Saturday, January 19, 2008
The other night we braved the cold and ventured out to Tel Aviv University to see a play called 'Bedouin' at the theatre school.
Hagai Shomroni, son of B& H, was among the young cast portraying the tortured lives of Israeli Negev Bedouin in an impressive multimedia production that left us with plenty of room for thought.. and shame.
The play was composed of a series of scenes and satirical songs based on documented cases. It all added up to a picture of official, sometimes brutal, discrimination against some 80,000 Bedouin all of whom are Israeli citizens and many of whom serve in the IDF. Here are a few facts about Israel' s Bedouin.
About 80,0000 of them live in 36 unrecognised villages and 9 villages that have recently received recognition. Most of these villages do not receive basic services such as water, electricity and health services. They did not start out by being 'unrecognised'. Most were established before 1948 while others were established after the authorities ejected the Bedouin from their tribal lands to the "siyag" areas in the triangle between Arad, Omer and Arad in the 1950s. It was the 1965 planning and construction law that ignored them, thereby making them "unrecogised".
Consequently, their residents are forbidden from building permanent structures and there is no municipality or planning board that is responsible for them. Since 2001, 338 Bedouin houses have been destroyed, 110 in the first 6 months of 2007. The only alternative offered is to move to one of the 7 Bedouin townships established in the 60s and 70s which are the poorest communities in Israel with the lowest levels of education and the highest levels of unemployment. The residents of the unrecognised villages refuse to desert their traditional way of life to live in these slums. The government claims that the Bedouin are trying to wrest control of state land but while the Bedouin make up 28% of the Negev's population, they sit on only 2.5% of its land.
The real point, I think, is that while Israel is prepared, even happy, to provide land for a small number of Jews in the Negev they are not prepared to make the same effort for a much smaller number of Bedouin. The Jews of the Negev have some 130 towns, kibbutzim, moshavim and community settlements and over the past few years some 60 large farms that have been given to private families (many of these now produce wine). The Jews are encouraged to farm the land and "turn the desert green" while the Bedouin's crops are sometimes sprayed with poison. To add to this grotesque picture of injustice, compare the situation of these "unrecogised villages" with the 100 or so "unauthorised outposts" scattered throughout the West Bank which the government is too scared to touch. Unlike the settlers, the Bedouin do not have a hefty lobby to look after their interests.
For some more background on the Negev Bedouin: