On October 5th the Guardian published two items – an article by MK Talab el Sana and a letter signed by a number of well-known and prolific anti-Israel activists – on the subject of the Negev Bedouin. Due to their fact-free one-sided nature and the omission of any alternative perspective, as well as their being timed to coincide with a demonstration to be held the next day in Israel, both items can only be seen as co-operation with and enabling of a political campaign.
Cif Watch has covered the issue of the disputes between Israeli Bedouin and the State many times in response to the plethora of previous Guardian articles on the subject. Some of those articles can be read here, here, here and here.
The published letter employs the highly inflammatory –and totally inaccurate – phrase “ethnic cleansing” and falsely suggests that the residents of the illegally constructed Bedouin encampments do not have access to Israeli hospitals. The letter’s writers also employ the now popular political tactic of describing the Bedouin as Palestinians, stating that “[t]he British government must condemn any move to evict the Palestinian citizens of Israel from their lands, which were documented under the British Mandate as privately owned Palestinian land – not ownerless as the Israeli state now claims.”
The facts are of course somewhat different than this emotionally charged letter would suggest. Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, a professor of political geography at Ben Gurion University and director of the Adalah Negev Project (also a member of ACRI and a former director of Shatil), has documented the actual sequence of events:
(emphasis added, Naqab =Negev)
“In 1858, the Turks enacted a law requiring that the names of landowners be officially recorded as a means of regulating land-related matters in the Ottoman Empire. There were five categories of land in the Ottoman Empire: Mulk (land under private ownership), Miri (state-owned land that could be cultivated for a one-time fee), Mauqufa (land in a religious trust or Islamic endowment), Metruka (uncultivated land), and Mawat (wasteland unsuitable for cultivation). Most of the land in the Naqab was categorized as Mawat. The Bedouin of the Naqab were opposed to the creation of a written record of their land holdings, since doing so would make them subjects of foreign rule. As such, they would be required to pay taxes and serve in the Ottoman army.
In 1921, the British Mandate government issued an order calling for residents of the Naqab to register their land. The Bedouin, who were given a two-month extension, did not do so, and their land remained unregistered. According to the Land Ordinance (Mawat) of 1921, a Bedouin who cultivated revitalized and improved Mawat land was given a certificate of ownership for that land, which was then recategorized as Miri. The courts of the new State of Israel, a country born 27 years later, ruled that any Bedouin who passed up the opportunity to register Mawat land in his name in 1921 and did not receive a certificate of ownership was no longer eligible to do so.”
In other words, the fact that many contemporary residents of the Negev cannot produce documentation in support of their claims to various lands is a result of the choices made by their ancestors. It should be made clear that all privately owned land (‘Tabu’) in Israel (whether owned by Jews, Arabs, Bedouin or any other section of the population) is exclusively land which was purchased and registered before the establishment of the state and that the government has issued compulsory purchase orders for lands privately owned by individuals in all sectors in order to facilitate town planning and development.
In his article MK Talab el Sana also promotes the myth of Bedouin ownership of most, if not all, Negev land and he too employs the term “ethnic cleansing”, as promoted by the Higher Steering Committee, and despite the fact that a contemporary population of 200,000 (more conservative estimates place the figure at 160,000) compared to 11,000 in 1953 would indicate quite the opposite. No-one is suggesting the removal the Bedouin from the Negev; in fact at the time of the return of the Sinai in the early 80s, many opted to remain in Israel under an offer made by the Israeli government rather than to return to Egyptian rule.
The Israeli government has made numerous attempts over the years to solve the disputes with the 40% of the Negev Bedouin population which does not currently live in one of the seven purpose-built towns. Additional new towns are planned, with offers of free land, a waiver on infrastructure development costs and financial relocation packages for those moving there from illegally constructed encampments. No other sector of Israeli society is eligible for these benefits.
As anyone who has driven along the southbound road out of Be’er Sheva in recent years will appreciate, the much-used term ‘unrecognised villages’ in fact refers to an ever-expanding network of unauthorised shanty towns such as those pictured below. The provision of 21st century facilities and services to such a vast number of illegally constructed encampments is simply impossible.
In order to fully understand the issue of the disputes between successive Israeli governments and certain groups of the Negev Bedouin, (and why they are so difficult to solve) it is necessary to appreciate the political agendas of some of those promoting the subject both at home and abroad. That, of course, is essential background which the Guardian does not provide for its readers.
Talab el Sana, for example, is a member of the ‘Ra’am’ party, otherwise known as the United Arab List, which enjoys particularly strong support among the Bedouin. That party is dominated by the Southern Islamic Movement which, although more moderate than its Northern counterpart under the leadership of Raed Salah, does not recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state but takes part in the political process. Its ideology is closely related to that of its parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Another organization heavily involved in the promotion of the dispute between the Negev Bedouin and the Israeli government as a means of delegitimisation of the Jewish state is Adalah which calls for the replacement of the Jewish state with a ‘democratic, bilingual and multicultural’ country in which Jewish immigration would be limited to strictly humanitarian cases but Palestinian refugees and their descendants would be entitled to the ‘right of return’. The director of Adalah’s Negev Project, the abovementioned Thabet Abu Ras, is also a prominent member of the NCALC which constitutes the majority party in the High Follow-Up Committee. The joint manifesto of these two bodies calls for Israel to lose its Jewish identity and become a ‘state of all its citizens’. Ironically, Adalah is also involved in a legal campaign to remove Jewish residents from the Negev area.
In publishing both Talab el Sana’s markedly subjective article and the highly inaccurate and inflammatory accompanying letter from well-known anti-Israel activists, the Guardian has once more offered its services as collaborator with and propagandist for political organisations which, through exploitation of the Bedouin’s grievances, seek to delegitimize and undermine the state of Israel.