Opinion

Grumpy Old Man: We’re all Palestine

Adopting a famous brand apparently can work wonders for anyone with a gripe.

The Beduin living in the Negev are now 'Palestinian Beduin'
Photo by: REUTERS
Last Saturday’s “Day of Rage” against the so-called Prawer- Begin bill certainly drew attention to (choose one) the plight of Negev Beduin targeted for removal from the lands of their heritage, or the problem of Negev Beduin whose way of life directly conflicts with the norms of modern statehood.

No matter which way you look at it (I see relevance in both) the issue certainly requires action, and if you choose the first option, what better way to draw the world’s attention than to invoke an old standby? In case anyone hasn’t heard, the Beduin living in the Negev (and, I presume, those living in the Galilee) are now “Palestinian Beduin,” just as Arab citizens of Israel are now “Palestinian Israelis.”

This is okay with me if it’s okay with the Beduin. Last time I checked, though, they liked plain “Beduin” just fine. In fact, they insisted on it. Geographically and in terms of religion they have a lot in common with Arabs and Palestinians, yet they are neither, they’d always bristle to me during interviews.

But if they now want it “Palestinian,” that is thanks in great part to what I assume are well-meaning sympathizers both here and abroad, who have taken extreme umbrage with Prawer-Begin.

“The Israeli government is pushing ahead with this plan despite the Palestinian Beduin community’s complete rejection of the plan and condemnation from human rights groups,” said an open letter recently signed by over 50 British writers, musicians and artists.

The Guardian reported the story (it had to – it’s where the letter was published) and without quotation marks headlined it: “Britons protest over Israel plan to remove 70,000 Palestinian Beduin.” It is only deep down in the story that the paper, almost in passing, mentioned the fact that these Beduin are Israelis, complete with citizenship.

The New York Times, grounded a bit more in journalistic methods and tradition (a whole lot of people reading this column will probably disagree) chose not to use the modifier “Palestinian,” although in reporting on Saturday’s riots it found a way to sneak the term in: “In scenes reminiscent of the Palestinian uprisings in the West Bank, protesters hurled stones at police forces, burned tires and blocked a main road for hours…” The only time the paper mentioned the matter of the Beduin’s citizenship was by quoting – and, like The Guardian, placing it far down in the story – part of a statement issued by the Israeli government body overseeing Negev Beduin development, as if declaring: “They said it, we didn’t.”

If there's a takeaway from all this, it’s that the term “Palestinian” gets people’s attention. Hence, a few suggestions.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, seems a nice enough guy, but apparently not nice enough to get the world behind his struggle to go home. He’s been away from Tibet since 1959, when he went into exile following the failed uprising against Chinese rule.

That’s not quite as far back as 1948, but it might work if next time his pal Richard Gere appears on Ellen, he mentions the Palestinian Tibetans.

This would probably get the attention of Vanessa Redgrave or Elvis Costello. (Roger Waters will be too busy juggling his obligations to the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement with the time he needs to spend beating a dead career in his Maslowian quest for love, esteem and self-actualization.) Christians living in the northeastern Nigerian states of Bono, Adamawa, Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe and Kano could use a boost, too. They’ve been getting hammered (or, should I say, scimitarred) by members of the Boko Haram, whose idea of fun is to visit a church on Sunday and light a flame, though not of the votive type, and leave behind a few hacked and skewered Christians to further boost their sense of Boko-Islamic fulfillment. Aside from a few reports by the Associated Press and Reuters, these activities don’t seem to fall under the rubric of news.

Perhaps if the area’s Christians started describing themselves as being of the same religion as the few thousand embattled Christians left in the West Bank and the handful remaining in the Gaza Strip, it might cause a few ears to prick up. Palestinian Nigerians? We must help! Elsewhere on the continent, can you imagine how quickly the UN’s Boutros Boutros-Ghali would have sprung into motion in 1994 had Rwanda’s Tutsis called themselves the Palestinian Tutsis? The genocide by Kalashnikov and machete of anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million Tutsis began after the aircraft of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down, also claiming the life of Burundi president Cyprien Ntaryamira, like Habyarimana a Hutu. The assassination did not emerge from a vacuum, with decades of Rwandan tensions between the minority Tutsis, who had ruled as a monarchy and then under German and finally Belgian control, and the majority Hutus, who gained power once Belgium left. Things had gotten so bad that the UN even sent a peacekeeping force – which, once the bloodbath began, was ordered pretty much to look the other way.

Imagine what might have happened had the Tutsis said it was the Israel Air Force that shot down Habyarimana’s plane. After all, it’s not as if the IAF had never operated before in equatorial Africa (see: Entebbe, 1976).

More recently, with civil unrest in both Thailand and Ukraine, perhaps the people in the streets should take to wearing the white and black keffiyeh of the Palestinians, whether as a trendy scarf around the neck or in full Yasser Arafat mode, where it is worn on the head and draped over the right shoulder in the roughly triangular shape of pre-1948 Palestine. While the stories coming out of these two countries are currently at the top of the news broadcasts (even on Al Jazeera), they’d gain a lot more staying power with a Palestinian hook.

The tactic need not be reserved solely for ethnic or diplomatic issues. Can you imagine how quickly the world’s homeless would find shelter and sustenance if they somehow could adopt a Palestinian symbol? An UNWRA tent might do.

How about the underpaid “associates” of the American retail giant Walmart? Their plight saw light of day only when a photo went viral showing large plastic bins at a Walmart in Ohio with the sign: “Please donate food items here so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.” Alas, Thanksgiving came and went, as will Christmas. If the associates want staying power, perhaps they should invite Leila Khaled over for a store hijacking or two.

And let’s not forget the Arctic seal.

Why not stage a flotilla to Gaza? That will get plenty of screen time, and perhaps even support from Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

All of these, like the Negev Beduin and certainly the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, are serious issues and worthy of our attention. It’s not fair to make light of them. But it invites ridicule when specious arguments are used to compare one thing to another that has little, if anything, to do with it, even if the idea is only to gain traction in the world’s consciousness.

The Negev Beduin are Israelis, so when this is all over I have a feeling the world would be wise to lose the Palestinian bit. The Beduin, as they themselves will quickly tell you, have a pride all their own.


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