David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, said that without the Negev, Israel would be hardly a state and hardly Jewish.
are trying to work things with the Israeli government but Israeli government and its representatives just don’t want to listen. They don’t want to consult or cooperate with the Bedouins. That is why Bedouins say they are invisible. They want their villages to be recognised …. Israel is trying to enforce this plan on the Bedouins.”]
Now, more than 60 years later, the Israeli government is promoting plans to drastically develop the barren desert region by resettling up to 40,000 Israeli Palestinians in the process.
The move has triggered protests by Israeli Palestinian Bedouins who took part in what was described as a ‘day of rage’ in the Negev, Haifa, Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza.
They say forcing them out of their ancestral land will destroy their way of life.
“The Bedouin lifestyle is an agricultural lifestyle. Forcing Bedouins into townships will take away the Bedouin’s main resource – the land,” one protester said in Negev’s Houra neighbourhood.
“It is a catastrophic expulsion campaign that aims to empty our villages, confiscate all of our land and give it to the state’s Jewish citizens. We will continue resisting,” added another.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a statement condemning the latest violence.
“Attempts by a loud and violent minority to deny a better future to a large and broad population are grave. We will continue to advance the law for a better future for all residents of the Negev,” he said.
The Negev desert is in the south of the country and accounts for nearly two-thirds of Israel’s land, but less than 10 per cent of its population, a quarter of whom are Israeli Palestinians.
Under the plan, it is reported they would be confined to just one percent of the Negev. The Bedouin community has Israeli citizenship but they live in what are known as unrecognised villages, many of which lack running water or electricity.
Anybody who understands what is going on over there in the region will understand that you can either live in fantasy land, you can be romantic if you want or you can come down to the ground and you can work towards bringing services .… There are people protesting but it is a very small minority, a loud minority …. Majority of the people are not unhappy.
Israel says resettling them to state-planned towns is necessary to provide these basic services. But opponents say Bedouin land is being confiscated, and they are being moved out to make way for more Jews.
So, is there a bigger agenda at play?
The Israeli cabinet has approved a five-year civilian development plan for the Negev region, investing in jobs and housing, and pretty much in all areas of life.
This will complement the army’s move to the desert. There are plans for four so-called mega-bases by 2020.
The idea is to free up army land in expensive Tel Aviv and central Israel for affordable housing. Both projects will bring jobs and investment to the poorer south, but is it going to benefit everyone?
There has been international criticism over Israel’s ambitions too.
In July, Navi Pillay, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “If this bill becomes law, it will accelerate the demolition of entire Bedouin communities, forcing them to give up their homes, denying them their rights to land ownership, and decimating their traditional cultural and social life in the name of development.”
And shortly afterwards, Amnesty International also issued a statement, “The Prawer-Begin plan is a blatant example of Israel’s discriminatory policies towards its Palestinian minority. It must be dropped immediately.”
So, why is Israel’s ‘Resettlement Plan’ unacceptable to protesting Bedouins? And could the Negev protests snowball into a major conflagration between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
Inside Story presenter Jane Dutton, discusses with guests: Paul Hirschson, spokesman for the Israeli government; Ben White, journalist and author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide; and Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy; and Nadeem Shehadeh, an Israeli lawyer specialising in human rights, who has been representing some of those arrested in the latest protests.
“[Avigdor] Lieberman talked about what is happening in the Negev is being a fight in a struggle for the national land of the Jewish people.
“Remember that is the foreign minister of a government that in theory is meant to be representing all of the citizens of the state ….
And Netanyahu talked in 2010 about the palpable threat posed if there is not a Jewish majority in Negev. This disgusting racist rhetoric is what underlies the policies of Judaisation in the Negev and other parts of the country and exposes Israel for what it is, which is an ethnocracy not a democracy.”
Ben White, journalist and author
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