Opinion |

Israel’s New War Front: The Negev

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Bedouin protesters clash with Israeli forces in the Negev Desert, southern Israel in January
Bedouin protesters clash with Israeli forces in the Negev Desert, southern Israel in January Credit: Tsafrir Abayov /AP
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

According to legend, former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein’s thugs would send executed prisoners’ families a bill for the bullet used to shoot their loved one. Israel doesn’t execute Arab citizens. It just uproots them from their lands, and then sends the bill to the “five-year plan” solemnly promised for the development of Arab towns in the Negev. Here’s an Israeli patent, in all its glory: They destroy your home at your own expense. The latest news is that in the wake of this additional funding, the Yoav unit, the Israel Police’s uprooting arm, is on high alert.

Meanwhile, we have a former education minister and retired IDF general, who bears the same name as this fearsome unit. He tells Sherri Makover-Belikov, in a royal-treatment interview in Maariv, that as head of Southern Command he ordered his underlings not to uproot any trees before getting his permission, and thus no trees were uprooted. But don’t get the man wrong. His bleeding heart is reserved for trees alone. Very different emotions guide his approach to the Negev’s Arabs.

I don’t know through what glasses, or perhaps military binoculars, Galant views the Arabs in the Negev. Apparently he views them from afar, just like Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who instead of actually visiting Rahat and feeling the human warmth of the residents and their yearning for a better future, preferred to observe the city from afar. From afar, all you see there is a problem.

Galant’s description of what’s taking place in the Negev makes your hair stand on end. To read his words is to feel yourself walking through a minefield: If you’re not careful, it will cost you your life. I rub my eyes, wondering if this is the Negev I know, or part of the man’s twisted agenda. Why? Because later on in the interview he says: “Alongside the police and Border Police we need to draft at least three more regular divisions in the south, the north, and the center. And when I say divisions, we’re talking thousands of people, and therefore we need to establish a broad reserve force based on veterans of the relevant units, such as infantry and field units that are less crucial to the IDF’s fighting force, but that can build local battalions not only in the south but also in Acre, Lod, Tel Aviv, and Jaffa.”

Hello?! Is this the Negev or enemy territory? And Galant isn’t talking only about the Negev. These massive forces are intended for any place where there are Arabs. The man is planning total war, from Eilat to the Hermon.

Why am I writing about this man, who was a resounding failure at the Education Ministry, and who cares less about the Negev and its Jewish soil than he does about getting ready for the next leap in his political journey? I write because his apocalyptic predictions are seeping into an Israeli society mired in deep depression over the lack of prospects for a diplomatic solution with the Palestinians. And without diplomatic prospects, one seeks the enemy du jour from within, because, alas, the dastardly enemies from without have all evaporated. Once upon a time it was the surrounding Arab countries, then the “terrorist nests” in southern Lebanon, then Arafat’s “salami strategy,” then the “demographic threat”. It’s in the Israeli regime’s DNA to manufacture threats, and if the Iranian threat drops from the headlines for a single moment, the “Bedouin threat,” in Galant’s horrific words, is hauled down from the attic. The Jews are so lucky to have the Arabs around to threaten them.

And yet, let us note one important thing: There are plenty of plans to settle the Negev with Jews, and the Jews won’t come. It just doesn’t suit them. Therefore, whoever acts against the Arabs there, should they succeed, would leave the Negev with nothing but sand, with no humans, and what good is the Negev without its children? Is the Negev to be destroyed on the altar of ideological zeal, shared by Ayelet Shaked and Galant, among others? Apparently, they have no problem with that: They prefer a desolate Negev to one alive and well with its Arab children.

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