NSWJBD/Honest Reporting Israel Mission Day 3
This report from the NSWJBD/Honest Reporting Israel Mission has been written by participants Mel and Brenda Braun…
We met our guide Patrick at breakfast. On the coach he set us at ease with his casual manner and we knew we were in capable hands as he shared initial insights.
Leaving Jerusalem bound for the Negev on Highway 1 we had panoramic views of the hills as we began our descent to the plains below. We were briefly saluted by an F 16.
Patrick explained that the forests are made up of trees which were largely donations from European countries. They were mainly conifers, non indigenous plants, which has led to forestry issues including – problematic forest fires and post fires re growth of too many saplings, The dense canopy retards growth of a natural forest floor, as well excess dropping of pine cones & needles that drop creating problems.
A potential key strength for the country is Israel’s geographic position at the crossroads of three continents. Given other world circumstances, Israel is a logical place for administering and processing world trade, and Patrick explored some scenarios including potential trade growth with China.
He reinforced our understanding that water is a huge issue in the region. Jerusalem has no natural water source. Many cisterns can be found under the old city. But keeping water stored in this way often led to health issues and a sickly population in times past. Today modern water treatment has alleviated this problem and Jerusalem’s water comes from heavy rainfall in the winter months.
Patrick spoke of Israel’s water in terms of the three thirds. 1/3 comes from sources such as the Kinneret. One third of water comes from recycled sources (largely used for agriculture & Industry). 1/3 comes from desalination. About 83% of Israel’s water is recycled, the highest in the world. The country that comes a distant second is Australia.
Naomi Schecter joined us and filled us in on the work of the NGO Shatil, for the New Israel Fund (NIF).
Again the issue of matters indigenous was raised, but in this instance regarding people and not trees, was the context. 200,000 Bedouins live in the Negev region, dispersed through smaller and larger recognised and unrecognised settlements. The largest Bedouin town is Rahat, with a population of 50 – 60,000 .
Unrecognised Bedouin settlements are largely without services of water and electricity and sanitation/sewage.
Women’s issues are particularly pressing. Polygamy is a traditional Bedouin practice (now outlawed but still pracisted by the Negev Bedouin) and women’s roles have changed significantly. Whilst women have traditionally been low on the ‘totem pole’ with changes in family, women’s status in the last century further difficulties for women have emerged. Shatil has been instrumental in empowering Bedouin women and developing programs for them, starting with literacy and then with programs using traditional crafts such weaving and embroidery & training groups to develop & encourage women to participate in the local area management through councils and similar. Also working to open preschools and high schools.
Recognising that they also need buy in from the men in the community, Shatil organizes mixed sex roundtables on issues such as polygamy & domestic violence
We met a number of people with different perspectives through the morning. Travelling through dun-coloured, almost lunar landscape to see one settlement the coach became stuck and could go no further on the sandy and Rocky Road (not the delicious Chocolate and marshmallow type). We continued on foot to visit to an ‘unrecognised’ settlement where we met with the local sheikh, Ahmed Al-Kamawi.
Seeing the squalid condition of one unrecognised Bedouin town settlements moved many of us. And through multiple translators, and some contested translations, we heard the story of one tribe and their quest for land through the courts.
We see that people do engage in agriculture and I was surprised to see that this meant largely the keeping of animals and little in the way raising crops (though we heard that they do grow crops for personal use) . What we discovered was a people who In the past had been nomadic, and today are semi-nomadic which means they generally stay in one place.
The place for this chamula (clan/tribe), the ‘Asazma’ people,is adjacent to the biggest toxic waste treatment plant in Israel. Naomi told us that the level of birth defects and other health issues is disproportionately high among this population.
On the return trip to Beersheva a young and tertiary-educated Bedouin man told us he believes that the traditional way of living with clan is best . But he has had the benefit of a well-off family (in the construction business) education and would also wish for accommodation in town and the offer of a good job.
An alternate perspective was put by the field worker for the government who is working to help resettle the Bedouin people. He explained using maps that many of the claims for land unsubstantiated would be rejected and have been rejected by the Israeli courts, yet the Israeli government has offered land and financial concessions.
Bedouins have one of the highest birth rates in the world (4.4% annually c/f 1.5% rest of Israel). The youth (60% of the Bedouin population are under 20 years of age) are demanding a modern lifestyle- internet and suchlike- yet the elders want to maintain a traditional way of life. As he described it fathers are saying ‘no’ & sons are saying ‘yes’ to the Israeli government offers.
Space in central Israel is running out and the Negev is a key destination to grow the country. Many militarily bases around Tel Aviv are being relocated to the Negev .
Our visit to the Negev and the alternate viewpoints we heard show that there are certainly no easy answers.
A quick Lunch in a modern mall in Beersheba was a contrast to the way of life of the traditional Bedouin .
Next we travelled to the Erez crossing point between Israel and Gaza. This border crossing was designed to accommodate some 40,000 people each day. The reality is around 350 people use it daily. The US government paid for the facility which from the outside looks like a modern regional airport terminal. Most of the 350 people are health and hospital patients and their escorts - people from Gaza coming across to Israel for medical treatment. (Interestingly the grand daughter of head of Hamas in Gaza (a body aiming for Israel’s destruction) has just this week been in Israel for medical treatment! ) Business people - approx 120 businessmen per day. Journalists & aid workers. Family visits for weddings, funerals and similar. As Israel does not recognise Hamas (a terror organisation dedicated to Israel’s destruction) the Palestinian Authority acts as the buffer negotiator between Israel & the Hamas-led Gazan authority.
A fascinating briefing by an Israeli Lt Colonel explained how relations, or the lack of them, work between Israel and Gaza in a practical sense. The volume of goods travelling between Israel and Gaza is far more significant than the international media would let us believe, some 400 truck loads of goods a day arrive to Gaza. Food, fuel, jacuzzis and all manner of items go through (though there are some forbidden items – thing that can be used to make weapons).
Our final visit was to a moshav where we were treated to an delightful tour of an exotic fruit farm by Reuven (a holocaust survivor) , followed by a delicious Yemenite-style meal prepared by his wife Ora . We sampled liqueurs & jams all made from the fruit they grow.
A tired and but sated busload of travellers then headed back to Jerusalem.