When Israel Met the Bedouin

There’s a lot of stuff being written about the Prawer-Begin plan at the moment.

Really the news stories concern the demonstrations and civil unrest taking place in various parts of the country. That’s not actually reflective of the issues though.

Yesterday I met with Ami Tesler the 30 year veteran of Israel’s Shin Bet (or internal security service) who is responsible for implementation of a plan that doesn’t yet exist.

That’s right all of this unrest concerns a plan that hasn’t actually been written yet. The date for final execution of this plan is 2035. That’s right over 20 years from now. Even he doesn’t yet know which Bedouin villages will become ‘recognised’ and which won’t. Though even to speak of ‘villages’ is a misnomer since the Bedouin haven’t built villages, or at least not as someone who has grown up in the UK (like me) would understand them.

What is referred to as a Bedouin village refers to nothing more than a collection of people living near one another. Perhaps some live in houses, others in tents and others in ramshackle dwellings. There may or may not be some kind of infrastructure there such as a road.

Essentially the problem revolves around one basic principle, Israel has grown so large that the needs of the population have extended to settling in the Negev. Up until now we had the luxury of being able to basically ignore the Bedouin and let them do their thing in the desert without suffering through the controversy of moving them into villages and towns. Now we can’t.

To those who think this is about land, you’re right. It is about land or more accurately land development. Those people wishing for such things as a high speed rail link between Tel Aviv and Eilat or an extension of Route 6 further South will find that the sparse Bedouin in the area is the major stumbling block. Also the IDF is looking to build a military base in an un-populated area that is claimed by Bedouin as their land. The government is looking to buy the land from the Bedouin and compensate them with a smaller amount of land elsewhere. There are also settlements (no not ‘those’ kinds of settlements) planned in the Negev that can’t be built because of Bedouin land claims in the desert. But also I think we have reached a point where it has simply become the end. How much longer can we go on having a populace that is simply off the grid, a populace without access to health care, clean water, banking and essentially all of the services that most of us take for granted? We need to do something even if it means civil unrest.

But it’s not that simple. This is Israel, forcing an Arab to do something isn’t going to go down well with anyone. Forcing Bedouin to sell land they claim as theirs to the state is going to be something people take issue with. All the other stuff is ignored. The new villages being built, the new schools and communities that the government have planned for them are completely ignored, lost in the claims of ethnic cleansing and apartheid.

This is just a taste of some of the facts, figures and information I took from my meeting with Ami, there is so much more as he treated me to a 90 minute long insider’s look into the situation of the Bedouin in the Negev. There’s a lot more coming.