Two states or a state of two nations?
The forgotten Bedouin
by Joseph Algazy
" Le Monde Diplomatique " – May 2009
At around 9pm on Thursday 20 March 2008, 25-year-old gardener Sabri al-Jarjawi, who lived in the Bedouin village of Shaqib al-Salam, went with his friend Ismail Abu Muhareb to the closest beach, at Ashkelon. At the car park, two officers in civilian clothes checked their identity cards. “What are you doing here, dirty Arabs? Get out. You don’t have the right to be here,” they shouted at the two young Bedouin.
Shocked, Sabri protested. One policeman slapped him then hit him with his torch while the other officer restrained Ismail by handcuffing him. Then the two officers threw Sabri to the ground before kicking him until he lost consciousness.
Arriving on the scene, members of a police patrol realised that Sabri’s condition was serious and called for an ambulance. The medical team, finding that the young man had stopped breathing and had no pulse, gave him emergency resuscitation for 20 minutes. Then he was taken to the nearest hospital, the Barzilai at Ashkelon. There doctors noted that he had bruises on his crown, his forehead, his face, his chest and his legs. Facial bones and his forehead were fractured. He had suffered a double haemorrhage of the brain and lungs.
The next morning the police telephoned one of his uncles to tell him that his nephew was injured and hospitalised. Ismail was freed without charges after being detained for two days. But Sabri’s condition became critical. Doctors had him transferred to Beersheba, whose Soroka hospital is better equipped. After lying in a coma for 70 days, Sabri died on 2 July. In accordance with the law, doctors carried out an autopsy while the police complaints and discipline branch launched an investigation. However, three months later, the complaints branch informed Sabri’s family that they had been unable to determine the cause of his death: the autopsy proved he had been beaten but the experts said they were unsure whether the blows had caused his death. Sabri’s brother, Mansur Jarjawi, himself a doctor, accused the authorities of “cold-blooded assassination, murder for no reason”. Sabri’s mother and father, both aged over 70, could not cope with it. The family employed a pathologist and a private detective to provide their lawyer with evidence to commence legal proceedings.
That such an event happened to an Arab of the Negev (as they are called in Hebrew) is no coincidence. For the Bedouin of the Naqab (as they are called in Arabic) are the least favoured section of Israeli society, along with Ethiopian Jews. Yet they represent some 12% of the state’s Arab population.
In 1948, they were 70,000 in all and comprised almost the whole desert population, living off the land by raising crops and rearing animals. Land and water rights, previously collectively owned, gradually became private property, sometimes without the land being registered – but the neighbours stated who was the owner. Following the nakba (catastrophe) of 1948, only 11,000 Bedouin remained – the others fled or were chased away. Expulsions at the hands of the military lasted until 1959. Those who stayed lost 90% of their original territory, were surrounded by a sayag (enclosure) and subject to the same military regime as all Arabs (until 1966). Any journey needed a permit dependent on the goodwill of the military governors. Out of the 1,260,000 hectares of Negev land recorded as belonging to the Bedouin during the British mandate, they now have just 24,000, which they constantly struggle to keep. The state continues to covet their land, employing a huge arsenal of laws and rules and practising arbitrary harassment.
During the 1960s, Israel forced the Bedouin to move into seven communities (Rahat, Houra, Tel al-Saba’, Laqieh, Shqueb al-Salam, Qseifa, Ar’ara al-Naqb) which took no account of their village way of life. That is why only slightly more than half of the total 120,000 agreed to move in. Those who refused were banished from their home villages, subsequently “non-recognised”. Considered “illegal”, they are now not even shown on official maps.
The seven “recognised” communities remain underdeveloped. They have no industry: massive unemployment holds sway, with only very basic infrastructure and public services. Official statistics show them to be at the very bottom of the country’s socio-economic ladder. But the non-recognised villages are even worse off, particularly in matters of health and education. Very few are connected to water and electricity mains or to telephone services.
The most painful problem is housing. Despite the local population’s rapid growth – the fastest in the country – the authorities forbid any construction, even temporary. So the Bedouin are forced to build without permits. Reprisals flood in: heavy fines, but above all systematic destruction of villages. The “wreckers” are accompanied by large numbers of police, whose aggressive behaviour provokes violent confrontation leading to arrests. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba, estimate that 16,000 destruction orders have been carried out in the non-recognised villages.
Here is one example: from May 2006 until March 2009, the Israeli authorities, trying to force hundreds of Bedouin to leave the village of Touayel al-Jeroual, destroyed their houses on 22 separate occasions. It was pointless because the next day the inhabitants returned, rebuilt their shacks and re-erected their tents.
To fight this guerrilla war, Israel contests Bedouin property rights on most of the land where they still live. This allows the regime, using all its powers, to confiscate land, ban building and farming, to poison wells and limit pasture zones. Between 2002 and 2004, the state destroyed crops on 24,500 dunams (1) of land either by using earthmovers or by spraying with toxic chemicals.
But, says Dr Mansur Jarjawi: “We will not give up until my brother’s assassins are tried and brought to justice.”
(1) A dunam is equal to 1,000 sq m.
Sources : Emanuel Marx, Bedouin of the Negev, Manchester University Press, 1967 ; Sabri Jiryis, The Arabs in Israel (in Hebrew), Haïfa, 1966 ; Ghazi Falah, The Forgotten Palestinians, Arab An-Naqab 1906-1986 (in arabic), Tayiba, Arab Heritage Center, 1989 ; Statistical Yearbook of the Negev Bedouin 2004, Center for Bedouin Studies and Development, Ben-Gurion University, Beer Sheva ; The Bulletin of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality.
See also in the same issue:
Hostage to Israel's far right, by Joseph Algazy and Dominique Vidal.