Israeli Bedouins seek UN action

Leaders of the 180,000-strong Bedouin community in southern Israel are urging the UN to pressure Israel into stopping what they call "systematic ethnic cleansing".

    Increasing numbers of Bedouin villages are being demolished

    The call has been prompted by a spate of home demolitions and land confiscations by the Israeli police.

    According to Bedouin leaders, the Israeli government is intent on removing about 40 Bedouin villages in the Negev region that are inhabited by as many as 80,000 people - an allegation the government denies.

    Last week, Israeli police reportedly stepped up the destruction of Bedouin homes and outbuildings in what are termed "unrecognised villages".

    "Like they are doing to our Palestinian brothers in the West Bank, they are doing here to us," said Talab al Sani'e, a Bedouin and a member of Israel's Knesset.

    "They are destroying our homes and stealing our land and trying to concentrate us in small reservations in order to take our land and give it Jewish settlers."

    Sani'e told there was "systematic discrimination" against the Bedouins.

    "Some of these so-called unrecognised villages predated the state of Israel. I wonder who needs recognition from whom," said Sani'e.

    "Israel has created 140 Jewish towns and villages in the Negev. And now they want to destroy Bedouin villages."

    Land seizure

    Hussein Rafaya’a, president of the Regional Council of the Unrecognised Villages, accused the Israeli government of illegally confiscating more than 98% of Bedouin land.

    Hussein Rafaya'a says Bedouins
    have lost most of their land

    "Between 1948 and 1966, Israel seized 12 million dunams [one dunam is 1000 square meters], and in 1978, they confiscated more than 100,000 dunams. And now they chasing us to steal our remaining land."

    Saqr Salouk, editor-in-chief of the Naba News Agency, a local news outlet covering the Bedouin community in southern Israel, accuses Israel of committing "ugly acts of racism against Bedouins."

    Israeli government airplanes sprayed herbicides over large areas of crops belonging to Bedouin tribes in the Negev over 10 years.

    The practice was stopped after Bedouin leaders and human rights activists petitioned the Israeli High Court, citing the herbicides' harmful effect on humans and animals.

    After the court ruling, however, the Israeli Land Authority began using tractors to destroy the crops shortly before harvest time, according to Bedouin leaders.

    "The state is declaring war on 

    its own citizens."

    Saqr Salouk,
    Editor-in-chief, Naba News Agency

    "They refuse to connect our villages with the national power grid, they refuse to connect us with the national water carrier, they refuse to allow us to open streets. Our children are denied schooling," Salouk said. 

    "The state is declaring war on 

    its own citizens for no reason other than us being non-Jews. Otherwise how would you explain that 35000 homes are slated for bulldozing and destruction."

    Appeal to UN

    Sani'e urged the UN to investigate "this systematic persecution and ethnic cleansing against the Bedouins."

    Israeli police accompany the
    bulldozers during demolitions

    Sani'e said Israel should be forced to adhere to international law and internationally recognised human rights.

    But the Bedouins are sceptical about whether Israeli courts will protect their rights.

    Sani’e, who also is a lawyer, said the Israeli justice system was unreliable in two spheres - land and security.

    "We can’t expect justice from such an inherently unjust justice system."

    Rule of law

    Israeli government officials have denied allegations of discrimination by Bedouin leaders.

    "What the Israeli government is doing is applying the rule of law. These villages were built against the rule of law," said Tal Rabina, a spokesman of the Southern District, which has administrative jurisdiction over the Negev.

    Rabina said Bedouin leaders were sensationalising and exaggerating their grievances.

    "We are trying very hard to give proper services to the Bedouin communities, and we are building new schools, kindergartens, nurseries, clinics, but we can’t give proper services to people when they are stretched out in a very vast area."

    Rabina said Israel was trying to introduce zoning and planning that would benefit the Bedouins.

    "With all due respect to Bedouin traditions, we can’t build a school beside every tent or every house."

    Photographs courtesy of the Naba News Agency.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera



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