Israeli Jewish-Renewal Report on Bedouin inside Israel

Dear Chevra,

I am sending you a report by a Jewish-renewal stalwart in Israel, Devorah Brous, about what is happening in the lives of Bedouin communities. Her report is about Bedouin CITIZENS of Israel, living inside the Green Line, who serve in the Israeli Army.

Devorah is the cofounder of the Old City/Jerusalem Friday noontime multireligious prayer circle for peace, and the synthesis of her prayer center, her practice of vigorous compassion and direct hands-on help to the Bedouin, and her political analysis seem to me to cry out for our attention and support. She is the founder of Bustan Shalom.

Her report follows.



Bustan is a grassroots partnership addressing the plight of marginalized people in Israel/Palestine. Bustan works with citizens denied access to public resources and promotes social and environmental justice—helping people to help themselves.

    # Negev Development Plan will Displace Bedouin
    # Bedouin Mosque Destroyed, February 2003
    # Bedouin Homes Demolished, March 2003
    # Bedouin Crops Sprayed with Toxic Chemicals, March 2003
    # Bustan Responds: Help Build a Medical Clinic at Wadi Na'am Village, April 18-25th 2003 (during Pesach, Easter, Earth Day)

Unrecognized Villages within the Green Line are not on the map of Israel. Some 68,000 indigenous Negev Bedouin citizens from 46 Unrecognized Villages are denied rudimentary services such as health care, electricity, access roads, sewage, schools or adequate water provision. In many cases, these marginalized villagers are living next to municipal dump sites, military zones, polluting factories, or (in the case of Wadi Na'am) a toxic waste incinerator.

"Indigenous peoples are invariably looked upon as marauders, or encroachers by government agencies..." "This often occurs to very poor and marginalized groups with little or no access to basic resources."

It has been frequently stated, that the State of Israel has enough outside problems without making enemies of its own citizens. A democracy is predicated on providing equal rights to its citizens, including the indigenous citizens. The Bedouin (among other ethnic minorities) are not granted equal rights in Israel. This raises the question of the integrity of Israel's democracy. Professor Oren Yiftachel suggests the term "Ethnocracy" is more appropriate in describing Israel, than democracy. The term stems from a merger of the two concepts: ethnicity and democracy, and more aptly depicts Israel's unconventional system where the State's hegemony is owned, and controlled by its ethnic Jewish majority. Israel is not a purveyor of equal rights to all of its citizens, and the state is not ethnically neutral, especially during wartime. Arab citizens remain outside the society's boundaries and prevented from fulfilling citizenship obligations such as military service, and thus, economically deprived of their land, welfare, jobs, and housing. Jewish citizens are deprived of security, living in fear, with no end to terror in sight. With war continuously looming in and around the State and the region, it is imperative to dig deeper, to read between the lines and examine the causal roots of conflict.

In the Middle East ethnicity has long been privatized, resulting with severe systemic discrimination and exploitation of minority factions. There is a tremendous social and economic gap that has been amplified over the years in Israel. For example, in the Negev many of the indigenous Bedouin have no clean water to drink, but their Jewish neighbors are able to drink, to shower, to water their grassy lawns, public parks and gardens, or swim in private swimming pools. Further, according to researchers Harvey Lithwick and Ismael Abu Sa'ad, "Even those Bedouin demonstrably loyal to the state, (i.e. Bedouin trackers who serve with distinction in the army), return home to face dismal job prospects" and have begun to realize they do not have access to the same rights as citizens, or the same privileges as their counterpart Jewish soldiers. This gap has prompted growing resentment toward Israel among the Bedouin. A consequent sharp increase in crime among Bedouin youth has generated strong animosity toward the Bedouin among many Israeli Jews. According to Lithwick, Israeli planning and development policies have "transformed a once supportive community whose fathers and sons served nobly in the IDF, to one that identifies increasingly with those who reject its very existence. It is rapidly turning its friends into enemies, once willing nationals into increasingly strident nationalists." The increasing frustration for Israel's policies of containment and discrimination they face is likely to turn violent if significant policy changes are not made in the near future.

Eight villages have been recognized officially since 1994, though the government has yet to provide amenities and infrastructure. If there is a change in Israeli policy, the clash between Israel and the Bedouin may be avoided. Israel is eager to limit the population growth of the Bedouin (which is 3 times higher than the Jewish population), due to a viable demographic threat. Based on current birth rates in Israeli and Palestinian sectors, expert demographers predict a Palestinian majority as early as 2020. Zionists fear becoming a demographic minority in the state of Israel. However, tne mechanisms for Israeli planners and policy makers to address this fear is not very democratic: the aim is to control the maximum amount of land for Jewish use, with the minimum responsibility for the Arab population. It is this mindset that engineers house demolitions, crop destruction, land confiscation, and unequal distribution of resources. It is this mindset that is often overlooked when striving to understand the perpetual acts of terror fiercely claiming the lives of civilians.

Development, Demolition, Destruction It has been a terribly destructive time in Israel/Palestine. The death tolls and unemployment rates are perpetually climbing. Most Palestinians are living on $2/day. Many Israeli shops in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are closed, there are not many tourists. Some 78 Palestinians were killed over the last month. The jolting Haifa homicide bombing claimed the lives of yet another 17. This was the first bombing in several months, a time lapse just long enough for the syncopated rhythm of life in this torn land to take on a beat of normalcy.

Clearly, Sharon's military solution in expanding the Occupation is not helping abate terror. Emergency supply kits, duct taped entrances, and gas masks don't keep people safe from conventional terror attacks, don't keep homes or fields safe from bulldozers, and don't keep people from living in perpetual fear. Terror is not external, it is internal, it grows inside hearts of people living in despairing conditions.

This month seventeen homes were demolished in the Palestinian Israeli town Kfar Kassem and countless others in Beit Hanina and Jabal Mukaber, however, this update will specifically focus on how the new Sharon government has impacted the Bedouin in Israel. In February 2003, officials from the Ministry of Interior razed a mosque in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Tel al Milah based on claims that it was an unlicensed building.

According to Bedouin MK Taleb Sanaa, "This is the first incident of damage to a holy place and the dignity of Muslim residents of the Negev."

On March 3rd, in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Abda, crops were sprayed with toxic chemicals. On March 4th, there were 3 Jahalin Bedouin houses demolished leaving 47 people homeless. The Jahalin are currently rebuilding tin shanties with zinc roofs in the Atarot area. While demolitions are often clumped together by the media for simple packaging with a pretty bow wrapped around "SECURITY," a distinction must be made clear between the punitive act of demolition for administrative purposes (for not obtaining a building permit) or demolition as an act of revenge to the families of terrorists.

As non-terrorist Palestinian Arabs and Bedouin in most areas are not entitled to building permits, subsequently, all construction is unlicensed—deemed illegal and a target for demolition. These examples evidence that land confiscation and housing demolition are no longer restricted to the Occupied Territories. Same pain, different villages. Same story, different names.

If you pick up the newspaper and read about the isolated event of Israel Land Authority (ILA) planes spraying Bedouin fields with toxic chemicals, and this information is crammed into a dense page reporting on political, military, and religious leaders plunging the world deeper into war preparations, what we don't learn is how to examine the causal roots of conflict. For the scorekeepers that watch ethnic conflict like a sports competition, there are more numbers of victims, more numbers of houses demolished, more families shattered this month than last. While fed numbers, and fear, and hate, many are left hungry: starving for contextual analysis, and food.

The plight of the Bedouin allows for an examination of an aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is not adequately covered. This update is not intended to minimize or delegitimize other aspects of the conflict, it is simply an attempt to focus with a microscopic lens on one aspect that enables the seemingly interminable conflict: systemic discrimination. It appears these repressive measures could mark the onset of the Negev Development Plan wherein residential, grazing, and agricultural Bedouin land currently in use will be claimed by the government and converted into some 14 Jewish neighborhoods (MK Avigdor Lieberman's plan) and 30 single-family farms, to alter the demographics in the Negev, and "Judaize" the area.

What follows is information and analysis from advocacy groups in Israel about the Negev Development Plan, and other acts of containment by the Israeli government. All have occurred over the past two months since the formation of the new right wing coalition in Israel. This is followed by Bustan's response, the Medwed Project in April.

Negev Development Plan

At the beginning of the year, the Israeli government revealed the budget of 395 million NIS, ($1 million) and a 5-year timeframe for implementing a plan to remove the remaining indigenous Bedouin living in unrecognized villages from their land and concentrate them into Townships. (All government townships are dysfunctional, and are thought of as a national disgrace.)

According to Tsahar Rotem (Ha'aretz) the Negev Plan was formulated without any input by the Bedouin and is not acceptable to their leaders. The following information is paraphrased from the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (RCUV). Sharon's government is in the process of reviewing the proposed 5-Year Negev Development Plan.

This Plan is a comprehensive strategy to remove the Bedouin of the Unrecognized Villages from their land and concentrate them into townships. The Plan includes funds to restart a legal process, suspended in 1976, to settle all outstanding Bedouin land claims. (No Bedouin has ever won a land claim to any of the more than 3,000 lawsuits filed over the past several decades.)

The Plan's judicial framework includes the hiring of lawyers to defend state claims of illegal land use, the expansion of the paramilitary police force that patrols the Negev (Green Patrol).

The plan's main points are as follows:

1. Ministry of Justice, ILA, Green Patrol and the Bedouin Authority will work together to settle all outstanding Bedouin land claims, and to identify land as 'State Land' by appealing through Israeli courts with claims the land is government property. This places the burden of proof on Bedouin land claims on Bedouin landowners, most of whom do not hold land title that is recognized by the Israeli courts. (No Bedouin has ever won a land claim to any of the more than 3,000 lawsuits filed over the past several decades.)

2. Once the land is confiscated, it has been proposed that the National Planning Council and the Regional Councils of Ramat Hovav and B'nai Shimon distribute land from the Unrecognized Villages to 30 single-family farms. These lands will be allocated to Jews only, which would include areas well beyond their municipal authorizations.

3. Funds have been allocated for compensation to the Bedouin through the ILA. Unrecognized Villagers will be moved into 7 recognized townships, and local municipalities will be established for the townships. According to Mossawa Center analysis, the government's proposed budget for the "Negev Development Plan," would enable the government to carry out the proposed "Public Land Law: Removal of Intruders." Mossawa Center writes, "While the Bedouins suffer the highest infant mortality rate in Israel, only 2.5 million shekels of this funding will address their health needs."

Bedouin Mosque Demolished: First Manifestation of So-Called Negev Development Plan? Excerpts from the Mossawa Center Press Release

In response to the destruction of a mosque in the Negev Desert, the Mossawa Center demands the Israeli Interior Ministry halt planned demolitions in the Negev. On February 5, at 6:00 AM, government inspectors razed the mosque after most residents had left for work and before Bedouin representatives could appeal the demolition order. The residents of Tel al Milah themselves pooled the 100,000 shekels necessary to build their mosque. Despite comprising 20% of Israel's population, the Arab minority receives just 2% of the Ministry of Religious Affairs' budget. The demolition of Tel al Milah's only mosque represents the first incident of destruction of a Muslim holy place in the Negev.

The demolition of Tel al Milah's mosque may represent the first manifestation of several parallel initiatives by the government to affect the rapid transfer of Bedouins from the Negev Desert through new development and settlement plans. The first of these initiatives, a law submitted by the government to the Knesset on November 11th, 2002, calls for the transfer of 70,000 Bedouins from unrecognized villages into 7 existent townships. A recently proposed development plan will allocate funds to implement the government's transfer program. The final phase of the displacement process will involve the settlement of Jewish families throughout the Negev. These transfer initiatives are certain to damage relations between the Arab-Bedouin community and the government.

Like half of Israel's Bedouin population, the 3,000 residents of Tel al Milah reside in villages not legally recognized by the Israeli government. During the mandate period, British land surveyors did not formally register lands in the Negev; after the creation of the state, the Israeli government designated all such land for agricultural and military purposes, deeming existing settlements retroactively 'illegal'. Over the years, the other half of Israel's Bedouins have concentrated in 7 impoverished townships in the Beer Sheva region, via a process of sedentarisation. Approximately 90% of Israel's Bedouin population, which comprises 12% of Israel's Arab population, now engages in wage labor (as compared with 90% employment in agricultural work in 1948).

The Bedouin citizenry of Israel have long suffered sub-standard services from the government. The Mossawa Center asserts that as citizens of Israel, the Bedouins of the Negev are entitled to equal treatment. These citizens require infrastructure in the form of proper sanitation, schools, and roads—not the threat of demolition of their homes, or transfer of their communities.

Mossawa Center, in cooperation with the Regional Council for Unrecognized Negev Arab Villages and fifteen Jewish and Arab organizations, has formed a coalition to confront the government's Negev demolition and transfer plan. This coalition will: analyze the legal and economic implications of the transfer program; lobby the Knesset; assist domestic media in keeping abreast of developments; conduct international advocacy; and organize community members.

For more information, contact Mossawa Center: or refer to The Christian Science Monitor, "In Israel's Desert, A Fight For Land" Ben Lynfield, February 20th, 2003.

State Sprays Toxic Chemicals From Planes Onto Unrecognized Village, RCUV, ALERT: March 6, 2003/

On 3 March 2003, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), which controls most of the land inside Israel (including land expropriated from Palestinian refugees), destroyed more than 2000 dunams (500 acres) of crops belonging to residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Abda located in the Negev. During the operation, toxic chemicals were sprayed on the crops, including land where men, women and children were working in their fields.

This is the second time in a year that the ILA has used toxic chemicals to destroy Bedouin crops in the Negev. The destruction of the crops is another example of a consistent pattern of gross violations of the basic human right to property committed by the government of Israel against the indigenous Palestinian Bedouin community.

On March 3rd, without prior warning, two airplanes belonging to the ILA accompanied by a large number of police forces and Green Patrol (a division of the military police dealing with the Negev) members sprayed toxic chemicals on houses and on more than 2000 dunams (500 acres) of crops belonging to the residents of Abda, an unrecognized village in the Negev. Labad Tasan, the head of Abda's Local Village Committee said elderly people and children who were in the fields were also sprayed. The children started panicking, and suffered from trauma because they believed that a war had started and chemical weapons were being used against them.

Village residents immediately evacuated those children to closest clinic at Mitzpe Ramon (a nearby Jewish locality), but the doctor refused to receive them until the RCUV Vice President contacted the Ministry of Health and the head of a health maintenance organization. The RCUV sent an urgent letter to the Health Ministry requiring an official investigation into the matter. Jaber Abu Kaff, the RCUV President who visited those children at the clinic, said that spraying the crops with chemicals at Abda village is a barbaric, inhuman and immoral act and emphasized that Sharon's new government is proceeding with its plan "to try to uproot us from our fathers' and grandfathers' land. But we will stay in our land as long as we are alive and we urge all those people with a live conscience to stand with us."

This measure of crop spraying has been used once before in the Negev, on the 15th of February 2002. As part of the Israeli government's policy of confiscating, uprooting and resettling the Bedouins into townships, it was used against the residents of 10 unrecognized villages (with a population of 20,000 Israeli citizens).

Abda was recognized in 1992 after a 6-months period of sit-ins, in front of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament). Though it is recognized, until today, Abda's residents do not enjoy the benefit of this recognition: lacking all kinds of municipal infrastructure from water, electricity, access roads, health care, education, etc.

This recognition is within the governmental plan vision to convert the surrounding area into a National Park, which will include the historical Abda village because it has Nabatean monuments. The residents of Abda were transferred out of their village and today they are living around 4 km from their historical village. This recognition came as part of tourist attraction for this National Park.

Background Abda was 'formally' recognized by the Israeli government in 1992 after a 6-month sit-in, in front of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). Despite formal recognition, Abda's residents continue to lack municipal infrastructure, including water, electricity, access roads, health care, education, etc., like all other unrecognized villages. Formal Recognition came as part of a government plan to attract tourists and transform the surrounding area, including the original village site of Abda, into a national park due to the presence of Nabatean ruins. Residents of Abda were expelled from the village and today live some 4 km from the village site. For more information, contact RCUV, .

BUSTAN Responds: MEDWED Project

It is within this context that Bustan is working with Bedouin villagers from Wadi Na'am, on a week long work camp during Passover, Easter, and Earth Day 2003. We are trying a new approach in an old battlefield.

Wadi Na'am, a village of 4,000, south of Beer Sheva, is a conglomeration of shanty encampments near a military fire-zone, an electric plant, an oil-drilling site and the Ramat Hovav hazardous waste dump. The village is not linked to the national electricity grid. Its insufficient water pipelines frequently break down, and there is no sewage system or trash removal. Unemployment is currently around 60 percent. Building permits are routinely denied and housing demolitions commonplace. While the Bedouin of Wadi Na'am are citizens of the state of Israel and some serve in the Israeli army, they are seen as `squatters' on state land, and therefore do not have adequate medical services or other amenities. They suffer from high rates of miscarriage, heart disease, and sunstroke, as well as skin cancer, and asthma among the children.

Despite the hazardous living conditions, Wadi Na'am villagers have no place else to live, and do not want to be uprooted from their homes and forced to relinquish their land again to be transferred into a government township slum. The villagers choose to remain on this plot of land. Therefore, Bustan has built a growing coalition including ICAHD, Shatil, the Association of Forty, Albadia, the Galilee Society, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Builders Without Borders to construct a medical clinic in the village. We will provide a hands-on training using accessible and affordable straw-bale construction materials during a 6-day work camp (scheduled for April 18th-April 25th, 2003). The clinic will meet the building standards of the Ministry of Health. It will be administered by villagers, and staffed by volunteer doctors, and nurses. This proactive approach in helping the government provide services to its citizens is preferable to continued protests against the government.

Medwed Project Objectives

1. Our primary objective involves galvanizing the local community to build a medical clinic in Wadi Na'am, providing basic health care to these Israeli citizens. The clinic will be solar-powered, as there is no electricity in the unrecognized villages.

2. To promote sustainable community development by providing training in eco-building.

3. To catalyze a review of the allocation of public resources in the Negev. BUILDING, PLANTING, PAINTING: PLEASE JOIN US IN APRIL

Bustan invites people of all traditions: human rights activists, appropriate technology engineers, green builders, musicians, artists, environmental lawyers, organic farmers, alternative practitioners, peace educators, and writers to join us to train and be trained by indigenous Bedouin and local Israelis in alternative building techniques.

During a 6-day work camp, volunteers and the community of Wadi Na'am will build the medical clinic. Workshops will be held for children and families. Lectures about unrecognized villages, sustainability, and Bedouin culture will combine modern information with ancient wisdom. Additional information about registration is available on the Bustan website: . We are in need of assistance to help make this critical initiative a success. Please join us.

Mobilize to learn, teach, build, plant, paint with the villagers. Overseas volunteers are requested to pay $800, as a contribution toward the sustainability of the medical clinic. This sum will cover the eco-building training, all program activities, accommodation, transportation, translators, reading materials and two meals daily. It does not cover international airfare, health insurance, and personal expenses.

Participants will be scheduled at various construction tasks from 8AM to 12PM, and from 2PM-5PM, working with the community of Wadi Na'am to build the Medwed clinic as part of an extended training workshop. There will be a comprehensive lecture series offered from leading Jewish and Bedouin professors, doctors, and indigenous rights activists and Israeli government authorities ranging from the macro to the micro issues. Lecturers will present on the Negev Development Plan; Ramat Hovav; Bedouin History, Tradition, and Culture; and the Bridge between Sustainable Development and Human Rights. A children's tent will be organized, hosting a range of artistic and ecological activities throughout the week. Blue prints of the clinic are available on the website, and a detailed work plan will be available in the coming days.

The clash between Bedouin and the authorities will inevitably amplify into a raging confrontation as Bedouin political awareness and lack of strong identification as they continue to see themselves as a fifth column. If urgent government measures were adopted to provide employment and empowerment and services to counteract disease, poverty, drug abuse, and alienation that the Bedouins of the Negev experience, Bedouin could be recognized as citizens with equal rights, not a fifth column posing a threat to Israel's hegemony over State Lands.

Clearing Bedouin off land to be replaced by Jewish leasees is blatant discrimination. If Israel continues to promote such policies in the name of security, we should all be well aware this is not a democratic garden in the dry desert of Middle East dictatorships, it is an ethnocratic government. However, critique of Israel's ethnocracy should not preclude critique of Arab dictators, systemic discrimination to ethnic minorities, rampant corruption and human rights abuses. It is a subject which is simply beyond the scope of this email.

--Devorah Brouse