Going south deep into the heart of
They seem peaceful and majestic in the desert heat, cut into the landscape dotted with shacks for living quarters and tents constructed with burlap and wooden sticks not far from the 52 active military zones in the
4,000 people live in the vicinity of
Orly Almi, Project Coordinator for the Unrecognized Negev Villages for Physicians for Human Rights reports of a high proportion of abortions, heart disease at a young age, high levels of cancer and high rates of congenital defects. Added to this, the governmentâ€™s own epidemiological survey released after years of pressure shows that there is a high rate of birth defects and subnatal births amongst the Bedouin population.
The Ministry of Health, unwilling to expose their doctors to the health hazards from the plant does not provide health services in the village. Other disagree with that assessment and claim that the Bedouin Authority is using the denial of health services to push the villagers to move to Segev Shalom, a nearby settlement. The solar powered medical clinic hand-built by volunteers sits empty.
Bustan, the NGO who headed the project, is now searching for volunteers from the medical community to make use of the new facility due to the governmentâ€™s inaction.
Many now say, exhausting all the legal options will not bring back the dead or alleviate the suffering.
This battle over land, power, government resources, culture and history is being fought through planning authorities, government ministries, the court rooms, the community leadership, security forces and at the political level.
The unrecognized villages do not appear on the official maps of the State of Israel and are not included in the figures for the Central Bureau of Statistics. These villages are not officially recognized by the state so there is no legal responsibility to provide even basic services. The lands were classified as agricultural, rendering all buildings erected as illegal.
In January when ten new homes were constructed in the new Jewish settlement of Givâ€™ot Bar on the land of Elarakib in the middle of the night between the cities of Beâ€™er Sheva and Rahat, the ancestral lands of the Al-Ukbi tribe, the government also sprayed 4,000 dunams in three separate villages and the homes of 50 Bedouin families, poisoning wheat fields in the process. The new village was constructed while the government plans to demolish a number of Bedouin villages in the
These land disputes originated in the forties and fifties. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 came a new regime and new priorities over land use. And everyone has a different interpretation of what happened.
This is the backdrop to the regional trauma.
Here in the desert, the Bedouin talk about time in generations and their connection to the land. They have grown old on different mythologies here â€“ their narratives still being shaped. The world is moving faster than they have the capacity to respond. They suffer from the same discrimination as the other Arabs in
Judging from the treadmill of government bureaucrats, NGOâ€™s, members of the Knesset and international journalists making the rounds, there could be something like a genuine Bedouin revival happening â€“ one which is being characterized in the context of indigenous rights, access to basic services like water, electricity, housing, health care, proper sewage facilities, refuse disposal, education, and recognition of cultural rights.
But some believe, these are the symptoms of tensions about to burst.
For everyone who says that the situation is headed in a better direction, there are others who are predicting a coming Bedouin intifada as
Asked if one is possible, Muhammad Zeidan, the head of the Arab Human Rights Association said, â€œThe Bedouin are peaceful, but they are human beings. I donâ€™t think they have a choice, they are being pushed to do this.â€
What adds to the complication is the
Some of the Bedouin community are opposing these moves outright as this will inevitably mean encroachment on their traditional lands. To paraphrase this line of thinking, many are wondering, â€œhow can the government take away our land, deny us basic rights like access to water, electricity, education and health care and continue to poison our lands with chemicals â€“ weâ€™ve been here since before 1948.â€
According to the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in the
The 1981 Removal of Intruders Law detailed the legal process for the removal of the inhabitants of â€œillegalâ€ homes in
â€œWe want the government of
There is even talk of constructing a hippodrome â€“ some are already joking that the characters at the horse racing track will have more rights than the Bedouin.
In January of 2004, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Minister of Industry and Work Ehud Olmert declared in a meeting with the Head of the Council of the Arab Unrecognized Villages, Jaber Abu Khaf, that the government will start to implement their plan to transfer 38 villages. Following this meeting, the Minister of Housing participated in the establishment of a new Jewish village on the lands of the Al-Ukbi tribe by moving in mobile homes in the middle of the night.
Almost 38 % of the governmental funds for the Arab Bedouin communities in the
There is general agreement amongst the Bedouin leadership that the governmentâ€™s plan does not take into consideration the cultural sensitivities of indigenous Bedouin culture.
Abu Afash Labad, one of the village council members, addressing a group says, â€œour true identity is the land.â€ He says that he is not relying on his citizenship to gain his rights because the state does not treat him as a citizen. He says the state is using the denial of basic services as an instrument of power to evacuate the Bedouin from their lands. Just last month, twenty three people of the Abu Elkian tribe including a ninety year old grandfather was injured when security forces arrived to demolish seven homes.
According to Ariel Dloomy of the Negev Coexistence Forum, as a Jewish citizen he has the right to live wherever he wants to. But Bedouin citizens donâ€™t have a choice â€“ they can either stay illegally where they are or move to seven settlement towns that have among the lowest socio-economic indicators of any village in
Compounding the tensions is the use of aerial spraying of chemicals by the Israel Land Administration office for the purposes of destroying the crops of the Bedouin which are predominately barley and wheat.
Roundup, the chemical being used in the spraying associated with genetic defects and possible carcinogenic effects. The central production plant belongs to the Monsanto company in the
Although there are a number of substances that would be considered harmful to humans, the possible long term effects of the main ingredient glyphosate is associated with renal damage, impaired fertility and an increased risk of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Arab legal organization Adalah has taken the government to court to stop the spraying.
Listening to Nuri Al-Ukbi, the leader of the Al-Ukbi tribe, talk to a group of journalists in one of the back rooms of the Writer’s House in Tel Aviv you get the sense this isnâ€™t just a press conference for him, this is his life. As Chairman of the Association for the Support and Defense of Bedouin Rights in
The Al-Ukbi tribe are not opposed to Jewish settlement in the Negev â€“ they just want the authorities to provide a suitable settlement solution for them and the other Bedouin in the
So for now, Nuri Al-Ukbi will continue to talk about the swindle of the 1951 planting season when his tribe was originally moved for â€˜securityâ€™ reasons. He has a whole tribe to answer to. He knows that these land disputes have gone on for generations and they will take generations to solve. For now, heâ€™s not going anywhere. Heâ€™ll still be here â€“ a fixture in the desert.