Saturday, June 2, 2012

Existential Questions Facing the Muslim World

by Harold Rhode

Many parts of the world, such as Korea, China, and India - basically medieval kingdoms fifty or sixty years ago -- are now among the pacesetters of the modern world, both producing, and improving on, existing inventions. The Muslim world, however, often better off than these countries just half a century ago, has remained as it was, or has even, in many instances, deteriorated.

This inertia in the Islamic world seems to stem not from any genetic limitations, or even religious ones, but purely from Islamic culture.

Although one can gain some insight into Islamic culture from books and other written material, if one is to really understand the Muslim world, there is no substitute for sitting in coffee or tea houses, spending time with Muslims, and asking them questions in their own surroundings and in their own languages. A result of these approaches would seem to indicate, with respect, some of the factors citizens of the Arab and Muslim world might wish to consider to use their extraordinary talents even more fully:

The Ability to Question: Western culture is predicated on questioning: inquiring of authorities how they came to the conclusions they reached -- a concept from the ancient Greek word "historayn," to learn by asking. Although in the Shiite world questioning occurs among religious authorities and the educated elite, in the Sunni world, for centuries, asking questions of those more learned or in positions of authority has been unacceptable. Until Muslims once again allow themselves to ask questions and engage in critical examination, they are disabling themselves from accomplishing as much as they otherwise might.

The Role of the Individual vs. the Role of the Group: In much of the Muslim world, people are often seen not as individuals but as members of particular families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups, or religions. In the Muslim and Arab world, a problem between two people can become a problem between two families, with the individual becoming a "soldier" in the ensuing feud. What an individual might think personally – who is right and who is wrong – becomes irrelevant, fostering a mindset that obstructs the impersonal and dispassionate analytic thinking that defines the modern world.

Encouraging Creativity: A good way to define Western intellectual creativity in the Muslim world is to use the Arabic word ijtihad, roughly meaning using one's intellectual and reasoning capabilities to determine answers. Today's Islamic culture seems not to encourage this ability: among the Sunni Muslims, who comprise about 85% of the approximately 1.4 billion Muslims, the "Gates of Ijtihad" were closed about a thousand years ago, apparently for the political reasons: religious authorities declared that all questions had been addressed during the past four centuries, so there was therefore no more need for questioning. Since then, Muslims have been asked to accept institutionally what they learn from their authority figures – as in the word Islam, itself, meaning "submission." Islamic culture therefore does not only to encourage creativity as much as it might; it appears actively to discourage it: people are educated to memorize, not criticize.

Creativity requires, above all, questioning the accepted ways of doing things. What many Muslims do, therefore – and do very well – is produce things invented by others. The Turks, for example, who have had longer and closer contacts with the West than most other areas of the Muslim world have had, are superb at replicating what others have created. Although the F-16, for example, was created in the US, the only perfect one ever manufactured by the mid-1990's was assembled in an F-16 plant in Turkey. Individual Turks would have been perfectly capable of inventing an F-16, but often feel constrained to think creatively in their own country. This might be a reason that gifted individuals in the Muslim world who feel the need to expand their abilities often abandon their native countries for the West, and do brilliantly there.

The Ability to Admit Failure and Learn from It: Although no one particularly likes to fail, people in the West expect those who have failed to examine why they have failed, and to learn from their mistakes. Some high-tech firms even try to hire people who have failed at startups in the hope of gaining insights so their companies will not pursue avenues that did not succeed. It is hard to imagine a similar approach in any Muslim country, where it is virtually impossible for anyone publicly to admit failure. The concept of personal honor – (in Arabic, 'Ayib) what others say about you – is prevalent everywhere: admitting failure means shaming yourself, a situation to be avoided at all costs. In Western culture, this concept of shame is largely alien; we are more of a "guilt" culture, in that what we think about ourselves counts more than how others view us, and largely motivates our advancement.

In Asian cultures, for example, which also care deeply about "face," a more neutral way of recognizing problems has evolved. The Japanese and the Chinese, for instance, do not say they have failed; they say that the road that had been chosen did not prove to work, so the direction should be changed. This indirect way of admitting failure has helped them advance. Such a blameless approach, however, is virtually non-existent in the Muslim world, and a major reason so much of it remains in squalor.

The results of this contrast - the Asian and Western and Asian cultures on one hand, and the Muslim culture on the other -- might be described as two kids of cakes: just looking at the cake tells you nothing about how it tastes. The Western world is like a cake covered with an uninviting khaki-colored frosting. Although it might look awful, the cake inside tastes great: its ingredients are first class and well-baked. By contrast, the Muslim world is like a cake covered with beautiful frosting, but made out of ingredients that might disappoint the people at the table.

The Learning Process: Muslim culture emphasizes memorization. Universities in Muslim lands grant degrees based on the students memorizing vast amounts of material, but not necessarily knowing how to apply them. In engineering, for instance, the Arab world graduates more than 250,000 engineers each year, but when the Arabs want to build an airport, they invariably import foreigners to do it, In the Arab world, engineering degrees often have become symbols of "personal honor" rather than knowledge to be used.

Taking Responsibility for One's Actions: In the same vein, there is no equivalent in the Muslim world to the Western concept of taking responsibility for one's actions. The word mas'uliya in Arabic, Turkish, and Persian is usually translated in Western dictionaries as "responsibility," but it really has a meaning which corresponds more to the Western concept of "being held responsible for, or being blamed for something not going well." The meaning of this word in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish has little to do with the Western concept of responsibility -- defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "the ability to act independently and make decisions," and largely devoid of personal honor.

How Information Is Passed On To Others: In Western societies, information is usually passed down along a chain, based on information moved up it by subordinates. In Muslim societies, the opposite usually occurs: the job of the subordinate is to implement what superiors pass command him to do; the subordinate almost never participates in the decision-making process. The Middle Eastern subordinate fears not doing what his superior tells him to do, even if the subordinate knows that what his superior wants him to do is wrong or will not work. At best the subordinate is discouraged, on pain of being fired, from questioning the decision -- true even in the most Westernized country in the Muslim world, Turkey. Most officers in the Turkish army, for example, have a sign behind their desks: "The commander wants answers, he does not want questions." That attitude was most likely the reason senior Turkish military officials could not learn how deeply the Islamic fundamentalists had penetrated the military establishment: their subordinates knew their officers did not want to hear that their units had been penetrated by people who disagreed with Ataturk's philosophy of separating religion from the state.

The Western Concept of Compromise: In the West, the precept of "win-win" forms the basis of how we negotiate. To reach an agreement, each side gives in to some of the demands of the other side; doing so entails no loss of personal honor. In the Arab, Turkish, and Persian worlds, however, giving in to the other side's demands involves enormous amounts of shame and the loss of honor – which is why the culture in these Islamic lands requires negotiations only after victory. Asking to negotiate before one has won indicates weakness – or why else would one be reaching out to end a conflict? -- and another loss of personal honor to be avoided at all costs. After one side has decisively won, and has then imposed a solution on the vanquished party, then one begins to negotiate: the vanquished party licks his wounds and looks for the opportunity to redress his loss. This is known in Arabic as sulh, somewhat like the Western concept of a truce, by definition temporary. In such circumstances, there cannot be a win-win situation. This is, unsurprisingly, why conflicts in the Middle East are never permanently resolved, and why life in the Muslim world, unlike the West, seethes in a constant state of tension.

The Western Concept of Peace: In Western culture, making a peace boils down to putting the past behind one, letting bygones be bygones, and moving on from there. This mindset already existed in ancient Hebrew culture, in which the word shalom, from the root sh-l-m, meaning completeness, involved leaving past disagreements behind. But in the Arabic, Turkish, and Persian cultures, such a concept does not exist. The Arabic word salam – used in all three languages - derives from the same Semitic root, but instead means "the special joy that one gets by submitting to Allah's will through Islam." The word Islam, from the same root, means submission; not exactly the same as peace. If bygones can never be bygones, conflicts can never be resolved. In these Muslim lands, when one side is stronger, it attempts to subdue its ancient enemies. The culture does not permit Muslims to put the past behind them: the internet, for example, is filled with discussions among Muslims about how they must and will reconquer Spain, which they lost to the West 520 years ago. In the Muslim culture, individuals -- both the leadership and the common man -- spend so much time looking for ways to right perceived wrongs, that they might find it disconcerting to focus their energy on looking what we might think of as more productive and positive activities.

Book Publishing: The subject of most of the books sold in the Arab world, except for Lebanon and Iraq, concern either to Islam or hatred of the West – more specifically, they are either anti-America or anti-Israel. The number of books translated annually into Arabic is about the same as those translated into Finnish. There are, however, about 365 million Arabs, compared to 5.5 million Finns. How are Arabs to acquire the knowledge necessary to propel them into the modern world if they do not have access to modern scientific and intellectual thought, easily available in their own languages? Sadly, there does not seem to be a market in the Arab world for these types of books. Is this because there is little desire for that knowledge? If so, this inertia guarantees that as the outside world gallops into the future, the Arabo-Muslim world will find it harder and harder to catch up to Asia and the West. Arabs leaders can, of course, buy modern technology, but this solution, although instant, only guarantees a permanent dependence on outsiders.

The Status of Women: The great 19th century Ottoman historian, Namik Kemal, argued that the Muslim world was in danger of being left behind because of its oppression of women. He asked how a country could advance if it oppressed and failed to educate half its population -- the equivalent of intentionally paralyzing half one's body. Further, this paralyzed part of society is the one responsible for raising the next generation of males. Much of the Muslim world continues to place great obstacles in the paths of its women. In Iran under the Shah, for example, the marital age for women was 16; under the Islamic republic, this age was lowered to nine lunar years, meaning that an 8-1/2 year old girl can legally be married off by her family. In the Arab, Turkish, and Persian worlds, women can be murdered, often without definitive proof, if the male members of their families believe that they may have done something that could have put a stain on the family honor; if a woman is regarded as contaminated, the entire clan can be held in disrepute and cast out by the community.

In some parts of the Muslim world, females are pressured to undergo various forms of "female circumcision," a cutting of their genitals presumably intended to prevent women from having sexual pleasure -- a practice that often takes place in unsanitary conditions that can cause significant health problems, if not death. This practice, however, has nothing to do with Islam; it is tribal, it pre-dates Islam, and it has everything to do with the Islamic culture and a seeming male terror of being tempted by women's sexual allure.

The Oil Curse: Since Muslims in the oil-rich states can now afford to have others do everything for them, they are not compelled to use the one renewable resource available to everyone: the human brain -- if exercised to think creatively, capable of amazing feats. But given the cultural realities and financial wealth available in so much of the Muslim world, there seem to be few incentives, if any, to be productive in ways other than gaining, conserving, or enjoying wealth.

Palestinians, as well, are easily capable of accomplishing what anyone else does, if only their education, governance and cultural incentives were changed from destroying their neighbor, Israel, to building a felicitous society. Palestinian political leaders, however, seem to have decided that the rewards from the international community, at least for them, will be greater if they are seen as victims receiving perpetual handouts, rather than as leaders receiving rewards linked to accomplishments. The economic system seems to have evolved into bribes in exchange for promises that are never kept, followed later by the request for still more bribes.

Ironically, all genetic analyses of the many ancient Muslim Palestinian families indicate that they are largely from the same genetic stock as Ashkenazi Jewry (See minutes 5:00 to 6:16, and So what is the difference here? The Jewish culture encourages questioning and thinking from an early age, whereas the Palestinian Muslim culture does not. What is encouraged instead is the unexamined acceptance of whatever is set before one, whether on government-run television or in government-written textbooks. Religion has nothing to do with this situation; Islam therefore is not the problem: Islamic culture is. Only when Muslims address their culture head-on can there be any real hope for their world to overcome its self-imposed limitations and start fully contributing to the wonders of the 21st century.

Harold Rhode


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Welfare for Fake Palestinian ‘Refugees’

by Daniel Greenfield

Each century brings forth its own patriots. Once upon a time we had Patrick Henry, today we have Senator Patrick Leahy, who declared in the Senate that his opposition to an amendment that would distinguish how much of the UNRWA’s funding goes to actual refugees versus fake refugees was a patriotic act.

“I always look at what is in the United States’ interest first and foremost, and this would hurt the United States’ interests,” Senator Leahy stated firmly. It is of course difficult to find as compelling a national interest as the UNRWA, a refugee agency created exclusively for the benefit of five million Arabs, approximately 30,000 of whom are actual refugees, but all of whom hate the United States.

Senator Leahy, who could not discover a national interest in the Balanced Budget Amendment, drilling for oil in ANWR or detaining Muslim terrorists, all of which he voted against; finally discovered a binding national interest 5,500 miles away in Jordan, where “refugee camps” like Baqa’a (pop. 80,000), which are virtually indistinguishable from local towns and cities, complete with block after block of residential homes, stores and markets, multi-story office buildings, schools, hospitals and assorted infrastructure, must not be looked at too closely.

As a city which will soon celebrate its 50 year anniversary, Baqa’a is older than many modern Israeli cities and is as much a refugee camp as any of them. The only difference between Baqa’a and Ariel, is that no one in Baqa’a does anything for themselves because they are all eternal refugees with an entire UN agency dedicated to wiping their bottoms for them. A unique and singular honor in a world full of authentic refugees who have been driven out by rape squads and genocide, without getting their own minders in blue.

Samuel Johnson said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” but even Johnson would have had trouble understanding how a refusal to count who American aid money is going to is in the nation’s best interests. It is no doubt in the best interests of the denizens of Baqa’a and their Jordanian rulers, who need to spend that much less money taking care of their people, but ignorance certainly doesn’t do the United States and its interests any good. A refusal to seriously examine the books does, however, benefit the UNRWA and politicians like Leahy who continue to support this boondoggle.

Jordan, the location of Baqa’a, and many other aid sinkholes like it, has a population notoriously hostile to the United States. After September 11, Al-Qaeda enjoyed some of its highest approval ratings there, and most Jordanians still do not believe that Muslims carried out the attacks. Despite half a century of aid, 67 percent of Jordanians blame the West for their lack of prosperity and majorities there support suicide bombings against civilians and American soldiers. Clearly if there’s one place that there is a compelling national interest to plow aid money into, without doing the math, it’s Jordan and its refugee camps.

Where exactly is the compelling national interest in standing behind the UNRWA’s 1.23 billion dollar biennial budget, and not just the budget, but a refusal to reform the methodology for accounting where all that money is going to? Before Washington D.C. cuts another quarter-of-a-billion dollar check to one of the biggest wastes of money in an organization that excels at wasting money, even more than D.C. does, it’s entirely sensible to ask whom the money is going to and how long we will be making out these checks.

There are currently five million people living off the UNRWA dole. Sooner or later there will be fifty million. Jordan’s government has done everything possible to inflate the UNRWA welfare rolls and keep cities like Baqa’a and their people on the Western dole. One day the Jordanian government, the British-appointed monarchy ruling over the original Palestinian state, may decide to give up the farce and put all their people on the UNRWA rolls as refugees. And we’ll have to keep on paying without asking any questions– after all, it is in our “national interest.”

When Senators and Deputy Secretaries talk about national interests, what they really mean is the interest of Muslim monarchies in the Gulf, who bring up Israel and the plight of its terrorists every time an American diplomat or general drops by Riyadh, Doha or Kuwait City.

The UNRWA, Baqa’a and the PLO aren’t American interests — they’re a Muslim interest. What Leahy really means is that it’s in America’s national interest to cater to Muslim interests, whose kingdoms, despite their billions in oil wealth and their passionate feelings on the subject, somehow can’t be bothered to cover the cost of feeding, teaching and caring for Baqa’a.

The King of Jordan found 1.5 billion dollars to build the Red Sea Astrarium, a local version of Disneyland, but the Hashemite monarchy, like the House of Saud, the Al-Thanis, the House of Sabah, and every other bunch of burnoosed tyrants with palaces and investments across the world, can’t be asked to care for their own people in their 50-year-old refugee camps, who are kept that way because it’s an easy way to sock the gullible West for another few billion dollars to fund their terrorist training bases.

Even if there were a valid reason for the United States to champion Muslim interests by carving up Israel in order to create yet another Sunni Muslim state, it would not be a national interest, it would be appeasement. Palestine is as much in America’s national interest, as the Sudetenland was in Britain’s national interest.

Is it really in America’s national interest to turn over its foreign policy to the Muslim monarchies who birthed Al-Qaeda and are conducting a covert war against the West? Is it in our interest to keep funding terrorist training camps like Baqa’a without asking any questions? And is Senator Leahy, who treats questioning the UN bureaucracy as an unpatriotic act, the real patriot, or is he the pawn of a gang of tyrants who have one hand on America’s shoulder and the other on the knife in its back?

Unless we are expected to keep on funding Baqa’a on its 200 year anniversary, sooner or later the numbers have to be added up, and people whose only claim to the bottomless aid bucket is that their great-grandfather was on the losing side of a war of conquest, started by their side, will have to get a job.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Pat Leahy’s Anti-Israel Extremism

by Ben Shapiro

Last Thursday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) targeted an amendment by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) that would force the State Department to determine how many actual Palestinian refugees – not their children, relatives, friends, or distant relations – are being served by US tax dollars. Leahy was upset because he knew, as most supporters of the Palestinian cause do, that the number of Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Israel during the 1948 war of annihilation launched by the Arabs against Israel is far smaller than the number of Palestinians now claiming redress.

“Frankly, Mr. Chairman, as a member of this committee, I always look at what is in the United States’ interest first and foremost,” he said on the Senate floor. “And this would hurt the United States’ interests. It may give a momentary advantage to one side or the other after we spend all that money, but it hurts the United States’ interests.” His inflection was clear – he was implying that those who support the Kirk Amendment are more interested in Israel’s interests than in those of the United States.

That implication is that anyone who supports Israel is not an American patriot. And that is a charge that has been aimed over and over at Israel supporters by the far left of late, from Media Matters’ MJ Rosenberg, who uses the white supremacist term “Israel firster” to smear those who support Israel, to Think Progress bloggers, who have used the same language.

In the 1980s, Leahy repeatedly leaked classified information to the press that undermined American national security – including information about a Reagan administration plan to topple Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. In January 1987, Leahy had to step down from the Intelligence Committee after it broke that he was leaking information about Iran-Contra to the press. Leahy supported the communist Sandanistas Nicaragua; he opposes missile defense; he opposed the Gulf War in 1991 to throw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and opposed military action in Afghanistan after 9/11. Leahy has hung out with Fidel Castro.

In 2011, Leahy pushed a bill trying to cut American funding to elite Israel Defense Force units operating in Judea and Samaria and Gaza – even though only Israel’s policing of those areas prevents terrorism from reaching Israel’s cities. He was supremely anti-Israel during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008, in which Israel dismantled Hezbollah operations in Southern Lebanon. Leahy, by contrast, has never called for one dollar of cuts to the Palestinians, despite their aid and support for terrorism.

Why is Leahy so anti-Israel? Part of it is certainly personal feeling. But a large part of it is that Leahy’s far-left constituency in Vermont is anti-Israel. Leahy’s hatred for the Jewish State – and his newest argument that those who support Israel are anti-American – springs directly from the growing anti-Semitic wing of the Democratic Party, which seems more and more tolerant of anti-Jewish, anti-Israel feeling in its ranks.

Ben Shapiro


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Portia, Shylock and the Exclusion of Israeli Actors From the Global Cultural Community

by David Hirsh

Is the Merchant of Venice an antisemitic play or is it a play which intimately depicts the anatomy of persecution, exclusion and bullying?
A classic speaks differently to each individual and in each new context. On Monday I saw The Merchant of Venice performed by Habima, the Israeli National Theatre. The venue was the replica of Shakespeare’s wooden, roofless, Globe Theatre. It was a hot London night and the noise of flying machines occasionally confronted our fantasies of authenticity, if the fact that the performance was in Hebrew didn’t.

But first more context. London is, after having been the hub of the British Empire, now a multicultural world city. The Globe is hosting companies from all over the world to perform Shakespeare in their own languages; Shakespeare from Pakistan, South Africa, Georgia, Palestine, Turkey, China and everywhere else.

Since some rather nasty medieval stuff, London and Jews have got on fairly well. London stood firm against Hitler, and the local Blackshirts too; it didn’t mind much whether Jews stayed separate or whether they immersed themselves in its vibrancy; it didn’t feel threatened, it didn’t worry, it just let Jews live engaged lives. But London’s very post-nationalism, and its post-colonialism, has functioned as the medium for a rather odd new kind of intolerance.

Sometimes, we define our own identities in relation to some ‘other’. Early Christianity defined itself in relation to the Jews who refused to accept its gospel, and it portrayed them as Christ-killers. If people wanted to embrace modernity, then they sometimes constructed themselves as being different from the traditional Jew with his beard and coat, standing against progress. Yet if they were afraid of the new then they could define themselves against the modernist Jew. Nineteenth Century nationalists often defined the Jew as the foreigner. Twentieth Century totalitarianisms, which had universal ambition, found their ‘other’ in the cosmopolitan Jew.

These processes created an invented image of ‘The Jew’ and the antisemites portrayed themselves as victims of ‘The Jew’. Antisemitism has only ever portrayed itself as defensive.

Some people who love London’s relaxed, diverse, antiracism look for an ‘other’ against which to define themselves. They find Israel. They make it symbolise everything against which they define themselves: ethnic nationalism, racism, apartheid, colonialism. London’s shameful past, not to mention in some ways its present, is cast out and thrust upon Israel. London was within a few thousand votes last month of re-electing a mayor, Ken Livingstone, who embraced this kind of scapegoating. [For more on post-national Europe's use of Israel as its nationalist 'other', see Robert Fine.]

We can tell that this hostility to Israel is as artificially constructed as any antisemitism by looking at the list of theatre groups against which the enlightened ones organized no boycott. Antizionists have created a whole new ‘-ism’, a worldview, around their campaign against Israel. Within it, a caricature of Israel is endowed with huge symbolic significance which relates only here and there to the actual state, to the complex conflict and to the diversity of existing Israelis. If the Palestinians stand, in the antizionist imagination, as symbolic of all the victims of ‘the west’ or ‘imperialism’ then Israel is thrust into the centre of the world as being symbolic of oppression everywhere. Like antisemitism, antizionism imagines Jews as being central to all that is bad in the world.

One of the sources of energy for this special focus on Israel comes from Jewish antizionists. For them, as for many other Jews, Israel is of special importance. For them, Israel’s human rights abuses, real, exaggerated or imagined, are sources of particular pain, sometimes even shame. Some of them take their private preoccupation with Israel and try to export it into the cultural and political sphere in general, and into non-Jewish civil society spaces where a special focus on the evils of Israel takes on a new symbolic power. But the ‘as a Jew’ antizionists are so centred on Israel that they often fail to understand the significance of the symbolism which they so confidently implant into the antiracist spaces of old ! London.

When I see a production of the Merchant of Venice, it is always the audience which unsettles me. The play tells two stories which relate to each other. One is the story of Shylock, a Jewish money lender who is spat on, excluded, beaten up, and in the end mercilessly defeated and humiliated. The other is an apparently light-hearted story about an arrogant, rich, self-absorbed young woman, clever but not wise, pretty but not beautiful, and her antisemitic friends. Shakespeare inter-cuts the grueling detailed scenes of the bullying of Shylock, with the comedic story of Portia’s love-match with a loser who has already frittered away his large inheritance.

Shakespeare offers us an intimately observed depiction of antisemitic abuse, and each time the story reaches a new climax of horribleness, he then offers hackneyed and clichéd gags, to see if he can make us laugh. It is as if he is interested in finding out how quickly the audience forgets Shylock, off stage, and his tragedy. And the answer, in every production I’ve ever seen, is that the audience is happy and laughing at second rate clowning, within seconds. And I suspect that Shakespeare means the clowning and the love story to be second rate. He is doing something more interesting than entertaining us. He is playing with our emotions in order to show us something, to make us feel something.

Now, the audience at this particular performance was a strange one in any case. It felt to me like London’s Jewish community out to demonstrate its solidarity with Israel and to protect the Israeli cousins from the vulgarities which their city was about to offer. The audience was uneasy because it did not know in advance what form the disruption was going to take. In the end, the atmosphere was a rather positive and happy one, like an easy home win at football against an away team which had threatened a humiliating victory. Solidarity with Israel meant something different to each person. One man ostentatiously showed off a silky Israeli flag tie. Others were Hebrew speakers, taking the rare opportunity in London to see a play in their own language. Some in the audience would have been profoundly uncomfortable with Israeli government policies but keen to show their oneness with those parts of their families which ha! d been expelled from Europe two or three generations ago and who were now living in a few small cities on the Eastern Mediterranean.

The audience may not have been expert either in Shakespeare or in antisemitism. Most people think that the Merchant of Venice is an antisemitic play. Shylock is thought to be an antisemitic stereotype, created by Shakespeare for audiences to hate. Are we supposed to enjoy the victory of the antisemites and the humiliation of the Jew? But what was this audience thinking? If it is simply an antisemitic play, why would we be watching it, why is the Israeli National Theatre performing it? And if it is a comedy, why aren’t the jokes funny, and why does Shakespeare offer us a puerile game show rather than some of his usual genius?

I don’t think this audience really cared much. It was there to face down those who said that Israeli actors should be excluded from the global community of culture, while actors from all the other states which had been invited to the Globe were celebrated in a festival of the Olympic city’s multiculturalism. So, the audience was happy to laugh loudly and to enjoy itself. We saw on stage how Shylock’s daughter was desperate to escape from the Jewish Ghetto, the darkness and fear of her father’s house, the loneliness of being a Jew. We saw how she agreed to convert to Christianity because some little antisemitic boy said he loved her, we saw how she stole her father’s money so that her new friends could spend it on drunken nights out. And we saw Shylock’s despair at the loss and at the betrayal and at the intrusion. Perhaps his unbearable pain was also fueled by guilt for having failed his daughter since her mother had! died.

And then the audience laughed at silly caricatures of Moroccan and Spanish Princes, and at Portia’s haughty and superior rejection of them. And now, not representations of antisemites but actual antisemites, hiding amongst the audience, unfurl their banners about “Israeli apartheid”, and their Palestinian flags, and they stage a performance of their own. How embarrassing for Palestinian people, to be represented by those whose sympathy and friendship for them had become hatred of Israel; to be represented by a movement for the silencing of Israeli actors; to be represented by those who show contempt for Jewish Londoners in the audience, who de-humanize them by refusing to refer to them as people but instead simply as ‘Zionists’. And a ‘Zionist’ does not merit the ordinary civility with which people in a great city normally, without thinking, accord to one another.

The artistic director of the Globe had already predicted that there might be disruption. There often was, he said, at this unique theatre. Pigeons flutter onto the stage but we ignore them. And today, people should not get upset, they should not confront the protestors, they should allow the security guards to do their job.

One protestor shouted: ‘no violence’, as the security guys made to take her away. They took a few away, the actors didn’t miss a word and the audience, largely Jewish but also English, showed their stiff upper lips and pretended nothing had happened. Some time later another small group of protestors, who had wanted to exclude Israelis from this festival because of their nationality, stood up and put plasters over their own mouths to dramatize their own victimhood. Antisemites always pose as victims of the Jews, or of ‘Zionism’ or of the ‘Israel lobby’. And the claim that Jews try to silence criticism of Israel by mobilizing a dishonest accusation against them is now recognizable as one of the defining tropes of contemporary antisemitism.

Meanwhile, on stage, the antisemitic Christians are positioning themselves as the victims of Shylock. They have spat on him, stolen from him, corrupted his only daughter, libeled him, persecuted him and excluded him. Now he’s angry. He’s a Jew, so he can be bought off, no? They try to buy him off. But for Shylock, this is no longer about the money. It is about the desperate anger of a man whose very identity has been trampled upon throughout his life. And at that moment, I could sympathise with him more than ever. I imagined my own revenge against the articulate poseurs who were standing there pretending to have been if silenced. Shylock is a flawed character. But how much more telling is a play which shows the destruction of a man who is powerless to resist it? Racism does not only hurt good people, it also hurts flawed and ordinary people and it also has the power to transform good people into angry! , vengeful people. Obviously these truths can be followed around circles of violence in these contexts, from the blood libel, christ-killing and conspiracy theory, to Nazism, to Zionism and into Palestinian nationalism and Islamism. Only the righteous ones imagine it all comes out in the end into a morality tale of good against evil.

What are they thinking, the protestors? Do they understand the play at all? Are they moved by the sensitivity of the portrayal of the anatomy of antisemitic persecution? Perhaps they are, and they think that Shylock, in our day, is a Palestinian, and Jews are the new Christian antisemites. One man exclaimed, full of pompous English diction: ‘Hath not a Palestinians eyes?’ He was referring to the wonderful universalistic speech with which Shylock dismantles the racism of his persecutors. This protestor mobilized the words given by Shakespeare to the Jew, against actually existing Jews. The experience of antisemitism was totally universalized, as though the play was only about ‘racism in general’ and not at all about antisemitism in particular. And the point, that a longing for vengeance is destructive and self-destructive, no matter how justified it may feel, was of course, totally missed.

Somebody replied with comedic timing: “Piss off”. Everybody cheered. There was an understanding that the boycotters had shot off all their ammunition now, but the target was left untouched.

Or do the protestors that this is an antisemitic play? Perhaps they felt that this was the ‘Zionists’ rubbing the history of antisemitism in the faces of London and then by proxy, the Palestinians. Isn’t that the source of Zionist power today? Their ability to mobilize Jewish victimhood and their ownership of the Holocaust. This, again, is an old libel, that the Jews are so clever and so morally lacking, that they are able to benefit from their own persecution. When will the world forgive the Jews for antisemitism and the Holocaust?

The climax of the play sees Antonio, the smooth-tongued antisemitic merchant who has borrowed money which he now cannot pay back, tied up in the centre of the stage like Christ on the cross. And the antisemites demand that the Jew displays Christian forgiveness. But the Jew, who has been driven half mad by antisemitic persecution, does not forgive: he wants his revenge.

Naturally, the antisemites, who have state power in Venice, are never going to allow him his revenge. Portia, the clever, erudite, plausible, beautiful antisemite offers a wordy justification, and before you know it, Antonio is free, and Shylock is trussed up ready for crucifixion. And the Christians do not forgive either, they show no mercy. They humiliate Shylock, they take his money, and they force him to convert to Christianity. He ends up on his knees, bear headed, without his daughter, without his money, without his livelihood and he says: ‘I am content’.

And what do I see? I see another Jew, in the 21st Century, preparing a court case in which he too may be humiliated by a clever form of words. Ronnie Fraser, a member of the University and College Union (UCU), the trade union which represents university workers in Britain, is taking a case to court later this year and he may well end up being portrayed as the wicked, powerful Zionist looking for revenge, in a British courtroom. Represented by Anthony Julius, he is taking a case to court later this year in which he argues that the campaign which wanted to silence the Habima theatre company is, in effect if not intent, antisemitic, and it has created a situation inside his trade union where antisemitic ways of thinking and antisemitic nor! ms of institutional governance have become ordinary. This case will be huge and the stakes are high.

The antizionist elite, with all its access to the media and with all its Jewish, political, celebrity and intellectual support, will portray itself as being silenced by Ronnie the ‘Zionist’ and it will ask the court to set aside all the evidence of antisemitism in favour of a smart but ambiguous form of words.

Portia said that Shylock could have his pound of flesh but only if he could extract it without spilling a drop of blood. The form of words in Fraser v UCU which would humiliate the plaintiff would be that while he is protected from antisemitism by the Equality Act of 2010, hostility to Israel is not antisemitic.

The day after the performance, one of the leading boycotters, Ben White, tweeted a picture of the beautiful Jewish face of Howard Jacobson, an opponent of the exclusion of Israeli actors from London. White added the text: “If you need another reason to support a boycott of Habima, I present a massive picture of Howard Jacobson’s face”.

Faced with this, it is hardly controversial to insist that ‘criticism of Israel’ can sometimes be antisemitic. Let’s hope Ronnie’s judge does not take advice from a contemporary Portia.

David Hirsh, Sociology Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London

note: my reading of The Merchant of Venice is largely indebted to David Seymour’s Law and Antisemitism.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Are the Negev Bedouin an Indigenous People?

by Havatzelet Yahel, Ruth Kark, and Seth J. Frantzman

In the last two decades, there has been widespread application of the term "indigenous" in relation to various groups worldwide. However, the meaning of this term and its uses tend to be inconsistent and variable. The expression derives from the interaction of different cultures—the meeting between the original inhabitants of a specific region (known variously as "first nations," "natives," "indigenes," or "aborigines") and new, foreign "settlers" or "colonizers," who imposed their alien value systems and way of life on the indigenous populations.[1]

In Israel, the indigenousness claim has been raised over the past few years by the country's Bedouin citizens, a formerly nomadic, Arabic-speaking group centered in the southern arid part of the country, the Negev. They argue that Israel denies their basic indigenous rights such as maintaining their traditions and owning their own lands.

Does this claim hold water? What are its implications for Israel as well as for other nations?

Bedouins vote in the 1951 elections for the second Knesset. While the Negev Bedouin may be at the lower end of Israel's socioeconomic strata, attempts have been made since the beginnings of the modern state to incorporate and integrate them into Israel's multiethnic society.

Indigenous Rights in the International Arena

What is known today as international law developed in Europe from the seventeenth century onward, parallel to the emergence of sovereign nation states, with the objective of regulating relations between these new entities. Traditionally, international law made no mention of group rights, which were considered a domestic concern of the state.[2]

International law was reluctant to further group rights for several reasons, among them concern for the integrity of the state and fear of separatism that would undermine its stability.[3] Furthermore, group rights were considered contradictory to the concept of a modern state based on a direct social contract between the citizen and the sovereign.

Over time, however, the idea of group rights for indigenous groups began to emerge. Indigenous societies claimed that their position was unique in view of the great damage to the independent political frameworks that they had maintained from time immemorial, their subjugation to a regime and lifestyle alien to their culture, and the limitation of the physical area in which they were forced to live. Their case, therefore, centered on revoking this perceived injustice and included demands to preserve sacred sites, traditional crafts, and customs as well as to honor preexisting treaties to the extent that such had been signed. These societies also insisted on their right to self-determination whether in the choice of group members or in the wider sense of sovereignty. The rights demanded were on behalf of the indigenous group and its common and collective character.[4]

As far as the European colonizers were concerned, legal rights vis-à-vis both preexisting populations and other colonizing nations were based on the doctrine of "discovery." This maintained that sovereignty over and full ownership of a territory belonged to the nation that discovered the new land.[5] This doctrine was upheld multiple times by the United States Supreme Court in the nineteenth century, and courts of additional nations followed suit.[6] In Australia, the British Crown used the argument of terra nullius (empty land, namely an unoccupied territory with no sovereignty or recognized system of rights) to justify its classification as crown land.[7] However, beginning in the eighteenth century, it was conceded in courts of various states that the population that lived in a territory before the advent of the Europeans did possess rights. Legal arguments focused on the question of whether, prior to the arrival of the colonizers, a system of land rights already existed in a specific territory that had to be taken into account, and if so, in what manner.[8]

Early attempts by indigenous peoples to bring their case before international forums began in the 1920s.[9] Their first successes, however, came decades later when activity shifted from domestic arenas to regional, and later, international organizations. On the international level, the issue of indigenousness was advanced in three major frameworks. The first comprised two covenants adopted by the International Labor Organization, an affiliate of the United Nations: the Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention of 1957 (No. 107), and later, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989 (No. 169)[10]—neither of which was successfully implemented.

The second framework consisted of the efforts of organizations such as the World Bank, which since the 1990s, began to list indigenous rights as an issue of concern in its dealing with countries, especially in the Third World.[11]

The third framework was informal action within various forums of the U.N. dealing with human rights. This included initiating conferences[12] and promoting study of the topic. Beginning in 1971, the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) conducted an extensive study of the issue of native populations.[13] Carried out over a period of about ten years, the research was published in a series of reports submitted between 1981 and 1986. In 1982, the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations was established, charged with protecting native populations and the development of international standards relating to their rights.[14] A draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP)[15] was enjoined in 1985, and almost twenty years later in 2006, was finally submitted to the U.N. General Assembly and approved the next year with the support of more than 140 nations. Four nations that voted against it (the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) eventually withdrew their opposition. Israel did not participate in the voting.[16] During this time, the assembly declared 1995-2004 to be the "International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples" and established a permanent forum on this issue within the framework of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.[17] The assembly declared a second decade on December 20, 2004.[18]

Much of the delay in presenting DRIP centered on differences of opinion related to the concept of sovereignty[19] as well as the definition of indigenous.[20] Since no consensus was reached on this crucial definition, the problem was circumvented by deleting it from the draft.[21] Numerous countries, mainly from Asia and Africa, made qualifying statements regarding their support for the declaration. Indonesia for example, with its hodgepodge of ethnicities and languages, argued that "the rights in the Declaration accorded exclusively to indigenous people and did not apply in the context of Indonesia."[22] A more restricted view of indigenousness had been articulated as early as 1999 by Miguel Alfonso Martinez, then special rapporteur of the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations. His view is consistent with a concept that indigenousness is relevant to countries where there is a "two-stage model" of first inhabitants and colonizers and is less relevant or completely irrelevant in an environment of multistage historical development.[23]

The final version of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007, also did not include a definition of an indigenous people, mainly because the relevant U.N. bodies were unable to agree on the matter.[24] This has contributed to the low level of de facto implementation of the declaration among U.N. member states.

What Is an Indigenous People?

Despite the absence of a universally accepted definition, DRIP manages to shed some light on the question of what an indigenous people is: a separate political entity with unique characteristics within the framework of the state. According to its articles, such entity or nation has the sovereign right to determine the structure of its institutions, its identity, and its membership.[25] Moreover, the declaration differentiates between rights accruing to individuals and to the collective body; articles dealing with land rights refer only to the rights of indigenous peoples as a collective body, not as individuals.

Based on this declaration and the existing literature,[26] a list of recurring parameters of indigenousness can be established:

  • Original inhabitants: Indigenes are descendants of the people who were first in a particular territory.[27]
  • Time duration: Indigenous people have lived on the land "from time immemorial"—thousands, and even tens of thousands of years. The Australian aborigines, for example, have lived in their territory for anywhere between 40,000 and 60,000 years while Native Americans claim a history of thousands of years. Another related attribute is that indigenous people were on the land before newcomers arrived.[28]
  • Pre-colonial sovereignty.
  • Experience of oppression by a foreign culture and legal regime. While many groups may sense having being oppressed, oppression in this context refers to "colonialism or something like colonialism."[29]
  • Group attachment to land: Indigenous peoples maintain a unique, common relationship of a spiritual nature with the land on which they live or have lived.[30] This is often reflected in the belief that land is a gift to that people from God.[31]
  • Distinct, non-dominant (marginalized) populations.
  • Separate customary, cultural, economic, social, and political institutions.
  • Self-identification and recognition by others as indigenous.

An important differentiation between indigenous peoples and minorities is connected to those parameters that relate to the historical dimension such as "first nationhood" or former (i.e., pre-colonial) sovereignty on the soil.[32] While such a distinction has recently been challenged (primarily by groups in Africa for whom proving the historical connection is problematic),[33] it is important to maintain the difference. In fact, a crucial differentiation between minority rights and indigenous rights is that minority rights are formulated as individual rights whereas indigenous rights are collective.[34] This distinction, as well as the articles incorporated into DRIP, has a particular relevance to the claims of the Negev Bedouins.

The Negev's "First People"

In the past few years, the Bedouin of Israel's Negev have begun claiming the status of an indigenous people, arguing that Israel like other colonialist regimes dominated their territory, refused to admit their lengthy presence in their native land, and denied their rights.[35] This line of argument is consistent with the position of the Arab leadership, voiced as early as the early 1920s, that disparaged the Jewish national revival as an alien, colonial intrusion into the pan-Arab patrimony. These arguments are both erroneous and misleading. To begin with, the Bedouin are by no means the only people who can lay claim to the notion of being a "first people" in Palestine: Jewish attachment to the land predates Arab presence there by millennia. Indeed, of the countless groups that have lived in Palestine since antiquity, Jews are the only nation that can claim an uninterrupted presence on the land from biblical times to date—for a significant amount of the time as its rulers.

About three millennia ago, a kingdom of Israel was established in the landmass from the Negev in the south to the Golan Heights in the north. At one stage, it was split into two kingdoms: Israel and Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria in the eighth century B.C.E., and a portion of its population was exiled. The southern kingdom of Judah, which exercised sovereignty over the Negev, continued to exist until it fell in the sixth century B.C.E. to the Babylonians, who exiled a considerable segment of the populace. The Babylonian Empire was soon, thereafter, conquered by the Persians, who allowed the exiled Jews to return to their homeland in 538 B.C.E. In addition to the returning Jews, the land was peopled at this time by Idumeans (Edomites), the remnant of the Philistines, Samaritans (a mixture of Israelites and Assyrian colonists), and some Arab groups, likely the ancestors of those who would come to be called the Nabateans.

Over the course of approximately four centuries, the country was under the control of various non-Jewish rulers, but from 141-63 B.C.E., the sovereign Jewish kingdom of the Hasmonean dynasty was established, eventually falling within the sphere of Rome, which ruled it with some minor hiatus for the next seven centuries. With the Muslim conquest of the seventh century C.E., there began an increased movement of Arab tribes into the area. Over the next nine centuries, various foreign Muslim and non-Muslim occupiers controlled the land, culminating in the Ottoman conquest in 1517.[36]

Since its advent in the seventh century, Islam constituted the organizing principle of the sociopolitical order underpinning the long string of great Muslim empires.[37] Islamic principles became the framework that brought Arab tribes together, served as a unifying force for social organization, and invested the empire with political legitimacy with the sultan-caliph recognized as the religious and temporal head of (most of) the world Muslim community.[38] Tribal lifestyle and customs also became an integral part of the systems of government and law.[39] Courts were established throughout the empire that passed judgment according to Shari'a (Islamic law), an Ottoman land law formalized in 1858, and other civil jurisprudence codified in 1876 as the Ottoman Mejelle.[40]

During World War I, Britain took control of the land and in 1922 was appointed the mandatory administrator for Palestine by the League of Nations with the specific goal of facilitating the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine as envisaged by the Balfour declaration. The British Mandate in Palestine continued utilizing most of the existing Ottoman legal system, including laws related to land.[41] With the establishment of Israel, the Provisional State Council (the temporary parliament antecedent to the Knesset) enacted the Law and Administration Ordinance of 1948 that maintained the existing legal system with its roots in Ottoman law.[42]

Thus, in contrast to colonies in which Western powers imposed a foreign legal system, in Mandate Palestine, and later Israel, the judicial system that developed over the years was grounded in the norms of tribal life and the Muslim population. More important, neither the British nor the Israelis considered the land terra nullius to which the old European doctrine of discovery applied for the simple reason that it was neither "empty" nor "discovered." As far as the Jewish people was concerned, Mandate Palestine was its ancestral homeland, and it was the general recognition of this fact that underlay the League of Nations' mandate for the establishment of a Jewish national home there.

The Negev Bedouin

Until the twentieth century the Bedouin of the Middle East, including those of the Negev, were livestock-raising nomads whose movements were dictated by a constant search for pasture and water.[43] It has long been noted that what characterizes the Bedouin is their relationship to the tribe, rather than to a specific place or territory.[44]

Among the Bedouin tribes living in the Negev today, most view themselves as descendants of nomadic tribes from the Arabian Peninsula.[45] In fact, most of them arrived fairly recently, during the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, from the deserts of Arabia, Transjordan, Sinai, and Egypt.[46] Part of this migration occurred in the wake of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and Palestine in 1798-99 and subsequent Egyptian rule under Muhammad Ali and his son Ibrahim Pasha (r. 1831-41). During this period, Egyptian forces moved through Sinai and into the Negev using the coastal road that runs through Rafah, accompanied by numerous camp followers, peasants, and Bedouin. Some of the Egyptian peasants who followed in the footsteps of the army established new settlements and neighborhoods in Palestine, others joined Bedouin tribes in the Negev.[47]

Ottoman tax registers demonstrate that the tribes which lived in the Negev in 1596-97 are not those residing there today.[48] According to historians Wolf-Dieter Hütteroth and Kamal Abdulfattah, the tax registers that reflect material collected in those years show names of forty-three Bedouin tribes living in what became Mandatory Palestine, including six in the Negev. There is not much information on what became of those tribes.[49] However, the names of the tribes currently living in the Negev do not appear on the tax registers from 1596.[50] The Ottoman government did not maintain reliable records for this area after 1596, so these registers are the best indicators of which tribes existed in the early Ottoman period. Clinton Bailey, a scholar of Bedouin culture, also found no evidence in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries of the continuity or existence of Bedouin tribes, which later lived in the Negev in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.[51]

Bedouin consolidation of their Negev foothold was achieved through armed intertribal struggles as well as raids on established Arab settlements that caused the latter's demise.[52] Although the nomads depended upon sedentary populations for survival, they looked down upon them while settled Arabs viewed the Bedouin as opportunists or worse, as cruel robbers.[53] Numerous authors have documented the Bedouin role in conquering the Negev as well as the plundering and expulsion of settled Arabs from other parts of Palestine.[54] British surveyor and archeologist Claude R. Conder, writing in the 1880s, described a situation of unending war between the Bedouin tribes and the settled villagers.[55]

Nomadism continued in Palestine until the beginning of the twentieth century when a transition to semi-nomadic life and settlement took place.[56] Concurrently, there was a gradual shift in the manner in which the Bedouin related to the land, from common exploitation for grazing by all members of the tribe to private use.[57] Simultaneously, there was a gradual transition from animal husbandry to agriculture.[58] By 2000, animal husbandry was practiced by only about 10 percent of the Bedouin, and many of the younger generation have expressed reservations about maintaining their parents' lifestyle.[59]

Prior to the establishment of Israel there were about 65,000 Negev Bedouin. During the 1948 war and in its immediate aftermath, most left for neighboring states, reducing the Negev Bedouin population to about 11,000.[60] Since then, however, numbers have dramatically increased to almost 200,000 persons in 2011. There has also been significant improvement in education and in health indices among Israeli Bedouin. However, when compared with other groups in Israeli society, including urban and rural Arabs, they remain at the lowest socioeconomic level.[61]

In the 1970s, about 3,000 Bedouin filed claims demanding that Israel recognize their full private ownership of hundreds of thousands of dunams of land in the Negev (1 dunam=1000 m2), including the right to sell. Israeli courts, basing their decision on Ottoman and British law, have consistently refused to sanction the Bedouin claims. The courts have decreed that the lands claimed were never allocated for private use, and that they are of the category of mewat (defined by the Ottoman land law as the area of waste land that lies beyond the carry of the human voice when uttered from the nearest habitation). It is public land and cannot be assigned as privately owned.[62] Currently, there are no claims before Israeli courts for collective land rights, and there is no expressed interest in land for collective grazing or for the maintenance of nomadic traditions.

Are the Negev Bedouin Indigenous?

While there is no universally agreed-upon definition of indigenous, do the Bedouin of the Negev fit the previously outlined parameters for what constitutes an indigenous people? Using such criteria, the answer is an unequivocal No:

  • Original inhabitants. Many groups preceded the Bedouin in Palestine in general and in the Negev in particular, including the Jewish people, which has maintained uninterrupted presence in the land since biblical times. Hence, the Bedouin can hardly claim to be the country's original inhabitants.

  • Time dimension. This requires a lengthy presence in a territory—the so-called "time immemorial" parameter. But the Negev Bedouin have been there for only two centuries. Nor can they claim presence in the land before the arrival of the foreign power as the imperial Ottoman presence there predated that of the Bedouin by centuries. By contrast, the Jewish presence in Palestine fully corresponds to the "from time immemorial" parameter.

  • Sovereignty. In the case of the Negev Bedouin, they were never sovereign in the area. When they arrived, the Negev was already under Ottoman rule, before coming under British, then Israeli sovereign authority.

  • Oppression by a foreign culture and legal regime. It was, in fact, the Bedouin who imposed themselves on established settlers in the Negev, displacing them and destroying their villages. The Ottoman Muslim order, which they confronted upon arrival, was similar to what they had experienced in the other parts of the empire from which they migrated to Palestine. Britain was indeed a foreign power, but it never attempted to colonize Palestine as its presence there was transitory from the start in line with the League of Nations mandate. As for the Jews, far from being colonial intruders, they were descendants of the country's ancient inhabitants, authorized by the international community—as represented by the League of Nations—to reestablish their independence in the ancestral homeland.

  • Unique spiritual relationship to the territory. While nomadic life, by definition, precludes permanent attachment to specific territory, pastoral lands do become a significant element in Bedouin life given their importance for tribal subsistence. Furthermore, even today, control of an area is a matter of honor among the Bedouin, and any challenge to this control, however legitimate or legal, is considered an insult.[63] Nonetheless, there is no evidence of long-standing Bedouin traditions relating to the Negev, a logical situation considering their fairly short presence there and nomadic lifestyle, and they look to the Arabian Peninsula as their historical homeland.

    Moreover, the Bedouin are not currently asking for collective land rights, rather all their claims are formulated on an individual basis (overwhelmingly by males with almost total exclusion of women), demanding the right of individuals to sell land and transfer it to a third party.[64] These private demands are not congruent with the spiritual dimension parameter and even contradict it, which leads to the conclusion that the main Bedouin aspirations are for private gain and have no real collective element relevant to a campaign for recognition as indigenes.

  • A minority with an identity different from that of the general population. The Bedouin are, without doubt, a small minority in Israel, not only of the entire population but even within the country's Arab citizens. Indeed, until the middle of the Mandate period, the Bedouin were considered by the Palestinian Arab peasants as their enemies.[65]

    Recently there have been signs of an abandonment of an independent Bedouin identity and the gradual adoption of a Palestinian Arab identity accompanied by increasing involvement in Muslim fundamentalism.[66] A 2003 study concluded that the Bedouin should no longer be considered a "society unto themselves" and that their identity today is Palestinian Arab, lacking any common tribal element, and is in the process of being shaped anew. It further claimed there was an ulterior motive behind the long-standing categorization of a separate Bedouin identity: to negate the national Palestinian Arab identity.[67] The last conclusion, however, flies in the face of historical evidence, ignoring the unambiguous Ottoman view of the Bedouin as a separate group, long before the advent of confrontation between the Arab and Jewish populations of Palestine.

  • A group with separate economic, social, cultural, and political institutions. In the past, Bedouin tribes behaved as separate units with an accepted leadership in the person of tribal sheiks. Tribes had a system of customs that governed all aspects of life, and each of them was an independent economic and social group; occasionally several tribes would join together politically to form a confederation. Today, the situation has changed dramatically. Studies attest to a significant weakening of the framework that handled tribal affairs and of tribes' ability to come to decisions acceptable to all individuals. Institutions that formerly made decisions within the tribe or in intertribal relations no longer exist today.[68]

    Customary law and values necessary when the Bedouin were nomads, such as mutual responsibility, are no longer relevant.[69] It would seem that today one cannot speak of Bedouin tribes in the Negev, alone or in confederation, as an operational administrative framework. The end of nomadism and the transition to permanent settlements during the past century have done away with identification of the tribe as a separate economic entity. Today, every household has its own occupation as part of the general economy, and there is no universally acceptable authoritative leadership. Nor are there consequential political frameworks whose decisions are accepted by all even in areas that are of primary importance to indigenous peoples, such as lands. Decisions relating to land are taken only by individuals; any declaration in the name of the tribe or in the name of the Bedouin is, therefore, not legitimate. There have been no demands by individual Bedouins to subordinate themselves once again to an internal, independent tribal framework. The opposite is the case: The tendency today is to increase individual rights. Authority that formerly rested with the sheik vis-à-vis his tribe, including matters relating to land usage, was abrogated after members of the tribe claimed that such authority was superfluous and that the sheiks exploited it to further their own interests at the expense of ordinary tribesmen. Despite the disappearance of an authority to manage and operate tribal matters, and the absence of tribal political frameworks, specific customs and traditions continue to exist as part of Bedouin customary law, but mainly in certain spheres of personal and family life such as marriage and inheritance rights.[70]

  • The group identifies itself, and is viewed by others, as an indigenous people in the territory. As has been demonstrated, the Bedouin claim to indigenousness is very new, having been raised for the first time only a few years ago.[71] Earlier studies did not report that the Negev Bedouin consider themselves as such, nor did the researchers make the claim that they were an indigenous people. Since Bedouin tribes in other Middle Eastern countries have never claimed indigenousness, the validity of this claim by the Negev Bedouin is doubtful. Are the Bedouin somehow indigenous only in relation to the Negev but not in their homeland—Arabia—or in other Middle Eastern countries in which they abound?[72] Even parts of the same tribes as those in the Negev that live elsewhere, for example, in the Sinai, do not claim indigenousness in their countries of residence.


Although there is no official definition of indigeneity in international law, Negev Bedouin cannot be regarded as an indigenous people in the commonly accepted sense. If anything, the Bedouin have more in common with the European settlers who migrated to other lands, coming into contact with existing populations with often unfortunate results for the latter.

Moreover, rather than suffering an alien imposition on their indigenous way of life, the Bedouin migrated mainly from one part of the Ottoman Empire to another, governed by the same system of administration and legislation with which they were familiar and which the British and the Israelis have subsequently largely maintained.

As clearly demonstrated, the Negev Bedouin do not presently prefer to be a separate and independent entity in various spheres of public life such as economic and political activities. Their aspirations are of an individual nature. They are not interested in maintaining nomadic traditions of collective ownership of lands for the maintenance of a collective community but rather in an exclusively male proprietorship that would enable Bedouin men to sell the land to others at their own discretion. No studies have shown the existence today of functioning, independent institutions in various spheres of daily life that could point to the Bedouin being an indigenous people.

That no other Bedouin tribe in the entire Middle East has raised a claim to indigenousness raises questions regarding the motivations and authenticity of such an argument. Since the Bedouin in the Negev in some cases are from the same tribe as those found in neighboring countries, it is not logical that they can only be indigenous when they are on the Israeli side of the border.

The entire question of indigenousness is particularly problematic with regard to Israel. The fear is that instead of providing remedies and established order, it will create new disputes. The Land of Israel has a dual history, marked both by constant waves of immigration and invasion by various peoples and uninterrupted Jewish presence in the land from time immemorial. The Jews have always considered the Land of Israel their national homeland, have lived in it as a sovereign nation in historical times, maintained at least a toehold there despite persecution, and returned to it time and again after being exiled. This spiritual relationship is also expressed in both Jewish daily prayers and Israel's Declaration of Independence. If the parameters and preconditions for indigenousness are made more flexible to include arrivistes like the Bedouin, surely Jews can also raise a claim to be the indigenous people in Israel, a land which they called home thousands of years before the Negev Bedouin.[73] In such a case, it may also be expected that other ethnic groups, such as Druze, Christian Arabs, and Samaritans, would claim indigenous status. No doubt, this would add to confrontations already existing over control of land and the holy places.

The concept of indigenousness was intended to help remedy past injustices by giving native peoples the means to preserve their separate identity, common lifestyle, and the customs of their past. The Negev Bedouin may be a poor and marginal sector of Israeli society, yet this does not transform them into an indigenous people.

Havatzelet Yahel is a doctoral candidate at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an attorney in the Israel Ministry of Justice.

Ruth Kark is a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Seth J. Frantzman is a post-doctoral researcher at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute of Market Studies. The views expressed here are solely those of the authors.

[1] S. James Anaya, Indigenous Peoples in International Law, 2d ed. (Oxford and London: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 3.
[2] Natan Lerner, Group Rights and Discrimination in International Law, 2d ed. (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and Kluwer Law International, 2003), p. 112; Robbie Sabel and Hila Adler, eds., Mishpat Benleumy (Jerusalem: Sacher Institute, 2010), p. 241.
[3] Lerner, Group Rights and Discrimination, p. 111; Borhan U. Khan and Muhammad M. Rahman, "Protection of Minorities: A South Asian Discourse," The European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano, Italy, 2009; Arif Dirlik, "Globalization, Indigenism, and the Politics of Place," New Bulgarian University, anthropology dept., accessed Feb. 23, 2011; Ruth Gavison and Tali Balfur, "Zhuyot Kibutziot shel Miutim," working paper, submitted to the Constitutional Committee, Sept. 13, 2005.
[4] Patrick Thornberry, International Law and the Rights of Minorities (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), p. 335; Lerner, Group Rights and Discrimination, p. 115; Siegfried Wiessner, "Rights and Status of Indigenous Peoples: A Global Comparative and International Legal Analysis," Harvard Human Rights Journal, 12 (1999): 99.
[5] Robert J. Miller, "The Doctrine of Discovery," in idem, et al., Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 2.
[6] Johnson v. M'cintosh, 21 U.S. 543, 5 L.Ed. 681, 8 Wheat. 543 (1823); Worcester v. State of Georgia, 31 U.S. 515 (1832); St. Catharine's Milling and Lumber Company v. the Queen (Canada, 1887); Mabo and Others v. Queensland (Aus.), no. 2, AU 1992, 175 CLR1.
[7] Erica-Irene Daes, "Indigenous Peoples and their Relationship to Land," UNE/CN.4/Sub.2/2001/21, U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, June 11, 2001, p. 11.
[8] See, for example, "Western Sahara, Advisory Opinion," International Court of Justice reports, The Hague, Oct. 16, 1975, p. 12.
[9] State of the World's Indigenous Peoples, Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, New York, p. 2, accessed Mar. 19, 2012.
[10] Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989, International Labor Organization, Geneva, June 27, 1989; Lerner, Group Rights and Discrimination, p. 112.
[11] "Operational Directive: Indigenous Peoples," The World Bank Operational Manual, 4.20, Sept. 1991, pp. 1-6.
[12] See, for example, Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, Geneva, 1977; World Council of Indigenous Peoples, Kiruna, Sweden, 1977; State of the World's Indigenous Peoples, accessed Mar. 19, 2012.
[13] "The Problem of Indigenous Population," ECOSOC Res. 1589 (L), 50th Session Supplement, no.1, U.N. Doc. E/5044, May 21, 1971, p. 16.
[14] Robert A. Williams, Jr., "Frontier of Legal Thoughts III: Encounters on the Frontiers of International Human Rights Law: Redefining the Terms of Indigenous Peoples' Survival in the World," Duke Law Journal, Sept. 1990, p. 676.
[15] Lerner, Group Rights and Discrimination, p. 115.
[16] Ha'aretz (Tel Aviv), Oct. 2, 2007.
[17] U.N. General Assembly resolution 48/63, New York, Dec. 21, 1993; U.N. General Assembly resolution 49/214, New York, Dec. 23, 1994.
[18] U.N. General Assembly resolution 59/174, New York, Dec. 20, 2004.
[19] Anaya, Indigenous Peoples, p. 97.
[20] Sarah Pritchard, "Working Group on Indigenous Population: Mandate, Standard-setting Activities and Future Perspectives," in Sarah Pritchard, ed., Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations and Human Rights (London: Zed Books and Leichhardt: Federation Press, 1998), p. 43; Wiessner, "Rights and Status of Indigenous Peoples," p. 99; Lerner, Group Rights and Discrimination, p. 112.
[21] John A. Mills, "Legal Constructions of Cultural Identity in Latin America: An Argument against Defining 'Indigenous Peoples,'" Texas Hispanic Journal of Law and Policy, Mar. 2002, p. 57.
[22] U.N. media release, New York, Sept. 13, 2007.
[23] Miguel Alfonso Martinez, "Human Rights of Indigenous People: Study on Treaties, Agreements and Other Constructive Arrangements between States and Indigenous Populations," 1999, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1999/20, paras. 78, 91.
[24] United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, G.A. Res. 61/295, U.N. doc. A/RES/61/295, Sept. 13, 2007.
[25] Ibid., arts. 33, 35.
[26] See, for example: José R. Martinez Cobo, "Study of the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous People," 1987, UN E/CN.4/Sub.2/1986/7/Add.4, p. 29; Ronald Niezen, The Origins of Indigenism: Human Rights and the Politics of Identity (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003), p. 19; Wiessner, "Rights and Status of Indigenous Peoples," p. 60.
[27] David Maybury-Lewis, Indigenous Peoples, Ethnic Groups, and the State, 2d ed. (Boston: Allayn and Bacon, 2002), p. 6; U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, June 13, 1992, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.151q/26 (vol. 3) at 16 annex 2 (1992), chap. 26, quoted in Anaya, Indigenous Peoples, p. 315.
[28] Anaya, Indigenous Peoples, p. 5.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Daes, "Indigenous Peoples," p. 9.
[31] Andrew Erueti, "The Demarcation of Indigenous Peoples' Traditional Lands: Comparing Domestic Principles of Demarcation with Emerging Principles of International Law," Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, 23 (2006): 544; Ruth Kark, "Land-God-Man: Concepts of Land Ownership in Traditional Cultures and in Eretz Yisrael," in Alan R.H. Baker and Gideon Biger, eds., Ideology and Landscape in Historical Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 63-82.
[32] Lerner, Group Rights and Discrimination, p. 113; Thornberry, International Law and the Rights of Minorities, p. 331.
[33] Dorothy L. Hodgson, "Becoming Indigenous in Africa," African Studies Review, 3 (2009): 7.
[34] Indigenous Peoples in Africa: The Forgotten Peoples? The African Commission's Work on Indigenous Peoples in Africa (Banjul, Gambia: African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 2006), p. 13.
[35] For general and Bedouin-related arguments, see Geremy Forman and Alexandre Kedar, "Colonialism, Colonization, and Land Law in Mandate Palestine: The Zor al-Zarqa and Barrat Qisarya Land Disputed in Historical Perspective," Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 4 (2003): 496-534; Aref Abu Rabia, "Displacement, Forced Settlement and Conservation," in Dawn Chatty and Marcus Colchester, eds., Conservation and Mobile Indigenous Peoples: Displacement, Forced Settlement, and Conservation (London: Berghahn, 2002), pp. 202-11; Oren Yiftachel, "Likrat Hakara Be-kfarey Ha-Beduim Tihnun Metropolin Beer-Sheva mul Vaadat Goldberg," Tichnun, 11 (2009): 56-71.
[36] Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, 634-1099 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 23-40.
[37] Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 9-20.
[38] Ira M. Lapidus, "Tribes and State Formation in Islamic History," in Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East, Philip S. Khoury and Joseph Kostiner, eds. (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 1991), pp. 42, 44.
[39] Abraham Sochowolski, Adam—Adama Mishpat—Safa (Tel Aviv: Hagigim, 2001), p. 74.
[40] Pliah Albek and Ran Fleisher, Diney Mekarkein Be-Israel (Jerusalem: Albek and Fleisher, 2005), p. 7; Daniel Friedmann, "The Effect of the Foreign Law on the Law of Israel: Remnants of the Ottoman Period," Israel Law Review, 10 (1975): 196.
[41] Bernard Joseph, "Palestine Legislation under the British," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 164 (1932): 39-46.
[42] Law and Administration Ordinance, Provisional Council of State, Tel Aviv, May 19, 1948.
[43] Emanuel Marx, "The Tribe as Subsistence Unit: Nomadic Pastoralism in the Middle East," American Anthropologist, June 1977, p. 345.
[44] Clinton Bailey, Ha-Beduim (Sede-Boqer: Midreshet Sede-Boqer, 1969), pp. 1, 6.
[45] Toviyah Ashkenazi, Ha-Beduim Be-Eretz Yisrael (Jerusalem: Reuben Mass Publishing House, 1957), p. 30; Joseph Ben-David, Ha-Beduim Be-Yisrael—Hebetim Hevratiyim Ve-Karkaiim (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies, 2004), pp. 36, 57-9, 424-81; Reuven Aharoni, The Pasha's Bedouin (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), pp. 30-1.
[46] Moshe Sharon, "Ha-Beduim Be-Eretz Yisrael Bameot Ha-Shmone Esre Ve-Ha-Tsha-Esre," M.A. thesis, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1964, pp. 21-4.
[47] Gideon M. Kressel and Reuven Aharoni, "Masaey Uhlusim Memitzrayim La-Levant Bameot Ha-19 Ve-Ha 20," Jama'a, 12 (2004): 206-45; telephone interview with Gideon Kressel, Mar. 8, 2012.
[48] Wolf-Dieter Hütteroth and Kamal Abdulfattah, Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria in the Late 16th Century (Erlangen: Palm and Enke, 1977), p. 3.
[49] Ibid., pp. 51-3.
[50] Ibid.
[51] Clinton Bailey, "Dating the Arrival of the Bedouin Tribes in Sinai and the Negev," Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 28 (1980): 21-4; idem, "The Negev in the 19th Century," Asian and African Studies, 14 (1980): 42, 45.
[52] Sharon, "Ha-Beduim Be-Eretz Yisrael," p. 49; Joseph Ben-David, "Od Al Ha-Konflict Ha-Karkai bein Beduei Ha-Negev Levain Ha-Medina," Karka 44 (1998): 64; Emanuel Marx, Ha-Hevra Ha-Beduit Ba-Negev (Tel Aviv: Reshafim, 1974), p. 15; Emanuel Marx, Bedouin of the Negev (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1967), p. 7.
[53] Anatoly M. Khazanov, ed., Nomads and the Outside World, 2nd ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994), p. 199; Aref al-Aref, Bedouin Love Law and Legend: Dealing Exclusively with the Badu of Beersheba (Jerusalem: Cosmos, 1944; repr. 1974), p. 202; Ben-David, Ha-Beduim Be-Yisrael, p. 17; Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, Historical Geography, p. 11.
[54] Avraham Granovski, Ha-Mishtar Ha-Karkai Be-Eretz Yisrael (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1949), p. 32; David H.K. Amiran, "The Pattern of Settlement in Palestine," Israel Exploration Journal, 3 (1953): 69; see, also, Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, Historical Geography, p. 62; Muhammad Yusuf Sawaed, "Ha-Beduim Be-Eretz Yisrael Bein Ha-Shanim 1804 and 1908," M.A. thesis, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, 1992, p. 147-9; Eliahu Epstein, "Bedouin of the Negeb," Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly, 71 (1939): 59-78.
[55] Claude R. Conder, Tent Work in Palestine (London: A. P Watt, 1895), p. 271.
[56] Ashkenazi, Ha-Beduim Be-Eretz Yisrael, p. 23; Marx, "The Tribe as a Unit of Subsistence," p. 348.
[57] Avinoam Meir, "Hithavut Ha-Teritorialiyut Be-Kerev Bedvey Ha-Negev Bama'aver Me-Navadut le-Hityashvut Keva," Mehkarim Be-Geographiya shel Eretz Yisrael, 14 (1984): 76.
[58] Gideon M. Kressel, Joseph Ben-David, and Khalil Abu-Rabi'a, "Changes in the Land Usage by the Negev Bedouin since the Mid-19th Century: The Intra-Tribal Perspective," Nomadic People, 28 (1991): 29.
[59] A. Allan Degen, Roger W. Benjamin, and Jan C. Hoorweg, "Bedouin Households and Sheep Production in the Negev Desert, Israel," Nomadic People, 1 (2000): 130, 142.
[60] H. V. Muhsam, "Sedentarization of the Bedouin in Israel," International Social Science Journal, 4 (1959): 542.
[61] Eliezer Goldberg, et al., Din Ve-Heshbon Ha-Vaada Le-Hatzaat Mediniut Le-Hasdarat Hityashvut Ha-Beduim Ba-Negev (Jerusalem: Medinat Israel, 2008), p. 39.
[62] Hawashla ve-Aherim Neged Medinat Yisrael ve-Aherim, Court of Appeal, 21 8/74, 38(3) P.D. 141; Justice Tute, "The Law of State Lands in Palestine," Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law, 3rd series, 4 (1927): 165-82.
[63] Aref al-Aref, Toldot Be'er Sheva Ve-Shvateha: Shivtey Ha-Beduim Bemahoz Be'er Sheva (Jerusalem: Ariel, 2000), photocopy of first edition, Tel-Aviv: Bustenay, 1937, p. 273.
[64] See the statement of Hussein el-Rifaaya to the committee headed by Justice Goldberg, Goldberg et al., Report, session of Feb. 7, 2008.
[65] Conder, Tent Life, p. 71.
[66] Ben-David, Ha-Beduim Be-Yisrael, pp. 21, 29.
[67] Musa el-Hujeirat, "Ha-Zehut Ha-Kolektivit Shel Ha-Beduim Be-Eretz Yisrael," Reshimot Be-Nose Ha-Beduim, 35 (2003): 6.
[68] Ben-David, Ha-Beduim Be-Yisrael, p. 21.
[69] Ibid., pp. 335-6, 352.
[70] Khalil Abu Rabia, Shlosha Maagalim Badin: Ha-Konflict Bein Ha-Minhag Ha-Bedvi, Hukey Ha-Sharia Ve-Hok Medinat Yisrael (Beersheba: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 2011), pp. 13-4; Clinton Bailey, Bedouin Law from Sinai and the Negev: Justice without Government (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 300-1.
[71] Alexandre Kedar, "Land Settlement in the Negev in International Law Perspective," Adalah's Newsletter, Dec. 2004, pp. 1-7; Elana Boteach, "The Bedouins in the Negev as an Indigenous Population: A Report Submitted to the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations," The Negev Coexistence Forum Newsletter, Beersheba, Sept. 2005, p. 2; Ismael Abu Saad, "The Education of Israel's Negev Bedouin: Background and Prospects," Israel Studies, 2 (1997): 21-39; "Off the Map," Human Rights Watch, New York, Mar. 30, 2008, pp. 78-80; James Anaya, "Report by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples," A/HRC/18/35/Add.1, Aug. 22, 2011.
[72] See Seth Frantzman, Havatzelet Yahel, and Ruth Kark, "Contested Indigeneity: The Development of an Indigenous Discourse on the Bedouin of the Negev, Israel," Israel Studies, Spring 2012, pp. 78-105.
[73] Allen Z. Hertz, "Aboriginal Rights of the Jewish People," American Thinker, Oct. 30, 2011.

Havatzelet Yahel, Ruth Kark, and Seth J. Frantzman


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