Beduin hold ‘iftar’ meal at Beersheba police station

Beduin community leaders hold meal less than 48 hours after dozens of protesters arrested in series of violent protests against "Prawer bill".

Southern District police head with Beduin leaders 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Southern District police head with Beduin leaders 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Making their way past a group of protesters outside the front gate, around 100 Beduin community leaders filed into Negev police headquarters in Beersheba for the traditional iftar meal to break the Ramadan fast on Wednesday night.
The meal was held less than 48 hours after dozens of protesters were arrested in a series of violent protests against the state’s Prawer-Begin Plan to relocate thousands of Beduin living in dozens of unrecognized villages in the Negev, while legalizing the land claims of others.
Critics see the plan as a move by the state to dispossess the Beduin of their tribal lands, with activists and local protestors saying it could worsen an already intermittently tense relationship between Beduin and the state.
The community leaders that crowded into the police station cafeteria to eat roast chicken and potatoes included academics and teachers, doctors and legal figures from the Beduin sector, hosted by senior officers from the Southern District, as well as the heads of the Beersheba Magistrate’s and District courts.
The atmosphere was civil, if politically charged, coming after not only the arrests this week of protesters, but also a scandal in May in which two young girls from the Beduin village of al- Fura were murdered by their father after Arad police ignored a police complaint from their mother. The incident forced the Israel Police inspector-general to appoint a committee of inquiry that called for the removal of the heads of the Arad police station the next day.
Outside the police station a group of about two dozen protesters held a vigil against the Prawer Plan, and called for Beduin leaders to avoid the iftar meal. They said it was a charade by police meant to smooth over the government’s discriminatory policies toward Beduin.
Attorney Meissa Irshaid, 26, said she came from Jerusalem to protest, because “the colonialist police arrests dozens of people including women and children fighting against the displacement of tens of thousands of Beduin. The state isn’t asking the residents that they think – they are forcing a certain way of life on them.”
When asked what people outside thought of the Beduin leaders agreeing to dine with police amid the tension over the Prawer plan, she said “these are respected leaders who unfortunately think that via this way of reaching out they can change things, but for 60 years, this way hasn’t changed anything. Only civil disobedience can change things.”
One Beduin leader who joined the dinner is Muhammed Abu Freha, deputy head of the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages political advocacy group, who said “everyone here in this room took part in the protests, the protests weren’t against the state or the police, they were against the Prawer plan.”
While he said that there are people who will be left without a roof over their heads because of the Prawer plan, Abu Freha, resident of a village near Dimona, added “our sons serve in the IDF and we aren’t ashamed of this, we are people who uphold the laws and we want to stay this way.”
When asked what they will do if legal protests don’t work, Abu Freha answered that “we are citizens of the state and we are ready to fight within the legal means available, and if that doesn’t work, there are always other ways.”
Toward the end of the brief dinner, Southern District head Asst.-Ch. Yoram Halevy issued a blessing to the crowd, saying that “the hot weather of July this year isn’t only because it’s summer, but also because of the tension in the air.”
Calling for greater cooperation, Halevy blamed the tension largely on what he called “outside influences” and people in the Beduin community with their own personal and political motives, saying “to my dismay, it is obvious to all of us that in the Beduin society in the Negev there are many different forces working for their own motivations, both political and personal.
“There are also people in the North who are exploiting the situation to return to their place at the front of the stage, through forging provocations on your backs,” Halevy added.
“These officials are enflaming the situation for their own gain, not for the community.”
After the meal, among those who remained behind was Pini Badash, the mayor of Omer, who in years past has often had an antagonistic relationship with the residents of the Beduin villages that neighbor the Beersheba suburb.
Asked whether its slightly odd that people like himself who support the Prawer plan should dine with the same people whose communities oppose it, he said, “With all the fights, break-ins and squatters, we can put that aside, respect one another, eat with each other and then go on the next day.”
Badash related an anecdote about being invited to dinner once with a member of the Tarabin tribe, who slaughtered a lamb in his honor. They ate, had a celebration, and despite a dispute the very next day involving Badash and the state that resulted in the man’s house being demolished, things went on as if nothing had changed.
“Those who are not breaking the law, we’re fine with, and those who are – we’ll dine with them tonight and then go back to war with them tomorrow – that’s just the Middle East.”
Hadas Parush contributed to this report.