tequila sovereign

The Occupation Notebooks: Entry 11: Negev

Our first meeting on Sunday, January 19, was with Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, director of the Naqab (Negev) Office of Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights inIsrael. He is a political geographer and expert in land law and planning (he studied at the University of Arizona where he did comparative work on Navajo land rights). He co-founded the Association of Environmental Justice in Israel.
Ras provided us with an important historical overview of Bedouin land rights struggles in what is, post-1948, the southern desert region of Israel (see his newsletters and reports at Adalah’s website).
He described for us how, since 1948, Israeli government officials—including Ariel Sharon—have represented the Bedouin as desert wanderers who are asserting erroneous (opportunistic) territorial claims to Israel’s lands. In other words, post-1948 land claims by the Bedouin through Israel and international courts are being represented by Israeli officials as fraudulent because the Bedouin are alleged to be desert wanderers who never made these kinds of claims before Israeli statehood. However, Bedouin scholars, activists, officials, and legal advocates like Ras have responded to these representations by showing how Israel’s occupation has created the unique historical and legal situation in which the Bedouin have asserted formal claims to  their traditional territories. These claims are grounded in a history that is thousands of years old.

As recognized by James Anaya in Indigenous Peoples in International Law (2), Bedouin are indigenous to a region that includes contemporary Israel’s Negev and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula regions. It has only been under “the 48” that the Bedouin’s legal status and rights as indigenous peoples within these territories have been challenged, and challenged by an Israeli state only established in 1948. As Ras writes:

Until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Bedouin were, for the most part, the sole residents of the Naqab. In 1947, over 90,000 Bedouins, members of 96 different tribes, lived in the expanse stretching southward from Kiryat Gat and Ashdod. According to several sources, including Jewish sources, these Bedouin held approximately two million dunams of land [about 500 thousand acres of land], for which they adhered to a clear and agreed-upon system of property rights. The land was divided according to inter-tribal agreements. (1)
These agreements are well documented in Bedouin tribal law but as well in British law dating back to 1927.

Ras explained to us how Arab land rights within the 48 have been systematically undermined by the state of Israel. As he also writes for Adalah, Israel owns over 93% of the lands that define its state boundaries. “Arab citizens of Israel, who represent 19% of the country’s population, hold only 3.5% of the land, with only 2.5% of the land under the jurisdiction of Arab local authorities” (Rass 2006).

Ras then addressed the inherently problematic Israeli Prawer-Begin Plan intent to settle Bedouin land claims in Negev. If implemented, Ras explained that 35 “unrecognized” villages of the Bedouin would be forcibly destroyed, displacing 70,000 Bedouins from their historical lands.

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After our discussion at Adalah (which is Arabic for Justice), Ras drove with us through Be’er-Sheva and pointed out to us Israel’s take-over of Palestinian homes, businesses, and mosques. One mosque (pictured below) has been turned into a museum and frequently hosts wine tastings.

We then made our way to some of the unrecognized villages of the Bedouin. We passed this Israeli cemetery (pictured below). Ras was incensed that all of the road signs point to the cemetery and all of the water in the is diverted to the cemetery and not to the historic Bedouin villages nearby.

We were hosted for lunch by Atia Atameen (zanahatia@gmail.com), who manages a restaurant, hotel, and gift shop.

As at the Lydd Refugee Camp, Bedouins are almost unilaterally not permitted to construct, manage, or improve their homes or public buildings. The solar panels that they have installed are considered illegal.

Infrastructures surrounding the villages, including water, utilities, railroads, and roads, are not provided to the Bedouin, even as they are constructed on or cut through Bedouin villages.

After a meaningful day with the Bedouin, we drove past a site that was cleared for one of unrecognized villages, as part of Israel’s attempts to slowly get all of the villages in the area to relocate from their historic sites into one centralized neighborhood. They promised that if they moved they would be provided with modern homes, water, and electricity. The Bedouin responded that they know where they are from, they know where their neighbors are from, that that is the land belonging to their neighbors, and they will not be a part of a plan that displaces their neighbors.

1) Thabet Abu-Ras, “Land Disputes in Israel: The Case of the Bedouin of the Naqab.” Adalah’s Newsletter 24 (April 2006).

2) S. James Anaya, Indigenous Peoples in International Law (Oxford University Press).

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