I live in Metar, a township of almost 10,000 inhabitants in the Northern Negev,
just three kilometers south of the southern extremity of the West Bank. My house
is on the edge of the community and from my window I see the houses of the
neighbouring Beduin township, Houra.
Since I am a light sleeper I am
invariably awake when, at approximately 4 a.m. every morning, the muezzein call
the faithful to prayer, reminding me that I live in an area where Jews and Arabs
share the limited space, albeit in completely segregated
Over the past weekend, there were different noises coming
from across the hill. These were the sounds of the demonstration against the
decision by the government to go ahead with the implementation of the
recommendations of the Prawer Committee concerning the future of Beduin
settlement in the region.
The demonstration in Houra was one of the
largest and, by all accounts, most violent of those which took place throughout
the country – from Haifa in the north to Houra in the south – this past weekend.
On the other side of Metar is another Beduin township, Laqiya, and beyond
Laqiya, on the main Tel Aviv-Beersheva highway lies the town of Rahat, the
largest of all the Beduin towns, which has become a sort of capital city for the
approximately 200,000 Beduin who reside in this region.
Houra, Laqiya and
Rahat were three of the seven Beduin townships created by the government of
Israel aimed at moving the Beduin out of the encampments and the traditional
tent communities into a more fixed, western lifestyle. Using the arguments of
westernization and modernization, previous governments succeeded in relocating
approximately half of the Beduin into these townships, providing services that
any municipality provides to its inhabitants – schools, electricity, public
services, albeit at a much lower level and quality than that enjoyed by their
Following the implementation of the Camp David Peace
Accords between Israel and Egypt, the Beduin were moved away from those areas in
close proximity to the border between the two states, and concentrated in a
triangle between Beersheva, Arad and the Green Line. The government has made
continuous efforts to persuade the remaining Beduin to relocate into the fixed
communities, but to no avail.
As the younger Beduin adults have become
more educated and politically aware, and as the community has undergone rapid
demographic growth, the numbers remaining in the “unrecognized” villages has
increased, dispersing throughout the region in a diversity of encampents,
villages and hamlets – none of which are formally recognized by the state and
which therefore lack all forms of public and municipal services.
the Beduin community the Prawer recommendations are seen as just another attempt
by the government to force them off their ancestral lands for political reasons.
They argue that the Jewish state is not prepared to recognize the indigenous
rights of land ownership for those communities on the “Arab” side of the
political equation, and that the socio-economic arguments which are used to
justify the governments’ policies are but an excuse for more sinister political
Among the Israeli Right, including much of the present
government, the Prawer Committee does not go far enough in that it allows too
many of the existing communities to remain in situ and to become formally
recognized by the state. They argue that all of the illegal settlements, set up
without the necessary planning permits and licences, should be forcefully
removed and that a strategic regional plan for the Beduin should be implemented
which would necessitate the concentration of the Beduin community in a
relatively small number of large townships, all established according to the
planning and zoning laws of the state.
They further argue that these
lands do not belong to the Beduin, that the Beduin have no proof of ownership
and that the state must prevent the continued “creeping annexation” of state
lands by the Beduin community.
The fact that it is the same groups in
government who also support the creeping annexation of the West Bank by the
establishment of illegal settlements on Palestinian land is an irony which seems
lost on them.
For their part, the Beduin claim that these lands have
always belonged to them, but say they are unable to show any form of land
registration or title deeds from an era when no such formal system of land
registration was ever carried out. Oral tradition, as is the case with many
indigenous groups throughout the world, is sufficient proof, they argue, of
uninterrupted residence in these communities.
Like so much else in the
Israel-Arab and Israel-Palestine arena, the enflamed conflict with the Beduin is
a lose-lose situation. A community which, in the formative years of the state
was prepared to find ways of coexistence, no longer sees itself as being part of
the democracy whose ground rules include forceful removal from what they argue
are their ancestral lands.
The second and third generation of Beduin
leaders and politicians are highly educated and far more politically aware and
sophisticated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, and are able to
undertake the political struggle which their parents’ generation was not
The state, for its part, has dug its heels in. Some government
members would like to reopen the whole matter in the light of what they see as
too soft a policy. One of the main architects behind the recommendations was
none other than former minister Benny Begin, not known for his centrist or
left-wing views, and whom the right wing now accuses of having acted too
They are happy to exploit the recent demonstrations and renewed
violence in an attempt to prevent the implementation of the recommendations and
with a view to implementing a more draconian policy.
It has been argued
that 80 percent of the Beduin community are prepared to go along with the Prawer
recommendations on the condition that the government fully honor its commitment
to recognize the remaining settlements as fully fledged townships and local
municipalities – although they are highly sceptical that even the recognized
Beduin communities will ever share the same levels of services and development
enjoyed by their Jewish neighbors. All socio-economic analyses of the country’s
settlement network clearly indicate that the Beduin communities have the lowest
levels of development and the worst system of public and municipal services in
The notion of shared landscapes is totally belied by the
fact that the Jewish and Beduin communities live in almost totally segregated
and separate communities.
Each insists on maintaining control and to that
effect uses political and historical arguments which do not allow for
compromise. Based on the events of the past weekend, the situation between the
State of Israel and the Beduin is going to get a lot worse before it ever
becomes any better – if it ever does.The writer is dean of the Faculty
of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben Gurion University. The views expressed
are his alone.