Monday, January 17, 2011

Israel Acting to Destroy Bedouin Communities, Way of Life

The Bedouin village of El Araqib in the Negev desert was destroyed by Israeli forces early Sunday morning.


This is ninth time in the past six months that the Jewish National Fund and the Israeli military have destroyed the village, and it will certainly not be the last. Israel has for decades been attempting to “urbanize” the Bedouin, taking them from their land, with a final plan of Judaizing their indigenous area.
More than 150,000 Bedouin, the indigenous inhabitants of the Negev region, live in informal shanty towns, or "unrecognized villages," in the south of Israel. They account for around 12% of the Palestinian population of the country, and yet discriminatory land and planning policies have made it virtually impossible for Bedouin to build legally where they live.[i]
The unrecognized villages do not appear on Israeli maps, there are no road signs to mark them, and their locations do not appear on the Israeli ID cards the residents carry. Residents do not have state education or health services and because the government does not recognize the villages, they are off the water and electricity grids as well.
What’s more, Israel implements forced evictions, home demolitions, and other actions to prevent the nomadic, indigenous people from continuing their historical way of life.
The Israel Land Authority and particularly the Jewish National Fund are at the heart of the demolitions. The ILA is the branch of the Israel government responsible for managing the 93% of the land in Israel which the country considers public domain, though much of the land is actually unrecognized Arab villages and land.
In recent months the JNF and the Israel Land Authority (ILA) have been working to “encourage” the remaining nomadic Bedouin communities to settle in cities and stay off the land. The encouragement has come in the form of regular demolitions of Bedouin villages.
This philosophy towards the Bedouin has been policy for years. In 1963, Moshe Dayan, the famed Israeli military leader and politician, shared the country’s then unofficial plan for the Bedouin with the news daily Haaretz: "We should transform the Bedouins into an urban proletariat. Indeed, this will be a radical move, which means that the Bedouin would not live on his land with his herds, but would become an urban person.”
“His children would be accustomed to a father who wears trousers, does not carry a Shabaria [the traditional Bedouin knife] and does not search for vermin in public. This would be a revolution, but it may be fixed within two generations. Without coercion but with governmental direction, this phenomenon of the Bedouins will disappear,” Dayan told Haaretz in an interview on 31 July 1963.
Since the late 1960s, the government of Israel has carried out an urbanization policy of resettling the Bedouin community of the Negev in towns. “This policy was problematic from its inception, firstly because the entire process was imposed from the outside. The Bedouin had no share in decision-making and were not participants in shaping the program or designing the new communities. The stiff price of the failure of this policy, unfortunately, is being paid mainly by the new towns’ Bedouin residents themselves,” according to Ismael Abu-Sa’ad, of Ben Gurion University of the Negev. [ii]
Israeli authorities have demolished thousands of Bedouin homes in unrecognized villages since the 1970s, many of them comprising no more than tents or shacks. In 2010 alone Israeli officials demolished hundreds of Bedouin structures. The government’s goal is that people will move from rural areas to new Bedouin cities.
One such city is Rahat, located in the Negev and founded in 1972. The city currently has a population around 52,000, but numbers are growing as the Jewish National Fund, the Israeli Land Administration, and the government increase harsh treatment of the villagers nearby.
The ILA has a history of uprooting olive trees in Palestinian villages and is trying to plant forests as part of a plan to “green” the Negev desert, while making the nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouin impossible and pushing them to cities like Rahat, where employment is low and their traditional way of life impossible.
The JNF also has plans for the area, with a “major initiative to revitalize Israel’s southern region is called Blueprint Negev – a name that describes the far-reaching and visionary plan to increase the area’s population and improve living conditions for all of its inhabitants,” the group’s website says.
Their plan to “improve living conditions for all” seems to exclude the Bedouin community. While the JNF acknowledges that there are currently 160,000 Bedouin residing in the Negev, half of those in villages unrecognized by Israel, the group claims on its website that Bedouin’s “nomadic existence ceased in the 1950s.”
In November 2005, the Israeli government adopted the “Negev 2015” plan, a $3.6 billion 10-year scheme aimed at increasing the Jewish population of the Negev by 200,000 by developing upscale residential neighborhoods, fast transportation networks for commuters, high tech establishments, and better educational facilities[iii], for recognized residents only of course.
In 2010, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced a request for 20-30 billion Israeli shekels in order to relocate its intelligence, computers and logistical units from the center of the country to the Negev.
The move would supposedly strengthen the Israeli population in the Negev and create jobs in an area the country and the JNF are working to populate.
Israel’s strategic targeting of the Bedouin must be stopped. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, indigenous peoples, that includes the Bedouin, have the right to "own, develop, control and use the lands… which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used" as well as "the right to the full recognition of their laws, traditions and customs, land-tenure systems and institutions for the development and management of resources and the right to effective measures by States to prevent any interference with, alienation of, or encroachment upon these rights."
As Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said following the destruction of the village of El Araqib in November:  “The Israeli government must stop its policy of home demolitions both in communities inside Israel, such as al-‘Araqib in the Negev, and also in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem.”

Israel must recognize that the Bedouin have a right to their traditional way of life, that they have been on the land since before the existence of the State of Israel, and that the psychological tactics of destruction and non-recognition cannot continue.

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