Israel "Ethnically Cleansing" Bedouin Arabs?

It had all the elements that the foreign press in Israel could have hoped for – a mass eviction accompanied by the destruction of homes, a large Israeli police presence, the potential for confrontation and, even better, the fact that those being evicted belong to the Arab minority within Israel.

So it was that CNN, BBC, AFP and the LA Times saw fit to cover the demolition of an unauthorized Bedouin settlement in the Negev region. Indeed, irrespective of the rights or wrongs of the issue, such scenes are never pleasant and involve some level of human suffering. The foreign media, however, based on the quotes of non-governmental organizations, managed to portray a complex story in very black and white terms.

Writing in The Guardian’s Comment is Free, notorious anti-Zionist academic Neve Gordon, not even bothering to address the wider context of the demolition, even went as far as to state that he

suddenly understood how far the state is ready to go to accomplish its objective of Judaising the Negev region; what I witnessed was, after all, an act of ethnic cleansing.

While the rest of the media did not sink to Gordon’s level of vitriol, most of them certainly did nothing to dispel a one-sided narrative that portrays Israel as the usurper of Arab land. The status of the Bedouin in Israel is far more complex, as is this particular case of the demolished unrecognized village. As the Jerusalem Post explains:

In the statement, the ILA [Israel Lands Authority] said that residents first “invaded” the area in 1998, were soon evicted, and returned a year later.

The ILA said residents had been asked to rent the land for agricultural purposes for NIS 2 per dunam (0.1 hectare), but “they refused to pay and continued to infiltrate the land year after year.”

After an eviction notice was issued in 2003, the residents filed a petition that made its way to the High Court of Justice.

While the petition was being heard, the residents “continued to infiltrate and squat on state-owned land, and in fact expanded their infiltration through constructing illegal and unproved buildings, crudely trampling on the law,” the ILA said.

In 2007, the Beersheba Magistrates’s Court dismissed residents’ request for a delay in implementation of the eviction orders and ruled that residents were “infiltrators repeatedly seizing state land after being evicted.”

There are tens of thousands of illegal structures in Beduin communities in the country, and several thousand more are built each year; far more than the number the state manages to demolish. Many of these settlements lack basic services, with residents living “off the grid” and not paying municipal taxes.

As the Israeli press did, including the JPost and YNet, it is incumbent upon the media to include the necessary context and explanation. One is perfectly within one’s rights to agree or disagree with Israeli government policies but it is wholly misleading to report on this story without including legal context.

As the ILA explains (PDF format):

In recent years, some of the Bedouin residing in the dispersed areas have started claiming ownership of land areas totaling some 600,000 dunams (60,000 hectares or 230 square miles) in the Negev over 12 times the area of Tel Aviv!

The Israel Land Administration (ILA) is doing everything in its power to resolve the problems of the landless Bedouin in the Negev. Although this matter is exceedingly complex given the large number of claimants (15,000) who represent the clans of the original claimants, investigation of all land ownership claims has been recently expedited… Instead of prosecution, Israel proposes to settle the conflict by offering extremely generous settlements in return for the withdrawal of the Bedouin’s ownership claims. By 2006, the ILA’s efforts to reach compromise agreements with Bedouin land claimants had resulted in agreements regarding 150,000 dunams out of the 800,000 dunams under dispute.

In addition:

  • Israel is currently building 13 new villages or towns for the Negev Bedouin.
  • The government of Israel has allocated more than NIS1 billion for the benefit of this population.
  • The State of Israel is offering far-reaching benefits to Bedouin who leave the dispersion and move into permanent villages.

See here (PDF) for more on current Israeli and ILA policy towards the Negev Bedouin.

Israeli society and the often forced process of urbanization is fraught with difficulties not to mention legal issues surrounding state owned land in the Negev.

Sadly, in today’s anti-Israel climate, it is but a small step from one-sided reports to the type of demonizing invective employed by Neve Gordon that promotes the lie of an Israel set on “ethnically cleansing” its Arab minority. Even worse that Comment is Free is more than happy to give Gordon and others a soap box to peddle such extremist and false views.

See here for more on the Bedouin in Israel.

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