16 January 2014

Bedouins of Negev

This post is an attempt to provide more info on the question about the fate of Negev Bedoin tribes, asked by Tom Carew, with criticism of house demolitions in general and of this particular demolition (63rd in the history of the specific Bedouin village in question) implied.

The post took some time in its preparation, due to the need to go through quite a lot of material on the subject (3).

To outline a framework of this post, let's look at two absolutely polarized views: that of one Harriet Sherwood (The Guardian, of course) and Avigdor Lieberman on the other side. The former provides the following "facts":
The Bedouin – who are Israeli citizens – comprise about 30% of the Negev's population but their villages take up only 2.5% of the land(1). Before the state of Israel was created in 1948 they roamed widely across the desert; now, two-thirds of the region has been designated as military training grounds and firing ranges.
And not to forget: the article is peppered by the term "ancestral lands". To make sure you understand the issue better, of course.

Lieberman, in a more generic statement, replies:
...one doesn't have to be an expert on geography or demographics to understand that the situation there (in the Negev) is a catastrophe. It's our duty to stop the situation where some citizens abide by the planning and construction laws and some dismiss and evade them through violence. It's not a social problem, or housing crisis, it's a fight for land, ever since the 19th century.
Very dramatic and, like much of the stuff coming from that source, puts the problem on its head. The problem is, if not, strictly speaking, a housing crisis, a very difficult social one. The citizens in question don't abide by the planning, for reasons of their own, some of which are good and some are rather poor, but should be addressed if we hope to resolve at least the most painful issues.

Everyone who is familiar with Negev landscape is also familiar with the picture of incongruous groups of slapdash shacks, built of whatever materials were handy: loose pieces of timber, corrugated metal, cardboard, plywood etc. These dwellings tend to disappear from time to time, only to materialize somewhere else in the area, with no discernible pattern. In addition to these, there are some larger, more permanent villages, where the builders took more care and used some more lasting materials. The common denominator between the two is the total lack of infrastructure, expected as a given in any other Israeli village: running water, electricity, plumbing and, of course, any of the normally expected municipal services.

It is not that the inhabitants of these two kinds of villages are totally out of touch with authorities. They do appear once a month in the Social Security offices to pick up their childcare allowance and other subsidies, if eligible. They send their newborn babies for regular checkups in the "Tipat Halav" ("Drop of Milk" - the Israeli health ministry childcare clinics spread all over the country). When sick or wounded, they know the way to the closest hospital, at least most of them do. But this is, more or less, the extent of their contact with the outside world. And of course, the tax man rarely, if at all, gets in touch with these two groups.

There is another half of the Bedouin population in Israel: the ones who left the nomadic and semi-nomadic way of life behind and settled in one of the seven towns built for the purpose. Somewhere between 50 and 60 %% of the Bedouin population have chosen to resettle to these towns, and their way of life, even if still far from idyllic, is different in many ways. The squalid conditions of the former that cause the Bedouin babies to suffer a high mortality rate(2), are much less relevant to the towns' dwellers. Many of the latter have regular jobs (although the unemployment is still way too high), up to 10% volunterr to serve in IDF, many being quite proud of the service.

The two other different "styles" (nomadic and semi-nomadic) have their roots: first in the tradition of nomadic herding and the second in (true or false) claims of land ownership. And this is the second one that presents the most acute problem and the most serious headache to the authorities. And here we come to the


After you have seen the false and misleading presentation by Ms Sherwood, let's try some more scientific approach. In these two articles (Hebrew, unfortunately), after getting rid of emotions and propaganda, here is a summary(from Wiki):
According to Prof. Sofer, the Bedouin make up about 2% of the Israeli population, but the unrecognized Bedouin communities spread on a vast territory and occupy more than 10 percent of Israel – north and east to Be'er Sheva. According to him, the Negev Bedouin also started to settle west of Be'er Sheva and close to Mount Hebron. Their communities spread south to Dimona and towards the Judean Desert. They occupy large spaces near Retamim and Revivim and get close to the Gaza Strip, occupy land in the central Negev near Mitzpe Ramon, and even close to the central area. In 2010 alone about 66 illegal Bedouin settlements were established in the area of Rehovot and Rishon LeZion.According to Arnon Sofer, the illegal Bedouin expansion continues rapidly in all directions and occupies spaces that Israel did not know before.
It is not that the government didn't commit any mistakes in trying to take care of the (true or false) land ownership claims:
In the 1970s Israel collected all the "claims of ownership" in the Negev, without permits and without proof, for the purpose of registering these claims. However, the Bedouin saw the state registry as a recognition for their claims. More than 3,000 ownership claims were filed for the land sized over 800,000 dunams, which includes nearly the whole area between Be'er Sheva – Arad – Dimona and other areas throughout the entire Negev, including those that belong to kibbutzim and cities.
To understand better the magnitude of the problem, the Wiki article Unrecognized Bedouin villages in Israel should be read in its entirety. While not a catastrophe, as Mr Lieberman declares, the situation is serious and very close to unmanageable. No modern society, especially in a place so densely populated as Israel, could allow the unchecked spread of illegally created "villages" of the kind so popular with a part of Bedouin tribes.

Needless to mention, the frequently outrageous land claims are supported and are made into a ongoing anti-Israeli PR story by the usual suspects.

To summarize the findings, I chose to conclude with the following two quotes from a post by Marc Goldberg.
Essentially the problem revolves around one basic principle, Israel has grown so large that the needs of the population have extended to settling in the Negev. Up until now we had the luxury of being able to basically ignore the Bedouin and let them do their thing in the desert without suffering through the controversy of moving them into villages and towns. Now we can’t.
But it’s not that simple. This is Israel, forcing an Arab to do something isn’t going to go down well with anyone. Forcing Bedouin to sell land they claim as theirs to the state is going to be something people take issue with. All the other stuff is ignored. The new villages being built, the new schools and communities that the government have planned for them are completely ignored, lost in the claims of ethnic cleansing and apartheid.

(1) A dirty and disingenuous use of a seemingly correct number. Take the land occupied by towns and compare it to the total land of an area. Towns and cities, densely populated as they are in Israel, will invariably present a small percentage of the total landmass, especially in the area like Negev. But what is the meaning of that number, for crying out loud? Don't people who live in the towns get any land allotment for their agricultural pursuits? If they do (and they do), why isn't this land included? Oh yeah, the inimitable Harriet Sherwood... And as far as "two-thirds of the region has been designated as military training grounds and firing ranges": yes, now pull another one, please.

(2) The Bedouin infant mortality rate is still the highest in Israel, and one of the highest in the developed world. In 2010, the mortality rate of Bedouin babies rose to 13.6 per 1,000, compared to 4.1 per 1,000 in Jewish communities in the south. But, on the other hand, "The rate of growth of the Negev Bedouin is the highest in the world – the Bedouin population doubles its size every 15 years." No doubt, encouraged by that Social Security child support...

(3) The supporting material for this post took a long time to study. The problem was that I have tried not to rely on Wiki entry Negev Bedouin, doing my best to check everything it says. For instance, the Bedouin population figures: about 200,000-210,000, according to this page. However, another Wiki page, with general info on Bedouin says 114,000. Possibly the latter splits the Bedouin of West Bank and Gaza Strip in a separate category, who knows. Anyway, to my surprise, the Negev Bedouin entry of Wiki appeared to be amazingly well researched, with a lot of supporting reference material and in no way trying to do a political favor to any side of the Bedouin issue and/or history. Very much recommended.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

Illegals have built these kinds of squatter "communities," without water or electricity, along the Texas-Mexico border. They're called "colonias" in Spanish and they're not quite the same as the Bedoins, except insofar as they are controversial.


The issue about what to do with them pops up now and then. Mostly it doesn't because no one wants to deal with it. Israel is sure to make everyone angry about it, whatever they do, which is why Texas state and local governments prefer to look the other way when they can.

Wiki's getting better, I think, though it's instructive to remember that all encyclopedias are political and all have their axes to grind.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Mr. B's godfather wanted to text him (since just about all of Mr. B.'s generation does that) but he didn't want to buy a smart phone. He figured out he could do it with his old dumb phone almost as well. Sometimes real progress involves creative backtracking.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

She is, but you've been doing so well with Rule 5. Now is not the time to quit it.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Oh, so we are not the only ones to suffer the problem then. Thanks for the link.

What all the successive Israeli governments done about the problem is close the eyes. Until it appeared that one cannot lay a new road in the Negev without being stuck in protests and suits from these squatters appearing seemingly from nowhere.

And yes, there are many articles in Wiki that are done really be experts. The problem is to separate them from drivel and self-aggrandizing personal entries.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Indeed. I keep my smart monster for one reason only: it is my library as well as a phone.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

No contradiction here. Rule 5 will continue.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I should visit more often. Then I might know what "Rule 5" is. Can you elaborate, please?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

There are different sets of rules on the intertubes, and some of them have a different rule 5, but normally rule 5 means that one should post as many pics of semi-nude persons as one considers fitting, to attract readers etc. The gender of the person displayed is up to... aw, what the heck, the rule, of course, talks about semi-nude females...

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Is there a rule about semi-nude males? Would it be Rule 4?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Well, being an invention of an alpha male of note (I mean Al Bore), Internet is dominated by males. Unfortunately.