Originally posted on Jnews.
Last week the Israeli government approved a new plan to displace 30,000 native Bedouin Arabs of the Negev/Naqab from their homes. “The Program for Regulating Bedouin Settlement in the Negev” is the biggest dispossession plan of Palestinians issued by Israel since 1948. It would forcibly relocate about half of the Bedouin population from their existing villages, which are older than the state of Israel itself, into existing small towns or townships, designated specifically for the Bedouins by the state.
Historically, there have been only two other Israeli plans of forced-migration of Palestinians on a mass scale since 1948: the banishment of refugees fleeing during the 1967 war, and the ongoing revocation of residency status and civic rights from native Palestinians of “East Jerusalem”.
In the first case, about 300,000 Palestinians fled to Jordan during the 1967 war, after Israeli forces either drove them away, or less often, directly “transferred” them to the east bank of the Jordan river. Many of them thus became refugees for the second time: they had already lost their homes and lands in 1948, and were obliged to live in refugee camps in the West Bank until the 1967 war displaced them a second time. Like in 1948, the new refugees were not allowed to return to their property, most of their houses and villages were quickly demolished by the Israeli army, and their lands were confiscated in violation of international law and treaties.
However, unlike in 1948 (and early 1950s), this time it was hard for Israeli security forces to claim the exodus had occurred voluntarily, “in the fog of war”, or “to allow the Israeli State to exist.” Prominent Israeli leaders also explicitly expressed, prior to the war, that another war would be an opportunity to “complete the unfinished work we started in ‘48”. Following UN resolutions and an agreement with Jordan, Israel agreed to facilitate their return, but due to the arbitrary conditions it later set, in practice only 40,000 were readmitted to the West Bank. Israel recently anchored their expulsion (together with that of 1948 refugees) in “The Law for Securing the Denial of [Palestinian] Right of Return 2001”.
The second mass-displacement is an ongoing effort to reduce the number of Palestinians with the status of “Permanent Residency” in Jerusalem. The status was given by Israel to the Palestinian residents of what is often called “East Jerusalem”, a large territory annexed to Israel from the West Bank after the 1967 war. However, Permanent Residency can be considered anything but a permanent status, as it is continuously revoked from Palestinians who cannot demonstrate that their “Centre of Life” is in municipal Jerusalem – even if they still reside in Israel or the West Bank, or left for a few years to study or work and wish to return home. According to official Israeli numbers, more than 11,000 Palestinians have already lost their legal status since the confiscation policy started in 1995, a number which continues to grow. They in fact lose the right to stay in the country, their property is often confiscated, and their families often also consequently leave.
Admitting ethnic dispossession
Unlike previous plans, the current plan for the displacement of the Bedouin will not deny its victims the right to stay in the country, but it will still confiscate their lands and demolish dozens of existing villages, in order to confine their residents to a smaller territory.
Officially, Israel denies this is its purpose, insisting that the program aims to enforce law and order, and improve construction, planning and housing in the Negev desert in southern Israel. But the mayor of the Regional Council of Ramat Ha-Negev recently disclosed the true essence of the ongoing efforts to evict residents from existing Bedouin villages. In the Israeli documentary “Blue ID Card” he admitted on camera  that the regional planning efforts have nothing to do with law, planning, justice or security, but rather with the ambition for ethnic domination on the ground:
“I want the Negev to be Jewish […] The Jewish settlement must grow, must continue. At the same time we must develop the Bedouin settlement, because if we don’t make it permanent now, we will find ourselves in 20 years, not with 45 [Bedouin] settlements, but with 90 settlements. […] What do you mean by “they also deserve”!? You know what – after all this, it is no longer possible to conceal the core problem, which is the struggle over land. Who does this land belong to – us, or them? Time will tell.”
“Us or Them”
Time indeed is key for Zionism, but it doesn’t necessarily work to its advantage. Despite Israeli governmental hopes and efforts to settle the desert with Jews, Israeli-Jews were never keen on living in the desert, to put it mildly. The first Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion even went to live there, trying to set an example for others; but, with the exception of (mainly Mizrahi) immigrant communities, forcibly sent to the dessert and often leaving it later, and a few self-styled ‘cowboys‘, Jews rarely choose to live in the Negev.
The more Israel failed to bring Jews to the desert, the more their efforts to “minimise” the presence of its other residents grew. Jews voted with their feet, and their leaders with bulldozers, channelling their growing frustration of Israeli-Jews towards indigenous residents.
In recent years, the voices calling for Bedouin rights grew stronger, finding partners among egalitarian Israelis, and gradually became more present in Hebrew public discussion. This process ran parallel to a general trend that enabled Palestinian history and narratives to be heard more clearly in Israel. As a result, the will of governments to subordinate the Bedouins became more urgent and determined, as expressed in the toughening force, frequency and cruelty of expulsion efforts.
Despite the fact that there was and is no problem of population density in the Negev, this year alone the unrecognised Bedouin village of Al-Araqib was violently demolished 26 times(!), leaving women, children and men without a roof, in the middle of the desert, usually at night and in extreme weather conditions, and often using illegal methods (including false and violent arrests, shooting, damage to personal belongings and to water sources, despite court orders to the contrary).
Bedouin ownership in the Negev
There is no dispute over the historical presence and ownership of the Bedouins in the Negev. They have lived there for generations, long before Zionism. The map at the head of this post, sketched by the Ottomans in the late 19th century, shows arrangements of ownership among tribes over the Negev, when the majority of Bedouins had already settled in permanent settlements. The Ottomans, and later the British Mandate generally respected these arrangements, and the Zionist movement recognized them de-facto by occasionally purchasing land from them for settlements. Following the 1948 war and its exodus, most Negev Bedouins became refugees. According to Israeli sources, only 13,000 of 76,500 Bedouins remained in the Negev following the war. An ethos often nurtured among Zionists, is of the Negev as an ownerless wasteland, epitomising slogans like “a land without a people awaiting a people without a land”, and “make the [empty] desert bloom”. But the land was not empty, but emptied, and Zionists, on the whole, did not come.
Following the war, Israel restricted the remaining Bedouin citizens to a relatively small territory called “the boundary region” (‘Siyag‘), in order to better impose military rule on them, and confiscated most their lands. A second map (right) shows the area into which they were corralled (Please take a moment to appreciate the difference from the first map).
Interestingly enough, unlike most Palestinians, Bedouins overall waived their claim for the land thus grabbed, and no longer struggle for it. For over sixty years Bedouins in Israel desperately tried to prove that they have cast their lots with the Jewish state, but apparently phobias and the fantasies on making the Negev “Jewish” are stronger than reality. Bedouins gained nothing from their pact with Israel. Israel has persistently refused to “recognise” or provide any service to dozens of Bedouins villages, and the current plan will evict the remaining Bedouins from the small area they are already confined to.