Israel's Negev 'frontier'
| By Ben White
On this year's Land Day, tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel marched in Sakhnin, an Israeli city in the Lower Galilee, to protest against past and present systematic discrimination. But with the focus on Israel's policies of land confiscation, there was significance in a second protest that day.
The historical context for the crisis facing Palestinian Bedouins today is important, as the Israeli government and Zionist groups try to propagate the idea that the problems, so far as they exist, are 'humanitarian' or 'cultural'.
During the Nakba, the vast majority of the Palestinian Bedouins in the Negev - from a pre-1948 population of 65,000 to 100,000 - were expelled. Those who remained were forcibly concentrated by the Israeli military in an area known as the 'siyag' (closure).
The defining dynamic between the Israeli state and its Palestinian minority has been the expropriation of Arab land and its transfer to state or Jewish ownership.
An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 Palestinian citizens in the Negev live in dozens of 'unrecognised villages' - communities that the state refuse to acknowledge exist despite the fact that some pre-date the establishment of Israel and others are the result of the Israeli military's forced relocation drives.
One approach the Israeli state has taken is to create, or 'legalise', a small number of towns and villages in the hope that more Palestinians will move into these areas.
The Israeli government, meanwhile, along with agencies like the Jewish National Fund and Jewish Agency, are preoccupied with the idea of 'developing the Negev', and boosting its population.
Speakers included Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, Silvan Shalom, the Negev and Galilee development minister, and Ariel Atias, the housing minister.
It is not, therefore, hard to read between the lines when Israeli policy makers and Zionist officials from organisations like the Jewish National Fund talk about 'developing the Negev'.
The Negev is the location for classic, unfiltered Zionist frontier discourse.
The idea of the 'empty' land sits uncomfortably alongside another important emphasis - 'protection' or 'redemption'.
There were no illusions about the meaning of this discourse, and its consequences, at a February conference which brought together academics and experts specialising in issues facing the Bedouins of the Negev.
A number of the organisers of, and speakers at, 'Rethinking the Paradigms: Negev Bedouin Research 2000+' were themselves from the Negev, where overcrowding, home demolitions, and dispossession are features of everyday life for Palestinians.
The conference was one of the first of its kind in the UK, sponsored by the British Academy and Exeter University's Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies and Politics Department.
Western media coverage of the structural discrimination and discriminatory land and housing policies experienced by Palestinian Bedouins has generally been poor.
Furthermore, the international 'peace process' has meant that the question of Palestine has become the story of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian citizens of Israel have been left out, a situation exacerbated by the media mentality of 'if it bleeds it leads'. Core issues facing Palestinian Bedouins - land control, zoning, bureaucratic and physical boundaries of exclusion - are not considered suitable fare.
This nonexistent or weak coverage is regrettable, particularly as Israel's policies in the Negev towards the Palestinian Bedouin minority are highly illuminating for understanding the state's position vis-à-vis the Palestinians in a more general sense.
Moreover, tension is building in the Negev over Israel's continued apartheid-like policies. Palestinian Bedouins continue to resist the strategies of the Israeli state and Zionist agencies, through legal battles, and grassroots organisation, like the Regional Council for the Unrecognised Villages.
Perhaps one of the main kinds of resistance being offered by the Palestinians in the Negev is their determination to stay. This steadfastness is a direct refusal of a strategy of home demolitions, dispossession and Judaisation.
The recent protest in al-Araqib could only be a foretaste of things to come, as Palestinian Bedouins demand equality from a state seemingly unwilling to change.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.