I’m in Israel for a month doing an Israeli Law Seminar at Hebrew University with the University of Manitoba Faculty of Law. As part of that, we did a day on indigenous rights in Israel, focusing on the Bedouin. Below is what I wrote in my ‘journal’ that I’m keeping for the trip.
In summary = Israel has committed shameful and shocking acts of ethnic cleansing and bigotry with regards to the Bedouin. And remember, this is coming from someone (me) who has, in the past, been very proud to be a supporter of Israel - not too long ago I was the Israel Advocacy Chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students.
Prepare to be shocked and disgusted.
(I’ve put all but the first two paragraphs behind a cut - so as to not clog your dash, but I do encourage you to read it all!)
Today we were to learn about the “indigenous” population of Israel, the Bedouins. After leaving Jerusalem early in the morning, we set out for an hour and a half drive to Beersheba where we met with a woman employed by the New Israel Fund to work for Bedouin rights in Israel. The New Israel Fund is sort of an alternative UJA, funding non-Jewish and otherwise ‘progressive’ causes. She spoke to us about the history of the Bedouins in Israel and their current situation.
We learned that before the 1948 War, there were around 90,000 Bedouins living semi-nomadically in the Negev and this was reduced to 11,000 following the establishment of Israel. Those Bedouins who did stay (most of the rest fled to Jordan) were the ones, she explained, who sided with Israel during the war – either joining the IDF or helping to control the desert border with Jordan. For about two centuries, the traditionally nomadic Bedouins had been somewhat settled in tent villages, which allowed them to continue to live their traditional lifestyle while providing some measure of modern stability. After 1948, these villages were scattered throughout the Negev, which was otherwise barren and unused. However, despite an agreement with Ben Gurion that in exchange for supporting the state, Israel would leave the Bedouins alone, in the 1950s the government forcibly relocated the Bedouin populations to a small area in the Northern Negev, equalling about 3% of their former territory.
This is definitely worth reading in full, if you have the time. It’s a first-hand account by a pretty committed Zionist of the seriously and unambiguously suboptimal situation of Bedouins in Israel.
Service provision to nomadic people is always going to be a challenge for governments, but the way Israel has done it here has been totally thoughtless and ineffective. And the situation for the Bedouins is significantly worse than that of the Palestinians, as the Bedouins have no international support (from other governments or from a diaspora community) and a culture that doesn’t have high compatibility with a modern economy.
Anyway, you should read this.