Battling Israel's 'Bad Bedouin'

A chasm, deepening: Israel's Arab citizens are well aware of the facts behind the government's 'demographic balancing.'

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“An Arab manipulation,” “Tyranny and oppression within Bedouin society,” “The Islamic Movement is the one trying to undermine the discussions,” 80 percent of the Bedouin agree to the plan,” “Arab MKs are attempting to connect the Negev Bedouin population to the Galilee Arabs and the Palestinians,” “There are those in the Bedouin opposition who think every shack should be eternalized – not to preserve Bedouin society, but to create territorial continuity between Hebron and Gaza.”

These are just some of the reasons proposed by Doron Almog, head of the agency implementing the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, to explain the stark opposition of the Negev Bedouin to the noble program of which he is the head. In Almog's view, apparently, the Negev Bedouin are divided into two groups: The first is nice, loyal, unaffiliated with Islamic movements, lacking any national ideology and above all obedient. The other is warmongering, a “fifth column,” insubordinate to the law, radical Muslim, seeking to attach the Negev to the West Bank and in general to the Arab Middle East.

The first, loyal to the values of Bedouin culture, will agree to migrate for the second or third time to wherever the state orders it to move; the second shows signs of civil disobedience and rejects the outstretched hand that seeks to provide the Bedouin with “a quarter of a dunam (square kilometer) to a dunam” per family. Divide and rule, says the state. Good Bedouin and bad Bedouin. Most are good, the state notes in the report card, but they also need to know where the limit lies, otherwise they’ll turn bad.

For the state of Jewish lands has decided it is untenable the Bedouin should inhabit an area that is “ten times larger than the territory of Tel Aviv while their population is a third of the population of Tel Aviv,” in Almog’s demagogic equation. Interestingly, the territory of Upper Nazareth is 30.2 square kilometers, compared with 14.1 square kilometers for Arab Nazareth. The population of Upper Nazareth is about 40,500, compared with 72,500 in Arab Nazareth. According to Almog’s criteria, the territory of Arab Nazareth should grow by over 11 square kilometers. The population of Be’er Sheva is 3.7 times that of Rahat, whereas its territory is six times that of Rahat.

These data are well-known, not only to the Negev Bedouin. They resonate loudly with the “Galilee Arabs,” who are preparing for the tens of thousands of Jews supposed to settle four new northern settlements as part of the “demographic balancing,” or “Judaization of the Galilee,” program. No wonder the “Galilee Arabs” (a name that sounds as if they were some tribe intent on raiding pre-state Zionist outposts, rather than citizens of the state) are struck with horror when they realize that the “Settlement Arrangement Plan” of the Negev Bedouin relates not only to the Negev and the Bedouin, but is in fact a nation-wide, ideological plan that includes every part of the country.

“This is a good plan,” says the state, or rather, it’s the best plan the Bedouin are going to get. “A plan worth its weight in gold,” as my colleague Merav Arlozorov defined it in her incisive and enlightening column. The rule of thumb is correct: If the state is giving out money, only a fool won’t take it. We’ll pay and begin anew, says the state. We’ve uprooted you once and twice, we’ve crushed your shacks, we’ve forced your children to walk for kilometers to cold classrooms, and wait, we’re going to uproot 30,000 of you again. But, hey, two-and-a-half billion shekels to be invested in development is a good price to forgive and forget, isn’t it?

But money can’t buy history or smooth out deep scars. The water pipes to be laid to the new neighborhoods, the roads to be paved and even the promised factories cannot bridge over the deep chasm that has opened between Arab citizens of Israel, and the state’s Jews. This requires a new ideology, and not a mathematical or real-estate formula.

Hura rally against Bedouin resettlement.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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