A Tale of Two Visits

July 1, 2013 by Ari Briggs
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In late April Israeli media personality Avri Gilad went on a tour of the Negev with myself – the international director of Regavim…writes Ari Briggs.He came back shocked and penned a Facebook status that made quite an impact. As the Jerusalem Post summed it up: “I came back from a tour of the Negev conducted by Regavim. I’m appalled by what I’ve seen. There’s no more Negev.”

Ari Briggs

Ari Briggs

The Bedouin have taken it over completely by force….

By shameless criminal activity, with insolence met only by fear and submission, the Beduin have taken over the entire Negev.”

Gilad was persuaded however to go on another tour recently with the Bedouin and came back with an entirely different perspective.

He has written of ten things that changed his above opinion.

They are set out below – with my comments to each one.


1)    At Ben-Gurion University I viewed aerial photographs of the Negev taken by the British from 1945 onwards. It’s uncomfortable to admit, but most of Negev was settled by Bedouin, the entire land is cultivated; you can see the squares with the names of the tribes marked on. Whether they had ownership of the land, as Israeli law demands, is another matter. But what is clear is that they were settled there.


Professor Yiftachel could not prove such settlements existed to the Beersheba District Court when faced with the expert witness Prof. Ruth Kark from Hebrew University. The question in the court wasn’t about ownership it was whether there were significant Bedouin settlers/settlements in the areas now claimed by the Bedouin – Prof. Ruth Kark’s professional opinion – very sparse & nomadic.


2)    The Bedouin themselves openly admit the existence of Bedouin criminality, violence, destruction of property, theft, protection rackets, and wild driving. All these phenomena impact first and foremost on their own communities who suffer the most. They actually yearn for some courageous law enforcement to ensure that their dejected restless young people, are reined in. Non-enforcement is a form of racism.


Let the Bedouin leadership start by condemning illegal land grabs and illegal building. Let that leadership condemn the riots that break out every time Israel tries to search an area for drugs, smuggled/stolen weapons or enforce a demolition order on an illegally built structure.


3)    They explained all these phenomena in terms of the huge disparity between us Jews, and them who live in galvanised iron shacks which are without electricity, running water, education, or other infrastructure.


Explaining away or making excuses for a situation because of disparities doesn’t make it invisible. You can’t build illegally on State lands and expect the State to connect you to the water, electricity and road system especially when there is an offer on the table for full compensation and free land in a town or village that is connected to the water, electricity road system with new schools and clinics.


Avri Gilad

Avri Gilad

4)    The Bedouin have been deeply insulted by every single government plan to regulate their situation for one reason: they are excluded from the decision-making process. As we say in Hebrew, no one talks to them at eye level. No one includes them in the those discussions and planning for their own lives.


Minister Benny Begin has spent the last 18 months speaking to the Bedouin eye to eye. The Bedouin were involved in revising the plan that was ready to be legislated in 2011, the result of which are many changes in the current legislation.


5)    One of the main problems of the Bedouin is bigamy and polygamy. The Bedouin would be pleased to see the state will intervene on this score, and apply sanctions against men who take more than one wife, mainly because it primarily devastates Bedouin society itself. But the state? It prefer to pay social benefits and avert its eyes rather than deal with the matter. Seems strange to me. And cowardly.


Let the Beduouin leadership and the NGO’s that agitate on their behalf first demand an end to bigamy and polgamy and that Israel legislate to outlaw it. When Israel sees the Bedouin leadership moving in this direction it will act.


6)    In Hura, a comparatively new and well managed Bedouin town near Shoket Junction, I saw new residential homes. Adjacent to each home there was a shed or a barn with hundreds of sheep and cattle. The stench was terrible. I realised that you can take the Bedouin out of agriculture, but you cannot take agriculture out of the Bedouin. Forcing all the Bedouin to become townspeople instead of village-based farmers is just another patronising idea that has caused great deal of harm.


 The Israel Land Administration offers Bedouins to lease 1000sqm. for around $1 a year for herding and grazing their livestock.


7)    Bedouins themselves are willing to move into recognised villages and vacate lands where they are too thinly spread to be provided with infrastructure. They demand the recognition of villages that already exist and connecting services to them. It only seems fair to me that if a Jew in Israel can decide whether to live in a rural or urban environment, the same should apply to the Bedouin. Applying different laws to different people – this is the most difficult problem facing Israel.


The Bedouin have exactly the same rights as Jews to decide to live in a legal rural or urban environment. They also have the same laws which state it illegal to grab land and setup homes on state land or someone else’s land. Their demands to retroactively legalise illegally built villages on state land only encourages further illegal behavior.


8)    And more on the subject of infrastructure, even recognised villages do not necessarily have electricity or running water. I saw the ORT schools, Pais (lottery-sponsored) community centres, a lot of good will, but without electricity and water. It’s just not right that any Jew who parks a caravan in the [Occupied] Territories gets connected immediately to the electricity grid and a Bedouin, in a recognised village, needs to cart around water tank trailers and install polluting generators all over the place. That’s not the way to build civic solidarity.


There is no such thing as a government run school without electricity or water!!  Migron, a Jewish village of 300 people declared illegal was totally destroyed due to a court decision. When was the last time an illegal Bedouin village of 300 people was removed?


9)    When a Bedouin leader arises who does not revert to the “it’s their fault” syndrome, such as Hura Mayor Dr Muhammad Al-Nabari (pictured), he manages to bring together the government, the Jewish National Fund, commercial enterprises and Jewish philanthropists from around the world to immensely transform his town. The Bedouin can take their fate in their own hands and take action. The Jewish state is yearning for visionary Bedouins. It would collaborate excitedly with any who gets out of the “victim’s room”.


I agree 100%.  Will those leaders please step forward and condemn Bedouin land theft and illegal building as a necessary first step towards improving the status and the situation of the Bedouin in Israel


10)In short, the Negev’s Jews suffer, the Bedouin suffer, the state does not dare to look straight into the problem and acts in non-transparent fashion. We should gather all those involved in a hotel near the Dead Sea (or a tin shack in Abu-Basma) to discuss the matter together.


Whatever one thinks of the Begin amendments to the Prawer legislation, there have been very serious efforts by the government to have a dialogue with the Bedouin with extremely good intentions and more so a very attractive compromise offer giving the Bedouin approximately 63% of their claims in actual land grants and the other 37% in monetary compensation. Do they expect more than 100% of what they are asking for?


Avri – would appreciate your response as well as a response from those Bedouin who took you around.


The writer works for Regavim, an independent, professional research institute & policy planning think tank and can be contacted on ari@regavim.org. The mission of the Institute is to ensure the responsible, legal & environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands and the return of the rule of law to all areas and aspects of the land and its preservation.


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