Opinion |

It's About Time Jewish Israelis Admit They Have Failed the Bedouin

Tamer Masudin
Tamer Masudin
Bedouin protesters gather during a demonstration against a forestation project by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the Negev, last week.
Bedouin protesters gather during a demonstration against a forestation project by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the Negev, last week.Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA - AFP
Tamer Masudin
Tamer Masudin

The problem begins when the foreign minister and the alternate prime minister define over 300,000 people as a “problem.” It continues when a party chairman builds his campaign on fighting “Bedouin gangs,” but looks down on the Bedouin families when he is prime minister. It continues when Benjamin Netanyahu ignores Israel’s Bedouin citizens for the 12 years he was in office but then begs for their votes when there’s an election.

And it is exacerbated when there’s not a single Bedouin representative in the Knesset, no Bedouin representative in the media, no Electricity Law (which seeks to connect unrecognized Bedouin villages to basic infrastructure) that applies to Bedouin citizens, no listening to us, no regularization, no budgets and no non-Arab lawmaker who will pay attention to us on the day after the election rather than before it.

I’m a Bedouin, a resident of Segev Shalom, and I like Segev Shalom. But what I don’t like, and I’m not willing to accept as a Bedouin and a resident of Segev Shalom, is your hypocrisy and condescension, elected officials.

The same opposition leader who boasts of the fact that his party colleagues planted trees in the Negev, with total insensitivity to the complexity in Bedouin society regarding the issue of land, is no more that a well-oiled Twitter and propaganda machine that knows how to write two things: Abbas=Hamas and #Bennett_ you failed.

The same former prime minister who built his election campaign on the fight against the “gangs of Bedouin” and a “return governance to the Negev” knows how to show up in Rahat once a year for a photo-op, for the sake of being politically correct, and to return to the cabinet in order to write more books.

The same Mansour Abbas who knew very well how to tell us Bedouin: “I’m your man,” knows very well how not to take us into account in the Electricity Law, to close his eyes when homes are demolished in the Negev and to make empty threats about the coalition. After all, in the end Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked proved that even the crowner of kings toes the line.

And of course the man of the hour, who was able to form a government, and to fly to meet “modern” Bedouin in Dubai, also knows very well how not to travel the hour and a half from his office in order to meet with the Bedouin taxpayers at whose expense he flew.

And what a good day it is, when an unimportant student like me has to explain to his political leadership, during exam period, what the “problem of the Bedouin” is, instead of studying for his statistics exam. And the problem of the Bedouin is you. Our real problem is revealed when public officials and decision makers come to hear us but not to listen to us, to implement and without consulting with us, to plant trees near us but to demolish our houses. Our problem is that it makes no difference which card we pick or whom we vote for, in the final analysis you always have the upper hand.

After all, anyone who cares about the Bedouin population, and is familiar with the sensitive nature of the tree-planting project, realizes that for us the Jewish National Fund project symbolizes only one thing – expulsion. It can be laundered with euphemisms, but the question still remains: What will prevent the government a few years from now from declaring these lands a nature reserve? And what will be the fate of the Bedouin who live there? Will they be expelled? Where will they go? If so, who will promise them an alternative arrangement then, and won’t keep the promise? Can we rely on election promises and slogans? It turns out that we can’t.

I condemn all violence, and I’m happy to know that the Haaretz reporter Nati Yefet was extricated unharmed from an event that could have ended badly. The behavior of a few extremists does not reflect the essence of my community. But don’t be naïve and expect that you can ignore, marginalize, filter out, and that there won’t be a reaction.

The solution to the problem begins with acknowledging and defining the problem. Don’t make promises to us, and don’t deceive us with words. Admit your failures, admit your abandonment, admit that you don’t understand the sensitivity of the land issue, admit that in the past 12 or 70 years you made mistakes and didn’t understand. Come to the Negev, come to Segev Shalom, come to the unrecognized villages and ask what’s bothering us.

We’ll answer you in Hebrew because we know how sensitive you are to Arabic in the Knesset. We’ll tell you what’s bothering us, and you’ll listen. You may know better than we do how to win an election campaign, but we know better than you how to survive. And we’ll still be here 70 years from now too.

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