Ayman Odeh (center holding walking stick), head of the Joint List party, and his supporters stand outside the Knesset, March 29.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
“I hope they will give us rights, there is empathy from Jewish citizens, they came to join us, including peace activists; and I think with our party having 13 seats in the Knesset we have strength to influence,” said Rahat psychologist Deyab Nsasra, Sunday afternoon.
Across the road representatives of unrecognized Beduin villages in the Negev, led by Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh, were entering the President’s Residence.
“It’s a shame that since Israel’s independence there has not been a change [in the attitude towards Arab citizens], after all Ishmael and Abraham were close to each other; it’s a real shame there is such racism,” Nsasra said referring to the shared origins of Jews and Muslims.
He was one of hundreds who had joined the long march from the Negev to present a list of demands to President Reuven Rivlin. Rivlin was out of the country Sunday for Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral, but Odeh was met by the president’s wife, Nechama Rivlin. The president had spoken to Odeh last Wednesday assuring him he would encourage action on the pressing needs of the Negev Beduin.
Sunday’s march saw the group of 100 or more activists walk past the Knesset and through Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood on the way to the residence. There was a noticeable lack of participation from left-wing parties, such as Meretz or the Zionist Union.
However several left-leaning supporters of Hapoel Jerusalem soccer team showed up, as did Arab women’s rights activists like Hanan Alsanah, who joined the march with her family.
Fadi Msamra, the head of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, was upbeat.
“I think we have managed to put this on the table with the media and everyone is talking about it, we will see in the coming days what is the response.
Our struggle began long ago and will continue.”
“We are good citizens and we demand equality, there is room for all of us, we are for education and welfare; we are part of this democratic country,” said MK Taleb Abu Arar.
But he cautioned that the treatment of Beduin was a classic example of racism, and “if it is not good for us, it is not good for the Jews in the Negev.”
A representative of the small hamlet of Arakib dressed in traditional Beduin attire with a keffiyeh, was more to the point.
“Can you imagine in any other democratic country a place being demolished 82 times like we have suffered, I never heard of such a thing.”
In a response to the protest, Ari Briggs, director of Regavim, a nongovernmental organization monitoring land use in Israel, said that the narrative of struggle for rights should be balanced by Beduin responsibility.
“A solution is needed to the ever growing problem of lawlessness in the Negev. Instead of grandiose statements and all or nothing plans, what is needed is a responsible representative who can convince his electorate that the law needs to be followed and a compromise found.”
He argued that cases like Arakib represents “bluster, not truth” and their claims to land rights like it were based on fiction.