There are two articles about the situation of the Bedouin in today’s Hebrew Haaretz (unfortunately only one made it into the English version). Moshe Arens, whilst acknowledging the urgency of the problem and the lack of any integrated government policy directed at addressing it, seems to suggest that the solution lies with the army: by enlisting Bedouin boys more actively we can integrate the Bedouin as full members of Israeli society, just as we have (we have?) successfully done with the Druze minority. He seems to think that the fact that we refuse to recognize Bedouin land rights (even though we’re talking about only 4-6% of the land in the Negev), and therefore don’t supply even the most basic amenities (water, electricity, sewage, schools, clinics etc.) is not the core of the problem. Oren Yiftachel, on the other hand, suggests that the key lies with recognizing the Bedouin villages in the Negev, and integrating them as part of the greater urban district of Beer-Sheva. Guess who I think is on the right track…
A few months ago I visited the unrecognized village of El-Arakib, as part of an ongoing show of solidarity under the auspices of Rabbis for Human Rights. The idea was to be there when the bulldozers showed up to destroy their huts and tents for perhaps the seventeenth time – I’m not sure how many times that happened before the Supreme Court ordered it to stop until legal proceedings brought by the residents have been resolved. The JNF is trying to plant a forest on the land, supported by a huge donation from an evangelical TV station.
The bulldozers never showed up that day, but it gave me the opportunity to see for myself what was going on. It was difficult to describe what was left as a village – a few makeshift structures and tents were all that remained. I spent most of the time hanging out with the women – and surrounded by huge numbers of children. Amongst them was a pregnant girl who couldn’t have been more than fifteen years old. None of the children were in school – and it seemed clear that at that point, at least, their attendance at school was at best sporadic. Before leaving, I went on a tour of the cemetery – a cemetery that contains graves dating back to the end of the 19th century. Despite this, the State insists on its claim that they are trespassers.
It seems so clear to me that despite the considerable economic cost of recognizing the Bedouin villages and providing them with proper services, the current policy is much more expensive – in both long-term economic terms and even more so in terms of the cost to the future of Israeli society. Valuing the Bedouin and other minorities as equal citizens of Israel is the only way we can begin to make them feel like they belong to the State – and that will be infinitely more important and indeed cheaper in the long run than our current policy of discrimination and alienation.