, along with old ownership documents. They claim they were forced to abandon the area after the War of Independence and that they returned in the 1990s because the land remained empty.

A man stands amid the ruins of a Bedouin clubhouse demolished by the IDF, April 21, 2010
Alberto Denkberg

In the eyes of the state they are squatters. After a protracted legal battle, the state destroyed the village. When the residents tried, with the help of volunteers, to rebuild, the bulldozers arrived again on Wednesday. While the state has given sweeping approval to Jewish "individual farms" in the Negev, awarding huge areas to individual citizens, it treats tens of thousands of Bedouin harshly, presenting their settlement in the Negev as a "problem" and a "danger." This attitude is infuriating.

The Bedouin are the children of the Negev. Most of them were born there and some have lived there for generations. At least some of the inhabitants of Al-Arakib are well integrated into the economy and see Israel as their country. Destroying their homes and pushing them into the crowded and poor Bedouin cities creates a much more severe political and social problem than the danger of the Bedouin living on state lands.

The bulldozer cannot be the state's only answer, especially not when it is used only against the Bedouin. It's hard to understand why Israel is pushing a significant sector of its citizens toward extremism and crime. On the ruins of Al-Arakib a new generation of Bedouin will sprout that is alienated from the state, enraged and desperate. Neither they nor the state deserve this.