by Dr. Reuven Berko
Once, when the state was paying compensation to the Bedouin living in the pastures surrounding the Nevatim air force base, a distinguished Bedouin man arrived from a great distance demanding compensation. The old man surprised local dignitaries and army officers alike. Swearing by the Quran, he claimed that the land upon which he trod was his. Everybody knew, with certainty, that this elderly man and his entire family hailed from lands far away. In the words of an Arabic parable, one cannot claim lands lacking either mare or camel to pasture. Still, the man stuck by his word. When his arguments began to contradict each other, he revealed that he had put sand from his home in one of his shoes, which proved his avowal true. Indeed, the Quran doesn't speak highly of the Bedouin. In surrahs 9 and 48, for example, the Bedouin are described as shirkers who evade their obligations.
The Bedouin are Israeli citizens by virtue of historical circumstances. Most of them originally migrated from deserts in the Arabian Peninsula, traveling through Sinai, and eventually settling in the lands today known as Jordan, Syria and Israel. The migration to Israel accelerated over the last 200 years as military, political and climactic developments influenced the Bedouin's regional dispersal. Their ultimate locations derived from traditional occupations along city edges. They traveled with tents made from camel hair, leading their flocks from pasture to pasture. They robbed and they plundered, they engaged in random agriculture and based themselves off of existing settlements, alongside highways and within state-established trading zones.
These reasons formed bases of the argument to settle the Bedouin tribes alongside Jewish towns since the state's inception. But the proximity between Bedouin and Jews spawned quite a few social, security and criminal issues. The 14th century Arab historiographer Ibn Khaldun, in his book "The Muqaddimah," described the Bedouin as being characterized by movement, wandering and a natural abandon, their very existence rejecting the foundations of civilization. For the sake of building and cooking, they would wreck existing buildings and loot other people's property. According to Ibn Khaldun, wherever the Bedouin live, one finds ruin, destruction and degradation. Because the Bedouin refuse to heed authority, Ibn Khaldun warned, central governments must set limits controlling these subjects.
Planning permanent settlements for the Bedouin tribes of the Negev Desert is a process the state has developed intermittently since independence. It poses a difficult challenge. The Bedouin, many of whom served in the IDF, agreed over the years to several necessary changes, but they disagreed over the level of material and territorial compensation that they deserved. Meanwhile, thousands of Bedouin began settling in the new cities and towns built especially for their communities. The data indicate that, today, most Bedouin agree to the terms of the Prawer plan, even now. Clearly, the process of urbanization, becoming permanent residents, involves revolutionary and expensive social, economic and normative changes; the gap to bridge is huge.
State institutions cannot accept Bedouin land-grabs, which have seen Bedouin transform their hair tents to tin shanties, laying the foundation for permanent, stone structures able to seize control over territory. The state's willingness to solve the Bedouin quagmire actually reflects a combination of good intentions and enforcement, since most Bedouin actually don't have rights to the lands they claim. In May 1984, the Supreme Court ruled that the state is the effective owner of all Negev territory, adding that the Bedouin have no claims to any part of it. The state's willingness to offer the Bedouin monetary and territorial compensation is beyond the letter of the law.
The Bedouin are the lowest on Israel's socio-economic list in several different categories. Bedouin enlistment rates have gone down in recent years, while the indoctrination to radical, Palestinian Islam has taken off. The approach such Bedouin have adopted could end up costing them everything they have been offered thus far.
The so-called "Day of Rage," in which thousands of demonstrators, in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority, hoisted Palestinian flags and hurled Molotov cocktails, illustrated the "pilot" for the intifada and the national struggle over Israeli land. In response to the third-intifada scaremongering, Southern District police chief Maj. Gen. Yoram Halevy said rather nonchalantly: "So what? For every 'resistance' there's a 'counter-resistance'; these miscreants should remember that."
Dr. Reuven Berko
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