Eradication of Bedouin villages


“We should transform the Bedouin into an urban proletariat … The Bedouin would not live on his land with his herds, but would become an urban person... This would be a revolution, but it may be fixed within two generations ... This phenomenon of the Bedouin will disappear."                                                   

General Moshe Dayan, 1963


Bedouin encampment. Their houses have been destroyed

 and they cannot afford to rebuild them


Off The Map is the title of a Human Rights Watch report on violations of land ownership and housing rights of Bedouin living in “unrecognised” villages in Israel. The Israeli government refuses to recognize 34 such villages in the Negev desert because it wants to confine the Bedouin to seven “recognised” townships where the are required to give up their traditional way of life and renounce any claim to ownership of their ancestral land.


Though the Bedouin living in the unrecognised villages are Israelis and pay taxes like other Israelis, they are not provided with mains water, mains electricity, sewerage disposal or garbage collection. They are not allowed asphalt roads. The villages are omitted from Israeli maps, or plans for new Israeli Jews-only villages are drawn over their positions.


The Bedouin in the Negev are now restricted to 2% of their original land, and the government wants to take even this from them. The inhabitants of Al-Grein, a village a group of us visited, have no ownership or building rights in spite of 57 years on land to which they were forced to move in 1948. Israel says it wants to plant a forest here.


“We are in a daily battle to save our homes,” said Al-Grein’s representative on the Bedouin regional council. For the past two years the village has campaigned against the Israeli government’s intention to destroy it and the traditional Bedouin way of life. He welcomed our visit as he believes that raising public awareness increases the likelihood of the campaign succeeding. “We have to live together. The state is pushing away my children. The state will regret the hate it is causing, the rebels it is creating. My children will fight for justice more than I am doing.”


Falsification of land ownership document


The Israelis claim that the Bedouin do not own the land. However they offer to buy it from them at knock-down prices. In 1943 a British court established Bedouin ownership of the land at Al-Grein. An Israeli government legal document of 1973 agrees ownership for agricultural use. In 2006, the document was altered, absolutely illegally, and the agreement of ownership was crossed out. No Bedouin has succeeded in getting court acknowledgment of ownership.

We were shown a photo of an Israeli plane spraying the herbicide Roundup on a field in the village to kill off a crop of wheat. Ten Bedouin dwellings are demolished in the Negev every week. There had been demolitions in Al-Grein the week before we visited and three months earlier. Inevitably the demolitions have a devastating effect on the

morale of families as well as physically and economically. Imagine the effect that bulldozing of your home (and often the destruction of your possessions) would have on you and your family. How would you then cope with looking after a family, perhaps with a young baby, in a small tent or under a polythene sheet or under the fierce desert sun? How are you going to store and prepare food? How are you going to keep the children clean

Destruction of wheat crop by Israeli plane

 with sand and dirt everywhere? The Bedouin hate squalor because they value cleanliness and hygiene. If the demolition has not ruined the family financially, they are unlikely to try to rebuild a house because the wreckers are likely to return. Despite this threat, necessity drives people to rebuild some form of dwelling. In recent years, one village has been demolished 15 times.


Before 1947 the Bedouin lived in an integrated society, looking after their animals and cultivating communally. The women wove and made tents together. There is a Bedouin museum in the Israeli Kibutz Lahav, but tourists are not taken to see the Bedouin living in nearby villages where they are denied the means to dispose of sewerage and garbage.


Bedouin pastoralists, making a living from their flocks of sheep and goats, do not fit with Israel ’s image of itself as a modern ‘Western’ country of educated and rational people. The racist Israeli state is relentlessly taking land that Arabs have lived on for centuries and giving it to Jews. This is very evident in the Negev which the Bedouin have populated for over 500 years. The skills they have developed in living successfully in such an arid area count for nothing to Israel ’s government officials in their drive to settle Jews here in place of Bedouin. Because water is an increasingly precious commodity in the region, the Jews would do well to learn from the Bedouin how they manage to live here rather than destroying their way of life.


Israel has ratified human rights treaties which guarantee the right to adequate housing, which grant protection against forced evictions, and which allow for choice of place of residence. But Israel completely ignores these obligations in the treatment of its Bedouin population.


At present, the government-appointed Goldberg Commission, set up to investigate and “solve the problem of the Bedouin in the Negev ,” is hearing testimony from Bedouin and others.  It is headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and has two Bedouin amongst its eight appointees, but neither of them live in the “unrecognised villages.” Having experienced other commissions of inquiry which have never ameliorated their situation, or dealt with their justifiable grievances against injustice, the Bedouin are nevertheless hoping that perhaps this time things will be different.


Once again, the commission may work to remove them from their current homes in rural communities into the “recognised townships.” In these, the infrastructure and possibility of employment are minimal    Bedouin themselves have referred to the recognised townships as “living graves.” They wish to be free to choose to pursue a traditional, rural, pastoralist lifestyle if they want, guaranteed by the establishment of state-recognised rural communities. If the Goldberg Commission proposes such a step, it will be the first ever such recommendation in the history of the State of Israel.


                                                                         Tony Davies

                                                                         Angela Godfrey-Goldstein

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