NSWJBD/Honest Reporting Israel Mission Day 3

November 24, 2013 by  
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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


Meeting the locals

Meeting the locals

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.


Explaining the area

Explaining the area

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 .


Terminal-for-Gaza-600Next 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.



7 Responses to “NSWJBD/Honest Reporting Israel Mission Day 3”
  1. Eleonora says:

    My history books are wrong again, Gotta get me some new ones the old ones are filled with lies? Bedouin are not Nomadic ? Are not Arabs? I’m now to understand they are “Indegenous”to the Negev area? I now must “guess”that if they choose to live irresonsibly in the vacinity of a toxic waste dump the problem will eventually take care of itself!
    Hear hear Gil Solomon, couldn’t have said it better.

  2. Sam Rosenwax says:

    What on earth is the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies doing?

    On this current ‘mission’ to Israel, and take note here they are only on day 3, so far they have had a session with Shatil and an upcoming one with Peace Now.


    Peace Now?

    Is the New Israel Fund running the place ?

    Appears that way to me and would to any thinking person.

  3. Lynda says:

    🙂 Gil, of course we have heard of Regavim and are in touch with them regularly. We also had Nitzan Darshan-Leitner talk about Regavim’s legal work on the issue today and Gerald Steinberg as well, in fact. We chose to have the Beersheva Municipality Bedouin office provide the govt’s viewpoint this time and will no doubt have Ari next time. I understand you’d rathe there be no next time, but we are confident there will be and that again, we will provide on that trip a full spectrum of views on each very complex issue.

    • Gil Solomon says:


      Ari’s reply directly below says it all.

      I feel you people have lost all credibility.

    • Ari says:

      Hi Lynda, I am happy both Nitzana and Gerald spoke of the work Regavim is doing in the Negev. As an ex-sydneysider, I look forward to next time presenting directly to the JBD group on an issue that occupies most of my time, these days…..Till then anyone can go to http://www.regavim.org/en or email me to learn more.

  4. Ari says:

    Sorry to say Gil, NSWJBD was happy to hear from the NIF (damaging Israel daily) but wasn’t prepared to allow us (Regavim) present the truth about the false narratives heard in the Negev, such as, are the Bedouin really the indigenous people of the Negev? Also any visit needs to take in the major Bedouin towns to see how the majority of Bedouin live, not only some outpost setup that makes up a very small minority where btw each and every resident has been offered free land and full services if only they would move to a larger village. Obviously squatting illegally in the vicinity of a toxic waste dump is irresponsible but any proposal to provide them better conditions away from the waste is immediately protested by the NIF and their ilk. One has to wonder whose welfare they really have in mind.

  5. Gil Solomon says:

    Mel & Brenda,

    Yours is the 3rd of these reports which indicates to me that you people had scant understanding of any of the issues before departing for Israel.
    Have any of you heard of Regavim, an organisation set up by Ari Briggs a former Sydneysider now living in Israel?

    Your sob story about the Bedouin is something I don’t buy and the following is written to provide you with a dose of reality.

    For Israel to have allowed Bedouin squatters to build on privately owned State land in the Negev over the last few decades is appalling. Israel has made a great error of judgement in not standing up to hostile NGOs, the UN and foreign Governments who interfere and support bogus claims that the Bedouin are indigenous to this one area of the Middle East.

    How many more times does Regavim have to go to the Supreme Court and show that the Bedouin have no case period. For Regavim to have to fight by taking the Israeli Government to court to enforce its own laws in order to keep Jewish lands in Jewish hands is appalling.

    It seems that Israeli laws do not apply where Bedouin are concerned.The fact that they once roamed around the Middle East tending their flocks does not prove ownership and for Israel to have succumbed to pressure from wherever to, in many cases allow these people to register vacant land in the Land Registry as privately held is appalling. What a precedent!

    You go on that: “through multiple translators, and some contested translations, we heard the story of one tribe and their quest for land through the courts.” That’s it? For your information as disclosed by Ari Briggs in his report about 6 months ago there were 140 cases tied up in litigation.

    Additionally, it seems that hardly any illegally constructed homes these days are demolished let alone whole villages that have sprung up.

    A few other points. With illegal villages that have popped up all over the Negev one can only wonder what damage is being or has been done to any water aquifers in the region. Then there is the report of human trafficing, theft of highway signage and general crime emananting from these villages.

    Maybe you should forget about Patrick and go listen to Ari Briggs and see what he has to say about the true story that is unfolding in the Negev.

    On the issue of national security these Bedouin villages could impede future IDF manoeuvres in the region. Ever thought to ask this question?

    This is the 3rd report you people have sent and to be brutally frank they enlighten nobody and could in fact do the opposite.

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