Visiting Unrecognized Bedouin Villages & Gaza Border

A brief bio of this blogger, Brooke Feldman, is at the bottom of this post.

During the Israel Symposium, we have learned about deep-rooted problems in Israeli society and in the Palestinian Territories, but today we learned about a problem that could be easily solved: unrecognized Bedouin villages. We spent the morning with Chaya Noch, head of the Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF), and Atia Atameen, our Bedouin host in Hasham Zana. This is an unrecognized Bedouin village with over 2,000 residents in the Negev. Israel has attempted to remove Bedouins from their homes and concentrate them into seven townships. The government essentially wants to control more of the Negev and unsuccessfully encourages Jews to move there, through cheap land distribution.
Bedouins have lived in the Negev for over 500 years. They are citizens of Israel, but much of their land ownership is not recognized. Bedouins refuse to move, and Israel continues to destroy their impoverished villages. Without recognition, the Bedouin villages receive no resources or services from the Israeli government. There is no water or electricity source from the state, no schools, and no paved roads. An official road is planned in Hasham Zana, but it will cut the village in half and destroy 400 homes to create a path to a new army base.
Atameen shared personal stories about the many repercussions of not being recognized. Young children walk for one and a half hours to their school several kilometers away.  In addition to education, health is also affected. The lack of roads means no street addresses. Without an address, women who live in the middle of the village away from the highway are unable to call for an ambulance when in labor. The Israeli government, according to Atameen, believes that if they provide citizens with basic services like a school, it recognizes Bedouin ownership and residency on the land.

Not all is desperate though. Alongside organizations like the NCF, unrecognized Bedouin villages have formed a council to promote and defend their rights, which provide legal support against police brutality and for court cases.
We left Hasham Zana for Sapir College, where we met with Dr. Ya’ala Ranan. She is a professor of gender and minorities in the Middle East. Ranan spoke with us about how the societal structure of Bedouin society interacts with the townships where the Israeli government has relocated many Bedouins. It would be logical that Bedouins living in the town with infrastructure have better health metrics than Bedouins in the village; however, research showed they are the same. Ranan believes this is due to the great misery felt by Bedouins, mostly women, in the towns. She specifically accounts this to the restriction of movement and control inside the town.
In the Bedouin tradition, strangers are not allowed to lay eyes upon women. Women roam freely in villages, because they can see someone from afar enter the village and quickly avoid contact. In the towns, cars zoom in and out, which restricts women to the confines of their homes. Since they rarely leave home, it disrupts their traditional social structure. Parents lose their ability to protect their children from external exposures like crime. The limited space in towns leaves many Bedouins unemployed, because they have no land to continue their historic tradition of farming and raising animals. These all have third party repercussions. Bedouin girls are turning to more Islamic values, which are more liberal than Bedouin, so they will have more freedom than their mothers. Racism among Black minority communities is greater in Bedouin townships than in other towns, because of the struggle for resources. Perhaps if the cities were better built to meet the cultural needs of the Bedouins these problems wouldn’t occur.
The policy towards Bedouins in the Negev is another manifestation of Israel’s maltreatment of Arabs under its control. Land in Israel is considered sacred to Jews, who have not had a country of their own for nearly 2000 years, but Bedouins only live on 3.5% of the Negev. The government must understand that the Bedouins, who historically have populated the Negev, are not a threat to the existence of Israel. They are peaceful, many volunteer for the army and help farm the harsh lands of the desert. Moreover, Bedouins are Israeli citizens and deserve the same civil rights and benefits of any other person living inside the nation’s borders. Ranan believes that if the government recognizes Bedouin villages, difficulties explained by Atameen could be resolved within six months. As supporters of Israel, we must press the Israeli government to recognize their villages and deliver proper resources to Bedouins.
At the Gaza Border
After meeting with Ranan, we met Micha Ben Hillel with the Other Voice at his kibbutz, Niram, on the Gaza border. It was scary seeing how close people live to the border and yet how far the tunnels spanned from Gaza into Israel. Ben Hillel gave us hope by sharing the new sentiment among people of the South. There is a new understanding after this summer’s Gaza war that intensifying violence does not translate into more security. Support for a more humane approach to peace is rising.
Ben Hillel shared with us efforts people in the south and the Other Voice are undertaking to form a more interconnected region. There are multicultural trips with Israeli Jews, American Jews, and Bedouins to form relationships between cultures. They hosted the Gaza-Sderot Seminar, an academic event attended by Israelis and Palestinians. There are also agricultural trade efforts between farmers in Gaza and Sderot. To further advance this peace work, Ben Hillel and the Other Voice are building a network of all NGOs in Israel with the common goal of peace.
Our day concluded with the annual Israel Symposium gala in Jaffa. It was a lovely evening shared by Symposium participants and members of Meretz. We discussed what we have learned so far this week and efforts to combat the injustices we’ve witnessed. It was also an opportunity to meet the people behind the politicians. I personally have great hope in the activists and leadership of Meretz. They are bright, passionate, and will fight tirelessly for a humane society and peace, inside and outside of Israel.The writer, Brooke Feldman, is a recipient of the Israel Symposium 2014 scholarship. She is a graduate student at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, where she studies Forced Migration and Humanitarian Assistance and possesses a background in biological anthropology.

Her particular love for Israel developed early on, but was more formally shaped after a semester abroad at Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon and serving as Emory Students for Israel president.  She hopes to combine her interest in global health with her commitment to human rights and a secure, flourishing Jewish state by eliminating economic, social, and health inequities for refugees, immigrants, and minorities in Israel and Palestine caused by cultural barriers, conflict, and policies to ensure equal access to health and overall well-being.

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4 Comments on "Visiting Unrecognized Bedouin Villages & Gaza Border"

  • Israel cry’s foul against the Nazi’s every year, yet what they are doing to the Palestinians is rlaely no different. Just another flavor of Genocide against people in their own land.

  • You’re on top of the game. Thanks for sharing.

  • hey, brilliant article, I was laughing my butt off! As a Pole in Ireland, every now and again I have to explain some of our weird customs & habbits to my boyfriend, and your words are very helpful ;) Thanks & keep on writing!

  • You have given your readers some really impressive material to digest here. I am glad I happened across this article and I concur with the content you have written. Thank you for sharing this info.

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