A lesser-known Israeli population—the Palestinian Bedouin of Al-Naqab (Negev)—Dispossessed Citizens of Israel
By John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
The Arab Center-Washington D.C. held a webinar last week about how Israel continues its policy of dispossession of Palestinians, in this case, the Bedouin of Al-Naqab or Negev, who are citizens of Israel. One of the most striking messages made by the webinar discussants was that the state of Israel is treating its Bedouin citizens as if they were “enemies.” Recent demonstrations in Al-Naqab have brought the policy of dispossession to a boil.
An important discussion of Israel’s policy of the dispossession of the Palestinian Bedouin of Al-Naqab (Negev) – held by Arab Center Washington DC
Before Israel’s formation in 1948 (Al-Naqba or the catastrophe) there were about 100,000 Palestinian Arab Bedouin inhabiting what Israel calls the Negev Desert and Arabs to call Al Naqab. It is located in Sinai and is about one-half the size of historical Palestine. Today there are about 270,000 Bedouin, who comprise some of the most disadvantaged citizens of the Israeli state.
The Bedouin are presently struggling for their rights to their land, to their recognition as a distinctive lifeway, and, in general, their equality. The government has forced them into so-called planned towns, undermining their nomadic way of life as well as their reliance on agriculture in the region. These planned towns are basically failed communities.
Last week, the Arab Center-Washington D.C. held a webinar, “Israel’s Continuing Policy of Palestinian Dispossession: From Sheikh Jarrah to Al-Naqab,” to discuss “the volatile situation in the Naqab in the context of Israel’s larger and ongoing policy of displacement and dispossession against Palestinians.”
Webinar discussants addressed such questions as the “significance and legal status of the Naqab area, the growing and unified Palestinian mobilization against Israeli oppression, the role of the international political community and institutions, and the importance of voices from the Bedouin community and accurate media reporting.”
The more immediate context of what is happening in the Naqab is that Palestinian Bedouin communities are undergoing more threats from the government of evictions and demolitions. In the previous week, residents there in the thousands protested the displacement of one Bedouin village, among three dozen villages that are unrecognized by the state and are thus deprived of basic services such as water and electricity, and other infrastructure. Protestors are not met kindly by the armed Israeli police, including raids and mass arrests.
Israel’s continuing policy of home demolition, forced relocation, dispossession, and displacement – in this case, against the Bedouin of Al-Naqab
One of the most striking messages made by the webinar discussants was that the state of Israel is treating its Bedouin citizens as if they were “enemies.” It is so doing by virtue of concentrating Bedouin into smaller and smaller areas, depriving them of their access to their most valued resources, land for their animals, agricultural lands, and water.
Yet another accusation in the early part of the webinar was made that forcing the Bedouin into smaller and smaller areas and that “sprinkling small numbers of Jews over large areas” is resulting in the “Judaization” of the population. A real-world result of this displacement and forced relocation is that “settlers are stealing the land.” Israeli Jews are always given larger tracts of land than the Bedouin.
This process of squeezing the Bedouin into areas where they can be controlled basically deprives them of their primary resources. One discussant described it in political terms: “The more right-wing the government, the more racist and land-grabbing it has become.”
Another discussant underscored that Naqab is an agricultural area, not a pure desert and that the Bedouin rely on planting and harvesting wheat and barley for their living. As the productive landscape is changing, this discussant reported, so is the political terrain and now, the message is one of defiance. Some of those protesting are younger people, who are presenting “details of context,” namely those that describe the inequalities affected by the government, especially those relating to land ownership.
The discussants linked the Bedouin demonstrations, descriptively captured by the phrase, “Flames of May,” to the larger Palestinian situation. Here, underrepresented segments of the population speak out, including women, who speak for “the whole of the community,” who especially underscore mental health issues.
The contradiction between Israeli attempts to co-opt its already impoverished Bedouin citizens into an unnatural physical and economic planning regime, while at the same time enacting violent forms of violence against them, is disconcerting.
Yet another discussant raised the issue of Israeli “demographic engineering” in the international context. That discussant averred that such engineering is “not necessary under apartheid”—since it is already baked into the recipe. Because Israel rejects any decisions of the International Criminal Court, there is little chance for justice on such issues.
In the case of the Palestinian Bedouin of Naqab, who are citizens of Israel, one discussant’s statement seems especially poignant: “Here, Israel is a Jewish democracy.”
“Israel’s Continuing Policy of Palestinian Dispossession: From Sheikh Jarrah to Al-Naqab” (a webinar), Arab Center Washington D.C., 1/27/2022
• Huda Abu Obaid: Community Organizer; Advocacy Coordinator at Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality
• Sami Abu Shehadeh: Palestinian Historian; Leader of Balad/ Tajamu Party; Member of the Israeli Knesset for the Joint List
• Rawia Aburabia: Assistant Professor of Law, Sapir Academic College School of Law
• Riya Al’Sanah: Palestinian Researcher and Activist from Lakiya Village in the Naqab
• Mansour Nasasra: Author and Lecturer in Middle East Politics and International Relations, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
• Khalil E. Jahshan – Moderator: Executive Director, Arab Center Washington DC
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, Department of State, and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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