Palestinian and Israeli activists held great demonstrations all over Palestine and Israel and called for a general strike in solidarity with the Bedouin facing another great catastrophe in the form of the Praver Begin plan.
The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab citizens of Israel announced a general strike on Monday, against the Praver Begin plan approved by the Israeli Knesset in its first reading, with protests taking place in Umm al-Fahm, Sakhnin, and the Negev, as well as Jaffa, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and across Israel in Lod and Ramle. Palestinian activists and civil society groups as well as some Israeli activists held great demonstrations all over Palestine and Israel and called for a general strike, shutting the doors of banks, local authorities and private businesses in solidarity with the Bedouin facing another great catastrophe in the form of the Praver Begin plan.
Demonstrators waved flags and carried placards bearing the names of the Bedouin villages which are due to be displaced, while chanting “Down with the Praver-Begin criminal plan”. Israeli riot police used tear gas and ‘skunk water’ trucks to disperse the protests and clashes broke out during the demonstrations. The Israeli police assaulted the protesters and the activists, including women, were beaten and harassed. Fields were set alight by tear gas canisters and over two dozen protesters were arrested.
The Bedouins of Negev, one of the most discriminated groups of Arabs in Israel, are once again facing a most threatening situation; one that would, according to analysts, be similar to the greatly horrific event of the 1948 Nakba – the Great Catastrophe. This Catastrophe was described by the poet Mahmoud Darwish as “an extended present that promises to continue in the future.”
And continue it does, as the memory of the past nightmares returns to haunt those who have not yet forgotten that horrific past. With the memories of the past oppression fresh in their minds – the murder, torture, arrests, confiscations of land, raids, forceful evacuations, blind firings, and much much more – these discriminated and oppressed people watch with horror and contempt the novel plans for their evacuation from their rightful land, at the hands of those that have no moral right over a single inch of this land.
The Bedouins, the inhabitants of the desert of Negev, reside in what are termed as illegal, unrecognised villages. The State of Israel, since its inception, has been launching campaigns for their evacuation from their homeland – at times to build military bases, at others to establish Jewish settlements in their lands. They were constantly relocated and deported to the adjacent countries where they had to live as refugees. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz describes one such campaign in 1959; “The army’s desert patrols would turn up in the midst of a Bedouin encampment day after day, dispersing it with a sudden burst of machine-gun fire until the sons of the desert were broken and, gathering what little was left of their belongings, led their camels in long silent strings into the heart of the Sinai desert.”
All the rights over the land and its rightful owners are assumed by a people that have come to the region just half a century ago. 65 years were enough of a time to make them the owners of the land, without having dwelled in it, without even needing to be associated with it in anyway; whereas an association and residence of centuries, on the part of the Bedouins, is rendered nothing. They can’t pasture their animals, are given no social or medical services, no access to electricity or running water, no sewer system, no education, no identities. They have to struggle to prove their ownership of their own land, which is usually totally impossible.
And now, these legal occupiers of the land, whose newly born country has assumed maximum legality in only 65 years, have come up with a novel plan for the development of these lands. According to the Praver Begin plan, approved by the Knesset in its first reading, the government plans to destroy 36 villages, dislocate 40 thousand people, confiscate 800 thousand dunums of land, and forcefully limit the Arabs, constituting 30% of the population of Negev, to only 1% of the land.
Obviously, the inhabitants don’t need to be consulted. They are illegal after all, which is why nobody needs to pay heed or bother to answer the question of Fawzia, a student living in such a village: “Our house is built on a land that belongs to my parents and that belonged to my grandparents before them. My grandparents inherited it from their ancestors before the idea to establish a Jewish state was even suggested. Why should we leave?”
This newly assumed, undoubtable legality of the State of Israel gives the international community the right to turn a deaf ear to what the head of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Arab Villages of Negev, Atiyeh al-A’sam has to say: “Approval of the Prawer committee recommendations means Judaisation of Negev. The main goal of these plans is to seize Arab lands and exterminate Arab roots.”
It renders meaningless the pleas of Attorney Rawia Aburabia of ACRI (Association for Civil Rights in Israel): “Today the government approved a plan that will cause the displacement and forced eviction of dozens of villages and tens of thousands of Bedouin residents, dispossessing them of their property and historical rights to their lands, destroying the social fabric of their communities, and sealing the fate of thousands of families into poverty and unemployment. All of this while the government simultaneously promotes the establishment of new Jewish communities, some of which are even slated to be built on the fresh ruins of Bedouin villages. Rather than displacing these communities, the government should seek a true and just solution that facilitates the inclusion of Bedouin citizens into the civil and social fabric of the Negev by recognizing the unrecognized villages and acknowledging their legal ownership rights to their lands.”
It frees the occupiers of the need to consider the advice of urban planner Nili Baruch of Bimkom: “The key to a solution to the issue of the unrecognized villages in the Negev is planning. A plan to formally recognize the unrecognized villages (such as the one initiated by the village residents themselves) will afford them their rights to education, health, fitting infrastructure, and sources of employment. Such a process would not only be the most likely to succeed, but also the most just, coming after years of neglect of the unrecognized villages, most of which have been in existence since before the state of Israel was established.”
But since the newly born state is more legal and has more rights over the land than its historical owners, it doesn’t need to pay heed to the desire of the Bedouins themselves. Moreover, it can very comfortably ignore the voices of its own Congressmen as well, especially if they don’t agree with the policies of the state – like Ahmed Tibi, who considers the Praver plan “racist and obscene”; or Dov Khanin, who thinks that to comply with the demand of the Bedouins to recognise their existing villages and provide them with decent living conditions “would be a much cheaper solution, and would not take a lot of time”.
The international community, too, can lend a deaf ear to the warnings of Tibi: “We are going to witness the biggest population eviction since the Nakba. Bedouins are peaceful and discreet people but they will not accept such a decision, they will react. More than their lands, their dignity and their way of life are at stake”.
According to Dr. Yeela Raanan, just a couple of items from the bill are enough to show its monstrosity. The first being the offer that a member of the Bedouin community, after agreeing to being dislocated, can receive in compensation 50% of his current land (in case his claim over his land is recognised, which is rarely possible) if and only if he convinces all his siblings and cousins to give up their own lands too. This implies that if anyone of the members of a family doesn’t agree to the proposal, all the rest of its members lose their chances of getting half the amount of their current land, which is very sure to break up the family structure and sow seeds of resentment among the family members.
The second is the process of clearance when it is time to clear a piece of land. The Prime Minister takes the decision to clear it, and the residents are given a two week period to clear out everything – structures, livestock, trees, people, other possessions. And then the government is free to demolish any and everything in the area as well as incarcerate for two years anyone remaining in the area. The courts cannot intervene, and can at the most postpone the clearing by another week. And of course, the bill doesn’t specify and doesn’t need to bother where the people will go, or whether they will be provided any place to go to, in addition to not having any say as to where they have to move to.
This is just another episode in the series of oppressive methods of the Israeli government against the Arabs, whom it considers as no more than a nuisance. And just like it goes about with all the killing, arrests, demolitions and other tortuous measures, this plan, too, will pass. Israel will comfortably displace the Bedouin from their ancestral lands, without having to worry about any resistance from anybody – be it the UN, the US, the EU, the international community as a whole or even the Muslim Ummah, who have grown as insensitive as the rest of the world towards the plight of their own.