Don't Forget Israel's Negev Arabs

Egypt deposes a president who dares to abuse the rights of the minority, but in Israel it's a way of life. And contrary to what happens in sinister regimes, here discrimination is accepted with great pomp.

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Protesters demonstrate against the so-called 'Prawer plan' in Be'er Sheva. June 15th, 2013.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

The millions who flooded Egypt’s public squares did not do so because of corruption, failed management or political appointments − after all, many regimes are guilty of these. Essentially, there was one thing that got the populace out onto the streets: when then President Mohammed Morsi dismissed the general prosecutor last November and published a series of orders during the formulation of the new constitution that gave him supreme power and immunity from judicial review. That started to make the Egyptians lose sleep, and the masses assembled to explain to the majority − which has since shrunk to a minority − that the fact they are the majority doesn’t give them the right to trample on the rights of the minority.

In Israel, the majority has not internalized this lofty principle for decades, and it certainly doesn’t uphold it. All the Arabs oppose the expropriation of their lands, but the Jewish majority legally seizes more and more. All Arabs oppose budgetary discrimination, but the Jewish majority finds all kinds of perfectly legal ways to continue to grossly discriminate.

This intoxicating power is now being directed against the Bedouin of the Negev, whose turn it is to feel the strong arm of the Jewish majority. The state plans to not only confiscate most of their area lands − some (800,000 dunams, or ‏200,000 acres‏) − but also to “resettle” some 40,000-70,000 citizens. That is, to gather tens of thousands into a small area, east of Route 40, and isolate them so as not to disturb the peace of the neighboring Jews. “When the eye doesn’t see,” they say in Arabic, “the heart does not hurt.”

So, Egypt deposes a president who dares to abuse the rights of the minority, but in Israel it’s a way of life. And contrary to what happens in sinister regimes, here discrimination is accepted with great pomp. It’s planned by numerous different committees, and government officials carry it out calmly, upholding procedures to the hilt, because they know that behind them stands a solid Jewish majority that backs them every step of the way.

Sometimes I wonder what the people who come up with these programs are made of. Of the beautiful name “Regulating Bedouin Settlement in the Negev” − which, given their living conditions, could bring tears to one’s eyes − there remains only destruction, evacuation and expulsion. Moreover, just to be safe and in the name of justice, our gentlemen are also taking away the Bedouin’s legal remedy by empowering those responsible in the field to seize and destroy without a court order. Seriously, how do these noted personages play with their children? How can they cuddle their grandchildren?

This shrapnel-in-the-rear regime does not even bother to try and paper over the discrimination. None of these draconian orders include even one demolition order against a Jewish home, or one evacuation order of a Jewish family − if only so they could tell the world that the law does not discriminate between Arabs and Jews. On the contrary: during discussions of the Prawer plan to dispossess and evict the Bedouin two years ago, the government announced a plan to establish 10 new Jewish towns in the Arad district. So this is the plan in all its glory − expel and inherit, all at the same time.

Last Monday, there was an Arab general strike supported by many Jewish democratic forces. But while the Arabs − especially in the Negev − are out demonstrating against the plan, with the scent of the Arab Spring in the air, it emerges that the police of the Jewish majority is still living in the dreary days of frost. Dozens were arrested and injured in the dispersal of the demonstrators, who were out defending their homes.

Now it turns out that the spring has not skipped over Europe, which is starting to show some welcome impatience with the continuing occupation. The spring that’s raising its head in Europe will also soon be filled with rage against the majority abusing a minority that lives in its midst. Europe, do not forget the Negev Arabs!