BEDUIN BOYS walk toward the ‘unrecognized’ village of Um Al-Hiram in the Negev..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
"Time bomb,” “demographic threat,” “takeover of the Negev” – these are just some of the terms used in the discourse regarding the Beduin population in the Negev. The events surrounding home demolitions in the Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran, resulting in the deaths of a policeman and an Israeli citizen who resided in the unrecognized village, were just the brutal culmination of a longstanding campaign of fear. For years we’ve been told that this population is doubling in size every decade, that it poses a genuine threat to the Jewish character of Israel, and that the Beduin’s unruly lifestyle threatens the daily lives and security of neighboring communities in the Negev.
But let me offer a different perspective: this is a rapidly growing population, nearly half of whom are below 18, with a low rate of participation in the labor force, especially among women, and an interest in social mobility and exposure to life-changing technologies. In dry economic terms, devoid of politics, identity discourse and nationalism, there is undoubtedly tremendous potential here for an economy that must keep growing if it is to maintain its relative advantage. Such as Israel’s economy, that has (almost) no natural resources other than human resources, yet has succeeded against all odds in distinguishing itself from the surrounding region and merging with the vanguard of progress, ranking only second after Silicon Valley in the number of start-ups it has produced. Not for nothing is Israel considered a start-up nation.
Thinking in purely economic terms, ensuring that this steam engine stays on track requires as many passengers as possible, regardless of tribe, race and color and certainly regardless of how they vote or pray. Even more so as we are charging full steam ahead toward a junction: one track threatens to bring Israel down to third-world status, while the other leads to economic progress that will enable the country to finance its vast security needs and maintain its presence in the Middle East, offering its residents an island of order amid the raging sea surrounding it.
Add to this the fact that Israeli society is no longer composed of a majority and minority but, rather, several tribes (secular, religious, nationalist, ultra-Orthodox and Arab) living together, and it becomes clear why this change in perspective is advantageous: to revive our society, so that even the Beduin can stop being the “threat” they are today and become an asset that helps ensure a sustainable future.
The same holds for the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities. We need everyone on board. We cannot afford to exclude certain population groups by granting tickets on the basis of identification with Zionism and the Jewish majority. Maybe that was possible when the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox were in the minority, but statistics foretell a near future in which these communities will account for nearly half the population of the country.
The time has come, therefore, for a new vision, one that is shared by all tribes living here – at the very least so that we can continue maintaining our home. Every passing moment means wasted time and greater danger. We are, after all, approaching a junction.
We need a vision that rises above divisive identity politics and lets everyone rally around a new, pragmatic idea. A vision that places advantage before identity, transforming the principle of equality from a right graciously granted by the majority to the minority into an interest shared by all sectors of society. (In a few years no tribe will have a clear majority anyway.) A vision that offers equality as a mutual interest as a guarantee that everyone can maximize their abilities and contribute their part to driving the train forward. Equal educational opportunities for Beduin children or Arab society are no longer simply a matter of justice, but an economic necessity. Just as it’s in our supreme interest (and not merely a liberal tenet) to bridge gaps with the periphery or ensure that the next ultra-Orthodox generation can participate in the workforce, so too this is a supreme collective interest for anyone who wants us to continue existing as an advanced Western society in a raging, regressive Middle East. This vision can link all of the incredibly diverse elements that make up Israeli society. Simply put: “A Start-up nation for all its citizens.”
The workplace will be the new melting pot, and equality will become a shared interest – not a principle conditional on loyalty. This vision enables all sectors of society to take part in its realization, and ultimately it, more than any other factor, will ensure the future of the Zionist enterprise. Think how proud anyone, regardless of tribe, would feel to be an Israeli under this banner and how willing they would be to contribute to keep this train going full speed ahead. Politics, identity and division aside.The author is Channel 2’s chief correspondent and anchor of the Saturday evening news, Israel’s most watched news program. @danawt.