Some Things Never Change: The Prawer Plan and the Legacy of the Nakba

The displacement of the Bedouin population of the Negev is a moral crisis that is part and parcel of the moral crisis that has existed since before 1948, within and over the Green Line.
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When I visited Al-Araqib a few years ago, the Bedouin village in the Negev had just been razed and trampled by IDF soldiers in bulldozers for the 26th time that year (to date the village has been razed closer to 50 times). Touring the rubble, we stumbled over soil heavy with bits of broken kitchen tiles, mangled children's toys, and shattered plumbing pipes. Aziz, a leader in the community, guided us through the wreckage, pointing out where his neighbor's homes had stood, where his children had played, where the village's oldest olive tree had stood before it was uprooted. In the distance, we could also see the government's rationale for all this destruction: the stubby crowns of pine trees lined in rows like a Christmas tree farm, planted by the Jewish National Fund. Crouching by one of the dead olive trees, I struggled to comprehend the uprooting of these lives and trees for the sake of the JNF's pine forest, while Aziz explained it simply: "It's an Arab tree. Of course it must die."

Aziz and the residents of Al Araqib are just a few of some 30,000 Bedouin facing permanent displacement because of the recent decision by Israeli ministers to approve Israeli minister Benny Begin's newest version of the Prawer Plan. In recent weeks, I have seen emails and op-eds from American Jews speaking up in support of the Bedouin population in Israel as Israel plans to uproot and destroy their communities. That visible concern is appropriate and urgently needed. However, this decision to approve the Prawer plan must not be mistaken for a fluke by an otherwise moral Israel. The displacement of the Bedouin population of the Negev is a moral crisis that is part and parcel of the moral crisis that has existed since before 1948, within and over the Green Line.

The mistreatment of Israeli citizens presents a conundrum for those that maintain that Israel can straddle being both a Jewish state and a democracy. Unlike Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza with green ID cards, the Bedouin hold blue IDs -- they are citizens of the State of Israel. Unfortunately the blue ID cards do not protect against discrimination. The Bedouin, and other Palestinian citizens of Israel, are subject to discriminatory practices and policies that leave them cut off from basic services, denied quality education, and restricted in the purchase of land for personal or commercial use. These differential laws are in place to ensure the goal set forth from the establishment of Israel: as much land as possible for Jews with as few Arabs as possible on it.

There are reasons that many would expect Israel to protect its Bedouin citizens. Simply put: the Bedouin are good for Israel's image. As was acknowledged in a Jerusalem Post Op-Ed, the Bedouin serve as a convenient icon for a multicultural, tolerant Israel. The "Epcot-esque Bedouin encampments that so many Diaspora Jewish groups visit while touring southern Israel" betray the fact that the Negev Bedouin are Israelis who are forbidden from building, buying or selling a home, receiving full government services, or running for or voting in local government elections.

But any student of the founding of the State of Israel should not be surprised to learn of the move to relocate the Bedouin or the discrimination of non-Jewish citizens of Israel. It is simply a continuation of the Nakba (catastrophe) that began long before 1948 and continues through this day. A recent report published by Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, documents the shared story of home demolitions and forced displacement faced by the Israeli village of Al-Araqib and the West Bank village of Susiya taking place as we speak. Since 1967, Israel has demolished over 27,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank. Since 1948, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has planted more than fifty forests over destroyed Palestinian villages. Whether in the West Bank or within the Green Line, Israel seeks to preserve the Jewish majority through strategic displacement.

The JNF has long been responsible for using forestation, "sustainable" development, and other "greenwashing" projects to Judaize Israel and cover up displacement of Arab communities. The Knesset's decision to move forward with the Prawer plan supports the plans of the JNF, which owns 13 percent of the land and explicitly only allocates it to Jews. The JNF is also currently engaged in a $4 billion "Blueprint Negev" project to ensure that the area has a majority Jewish population. Their plan includes economic development projects that seek to attract young Jewish Israelis and Jewish westerners to move to the Negev. Despite the centuries that Bedouin people have been living there, ethnic/religious identity alone is being used as a criteria for who has access to the land.

To clear the land for these enterprising young Jews, the JNF, with the support of the Knesset, is again replaying the "land without a people for a people without a land" myth. Bedouin citizens sometimes serve a useful purpose as a display of the largesse and possibility of a democratic yet Jewish state. Such PR ploys are used only when convenient, though, and are easily set aside by Israeli politicians for more pressing political concerns. Why else would a pine tree forest be set to root on top of just-killed olive trees? The answer was the same in 1948 as it is today. It is the same in West Bank villages as it is in the Negev. Namely, that as much land as possible, with as few Arabs as possible, be claimed for the exclusive use of Jewish citizens of Israel.

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