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In the name of Zionism - Judaisation of the Negev

Haaretz, September 19th, 2008Demolishing an unrecognised Bedouin village in the Negev

Dr. Erez Tzfadia

Twenty-four official evacuation orders are stirring up emotions here. No, it is not West Bank settlements that have been told to shut down, but single-family farms built early in the decade in the Negev.

The Wine Route Farms, as they are known collectively, were a joint project of the Ramat Negev Regional Council, the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund and the state. In approving the project, retroactively, in May 2003, the government stated that "settlement by individuals is an implementation of government policy to develop the Negev and Galilee and protect state lands in the Negev." The terminology has a subtext that suggests the need for "Judaization" of the Negev as a means of thwarting attempts by the Arab-Bedouin population to take control of public lands.

The Israel Lands Administration and the planning authorities have legal procedures for establishing single-family farms, but they were disregarded in this case, with the farms gaining approval only retroactively. No less significant was the fact that lands on which they were built were allocated without proper bids being solicited. However, like many other informal settlements that have been established to strengthen the Jewish hold on the Negev and the Galilee, neither of these facts prevented government ministries and local authorities from divvying up state land in lots of 400 dunams (100 acres), connecting the farms to the electricity and water grids, and dedicating hundreds of thousands of shekels to their development. It was assumed by all parties involved that, since the act of settling the land is deeply inherent to Zionist ideology, these farms would eventually be legalized by the authorities.

But something went wrong. A year ago, the attorney general served the farms with evacuation orders, arguing that the land had been allocated to them illegally. The farmers, it seemed, were being made to pay the price for improper decisions on the part of senior officials who thought they were acting in the name of Zionism.

In a petition to the High Court of Justice last spring (a case yet to be heard), the farmers argued that the state was discriminating against them. They claimed that Arab-Bedouin residents of the Negev consistently build illegally, but are never served evacuation orders.

The facts on the ground reveal quite a different picture. For six decades now, the state has refused to recognize the existence of 46 Bedouin villages in the Negev, some of them more than 400 years old; in other cases, their populations were transferred during the 1950s, mainly to the east of Be'er Sheva, under orders from military governors. Even a new master plan for the Be'er Sheva region, which was supposed to offer a solution for the unrecognized villages, ignores their existence, proposing instead that the Bedouin move to one of the seven permanent Bedouin townships established by the authorities in the 1970s and '80s. These townships are regularly ranked among Israel's poorest municipalities. From the Bedouin point of view, relocating to the townships means abandonment of their traditional way of life, of agriculture and of a demand - which the state rejects outright - for recognition of their ownership of the land.

For the 80,000 Bedouin residents in unrecognized villages, life in Israel means seeing their homes demolished by the hundreds, on the grounds they were built illegally. It means having their fields plowed under, and not being connected to water, electricity or sewerage infrastructure. In many cases, education and health services are provided only after petitions are made to the court. This is why the claim of discrimination by the Wine Route Farms owners is especially absurd.

Then there is the exposure to environmental hazards. Bedouin who live in Wadi al Na'am, situated near the Ramat Hovav industrial-waste dump, suffer the country's highest rates of infant mortality, illness and miscarriages.

Although the Wine Route Farms may be on the way to being dismantled, the policy of Jewish settlement in the Negev continues to be pursued. After all, many consider the Zionist imperative to settle the land to be above the law. It appears that the development of the Negev is something intended exclusively for Jews.

Nonetheless, in recent years there have been signs of change. Thanks to human rights organizations, like Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights, and environmentalist groups, the government has recognized 10 Bedouin villages. And a new committee, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg, has been tasked with coming up with a new overall policy for the Bedouin. At the same time, there is a growing movement pushing to stop the settlement of undeveloped parts of the Negev, on environmental grounds. Today's trend is toward more dense residential living, not sparsely inhabited and remote farms.

These developments represent very initial steps in the right direction, but real change will only be achieved when state planning takes into account the unrecognized Bedouin villages and provides a sustainable solution for their residents. Nevertheless, these steps breed hope that a new era of co-existence in the Negev may be closer than we think, and that the vision of developing Israel's south for both Jews and Arabs alike could soon begin to take form.

Dr. Erez Tzfadia is a senior lecturer of public policy and administration at Sapir College and a board member of Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights.

The article above from Haaretz is by Dr. Erez Tzfadia, who is affiliated with BIMKOM, a highly respected organization of planners and architects which works in both Israel and the West Bank to strengthen democracy and human rights in the field of planning ( ).

The article addresses the inequality in treatment of current and future communities in the Negev based on whether said communities are Jewish or Bedouin. The author discusses "Judaization" of the Negev as the spoken or unspoken reason for different policies according to ethnicity in land use, home demolitions, education, healthcare and the environment, and the need for sustainable development in the region.

Last year I witnessed a very personal exchange that exemplifies these conditions. I went on a "Negev Unplugged" tour sponsored by BUSTAN (a Bedouin and Jewish environmental and social justice I now work for.) These tours are meant to expose visitors and residents to the real issues of the region—beyond the stereotypical "camels, carpets and coffee." On that tour, there were a few Bedouin women from Rahat who were among the participants. We stopped at one of the large Jewish farms that are described in this article, and talked at length with the owner, who was very bitter toward the Israeli government because he had not received official permission to be on the land. As it turned out, the land that the Jewish farmer was using was the historical grazing grounds of one of the Bedouin women's husbands' family. She was greatly moved to see the land for the first time, and she spoke very emotionally about the decision to move to an urban township and what that had cost her family. She spoke without anger and she and the farmer had a very interesting exchange. At the end of the conversation, however, he made a final, illuminative comment that showed he didn't really understand the underlying issues. He clearly felt that he was not receiving the special treatment he believed he was entitled to as a Jewish Israeli. Israel, he said, with anger and incredulity, "was treating him like a Bedouin."

Rebecca Vilkomerson - Jewish Peace News
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