Bedouin Expulsion Law is Well and Drinking Tea

Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee. — Genesis 3:18

Hot tea hit the eyes of Palestinian Member of the Knesset Ahmad Tibi on December 19, 2013. The violent act was perpetrated by Tziyon Vaknin, a Jewish man who opposed the protest against the Bedouins ((Derived from an Arabic word for semi-arid desert, “Bedouin” is a term designating members of a large number of Arab tribes. Egypt features a 400,000 Bedouin population, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula; while Israel has 200,000 Bedouin citizens living in the Negev Desert and a smaller number in the Galilee. In the Sinai, most of them are loyal to their traditional ways. In Israel, the situation was different. Over 60% of Israel is within the Negev Desert, which was crossed by the historical Silk Road. Wandering Bedouins inhabited the area for thousands of years; their ancestors were traders along this romantic road. Since the mid 19th century there has been a slow process of settling down among them. In the 1950s, the Israeli army began limiting the Bedouins’ freedom, attempting to concentrate them in certain areas. Since the 1970s, the Israeli Administration began creating Bedouin towns, Rahat being the largest one.
Nowadays there are roughly fifty Bedouin settlements in the Negev with a total of some two hundred thousand inhabitants, roughly half of them in recognized towns and villages, and the remnant in unrecognized ones. The difference between these two categories is vast. Recognized towns and villages get infrastructure and services from the state while unrecognized settlements get nothing. In exchange for recognition, the Israeli Administration often asks for relocation and for proper verification of ownership. Now, Israel’s law system is incomplete. Where laws do not exist, Israeli courts often refer to British Mandate and Ottoman Empire laws. In this case, Israel decided to work according to the Ottoman Empire law here, demanding from the Bedouins Ottoman “Kushan” ownership papers. Not one Bedouin has such documents. The result is violent friction each time the Israeli Administration attempts to regularize the situation of a given tribe.)) Expulsion Prawer Law that was taking place in Beer Sheva.

“This must be a fake, a Palestinian vicious lie. The Zionists cancelled the Prawer Law on December 13. There couldn’t be a protest against it on Dec. 19! I read that everywhere,” many readers would be exclaiming now.

That day, I had been surprised. One of my European faithful readers contacted me urgently. “Israel cancelled the Prawer Law,” was his message. I read his email while the main Hebrew media outlets were opened in front of me. The email looked strange. That was a news that would have made headlines, and I have not seen them.

Respectful of my reader, I started a thorough search. After a few minutes, reality emerged as sharp as a tea-soaked cookie.

Former Member of the Knesset Benny Begin, who was behind the law expelling the Bedouins had announced that he retired his support from it. MK Regev said that his words didn’t matter, she will continue to advance the law through the two last stages of legislation. The law had passed the first stage in June. ((The first stage was approved on June 24, 2013, see Israel Approves Prawer Law Expelling Bedouins. Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi, Palestinian from Taibeh, poured a glass of water over the Prawer Law and ripped it just before it was barely approved (43:40).))

Yet, several international media outlets were already reporting that the law had been cancelled. Amused, I saw several people behind popular websites taking credit on the cancellation. “It is not true. There is war fog in the air. Let’s wait,” I told my friend.

A few hours later PM Netanyahu issued another tea-soaked cookie announcing the withdrawal of the law.

The law couldn’t be cancelled because it had only passed the first of the three stages needed for its approval. In this context, “withdrawal” means returning the draft that passed the first stage to the legislation committee of the Knesset. In other words, the law will be reshaped, not cancelled.

Neither the Cancellation nor the Law are News

The map below shows the current situation. The orange areas show Bedouin settlement that are recognized by Israel; black dots show unrecognized ones. The Prawer Law aims to eradicate the black points, concentrating the scattered Bedouins in new towns.

In 2007, the Israeli Administration decided to put an end to the land problem it claimed exists in the Negev. The Goldberg Commission, chaired by retired Justice Eliezer Goldberg, recommended that unrecognized villages east of Route 40 ((Seldom are things what they look like in the Holy Land; even rarer are cases when their names are accurate. Bahad 1 (Instruction Base 1) is the IDF officers’ school. Located in the Negev Desert, near the rim of the Ramon Crater, it provides unforgettable sights and experiences. Ramon Crater? The place is named “crater” and convincingly looks like one. It is one of three formations called “crater” in the Negev Desert. Yet, it is not a crater, but the result of an excavation made by flash floods. On the rare occasions when the stream carries water, the beast violently inundates the area taking away more than its share of sediments. Road #40 is one of the main routes in the country, connecting the central plains with the Arava Desert in the south. In an odd show of flexibility, the road descends into the crater. An eternal pilgrim reaching the area will see almost unobstructed views of the wonder, though from time to time, groups of tents block the views. “Bedouin pilgrims are passing by,” the eternal pilgrim thinks. Yet, he is wrong again. The crater is not a crater, and the Bedouins are not passing by, this is their ancestral home.)) should be recognized on condition that they do not interfere with Israel’s development plans in the area. Structures in approved villages would be legalized, and a committee would be set up to settle Bedouin land claims.

This scandalous offer was rejected by the Bedouins. Hence, the Prawer Commission was set up to analyze the implementation of the Goldberg Commission recommendations. Ehud Prawer is a civil servant close to Benjamin Netanyahu; he headed the IDF Education Corps and directed an exclusive school in Rehavia, Jerusalem, next to Netanyahu’s Palace.

Among other atrocities, his report claimed that at least 30,000 Bedouins should be evacuated from their homes and relocated in government-designed and constructed towns. This would have been a new variation on the topic of concentration camps. The subsequent Bedouin protests led to this report being shelved for a while.

A third committee was created. This one was headed by Benjamin Begin, the son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In the last elections, he was relegated to an irrelevant place in the Likud list of candidates; he knew his political career was over. This combination of a transition government with a Knesset Member about to move into the Desert of Political Oblivion was good for Netanyahu. The Begin Committee issued the third report just after the elections, when everybody was busy trying to guess how Netanyahu’s new government would look.

This third report recommended moving on with the former plan issued by the Prawer Commission. Thus, the law was approved in the first stage of the legislation process. Let me emphasize that Bedouins are citizens who serve in the IDF. Yet, the State wants to expel them from their homes.

Bedouin Protests against the Prawer-Begin Law

Bedouin Protests against the Prawer-Begin Law

On the same day that MK Tibi was attacked, leading Hebrew newspaper Haaretz published a half-century old scoop. Entitled “Revealed from archive: Israel’s secret plan to resettle Arab refugees,” the article’s subtitle was “Plans drawn up during the 1950s and ’60s had one overriding goal: to preserve the demographic status quo by resettling the 1948 Arab refugees far away from the country.”

By “status quo” the biased author refers to the Jewish majority achieved after the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948. ((See IDF General Admits One Million Palestinians Expelled.))

Palestinian Refugees 1948

Palestinian refugees leaving a village near Haifa, June 1948. Photo by Corbis.

Zionist Double Diversion

The news announcing the withdrawal of the law was a diversion endorsed by the State of Israel. Buried deep within the Knesset committees, the law will be kept away from media attention until it is forgotten. Then, it will be presented in a new format. Maybe it will be called the Prawer-Begin-Regev Law of Bedouin Resettlement (at this very second, I have ruined the option).

Meanwhile, the Israeli extreme right started a war of tea-soaked cookies, bringing out one of its shady stars, Itamar ben Gvir. ((Lawyer Itamar ben Gvir is closely related to Kach, a Jewish political movement banned in Israel and defined a terror organization in thye USA.
Rabbi Meir Kahane was an American-Israeli ultra-nationalist rabbi. Kahane founded both the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in the USA, and the Kach (roughly “This is the Way”), political party in Israel. In 1984, Kach gained one seat in parliamentary elections, and he became a member of the Knesset. In 1988, the Israeli government banned Kach as “racist” and “undemocratic” under the terms of an ad hoc law. In 1994, following the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein, a Kahane follower, Kach was outlawed in Israel and the US State Department listed it as a terrorist organization. Kahane was assassinated in a Manhattan hotel by an Arab gunman in November 1990 after Kahane concluded a speech warning American Jews to emigrate to Israel before it was “too late.”
Michael Ben Ari was a member of the former Knesset, who in 2012 reached the headlines after being denied an American visa (see USA Denies Visa to Jewish Knesset Member). This surprising achievement was the result of his having been a member of Kahane’s Kah party.
As an MK, Ben Ari was entitled to have aides. These were Baruch Marzel and Itamar ben Gvir. Marzel was Kahane’s spokesman for a decade; after his rabbi’s assassination, he was elected to head the organization until it was declared a terror organization and disbanded. Marzel and ben Gvir live in the Israeli settlements of Hebron, home to the most extremist settlers. Even among them, Marzel and ben Gvir are considered extremists.))

Yesterday, December 20, my daily survey of the extremist Settler Channel 7 paid off again. Itamar ben Gvir was given a premium spot that he used for smartly defending the attacker of MK Tibi.

He did that by reminding an event from 2010, in which a Palestinian woman threw cold water towards a Jewish man named Ben Ari. She was detained by the police but released after her declaration was taken. Cold water in a hot climate is not harmful; moreover, apparently she didn’t hit him. In contrast, hot tea in the eyes can be damaging. MK Tibi’s vision was saved by his glasses.

Mr. Vaknin, Tibi’s aggressor, was detained. This means that the police intends to approach court. Itamar ben Gvir claims that the police is biased towards Palestinians. He also claims that Hebrew media didn’t publish a video about the event that he produced. “The State of Israel is Pro-Palestinian and almost anti-Semite,” can his tirade be summarized.

It is almost amusing. Yet, the fact that parliament members protesting peacefully against racist laws are considered legitimate target of violence by senior citizens of the ruling group is worrying.

Ben Gvir staged a diversion from the real issue—theft of lands by the State—and this time the media complied, indicating that it got green-line from political echelons.

We are still at the stage of watery hot tea, with stale cookies from 1948 soaked in it. The law was not cancelled and there is no way back. Pretty soon, strong coffee will replace overcooked old tea.

Roi Tov is the pen name of an Israeli dissident who converted to Christianity and wrote The Cross of Bethlehem. Read other articles by Roi, or visit Roi's website.