Bedouins Fight Israel's Resettlement Plan — and Bid for American Jews' Support

Ancient Negev Desert People Resist Urbanization Push

Long Fight: Israel claims it is doing what’s best for Bedouin peoples of the Negev desert by resettling them in nearby towns. But the ancient people vow to keep rebuilding their makeshift settlements — and fight for their homes.
getty images
Long Fight: Israel claims it is doing what’s best for Bedouin peoples of the Negev desert by resettling them in nearby towns. But the ancient people vow to keep rebuilding their makeshift settlements — and fight for their homes.

By Nathan Guttman and Nathan Jeffay

Published July 13, 2013, issue of July 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Al-Asam’s objection is more basic — namely that Bedouin are the only residents of the Negev to have their residences determined by the government. He said, “The government allows Jews in the Negev all types of different dwellings — kibbutzim, moshavim and towns…. What we are asking is, treat us like other residents of the Negev and allow us to choose where we live.”

Mark Regev, spokesman for Netanyahu, said that the Bedouin until now have been subject to “unacceptable levels of underdevelopment and poverty.” By recognizing many previously unrecognized communities and urbanizing residents of others, the state will end uncertainty over the status of their dwellings and “bring the Bedouin into the mainstream as owners of property and assets,” he told the Forward.

Once the status of Bedouin areas is regularized in Israeli law, the government plans to invest billions of shekels in infrastructure that it has refused to establish in unrecognized villages because they are regarded as a legal anathema. Regev called the process “affirmative action” and a “process of empowerment.”

But al-Asam, one of the leading political advocates for residents of unrecognized villages, claimed that the government’s logic that recognition will kick-start infrastructure building is flawed — as it didn’t need to withhold infrastructure in the first place. “These are rights that the government is obliged to give,” al-Asam said, referring to the provision of infrastructure.

“Anyone who opposes the program should ask themselves what is so good about the status quo,” Regev said in response to claims raised by critics of the plan.

The Begin-Prawer plan was adopted by the ministerial legislative committee and passed Israel’s Knesset in first reading by a close margin of 43-to-40.

The near-defeat of the bill, an unusual political outcome for legislation sponsored by the coalition, energized American critics of the plan, who believe that adding the weight of Diaspora Jewry to the voices calling to reconsider the program could tip the balance. “We want members of Knesset and ministers in the Netanyahu Cabinet, especially those from the more moderate wing, to take note of the fact that a significant part of American Jews and American rabbis and leaders are asking them not to take further action on this bill,” said Doni Remba, executive director of Jewish Alliance for Change and co-director of the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel.

As well as the Bikel video, Remba and other activists in the United States, have organized petitions to Netanyahu and brought over speakers, both Jewish and Bedouin, to speak out against the proposed legislation. The issue has been raised in discussions hosted by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and in conference calls with supporters and opponents of the bill in Israel.

On the organizational front, however, results have been mixed. Critics of the plan registered a major victory as the Reform movement, America’s largest Jewish denomination, joined the campaign. In a June 9 letter to Netanyahu, Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, called for a halt in legislative actions on the plan. “Adopting the Begin Plan at this point is premature,” he wrote. “It is clear that more research is necessary to investigate the possible consequences of this plan and its implementation.”

Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal rabbis also joined the call, but the two other major streams, Conservative and Orthodox, did not take a stand.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.