On Monday, Israel’s Knesset approved the highly controversial Prawer-Begin Plan for the Arrangement of Bedouin-Palestinian Settlement in the Negev, a plan which is likely to displace tens of thousands of Bedouin, “the largest attempted eviction of a native Palestinian population by Israel in decades,” according to Haaretz.
The Israeli NGO Rabbis for Human Rights has been among the lead organizations opposing the Prawer-Begin plan (also known as “Praver”), as has T’ruah, RHR’s North American counterpart. Among the criticisms leveled against Prawer-Begin by the latter are the following:
- No Bedouin citizens were consulted in the process;
- The plan disregards Bedouin property rights and fails to recognize Bedouin land ownership;
- Implementing the plan would violate residents’ rights to due process;
- The plan’s proposal for compensation in alterative land or money at a maximum rate of 50 percent of the actual value is arbitrary and unreasonable;
- The plan refers to Bedouin citizens in degrading terms;
- The plan uses vague and deceptive language, failing to include any maps, names of affected villages, or precise information on the amounts or locations of the affected lands.
The sad (and sadly largely unknown) truth of the matter is that Prawer-Begin represents nothing so much as a natural extension of the treatment afforded Israel’s Bedouin population since the founding of the state. Israel has always tried to dictate to the Bedouin how they may live, with little or no input from members of the actual community. As Noam Sheizaf writes in +972:
In the early 1950s, Israel refused to recognize the native Bedouin population’s claim to the land due to a lack of registration of the land by the British Mandate authorities (there are, however, records of permanent, non-nomadic Bedouin settlements going back to the 19th century). Other unrecognized villages are “temporary” settlements of Bedouins who were displaced in the 1948 War and were never allowed to return to their lands…
Over the years, Israel has built seven towns for the Bedouin and demanded that the population living in unrecognized villages relocate to them. Many preferred to stay in their villages, claiming that the townships are not suitable for their way of life, which is centered on agriculture and the use of farm animals.
Moreover, as badly as the infrastructure, education and housing rights of Israel’s other non-Jewish populations lag behind those of the Jewish majority, those of the Bedouin are always worse: Close to 50 percent live below the poverty line, and only 28 percent complete high school. In spite of the fact that the vast majority of the community lives in the Negev, “only three percent of students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheva are Bedouin,” Haaretz reported late last year, and two thirds of those students are only able to attend classes “because of scholarships provided by a Jewish philanthropist who supports Bedouin education.”
So the fact that the current government has decided to extend the discriminatory arm of the state even further (aside from those coalition members who oppose Prawer-Begin for recognizing any Bedouin land rights at all) comes as no surprise.
But a poll unveiled this week finds Israel’s Jews providing a surprise of their own: A survey conducted by Rabbis for Human Rights found that nearly half of Israel’s Jews think that the Bedouin are right—but just as with the Arab Peace Initiative, they didn’t know the facts before being questioned, and their opinions changed as soon as they were informed. Rabbis for Human Rights reports:
A majority within Jewish Israelis opposes the Praver/Begin Plan (42.8% opposed vs. 32.4% in favor). Most in the community think the Bedouin’s land claims are fair (47% vs. 34.6%), but before those claims were presented to them, most of the respondents thought the Bedouin were taking over the Negev (88%)…. at least 93.8% of the Jews thought the Bedouin wanted a larger section of the Negev (more than 7%) than what they have actually demanded (5.4%).
… The findings indicate the effects of a severe campaign of incitement and misinformation against the Bedouin population, creating the impression that the Bedouin are plotting to take over the Negev, while in fact their modest demands—considered fair by most of the Jewish population—are proportionate to less than a sixth of their share of the population. Certain elements of the government and media must conduct an internal reckoning of their behavior, how they incited the Jewish public against the Bedouin and created a false, distorted portrayal.
It’s one thing (and it’s a pretty bad thing) to willfully mislead your public about their enemies’ willingness to make peace; it’s another to willfully mislead them about the lived reality of their fellow citizens (many of whom, it should be noted, actually serve in Israel’s armed forces).
Some Israeli Bedouin are promising resistance—not least, Bedouin Members of Knesset—but given the community’s difficulty organizing, it remains to be seen how far they’ll be able to get with their efforts.
They could use the help of the world’s Jews, and those in Israel in particular.