The Arab Bedouin of the Naqab: Myths and Misconceptions
By: Pamela Dimitrova/Arab America Contributing Writer
The Bedouin-Arabs are an indigenous people, most of whom internally displaced from lands they had owned for centuries. From the 1950s on, the Bedouin-Arabs were dispossessed from their land by means of laws passed by the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset), the Israeli legal system and varied administrative measures. Today, the 190,000 Palestinian Bedouins living in the Naqab are the most disadvantaged citizens in Israel and are struggling for their rights of land ownership, equality, recognition, and the pursuit of their distinctive way of life. Because of the lack of media coverage and false information spread by governments, there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions around the Bedouins of the Naqab. See below some of them:
1. The Arab Bedouin are not indigenous people
Historians agree that the Arab Bedouin have inhabited the Naqab since the 7th century, and were the only inhabitants of the desert until the mid-20th century. In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, determined that the Arab Bedouin, a community with a longstanding presence throughout a geographic region with a connection to lands and the maintenance of cultural traditions that are distinct from those of majority populations, are entitled to international protection as an indigenous people.
The Arab Bedouin have organized in settlements in the Naqab since the 16th century; these settlements were largely fixed and stabilized by the 19th century. While their pastoral way of life necessitated seasonal movement, their travel centered around historic villages with privately-owned plots of land and collectively held pasture lands. These ancestral settlements and historic villages are now “unrecognized” by the State of Israel.
2. The Arab Bedouins are claiming all of the lands in the Naqab
In 1969, Israel established a process whereby citizens (the Palestinian Bedouins were granted Israeli citizenship by 1954) could register claims of land ownership with the state. From 1970 to 1979, the Arab Bedouin submitted 3,221 ownership claims over their ancestral land, for a total of 971,000 dunums (242,750 acres). Today, after various settlements with the State, the Bedouina, who make up 30% of the Naqab population, are justly claiming 600,000 dunums (200,000 acres), or less than 5% of the total area of the Naqab.
3. The Bedouin culture is highly criminalized
The seven government-planned Bedouin townships, the poorest in Israel, do have some of the highest crime rates in the country. However, such crime rates must be understood within the context of the concentration of poverty, forced urbanization and limited state investment. Here are some important figures:
- 67.2% of Palestinian Bedouin families in Israel live in poverty
- 20.5% of all families in Israel The school drop-out rate for Arab Bedouin children in unrecognized villages is 70%.
- State expenditure per capita on social welfare is 30% lower for Arab localities than for Jewish localities.
4. The Bedouin live in scattered, unknown settlements–connecting the settlements to infrastructure is impossible and unprecedented
Nearly half of the Bedouin community in the Naqab lives in 45 permanent and known villages, at least 10 of which are in the “process of recognition” by the State. These 45 villages either pre-date the establishment of the State of Israel or were established in the 1950s by order of the military government that concentrated the Bedouin into the restricted “Siyag” area in the northern Naqab. Ironically, in 2010, the Knesset retroactively legalized around 60 individual settlements in the Naqab that were established without permits and contrary to planning laws. These individual settlements, all but one of which are Jewish owned, are connected to all the basic services and are often located near the “unrecognized” Bedouin villages.
5. The Bedouin have never offered their own solution for their community
Throughout history, all governing authorities in the Naqab, excluding the Israeli government, recognized the Arab Bedouin traditional land ownership system as the appropriate framework for Bedouin settlement. Also, in 2011, the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages, Bimkom and Sidreh released an “Alternative Plan” for the unrecognized villages, proposing to recognize villages and traditional land ownership. The plan offers a model of sustainable development of the Naqab, based on principles of equality and respect of human rights
7. The Bedouin under Israeli rule are offered “free” land in government-planned towns, but many refuse to live in them
The first government-planned town of Tel Sheva was established in 1969, and six additional townships were created over the next three decades. The internally displaced Bedouin (those who were forced to leave their ancestral land and move to the Siyag region) make up 85% of the population in the impoverished government planned towns. The vast majority of the Bedouin who were not displaced from their ancestral land have remained in their historic villages, despite the fact that the State of Israel deliberately denies them access to basic services. The government’s policy of withholding services is an attempt to encourage the Arab Bedouin to move to the “free” land in recognized towns. “Free” is a misnomer. First, the land is claimed by other Bedouin, and second, in order to receive the “free” land in the townships, the Bedouin must give up all ancestral land claims.
8. The international community accepts these myths and misconceptions
- OECD 2010: [Israel must] Urgently take practical steps to connect Bedouin settlements with electricity, sewerage and transport systems. Continue with efforts to improve their educational opportunities and outcomes, including vocational training.
- UN Human Rights Committee 2010 (CCPR/C/ISR/CO/3): The State party should respect the Bedouin population’s right to their ancestral land and their traditional livelihood based on agriculture.
- UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 2011 (E/C.12/ISR/CO/3): The State party [should] officially regulate the unrecognized villages, cease the demolition of buildings in those villages, and ensure the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing.
- Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2012 (CERD.C.ISR.CO.14-16): Withdraw the 2012 discriminatory proposed Law for the Regulation of the Bedouin Settlement in the Negev (“Prawer Plan Law”), which would legalize the ongoing policy of home demolitions and forced displacement of the indigenous Bedouin communities.
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