The Prawer-Begin bill is a five-year economic development initiative seeking to regulate Bedouin settlement in the south of Israel. It aims for a compromise solution for tens of thousands of Bedouin currently scattered in unrecognized villages throughout the Negev, legalizing 63 percent of claimed land.
The plan has become a new cause célèbre for anti-Israel activists who have succeeded in reducing legitimate debate over a very real issue into yet another means to bash Israel.
Writing in the Irish Times, Eamonn McCann resorts to manipulation and falsehoods in an article entitled “Space for everyone in the history of the Negev – except the Bedouins.”
He refers to “the plan to cleanse the Bedouin from the Negev.”
Except that there is no plan to “cleanse the Bedouin from the Negev.” In fact, while many of the largest “unrecognized villages” will become recognized and therefore supplied with clean water, electricity and other utilities by the state, those Bedouin who are to be moved will still live in the Negev, albeit in modern towns with a proper functioning infrastructure.
McCann attempts to twist the Bedouin issue to fit his own worldview of the Israeli-Palestinian issue despite the fact that they are not the same. Haviv Rettig Gur notes in The Times of Israel:
the Bedouin are not “Palestinian” …, as an expression of a coherent national identity or political loyalty. Indeed, a key divide in Jordanian society separates the Bedouin from the Palestinians. More to the point, any discussion of the Negev Bedouins’ plight that does not mention their loyal IDF military service misunderstands and misrepresents their predicament.
Unlike the refugee question in the peace talks with the Palestinians, the question of Bedouin resettlement is not about demographics or Israel’s “Jewishness.” After all, the Bedouin are already Israeli citizens. Their demographics are part of the fabric of the Israeli state, come what may.
None of this is an argument for the Prawer plan. The plan itself can and must be subjected to intense public scrutiny. Are the Bedouin receiving enough financial compensation for the eminent domain-style resettlement? Are the planned towns to which they are being moved sufficient to their present and future needs, and do they respect their cultural norms as much as possible?
Honest observers can disagree on these questions, and it is the Bedouins’ right as citizens to lobby, campaign and demonstrate about them.
But it is difficult even to raise these questions or begin a serious national discussion on the long-term development of the poorest and most neglected among Israel’s minorities while the debate is dominated by flamboyant populism and flagrant dishonesty.
Flagrant dishonesty is an apt description of McCann’s piece. He writes:
It has ever been thus – the lands of the people that settlers want rid of declared empty, uninhabited, “terra nullius” – owned by nobody. Enclosing any lost souls wandering the bleak terrain within camps or compounds or townships is, then, an act of kindness.
Considering the Negev is an undisputed part of Israel, McCann’s reference to “settlers” can be taken as a direct attempt to delegitimize Israel’s right to the land. As for references to “camps” and “townships,” this deliberate use of language is meant to conjure images of apartheid South Africa or worse.
He then attempts to muddy the waters by attacking Israeli settlement policy vis a vis the Palestinians, referring to “Israeli settlers illegally occupying Palestinian land.” That McCann makes the direct linkage to the Bedouin issue speaks volumes. If in McCann’s eyes Israeli “settlers” are illegally occupying Bedouin land (within the Green Line), then Israel is not a legitimate state.
Referring to these sorts of politically motivated attacks in the Irish Times, other media and non-governmental organizations, Haviv Rettig Gur writes:
One key problem with this spectacularly excessive rhetoric is that for all the noise it generates, it fails to provide actual information to its audience.
For example, one cannot discover from the Rabbis for Human Rights video that almost half of the Bedouin being moved — roughly 15,000 – actually asked to be moved, even appealing to courts to get the state to grant them a new planned town in a separate location because the site where they had encamped was too close to the chemical works ofRamat Hovav, Israel’s main hazardous waste disposal facility.
Similarly, Guardian readers had no way of finding out in the paper’s coverage or the artists’ letter that Israel has already recognized several of the haphazard tent-cities of the Bedouin “dispersion,” but could not keep doing so indefinitely for the simple reason that the Negev Bedouin are the fastest growing population in the world, according to the Israeli government. They double their population every 15 years, and are expected to reach 300,000 by 2020. There simply isn’t any sustainable way to accommodate such a fast-growing population without municipal planning and multi-story housing.
And nowhere in the EU Parliament’s gathering of Socialists and Democrats could one learn that the Bedouin are being moved just three to five kilometers down the road from their current place of residence, and not out of the country.
But why should facts matter to Eamonn McCann?
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