The Hidden War in the Negev

by Amos Gvirtz   

No Israeli media outlet sends its reporters to cover this one-sided war. If a year ago we were astonished at the number of house demolitions among Bedouin citizens in the Negev (1,158 in 2016), in the last year it turns out that the number has doubled! The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has reported that 2,220 Bedouin homes were demolished in 2017! This means that, in the Negev, the government of Israel is waging a unilateral war against its Bedouin citizens. It euphemistically calls the war "law enforcement."   

It's accepted that in every society there is a certain percentage of criminals. However, when everyone is a criminal there is something wrong with the law. The State of Israel has refused to recognize the Bedouin villages that were in the Negev before the establishment of the state. It has further aggravated the situation by transferring Bedouin tribes from their land (robbing them of it in the process) to the Sayag area, where it has refused to provide a legal basis for their communities. Furthermore, the government has designated most of the land in the Sayag area as agricultural land where it is forbidden to build homes. In other words, via its political planning decisions it has made all construction in the Bedouin villages illegal! And if that isn't enough, the government has refused to recognize the Bedouins' traditional ownership of their lands, thereby depriving them of almost all their pasture land. It then goes on to incite against them with the claim that "the Bedouin are taking over state lands" … lands which were stolen from the Bedouin in the past. So now every year the government sends in its agents to destroy thousands of acres of the Bedouins' agricultural crops (over 4,000 acres of agricultural crops were destroyed in 2017).               

In the War of 1948, a new status was created for Palestinian citizens of Israel: internal refugees. People who fled or were forced to leave their homes and villages due to the fierce fighting, but who remained within the borders of Israel, were not permitted to return to their homes. From this perspective, in the Negev this war has not ended. Until 1959 Bedouin continued to be expelled from the Negev. The government policy for the Negev Bedouin is to push them all into Bedouin townships. This is why it fights them by means of destroying their houses and their crops, and preventing running water, electricity and municipal services - all this in order to force them to leave their homes and lands and move to the townships. In other words, the government continues to create internal refugees.   

In order to wage this war efficiently, the police created what is known as the "Yoav Unit." This police unit arouses pure terror among the Bedouin and causes many of them to demolish their homes with their own hands! A law was passed in Israel which enables obligating the victims to pay the costs of the demolition of their homes, and even imprisoning them, if they refuse to destroy their homes themselves! The fear is so great that many Bedouins have demolished their homes simply under the threat of receiving a demolition order – before they even received it!

The government of Israel's unilateral war against the Bedouin minority in the Negev is hidden under the guise of enforcing the laws of the state. This is nothing less than the criminalization of the victim. They have succeeded in creating a situation where the construction of all Bedouin homes in their villages is illegal. They have created a situation where the ownership of all their lands is unrecognized. Thus the possibility that exists for Bedouins to turn to the courts for help simply creates the illusion that they have some judicial protection. The courts, of course, rule according to the legislation that was intended to discriminate against this unwanted minority.          

An entire civilian population thus remains without protection from the state which persecutes it. And here is the terrible question – where are we, the human rights community in Israel? Where are we, the Israeli peace camp? Where is the world which remains silent in the face of the unilateral war the government of Israel is waging against this unprotected minority?