Friday, November 26, 2010

Recite This Prayer for El-Arakib This Weekend, Recite This Prayer for Israel, by Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Please take two small steps this weekend (and in the coming weeks) on behalf of justice and the rededication of Israel to the ideals of her Declaration of Independence. See below the prayer that we are asking you to read in your congregation/place of worship.

As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving weekend and Jews around the world prepare for the joyous and thankful holiday of Hanukah next week, there is no cause for joy or thanksgiving in the Negev Bedouin Village of El-Arakib. The entire village, sitting on lands in the possession of the El-Turi tribe for tens of years before the State of Israel, was demolished this week for the 7th time because it is "unrecognized," and in the way of approaching JNF forests being planted on tribal lands. Even though the claims of the El-Turi tribe are now before the court, a village not on the map can not possibly get permits to build legally.

In Parashat Va'Yeshev we read the awful story of how Joseph is sold by his brothers. Perhaps the essence of human rights work is that all humanity are brothers and sisters, and that we must prevent one human being from selling another in any way. When we abandon the weakest and poorest Israelis, leaving them without home or a safety net, we have sold them. When we allow violence against women, we have sold them. We sell out our citizens when we allow corporations to make huge profits from our natural resources such as Israel's undersea natural gas reserves, instead of using those profits for the benefit of our society. When we deny Palestinians the right to water or access to their lands or a roof over their heads, we have sold them into despair and oppression.

Nafal d'dvar b'Yisrael. This week the unrecognized Negev Bedouin village El-Arakib was demolished for the seventh time. My heart cries for them, and we need to reflect on how we have betrayed our fellow Israeli citizens. This is a community that has existed for dozens of years, before the founding of Israel. Their case is in court. The intent appears to preempt the court and to be to wipe out any memory that it existed, as three JNF forests are closing in on in from all sides.

As a partner in "The Recognition Forum" and "Negev Coexistence Forum" working on behalf of the unrecognized villages, we were asked to write the prayer which appears below for use this weekend in synagogues, churches, mosques, and other places of worship in Israel and around the world. If you are a congregational rabbi or lead a congregation of any faith, please include this prayer in your worship this weekend and/or on one of the coming weekends.

If you are a lay person or non-congregational rabbi/spiritual leader, please ask that this prayer be read in your congregation/place of worship. Please notify us at if you recited this prayer and tell us about the experience, as it is very important to us to know in how many places it was read and what happened. Next week, we in Israel will hold an interfaith prayer at El-Arakib, and it would be great to announce how many congregations around the world remembered El-Arakib in their prayers.

You can also click here to sign a petition on the Jewish National Fund asking them to cease efforts to plant forests on the ruins of Bedouin villages and to include the Bedouin in their plans for developing the Negev.

As we celebrate on Hanukah the rededication of the Temple which once stood in Jerusalem, let us light a candle of justice and rededicate ourselves to the dream ensconced in our Declaration of Independence of an Israel "Based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel " that will "Ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or gender."

B'Vrakha (In Blessing),
Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman
Rabbis For Human Rights

The English translation follows this prayer in Hebrew.

I will put the background in a separate note.

תפילה למען תושבי/ות אל-עראקיב
לשבת וישב תשע"א

איכה ישבה בדד אל-עראקיב היתה כאלמנה זו הפעם השביעית? ויצא מבת ציון כל הדרה. ייחלנו שמדינתנו "תקיים שויון זכויות חברתי ומדיני גמור לכל אזרחיה, בלי הבדל דת ומין", והנה נכזבה תוחלתנו.

אלוהינו ואלוהי קדמונינו (אבותינו; אבותינו ואמותינו) בקש את הנרדפים/ות, על לא עוול בכפם/ן. עמוד לצד אחינו ואחיותינו, אזרחי/יות המדינה ושותפים/ות לגורלה, שאוהליהם/ן שדדו וכל מיתריהם/ן ניתקו. תחזקנה את ידיהם/ן בעוד חורשי/ות רעה מתכוונים/ות לחרוש בתיהם, לנטוע יערות במקומם, ולהותיר רק את בית העלמין שלהם, עדות לדורות הרבים שחיו במקום. יהי רצון שבקרוב ובימינו נראה יערות רבים בכל הארץ, אבל לא על הריסותיהם של ישובי הבדואים.

שבת היא מלזעוק, אך עוד לא אבדה תקוותנו למדינה שכן "תהא מושתתת על יסודות החירות, הצדק והשלום לאור חזונם של נביאי ישראל". חזק את רוחנו למען לא נחשה, כדי שחזון נביאך יוגשם, "יקרא לך עיר הצדק קריה נאמנה. ציון במשפט תפדה ושביה בצדקה".

ויהי נועם ה' אלוהינו עלינו
ומעשה ידינו כוננה עלינו
ומעשה ידינו כוננהו

מראה מקומות:

איכה ישבה בדד אל-עראקיב היתה כאלמנה זו הפעם השביעית? (מבוסס על איכה א:א)
ויצא מבת ציון כל הדרה (שם א:ו)
תקיים שוויון זכויות חברתי ומדיני גמור לכל אזרחיה בלי הבדל דת, גזע ומין"(מגילת העצמאות)
בקש את הנרדפים/ות (מבוסס על מדרש תנחומא אמור סימן ט)
שאוהליהם/ן שדדו וכל מיתריהם/ן ניתקו (מבוסס על ירמיהו י:כ)
שבת היא מלזעוק (מן התפילה),
אך עוד לא אבדה תקוותנו
"תהא מושתתת על יסודות החירות, הצדק והשלום לאור חזונם של נביאי ישראל.(מגילת העצמאות)
למען לא נחשה (מבוסס על ישעיהו ס"ב:א)
"יקרא לך עיר הצדק קריה נאמנה. ציון במשפט תפדה ושביה בצדקה". (ישעיהו א:כז)
ויהי נועם ה' אלוהינו עלינו
ומעשה ידינו כוננה עלינו
ומעשה ידינו כוננהו
(תהילים, מזמור צ: יז)

A Prayer For the Residents of El-Arakib
Shabbat VaYeshev 5671

How is it that El-Arakib sits alone and desolate, like a widow a seventh time? "The Daughter of Zion has lost her glory." For, while we had dreamed that our state would "Ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or gender," our prayers have not yet been fulfilled.

Our God and God or our ancestors (God of our fathers; God or our fathers and mothers), side with those who are oppressed, although they have done no wrong. Stand with our brothers and sisters, fellow citizens and partners in Israel's destiny, whose tents have been ravaged and all their tent cords broken. Strengthen them even as planners of evil prepare to replace their homes with forests, leaving only their cemetery testifying to the generations that once lived in that place. May it be your will that forests will arise in Israel speedily and in our day, but not upon the ruins of Bedouin communities.

"Shabbat is not a time for lamentation," and "Our hope is not yet lost" for a country that is based on "Freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel." Sustain our determination not to remain silent, so that we may help bring about the vision of Your prophet, "You shall be called 'City of Righteousness, Faithful City.' Zion shall be redeemed through justice, her repentant ones by righteousness."

"May the favor of Adonai, our God, be upon us;
Let the work of our hands prosper
O proper the work of our hands."

מראה מקומות: How is it that El-Arakib sits alone and desolate, like a widow a seventh time? (Based on Lamentations 1:1, 'How is it that the city sits alone and desolate')

The Daughter of Zion has lost her glory (Lamentations 1:6)

Ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or gender (Israeli Declaration of Independence)

Side with those who are oppressed (Based on Midrash Tanhuma: Emor 9, ('God sides with the oppressed [the one being pursued]')

Whose tents have been ravaged and all their tent cords broken (Based on Jeremiah 10:20, 'Mytents zare ravaged, all my tent cords are broken')

Shabbat is not a time for lamentation (Prayerbook)

Freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel (Israeli Declaration of Independence)

Not to remain silent (Based on Isaiah 62:1, 'For the sake of Zion I will not be silent')

You shall be called 'City of Righteousness, Faithful City.' Zion shall be redeemed through justice, her repentant ones by righteousness (Isaiah 1:27)

May the favor of Adonai, our God, be upon us;
Let the work of our hands prosper
O prosper the work of our hands (Psalms 90:17)

Click here for background on the Negev Bedouin, the Unrecognized Villages, JNF and El-Arakib

Background: The Bedouin of the Negev, Unrecogonized Villages, the JNF, and Al-Arakib, by Rabbi Arik Ascherman

General Background:

In 1948, the Bedouin population in Israel’s Negev numbered approximately one hundred thousand persons. Following the War of Independence in 1948-1949, most of these individuals were expelled/fled to Gaza, Jordan, or the Sinai Peninsula, even though they took no part in hostilities against Israel. The Jahalin tribe were intimidated into leaving for the West Bank in the early 50's, well after the war. Throughout the Negev, only about 11,000 Bedouin remained.

Following international diplomatic pressure, relatively small numbers of expelled Bedouin were allowed to return to Israel. Before the war, Bedouin lived in all parts of the Negev (an area of approximately 13 million dunams, or 3.25 million acres) and earned their livelihood by raising sheep and goats throughout the region, as well as by agriculture, growing wheat and other grains, on an area of approximately 2 million dunams (about half a million acres).

At the beginning of the 1950’s, the State of Israel decided to evict from their lands most of the Bedouin then residing in the central and western Negev, both fertile and well-watered areas, and resettle them in the eastern Negev, a barren area with very little rainfall. Bedouin were either moved by force, or persuaded to "move temporarily" for the sake of military exercises, etc. However, even after being transferred from their lands and villages to the area of the eastern Negev, the Bedouin communities in their new locations were not recognized either.

Governmental officials did not allocate other lands to them as compensation, nor did they see to it that these persons were provided with basic services and employment as was done for millions of Jewish immigrants who arrived in Israel during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Today, this sad and disgraceful situation still remains the lot of half of the Bedouin residents of the Negev, who reside in 45 unrecognized villages. Because these villages do not exist as far as the state is concerned, they aree entirely lacking infrastructures for water, electricity, roads, education, and health care. An additional 95,000 Bedouin reside in seven towns that Israel set up for their settlement, but in which everyday living conditions are extremely difficult, with high rates of unemployment and inferior municipal services in comparison with the Jewish settlements in the Negev. These seven Bedouin towns are located statistically at the bottom of the socio-economic scale of all settlements in Israel.

Despite the Bedouin appeals to allow them to choose for themselves the type of settlements in which they will live — whether urban, rural, or community-based — the State of Israel insists on settling the Bedouin in newly established towns clearly inappropriate for the Bedouin way of life. Israelis are concerned about Bedouin taking over the Negev and feel that the land is needed for the Jewish population. However, the lands claimed by the Bedouin are only 3% of the entire Negev. When Bedouin attempt to return to their ancestral lands, they are portrayed as trespassers, squatting and taking over land that belongs to the State.

During the 1970’s, when given the opportunity to do so, 3,200 Bedouin landowners, filed claims of ownership for lands covering approximately 900,000 dunam in area (today the outstanding claims pertain to 650,000 dunams) out of a total of 13 million dunam over which the Negev extends. (There are four dunam to an acre) Today, after decades, most of the claims for ownership have still not been brought to court, most of the witnesses to the ownership of the lands have died, the lands have not been returned to their owners, and the injustice has been left uncorrected.

If this were not enough, recently the State of Israel has used the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to further the eviction of Bedouins in the Negev by planting trees on lands to which the latter claim ownership. As the battle over these lands intensifies Israel authorities have stepped up the demolition of homes, destruction of crops, preventing of grazing, etc. There is no possibility of building legally in an unrecognized village, because there is no building plan. All use of the land for agricultural purposes or grazing is deemed to be an illegal intrusion.

In recent years, the Bedouin have been trying to use the Israeli legal system to regain their lands. The Bedouin have brought evidence regarding continuous Bedouin occupation and cultivation of the lands around Beersheba. They have brought documentation of the fact that Bedouin lands were governed for generations by a well functioning traditional land ownership system, sanctioned by the Ottoman and British authorities. Unfortunately, the Bedouin did not register their land in the British land title books

Another reality is possible. Some one dozen villages have been recognized in recent years. These villages were previously in the exact same situation as El-Arakib, slated for evacuation. A committee set up by the government has called the situation of the unrecognized villages untenable and recommended recognizing many more, but the government does not wish to do so.

The Family Farms Law legalized the status of 60 Jewish (and one Arab) family ranches and farms set up without planning approval in the Negev. This is another precedent which could be used to grant a legal status to Bedouin communities.

El-Arakib is a community of some 300 men, women and children approximately 10 kilometers north of Beersheba. The cemetery with the graves of generations of the El-Turi tribe testifies to the fact that this community existed long before the establishment of the State of Israel. The tribe says that it has lived there since the 19th century, and they have Turkish and British documents showing that they worked, the land and paid taxes. There are also bills of sale and purchase between tribes. In 1907 and in 1929 the El-Turis purchased land from the El-Ukbi tribe totaling some 1,600 dunam.

At the beginning of the 1950’s, Israel evacuated by force the Bedouin living in el Arakib, north of Beer Sheba. The evacuees were told that their lands were needed for military exercises, and promised that within six months they would be allowed to return to their village. This promise that was not kept. Instead, by means of the Land Purchase Legislation of 1953, various government agencies used the forced absence of the Bedouin from the area to transfer ownership of their lands to the State.

Many of the members of the El-Turi tribe had been moved to the nearby town of Rahat. They maintained some grazing rights, and would return to El-Arakib to try and farm the land, or to be buried in the cemetery. However, the lands largely remained fallow for some 50 years.

The Israel Land Administration (ILA) transferred by lease the lands of el-Arakib to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for the purpose of forestation. Following approval authorized by the ILA, the JNF began land works of unprecedented proportions on the lands of el-Arakib resulting in massive changes in the region’s topography and the forestation of these lands. The JNF last week established a large new bulldozer camp just one kilometer from El-Arakib, and is now planting one million trees in Israel, including many near the village of Al-Arakib, as part of the “God-TV Forest.” JNF has accepted substantial donations from an evangelical Christian ministry called God-TV, who claim to have received “instructions from God…to prepare the land for the return of my Son…[to] plant a million trees.”

Approximately ten years ago, understanding that the plan was to erase their village by means of forestation, they returned and built homes, and began pressing their claims in court. Their case is currently in front of the Beersheba District Court, but these cases can take years to adjudicate. There have been constant attempts to demolish these homes, and every year agricultural crops are sprayed and killed.

The struggle has reached new heights since the summer of 2010. The ILA has demolished El-Arakib seven times between July and November. While they have not tried to rebuild their more permanent structures, they have time after time attempted to rebuild simple tents, shacks and other forms of shelter with makeshift materials. Each time massive numbers of police, helicopters and bulldozers come to demolish the families take refuge in the cemetery, the one area where they are left alone. From the cemetery and the temporary shelters that are built anew after every demolition, one can see the forests approaching from several directions, even as helicopters whip up dust in the nearby military training zone.

"We are not invaders, nor squatters," said Sheikh Sayyah. "It is the state that has invaded us."
See also this piece in the NY Times.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Israeli and American Jewish Groups Condemn Israeli Government and JNF for 7th Demolition of Negev Bedouin Village of Al-Arakib

Media Advisory: For Immediate Release

JNF-KKL establishes large bulldozer camp near Al-Arakib for massive “God-TV Forest”

Funded by JNF Donations from Evangelical Christians for the Second Coming of Christ

We call on all who care about Israel to join the 10,000 who have already signed petitions of protest to JNF Leaders and to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israel Government

November 23, 2010—A large Israeli police force, accompanied by bulldozers from the Israel Land Administration, demolished the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib yesterday, destroying the temporary homes constructed by the village residents since the previous demolition. With the help of volunteers, the residents have already begun the reconstruction of the village, and have vowed to keep rebuilding until the Israeli government recognizes their rights to their land.

We, a coalition of Israeli and American Jewish organizations, condemn the Israeli government’s continued demolition of Bedouin villages in the Negev and the expulsion of their residents. We condemn the Jewish National Fund for its complicity in displacing Bedouin citizens of Israel from their homes and land to make way for forests and new Jewish-only communities in their place. The Bedouin have no comparable opportunities to create new agricultural or livable communities. They are being forced to leave their homes, lands and way of life for overcrowded urban centers plagued by crime, unemployment and despair.

We call on the Israeli government, with the support of the JNF in Israel (KKL) and JNF-US, to negotiate a just and mutually agreeable solution to the plight of the 190,000 Negev Bedouin, Israel’s poorest and most disadvantaged minority – half of whom live in “unrecognized villages” without electricity, running water, sewage disposal, schools or health clinics, and with the constant fear of demolition and expulsion.

JNF’s New Bulldozer Camp Near Al-Arakib for Planting the “God-TV Forest” from Evangelical Christian donations: JNF-KKL last week established a large new bulldozer camp just one kilometer from the village of Al-Arakib, and is planting one million trees in Israel including many near the village of Al-Arakib as part of the “God-TV Forest.” JNF has accepted substantial donations from an evangelical Christian ministry called God-TV, who claim to have received “instructions from God…to prepare the land for the return of my Son…[to] plant a million trees.”

(See their video on at minute 21:00).

The JNF, instead of promoting civic equality for all Israelis – the basis for trust and peaceful coexistence - is now supporting (and being supported by) an evangelical ministry that wishes to utilize Israel and the planting of trees to bring about the “Second Coming of Christ.”

Photos of the God-TV forest signage and the new bulldozer camp are available at

We believe in an Israel where Jews live in partnership and equality with their Bedouin and other Arab and Palestinian neighbors. The Israel of the JNF, the Israel Land Administration and the Israeli Government is one where Bedouin Arabs are displaced and discriminated against so that forests funded by Jews and Evangelical Christians and exclusively Jewish communities can be built, preventing Bedouin Israelis from ever returning to their land, forcing them to live in poverty and neglect.

A Call for Open Discourse with the JNF: JNF has continued to side-step the concerns we have raised and has responded only with misdirection and misinformation. We again issue this call to JNF for open and honest public discourse on these issues.

We call on the Jewish National Fund to rededicate itself to the ideal enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence of equal development for all of Israel’s citizens, regardless of religion, nationality or gender, by:

1) Publicly stating to the Israeli government that it will stop funding or participating in the forestation or development of any area that is the site of an existing or demolished Bedouin village.

2) Stopping all activities on lands for which Bedouin have made legal claims of ownership until their cases have been fully adjudicated in Israeli courts or a mutually agreeable just settlement is reached.

3) Submitting JNF’s development plans for the Negev to independent scrutiny by environmental, human rights and social justice organizations to work toward truly sustainable development of the Negev for ALL its inhabitants, Jews and Arabs alike.

4) Funding projects for Israel’s Bedouin citizens and communities at levels that are proportional to the size of this population in the Negev—nearly 30%—recognizing the contribution of the Bedouin to the flourishing of the Negev.

5) Joining with human rights organizations in Israel to allow the Bedouin to live on their traditional lands, as they have for many generations.

These facts, among others, establish JNF’s complicity:

A. JNF-Israel (known as JNF-KKL), the body entrusted exclusively with forestation throughout Israel’s territory, plays a major role in deciding where forests are planted.
B. JNF-KKL continues to push through a massive forestation plan intended to double the area of the Destiny Hills forest project from 14,000 to 28,000 dunams. Several Bedouin communities in this area are slated to disappear along with 11,000 dunams of agricultural land.
C. JNF-USA, together with JNF-Israel, the Or Movement, Ayalim and the Government of Israel, are funding and implementing a plan for developing the Negev to bring 250,000 Jews there, creating Jewish-only communities and forests in place of Bedouin villages.
D. In 2009, the Or settlement movement was the third largest recipient of funds from JNF-US.

Until it takes a stand against the demolitions and expulsion of Bedouin citizens, and aligns its forestation and development practices with human rights and the universal values enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, JNF cannot begin to remove the moral stain of complicity in such acts.

Endorsed by:
From Israel:
■ Al-Arakib Village Committee ■ Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality ■ Rabbis for Human Rights ■ Shatil – Leading Social Change, An Initiative of the New Israel Fund ■ Physicians for Human Rights – Israel ■ Hit’habrut-Tarabut – Arab-Jewish Movement for Social and Political Change ■ Al-Arakib People’s Committee ■ Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel ■ Association for Civil Rights in Israel ■ Recognition Forum ■ New Profile – Movement for the Civil-ization of Israel Society ■ Coalition of Women for Peace

From the US:
■ Jewish Alliance for Change ■ Rabbis for Human Rights-North America ■ Meretz USA ■ Jewish Voice for Peace ■ The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring ■ Tikkun Community ■ Network of Spiritual Progressives ■ The Shalom Center

Check above
for updates to the list of organizations endorsing this statement.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bedouin Village of al-Arakib razed for 7th Time

Israel Land Administration representatives and the security forces demolished the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Arakib in the Negev for the seventh time.
The village's houses, which were constructed illegally, have been destroyed by the authorities six times in the past few months. (Ilana Curiel)

11.22.10, YNET,7340,L-3987944,00.html

Are Israel's Harsh Policies Toward the Bedouin Justified? Response to a Critic, by Gidon D. Remba

A critic and friend wrote to us the following: "A prominent oncologist attended a cancer conference in the Negev on Bedouin health care and made the point that by being nomads, living in tents, etc. the Bedouin short-change both their medical care and their children's education. The oncologist, who happens to be a peacenik, says that both Palestinian and Israeli doctors have seen the most horrendous, advanced breast cancers among Bedouin women who don't go for treatment until their cancers literally burst from their skin.

"Israeli methods with the Negev Bedouin may be harsh, but their motivation is to bring Bedouin into the 21st century so they can live healthier lives and their children can excel beyond their parents. This requires that they live in places where there are schools and clinics."

It’s a mistake to cast the Bedouin issue as if it’s a dispute between those who favor bringing the Bedouin into the 21st century – modernization – and those who want to preserve the Bedouin lifestyle in their existing villages, with all the good and the bad, including the abysmal health conditions. All of us who defend the land, housing and healthcare rights of the Bedouin – including Amos Oz, AB Yeshoshua, David Grossman, Naomi Chazan, Shulamit Aloni, and many Israeli peace activists, American Jewish progressives, and every human rights organization in Israel and the US – aren’t arguing in favor of preserving the conditions that make for the horrific health practices you alluded to. None of us are arguing against modernization or against bringing the Bedouin into the 21st century.

You wrote that to bring the Bedouin into the 21st century, “this requires that they live in places where there are schools and clinics.” But none of us are advocating that they should not live where there are schools and health clinics. This is arguing against a straw man, rather than against the actual views of those who are working for Bedouin human rights. In a nutshell, we’re arguing instead that schools and health clinics should be built in the unrecognized villages – that’s what would happen if the government recognized and developed them, making them legal. (In fact that’s what will ultimately happen in the cases where the government is recognizing a few of the unrecognized villages.)

The Olmert government appointed a blue-ribbon commission – the Goldberg Committee – to develop a solution to the state’s dispute with the Bedouin, and the Committee recommended that most of the unrecognized villages should be recognized – which means to legalize them as recognized villages and towns. That in turn means that the government would develop them and provide health clinics, schools, running water, sewage disposal, and other basic services that the state provides to all other communities in Israel. So we are all in favor of modernization and ending the scourge of breast cancer and other diseases among the Bedouin that you describe. That isn’t what divides us from those who justify the government’s brutality against the Bedouin, and presenting the issue this way, miscasts the debate, and gets its fundamentals wrong.

Given that we all agree that Bedouin life should be brought into the 21st century, the real question is how? And what we, who are defending the human rights of the Bedouin, are saying to the Israeli government is essentially what Ahad Ha’am said of the early Zionist settlers’ treatment of Palestinian Arabs a century ago: this is not the way.

You wrote that a “prominent oncologist who attended a cancer conference in the Negev on Bedouin health care made the point that by being nomads, living in tents, etc. the Bedouin short-change both their medical care and their children's education.” But this oncologist is poorly informed about the basic facts of Bedouin life: in fact, the Negev Bedouin are not nomads, and most do not live in tents. They have lived in settled villages for more than a century. Many homes in the unrecognized villages are built from wood frames and corrugated metal because they are in danger of repeated demolition, and because of the cost of more durable housing.

Second, the oncologist has misdiagnosed the causes of the lack of healthcare and education in the unrecognized villages, which is mainly the result of the lack of livable conditions and jobs in the recognized towns, and the fact that the government has refused (in violation of the Bedouin’s human rights) to provide healthcare and schools to the Bedouin who refuse to surrender their land in the unrecognized villages in exchange for paltry compensation with no employment prospects and a squalid life in the urban towns.

Moreover, the unrecognized village of "Wadi el-Naam suffers from a very high incidence of cancer, asthma, severe birth defects, miscarriages, and skin diseases because" the Israeli government allowed toxic chemical plants to be built near the Bedouin village. "For, example, there is a 45% higher cancer rate here than in Israel as a whole," writes Natalie Becker. One can’t treat the problem if one doesn’t properly understand its causes.

You suggest that the government’s harsh and brutal policy may be justified because it is supposedly serving just ends. But there are a number of real problems with this. Setting aside for the moment the aims of Israeli government policy, is the brutality of forcing Bedouin off their lands by expelling them from their homes and demolishing their villages ultimately (whether intentionally or unintentionally) serving their well-being, their and their children’s health, and promoting their human rights by bringing them into the 21st century? Decidedly not. The 7 urban towns into which the Israeli government has been trying to force the Bedouin are the most neglected and impoverished of all the communities in Israel. To cite one of many examples, the infant mortality rate in Rahat – one of the seven urban Bedouin towns built by the government – was double that of Beersheva (in 2000) – 11.6 per thousand babies born vs. 5.4.

Nor is there room in them for the other 90,000 Bedouin from the unrecognized villages, and even if there were, there are no jobs, the government hasn’t established industrial zones for them, or provided them with alternate forms of livelihood once they force them to give up their land and the farming which supports the Negev Bedouin community. All serious students of the subject agree – including Israeli and American social scientists – that the government’s forced urbanization policy has been an abysmal failure, and remains so.

Far from this being a case of brutality in the service of the good, what we have is a brutal policy that is causing more harm and more suffering. One study by a Ben-Gurion University scholar sums it up this way: “Neglect of the [urban] Bedouin towns has made them Third World enclaves in the surrounding affluent society.” Compare Rahat – the largest Bedouin urban town – to the nearby Beersheva suburb of Omer, and on every measure the Bedouin urban towns suffer from severe discrimination and grossly inadequate services.

Let’s first see the government treat the Bedouin decently in the urban towns before we even consider justifying any kind of forced urbanization – and we are still very far from that – and even then, I think the case for forced urbanization, is extremely problematic. One could instead make a case for the government simply providing appealing opportunities and strong incentives for Bedouin to choose an urban lifestyle. That is what liberal democracies and civilized societies do. It’s very far from what Israel does.

Equally important, the Goldberg Committee concluded that in those cases where it doesn’t make sense to legalize an existing unrecognized village, and where it would be best to relocate the Bedouin in that village, then it should make a fair offer of compensation to them in exchange for their land. But again, that isn’t what the government has been doing. It forces the Bedouin out of their homes and villages, offering no decent livable alternative to them, and fails to provide them with the option of fair compensation for their land when it wants to expropriate it and declare it state land for its own (Jewish-supremacy driven) development purposes.

There would be no need for the brutality of expulsions and demolition if the government were recognizing and modernizing the unrecognized villages – providing healthcare, schools, running water, sewage disposal, electricity, paved roads and public transportation to the now unrecognized towns, or to most of them. So you have to ask yourself: why does the government prefer to expel Bedouin from their land and force them into over-crowded, blighted urban towns? And the answer is: because they covet the land, not because they care about the well-being or modernization of the Bedouin.

If the government were offering a just solution to the Bedouin, one that would be agreed upon by the state and the Bedouin community, the brutality would not be necessary to get the Bedouin to accept it. The government’s brutality is a product of the absence of justice. You must force people to live with injustice, not with justice.

Then there’s this problem: even if the government were offering a just solution which really was good for the Bedouin – improving their health and well-being, bringing them into the 21st century, but did so by requiring them to give up all their land claims and move into urban towns with no land and no ability to continue to engage in agriculture, and if there were Bedouin who still preferred their traditional lifestyle in the villages on their ancestral land, there would still be a serious question about whether brutal expulsions and demolitions would be morally justified.

Cigarette smoking causes nearly half a million cancer deaths in the US each year (5.4 million annually worldwide – 1 billion deaths worldwide are projected from tobacco use in the 21st century), and the US government takes various steps to discourage cigarette smoking, including banning advertising. But nonetheless 47 million Americans still smoke, and millions die as a result. Given the grave damage to the health and well-being of these legions of people, and the burden cigarette smoking imposes on our society and economy, you would think that it would be morally justified to violate people’s rights to enforce a complete ban on smoking: arresting and punishing them for breaking a ban on smoking, enabling the police to get warrants to enter people’s homes to look for illegal cigarettes, closing down cigarette factories, and so on. But we don’t do that, and no non-totalitarian country does.

So even if it were uncontroversial that the goal is clearly good – people’s health and well-being, saving millions of lives – we don’t and we shouldn’t deprive people of their basic rights, including their right to privacy, to ensure that they make the decisions that will be best for their health and spare them and our society from the enormous evil of millions of cancer deaths. And we certainly shouldn't deprive people - citizens - of their right to healthcare and schools wherever they live now, on the grounds that we want to bring them into the 21st century to enable them and their children to be healthier and better educated! Yet that's what the Israeli government does to 90,000 Bedouin citizens in the unrecognized villages of the Negev.

We all believe that the government should pursue good ends, but it can’t use any means necessary – including brutality and the violation of human rights – in order to bring about the good, assuming that it really is aiming at or at least doing that which serves the good. But in the case of the Israeli government, it’s hard to see that the government is either aiming at, or even unintentionally serving, the good with expulsions, demolitions, forced urbanization, and a policy of systematic discrimination and neglect towards the Bedouin – both those in the urban towns and in the unrecognized villages.

Finally, I have serious doubts that the Israeli government’s intent is to serve the well-being of the Bedouin through these policies. The overriding motive, in my view, for the government’s approach is to gain control over nearly all of the land in the Negev for Jewish use, to preserve a Jewish majority in the Negev by developing it with new Jewish communities, forests and more, to deprive the Bedouin of their land so as to eliminate what ultra-nationalist Zionists see as the “threat” of a territorial secession in Bedouin areas near the West Bank if the Bedouin were to demand cultural autonomy or wanted to become part of a neighboring Palestinian state. This is an unrealistic fear; but irrationality has never been an obstacle to the Israeli government’s policies towards Israel’s Palestinian and Arab minorities, or towards the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It’s certainly never gotten in the way of the government’s blind and self-defeating approach to the Negev Bedouin.

Gidon D. Remba is Executive Director and President of the Jewish Alliance for Change, co-sponsor with Rabbis for Human Rights-North America of the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An exchange with Benny Morris: The Bedouin and Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State, by Gidon D. Remba

Benny Morris, the renowned Israeli historian, reminded the audience at the Other Israel Film Festival in New York City last night what he thinks Israel should have done about the presence of Palestinian Arabs within the Jewish state: had more been expelled by Israeli forces in 1948, so that few Palestinians would have remained behind in a nascent Israel, moving them all to the Palestinian state envisioned under the UN partition plan, the Middle East would be a much quieter place today. No, he does not advocate transfer today, he explains. But more thorough ethnic cleansing in 1948 would have promoted peace, he says.

This view is both outrageous and wrong: creating even more Palestinian refugees would not have led to peace, but simply increased the number of aggrieved Palestinians who would have sought a right of return to their former homes and villages in Israel. It would have flooded the neighboring Arab states with even more refugees, adding fuel to the rejectionist fire against the new Jewish state. More war crimes would not have brought more peace, but rather the opposite.

A Likud Knesset Member was quoted in the Jerusalem Post today as saying that because he supports Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state,” he believes that “as many as possible” Arab Israelis should become citizens of the Palestinian Authority as part of a final peace agreement (without regard to whether they wish to give up their citizenship and residency in Israel). This Knesset Member has turned the very idea of democracy on its head. Democracy’s heart is equal rights and liberties for all citizens. And it is precisely because we are committed to Israel as a Jewish democratic state that we believe the Palestinian Israeli and Bedouin Arab citizens of Israel can become equal citizens in a state that is Jewish in important ways, and treats both Jewish and Arab citizens as equals. The impulse to expel non-Jews from the State of Israel in the name of Zionism - whether through physical expulsion or by declaring their homes and villages as no longer part of Israel - is a perversion of democracy, of Jewish values and of Zionism as envisoned by its founder Theodor Herzl.

Before Chaim Yavin’s film ID Blues: Jewish and Democratic was screened, I was invited to offer some brief remarks on behalf of the Jewish Alliance for Change, which co-sponsored the showing. I reviewed the mistreatment, discrimination and extreme inequality between Israeli Jews and the Negev Bedouin, and the mounting demolitions of Bedouin villages and expulsion of hundreds of Bedouin, as the most awful example of the way the Israeli government – especially this Israeli government of Netanyahu and Lieberman - is undermining the chances for reconciling Israel’s Jewishness with its democratic character.

Afterwards, Benny Morris spoke about the issues raised in the film. I posed the last question during the discussion. Morris claimed that Israel’s contribution to the growth of Islamic extremism is negligible; that Islamic extremism is fueling Jewish extremism. Isn’t it the other way around, I asked, and offered three examples:

  • how Israel’s nearly 20-year occupation of Southern Lebanon encouraged the creation of the Islamic resistance movement of Hezbollah;

  • how its deepening of the occupation and expansion of settlements in the West Bank over decades strengthened support for Hamas;

  • and how its failure to take any substantive steps to remedy the great inequality between Israeli Arabs and Jews, its failure to integrate the Palestinian Israeli community into Israel, is contributing to the rise of Islamic extremism among Israeli Arabs.

Morris acknowledged that these things made a contribution, but he insisted that the contribution was minimal. Even had Israel not done these things, he claimed, Islamic extremism would have developed in all these areas. Ending the occupation of the West Bank or making a sustained and serious effort to integrate and promote equality for Israeli Arab citizens would do little to temper support for Muslim extremism among Palestinian Israelis and West Bank Palestinians, said Morris in a post-film discussion with me and other audience members.

Before answering my question during the public program, Morris decided to address my remarks before the film. Things are more complicated than you portrayed them, he protested: "If you study the issue closely, he continued, you find that the land claimed by the Bedouin is state land, inherited by Israel from the British and the Turks; the Bedouin have no title to the land, and they are trespassers encroaching on state land."

I interjected: "Prof. Morris, you are ignoring numerous historical sources which justify the land ownership claims of the Bedouin. If you study the issue closely, as you suggest, it leads to a conclusion diametrically opposed to yours."

Morris’ characterization is in fact a gross oversimplification of the history and a distortion of the highly politicized and biased process by which Israeli governments have denied Bedouin claims to their land.

The US State Department’s 2008 Report on Human Rights in Israel sums up the history more accurately: “Israel’s land policies refuse to acknowledge Bedouin ownership over lands they have possessed for generations… the Israeli government has not recognized any title of ownership or rights to lands traditionally possessed and used by the Bedouin in the Negev. In defense of this denial, the state has cited the Bedouin’s lack of documentary evidence attesting to ownership. Crucially, however, the Bedouin have never operated a documentary land registration system. Rather, land is allotted according to verbal inter-tribal agreement. Given this cultural norm, any land ownership system that requires written proof of ownership serves to dispossess most Bedouin of their land.”

“However, the lack of state-recognized title does not mean that there is no documented evidence of former Bedouin ownership. ‘Until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Bedouin were, for the most part, the sole residents of the Naqab [Negev]. 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, for which they adhered to a clear and agreed-upon system of property rights.’”

Morris, I’m sorry to say, has bought into the propaganda that has been used to justify a policy of unjust land expropriation from Bedouin to enable the state to develop the land exclusively for Jewish use, while pushing the Bedouin into as small an area as possible. Once a critical historian, Morris now lets his reading of history serve his politics, and his politics edges dangerously close to a Jewish ultra-nationalism which prefers Jewish aggrandizement to Israel’s commitment to liberal democratic values and human rights.

On these lopsided terms, it is no surprise that Morris opened his remarks by confessing that he sees no contradiction between Israel’s Jewishness and its democratic character. There will never be a contradiction if Jewishness always trumps the equal rights and liberties which are supposed to be guaranteed to all citizens in a democratic state.

After our public exchange, I approached Morris to continue the conversation, alluding to historical research supporting Bedouin land rights from scholars at his own university, Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva. He summarily dismissed all this research and evidence, suggesting that it shows nothing. I objected: You’re overlooking the fact that there is a generic problem with many states around the world having denied the land claims of indigenous and aboriginal peoples who often have other forms of evidence for these than the deeds that modern states tend to demand. By enacting narrow, biased laws designed to exclude non-traditional evidence of ownership by minorities, favoring the majority ethnic group, states often have unjustly denied the land claims and rights of such indigenous peoples.

Now Morris lit up: you have a point, he conceded. While he didn’t abandon his faith in the rightness of state policies towards the Bedouin, he acknowledged a flaw in his own worldview on this issue and in the state’s standard defense of its claim that the Bedouin have no land rights in the Negev and are simply trespassing on “state land.” But this flaw forms a hole so large that one can drive a phalanx of Volvo bulldozers right through it – and away from the "illegal" Bedouin villages and homes "bulit on state land" which they might have otherwise demolished.

What I didn’t tell Morris is that comparative legal scholars like Ahmad Amara, a Palestinian Israeli attorney who worked for the last 3 years on the land and housing rights of the Negev Bedouin under the aegis of Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, have shown that many countries that had previously denied the land claims of indigenous and aboriginal peoples for want of a written deed, have reversed course and recognized other forms of evidence of land ownership.

For example, “New Zealand illustrates attempts to remedy past abuse of a legal regime that recognized legal title over indigenous lands. In Canada, the government and the courts have recognized indigenous title to land, defined land rights with reference to practices, traditions and customs central to indigenous societies, and allowed customary forms of documentation,” Amara concluded in a comprehensive report submitted to the Goldberg Committee.

Amara has documented many other analogous examples, including India and the Philippines. Israel, regrettably, remains an outlier.

To Benny Morris I say: come back to the study of history and get off Avigdor Lieberman’s ship, which is heading for the rocks. This way lies ruin for Israel.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Troubling questions for Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the congregants of Anshe Sholom, and all of us who give to JNF

Many of you in Chicago and around the US know our old friend Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the Orthodox rabbi who leads Anshei Sholom, the shul where Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff (and possibly the next Mayor of Chicago), and his family belong.

Rabbi Lopatin, who has been recognized as one of the top 25 pulpit rabbis in the US, announced that he is making aliyah with his family next year and bringing with him some 100 congregant families to Israel, to create a new “pluralistic, diverse and environmentally sound community” in the northern Negev near Beer Sheva.

But Rebecca Manski’s report - and the work of environmental justice pioneer Devorah Brous - uncovers facts that raise deeply troubling questions for Rabbi Lopatin and the hundreds of congregants he plans to lead to the Promised Land - and all of us who give to the JNF:
  • The Israeli government tacitly and extra-legally encouraged Jewish settlers—just like those in the OR Movement today—to construct private homes and out-buildings on state land in the Negev and elsewhere in Israel, and offered them annual subsidies to engage in cultivation.

  • American-Israeli planning scholars such as Daniel Orenstein—a former JNF-America board member—consider the OR Movement an illegal settlement movement dedicated to staking out lands for Jews in order to offset the presence of Arabs on Israeli lands.

  • Thanks to OR Negev’s extra-legal settlement activity, a scattering of new settlements now form a triangle in the region around the Negev’s urban center, Beersheva.

  • In 2009, the OR Movement was the third largest recipient of funds from JNF-US.

  • Today the settlements established through the southern wing of the movement, OR Negev, are the basis of JNF’s Blueprint Negev, a plan to establish dozens of new Jewish-only communities in the Negev and attract 250,000 Jews.

  • While the Israeli government uses tainted law to render Bedouin villages and land claims “illegal,” forcing Bedouin Israelis from their lands into crime-infested urban towns with no jobs, it retroactively legalizes OR’s illegal settlements exclusively for Jews.

  • Contrary to JNF’s claim that it has nothing to do with the destruction of Bedouin villages and the expulsion of Bedouin families from their homes, in fact, JNF-Israel, by law, nominates ten of the Israel Land Administration’s (ILA) twenty-two directors. When the ILA opts to destroy an "unrecognised village," JNF is deeply involved.

  • The Jewish National Fund forest to be planted on the new ruins of al-‘Araqib is part of a larger effort to green the image of the Negev, in order to encourage more Jewish immigration to the south of the country.

  • When the American wing of the JNF raises money for an "Ambassador's Forest" to replace the Negev Bedouin village of al-'Araqib, the line between demolition, and “greening,” is blurred.

Dear Rabbi Lopatin and our friends at Anshe Sholom, how can you justify being party to this injustice? Is your conscience not troubled?

Did the prophet Isaiah not teach that “Zion shall be redeemed with justice?” (1: 27 - 28)

Does God not command us to “faithfully observe all My laws and all My regulations, lest the land to which I bring you to settle spew you out?” (Leviticus, 20:22)

Did the prophet Ezekiel not warn: “You stand upon your sword, you carry out disgusting deeds...and shall you possess the land?” (33: 23 – 26).

To learn more about Devorah and Rebecca’s distressing Negev discoveries, read “Blueprint Negev.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Greenwashing the Blueprint: Devorah Brous, JNF and the Negev - A Personal Preface, by Rebecca Manski

JNF Romance

A Jewish National Fund tree-planting certificate has been hanging on my grandparents' bedroom wall since long before I was born. A farmer with his plow is etched on yellowing parchment. The certificate hangs in a rogues gallery which relates a classic Jewish American storyline. There are images of my great-great-grandmother, murdered in the Holocaust. There is the visa signed by Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul who saved my grandfather's life. There is a photograph of my great-grandfather in his Dorchester deli, shaking hands with Robert Kennedy, his eyes sparkling. There are awards from the Zionist Organization of America, from the time my grandfather was President of the New England chapter. The journey from Lithuania, to the United States, to Israel, all hangs against my grandmother's choice of pink vinyl wallpaper.

The Jewish National Fund certificate captured my imagination, and reminded me of the socialist images I had seen tacked on the walls of my Jerusalem kindergarden the year before our family left Jerusalem in 1982. I was proud that my grandfather had contributed his modest earnings as a sock salesman directly to the JNF, to plant ten pine trees in the Land of Israel. Looking at that rogues gallery in this Jewish suburb outside Boston, I could picture Israel, and the JNF forests, and the times I hiked proudly under a canopy of JNF pines.

Things changed. At twenty-five, I found myself hopping off a bus, not to take shade in a JNF pine forest, but to wait on that hot and treeless desert roadside for a field worker with the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages. I found myself speaking for countless hours, strategizing with Devorah Brous, an impassioned ally of the Bedouin, Founder of the environmental justice NGO Bustan.

Making the JNF-Bedouin connection

Throughout fifteen years of organizing in the region, Brous introduced many thousands of people to the greenwashing of Bedouin displacement in the Negev. Visitors on one of her 'Negev Unplugged Tours', saw Bedouin citizens of Israel denied access to electricity and other public amenities living 'unplugged' from the State. Many of those destined to go their own course and become researchers, filmmakers, or activists focused on Negev Bedouin issues - first visited an unrecognized Bedouin village with Brous.

Cultural roots, possibility and perhaps even, in a certain sense, destiny brought Brous from New Jersey to the Negev in 1991. She ventured into the Last Frontier only to find that -- even as the government and the JNF viewed the Negev as a vast wilderness awaiting Jewish settlement -- it was being despoiled, treated as a lawless dumping ground for Tel Aviv's municipal waste, multiple mining operations, dozens of chemical factories and Israel's principle nuclear facility. She saw that the indigenous Bedouin had been concentrated into a small triangle of land, denied access to their ancestral grazing grounds and the fields in which they once sowed barley and wheat their main means of sustenance. She saw that some 80% percent of the Negev consists of closed military zones and is off-limits for residential or agricultural use by civilians. And after several unflinching years of study in Israel, she learned that from the 1950s-70s the government displaced the Bedouin of the Negev into a sliver of land less than 2% of their former range, and the process of land confiscation was far from over.

Building a Clinic, Building a Movement

Out of Brous' outrage came the Negev environmental justice organization Bustan. In 2003, Bustan launched a sustainable clinic-building project in the village of Wadi Na'am, bringing unprecedented international attention to the interrelated problems of the unrecognized villages and environmental injustice in the Negev. I volunteered at Wadi-Na'am, spending days up to the elbows in buckets of adobe plaster; and the first sparks of a friendship with the woman behind this amazing project ignited over the campfire at night.

One day in 2006, Devorah led fifty people from the world-over on one of her Negev Unplugged Tours to the regional capital, Beer Sheva. She pointed at the Le Corbusier-inspired poured concrete buildings, which are the pride of Beer Sheva's Ben Gurion University, surrounded by green lawns and trees. Instead of building homes and structures with natural and local materials appropriate for the desert climate, and instead of planting native species which naturally conserve the region's scarce water resources, you see palm trees surrounding all that cement, soaking up all the heat. This, she informed the tour, is the legendary 'blooming of the desert:' Palms more suited to Florida, and pines more suited to Oregon. The palms planted in the Negev soak up 30-gallons more water than a native palm, daily.”

Brous' silvery blue eyes searched the landscape, “Is that the kind of water-intensive development promoted by the JNF, which calls itself an environmental organization?” At that time, we could only guess. There was no Blueprint to the Blueprint Negev, no plans to examine.

A Greenwashed Blueprint

On a blustery winter day in 2009, I visited the New York offices of the Jewish National Fund. I had been invited by Molly Golden of JNFuture, the fund's youth outreach division, to attend a Blueprint Negev presentation entitled, “It's Not a Mirage, It's Our Vision.” A JNF spokeswoman had assured me that an actual, tangible blueprint of the development plan -- which had, over the course of three months of back-and-forth communication, evaded me -- would be made available at the event.

I walked through the arched entryway doors towards the mahogany hall where JNF members mingled over crackers, sipping wine from settlement vineyards. As I went, I glanced at the staircase adorned with staid oil portraits of benefactors, doves, olive branches and the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem. Black-and-white snapshots of early twentieth century Jewish pioneers were interspersed with kodacolor images of grinning teens posing at Masada in Teva sandals and cargo pants.

Now, at the JNFuture presentation, I saw with my own eyes: After at least four years of project development, pressure from a small cohort of Jewish community leaders had truly led the JNF to green its public relations priorities. The JNFuture powerpoint prominently featured discussion of a new goat milk marketing project in the Bedouin village of Hura, a park in cooperation with the Bedouin township of Segev Shalom, and cooperation with the Abu Basma Regional Council of legal Bedouin villages.[1] The aforementioned cohort featured environmental planning expert and former JNF Board Member Daniel Orenstein, David Lehrer of the JNF-funded Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Yeela Livnat of the Council for Unrecognized Villages, Rabbi David Seidenberg, and various Jewish environmental advocates in the United States.

In an email to these peers, Brous argued that the most well-intentioned advocacy efforts could have unintended consequences: “I won't mince words: In the absence of full transparency around Blueprint Negev, this amelioration (greenwashing) is dangerous.” Brous warned against “Encouraging the JNF to present a more green 'image'" in the absence of any effort to address what she called the root issue: “discriminatory allocation of already scarce resources the Negev.” Later, Brous added: “The JNF's engagement in a campaign to fund symbolic projects in partnership with Bedouin is nothing short of dangerous in the context of the JNF-KKL's political and strategic objectives.”

This concern haunted my reception of the JNFuture presentation in New York. When Sim Herring, a fundraiser for a modern orthodox Jewish school, asked what I thought of the latest presentation on the Blueprint Negev, I told him honestly that I still wanted to see a Blueprint and was concerned that the JNF 's modifications were just greenwashing.

To this, Herring replied, “You know there is a great organization that deals with those issues. I first encountered this problem while volunteering on a clinic-building project in a Bedouin village
called....Wadi Na'am, I believe?” I felt an ironic smile involuntarily spread across my face. “In fact it's the organization that deserves most of the credit for introducing those issues to the JNF,” Herring emphasized. “Without it, the JNF would not have made these changes. Have you heard of Bustan?”

[1] “It's Not a Mirage, It's Our Vision Presentation to JNFuture membership (March 3, 2009)

Blueprint Negev, by Rebecca Manski (An expose of JNF's role in the displacement of the Negev Bedouin)

Picking up a passenger by the hot, treeless roadside, Bedouin advocate ‘Ali Abu Subayh wheels his Fiat around onto a path, spitting rocks and coating the windows with dust, headed toward an “unrecognized village” in southern Israel. Between the 1950s and 1970s, the Israeli government displaced the Bedouin of the Negev desert into a sliver of land less than 2 percent the size of their former range. The government built seven townships for the Bedouin, and simultaneously declared all existing Negev Bedouin villages to be illegal. Today, Abu Subayh and 80,000 other Bedouin citizens of Israel born in one of these 45 “unrecognized” villages are threatened with further displacement. More than once, Abu Subayh, a field worker with the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, has himself returned home to find a piece of paper flapping on the post at the entrance to the goat pen—a demolition order.

Al-‘Araqib is unique among these villages. Like many other unrecognized villages, it was demolished in 1951, and its residents were “temporarily” relocated. Unlike others, however, al-‘Araqib’s old stone ruins remained in place over the decades. Over the years, the original residents returned to work the land and maintain its productivity. And in the 1990s, the residents returned to al-‘Araqib family by family, and reestablished the village. But in late July, al-‘Araqib was destroyed again by the Israeli government to make way for a Jewish National Fund (JNF) forest. The JNF, a non-profit corporation with quasi-state powers, was not directly involved in the removal of al-'Araqib; that is the domain of the Israel Land Authority (ILA), the government agency responsible for managing 93% of the land of Israel. However, since by law the JNF nominates ten of the ILA's twenty-two directors, when the ILA opts to destroy an "unrecognised village", the JNF is deeply involved. So too, when the American wing of the JNF raises money for an "Ambassador's Forest" -- through the auspices of at least twenty-eight offices throughout the country, governed by over eighteen Vice Presidents and ten Assistant Vice Presidents -- to replace the village of al-'Araqib, the line between demolition, and greening, is blurred. The Ambassor's Forest is just one of the tree plantations that Israel has rooted for decades with donations from Jews and other sympathizers of the Zionist project around the world.

Due to funding shortages and international pressure, government threats to remove unrecognized Bedouin villages have generally been carried out home by home, rather than village by village. In the absence of money for all-out Jewish settlement, the government has found it difficult to follow through with the planned removal of entire Bedouin villages, when only rubble will be left behind. But it has been easier to justify replacing tin shacks with trees. The destruction of an entire village of 500 people, all at once—to make way for a JNF tree plantation—therefore sets an important precedent for twenty-first century Israeli policy toward the Bedouin.

Making the Desert Blue (and Green)

The Jewish National Fund forest to be planted on the new ruins of al-‘Araqib is part of a larger effort to green the image of the Negev, in order to encourage more Jewish immigration to the south of the country.

The Negev is not the first place the average Israeli dreams of when she contemplates the prospects for a better life. Long treated as a lawless “dumping ground,” the Negev hosts dozens of chemical factories, multiple mining operations, Tel Aviv’s excess waste and the nation’s principal nuclear facility at Dimona. Along with the pollution of the desert, a lack of government investment in either Jewish or Bedouin towns has undermined lingering romantic notions about living in Israel’s “last wilderness.” But the JNF insists that it can transform the image of the desert and boost its desirability through its Blueprint Negev campaign.

Introduced in 2005, around the time of the removal of Gaza’s Jewish settlements, Blueprint Negev aimed to establish a beachhead of 25 towns on Israel’s southern tip and become a symbol of national renewal, under the slogan, “It’s not a mirage, it’s a dream becoming a reality.” Via Blueprint Negev, the JNF intends to attract new immigrants to the desert with the promise of water, bluing it with rivers, lakes and swimming pools, then greening it with golf courses and lawns.

But in this perennial Middle East hot spot, such dreams have a tendency to vaporize. Just as the government effort to concentrate the Bedouin population in the townships has been put on hold due to persistent budget shortfalls, so too the plan to build settlements for Jews in the region has been deferred. Within a year and a half of the virtual launch of Blueprint Negev, world Zionist resources were directed to the Lebanon war and more attention went to securing Israel’s borders than to expanding Jewish development in a desert region with a tenuous Jewish majority. Within days after the first Katyusha rockets blasted kibbutz orchards near the Lebanese border and Israeli warplanes commenced relentless bombardments, which eventually killed close to 3,000 Lebanese, the JNF had focused its energies upon the north of the country, launching Operation Northern Renewal.

Not much later, in 2008, attention shifted south again as the Israeli army invaded Gaza in response to the Qassam rockets launched into the Negev, and the JNF introduced Operation Security Blanket. Instead of building up new Blueprint Negev settlements, the JNF allocated millions for a rocket-proof indoor playground replete with a jungle gym, video game arcade, disco, merry-go-round, swing sets, therapy rooms, barbecue pit and, according to the JNF, “rooms that double as bomb shelters.”

As publicity and funding was diverted from north to south again, the JNF relied upon a settler group, the OR Movement, to push Blueprint Negev forward on the grassroots level. The JNF aimed to build twenty-five settlements by 2010, but by 2009, only seven small ones had been established, three of them by OR's Negev branch prior to joining forces with the JNF. Neither the JNF nor the OR Movement is directly involved in the removal of any Bedouin village. Their role in the settlement of Israel has been to create models for Jewish habitation, to replace.

From Barren to Luxurious

The publicity push for Blueprint Negev intensified in early 2006, when Israeli President Shimon Peres lauded its first planned development town as a new beacon for Americans “who want to make aliyah and live in style.” Soon, he told the Israeli public, there would be a haven for wealthy young Americans in Israel’s Negev desert. There would be homes with central air conditioning and other Western amenities, a lavish community center with gym facilities and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

American Jewish leaders continue to promote Peres’ vision for the Negev. It will be “pure Zionism,” says Daniel Mattio, the chairman of the Chicago Israel Philanthropic Fund, which was created in 2008 to speed the rate of Jewish settlement in the Negev. It will be “a fresh new community with fresh new attitudes,” “a type of utopia,” “pluralistic and diverse,” dedicated to “sustainable living,” says Rabbi Asher Lopatin, who leads the Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in Chicago (where he was rabbi of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel) and co-founded the Fund. There will be an organic farm, a bed-and-breakfast and an art gallery, says the JNF. There will shops, synagogues and a think tank devoted to religious diversity. There will be eco-tourism. Planners say the community will retain an American sensibility even after the Americans have been outnumbered.

The place they have in mind is Carmit, one of 14 new settlements planned by the JNF as part of the revised Blueprint Negev. Today Carmit is little more than an access road, earth-moving machines and a few mounds of pebbles surrounded by Bedouin villages in all directions.

Mattio and Lopatin originally planned to move to the desert outpost in the summer of 2010, when the first houses were scheduled to be completed. They were prepared to bring with them 100 American families, who would be followed by 100 Israeli families, and eventually be joined by 2,400 more. The idea was to inspire hundreds of thousands of “Anglo-Jews” and Israelis to make their way to new desert developments like Carmit. A former JNF America president, Estée Lauder scion Ronald Lauder, billed Blueprint Negev as an opportunity for Americans to “make aliyah the pioneering way.” But several years after Peres promoted Carmit as an affluent haven for Anglo Jews in the desert, the first houses have yet to be constructed.

In fact, Blueprint Negev is less a concrete development plan than a public relations and fundraising campaign seeking to inspire American Jewish investment in Jewish settlement of the Negev. It appeals to American Jewish romance surrounding the re-rooting of the Jewish people in its desert origins, and deep nostalgia for Israel’s halcyon days, the blooming of a modern Jewish state in a wild terrain.

Twenty-First Century Pioneers

Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, alloyed the JNF and the settlers with such sentiments when he laid out his vision for the modernization of the young country before an assembly of Zionist pioneers in 1954. “For those who make the desert bloom,” he said, “there is room for hundreds, thousands and even millions.” This vision—linking water, population and desert development—is the basis of the JNF’s oldest, and also its latest, efforts in a region comprising over half of the territory of Israel. For its part, the American branch of the JNF has long viewed control over water resources as essential to the survival of Israel, working in close cooperation with international irrigation experts to channel water to outposts and JNF forests in all regions of the country.

One modern-day outpost looks out over one of the only fully forested regions in the Negev, planted by the JNF. The settlement of Sansana survives the difficult desert conditions through complete access to water and other manifestations of state support. In late 2009, Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak approved expansion of the illegal outpost into a state-sanctioned settlement, and ordered construction of 440 housing units on the Israeli side of the separation barrier being built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Pending that construction, Sansana retains a frontier feel, replete with hilltop caravans and lookout towers. Its early settlers have taken on the personae of pioneers in a pristine and empty wilderness.

In 2000, as the second intifada exploded, a cadre of five childhood friends who had just finished their military service mobilized 15 families to move to the then-failing settlement of Sansana. Two years later, having successfully reestablished a Jewish presence in the settlement, they founded the OR Movement to settle the Negev and the Galilee; from 2002 on, they established five communities in the Negev and are currently initiating four more, including Carmit. In 2005, OR Negev achieved notoriety for helping the settlers who had been evacuated from Gaza relocate to these new Negev settlements.

That same year, JNF-America head Russell Robinson was meeting with potential Blueprint Negev partners at the King David Hotel, entertaining their proposals for securing Israel’s demographic-territorial claim to the Negev. “I can’t begin to tell you about all the strange ideas people had,” he said. “One man was certain it was all about windmills.”

“Two young men in sandals, cutoffs and T-shirts,” walked in, Robinson recalled. “They looked like something that had come out of a kibbutz hall meeting.” These were the representatives of the OR Movement. “They had chutzpah. They didn’t know how to take no for an answer. All day, people had been telling me, ‘You can't do this, you can't do that.’ These men said, ‘We can.’”

Though run by Israelis, OR Negev employs American homesteading rhetoric, drawing on the romantic imagery of a lawless frontier and taking up the mantle of manifest destiny. The choice catchphrase of its chief executive officer, Roni Flamer, is: “Go south, young man!” In 2009, the OR Movement was the third largest recipient of JNF-USA funds. Today the settlements established through the southern wing of the movement, OR Negev, are the basis of Blueprint Negev. The group recruits settlers through what it calls “the only comprehensive population information center in Israel.”

OR says it seeks to reinforce the eternal bond between the People of Israel and their land. Progressive American-Israeli planning scholars such as Daniel Orenstein—a former JNF-America board member—consider OR an illegal settlement movement dedicated to staking out lands for Jews in order to offset the presence of Arabs on Israeli lands. Noam Dolgin of the Green Zionist Alliance positions himself as neutral: “We support many organizations that engage in projects linking the sustainable to the strategic.... I support [OR’s] right to have an opinion that we need to expand into the Negev. I don’t necessarily agree with their approach. There’s a process in place and there would be less controversy if organizations of all kinds, including OR, would adhere to it.”

But while OR Negev once operated on the fringes of the formal planning process—in violation of official Negev development plans that prohibited sprawl into the desert’s last open spaces—today it operates under the sponsorship (and overt political protection) of the JNF. Thanks to OR Negev’s extra-legal settlement activity, a scattering of new settlements now form a triangle in the region around the Negev’s urban center, Beersheva.

Retroactive Approval

OR Negev’s success at seeing its once illegal settlements retroactively legalized is best understood by going back to the roots of JNF-America settlement ideology.

The American Zionist settlement movement—like the homestead movement in North America—has long pointed to its physical and financial investment in the land in order to plant evidence of ownership. Initially, that investment was often communal, and embodied by the kibbutz. At the turn of the twentieth century, however, many influential American Jews—chief among them Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis—voiced opposition to the socialist orientation of the kibbutz and sought to export to Israel an American homesteading model based on private land ownership.

According to the American homesteading principle of “sweat equity,” settlers could expropriate territory through their sustained presence and labor. JNF-America advocated the homestead as a capitalist alternative to the kibbutz, merging the baalebat (bourgeoisie) and chalutz (pioneer) to form a modern settler-entrepreneur who would test himself physically and economically in the harsh elements. Most Zionist thinkers envisioned the entirety of Palestine prior to Jewish immigration and investment as an empty, scorched land—and, more than any other region of Palestine, the Negev desert was seen as a wasteland awaiting Zionist modernization.

From its inception in 1948, the state classified all lands lacking a legal title, as “waste lands” or mawat, an Arabic term according to which the Ottomans classified “waste lands” as state property. Israel appropriated this classification, aware that hardly a single Bedouin village had legally registered its lands under the Ottomans. Thereafter, hardly a single indigenous Bedouin citizen received government approval to initiate any significant agricultural enterprise of his own. A criminal stigma began to pervade Bedouin self-subsistence efforts, now considered an “invasion” of national domain.

As Bedouin agricultural lands were retroactively deemed illegal, successful Jewish homesteads were retroactively recognized. The government tacitly and extra-legally encouraged Jewish settlers—just like those in the OR Movement today—to construct private homes and out-buildings on state land, and offered them annual subsidies to engage in cultivation.

Manifest Responsibility

Brandeis, the first director of JNF-America, the organization’s funding capital, referred to Zionists as “Jewish Pilgrim Fathers.” He believed Jews in America could play a decisive role in the restoration of the fallen biblical kingdom. The pilgrims and their descendants had referred to New England as “New Israel” and presumed that the ten lost tribes of Israel were to be found among the native peoples of North America—a conceit that cast biblical legitimacy over the conquest of the New World. Centuries after the Puritans, JNF-America drew on their rhetoric to justify what it viewed as the return of the natives of the Land of Israel.

“The United States had its manifest destiny in the West,” Lauder wrote in 2004. “Russia looked to its frozen tundra to the East. Many countries have had vast areas of what many considered to be uninhabitable land at one time, which eventually became some of the most important parts of their developed societies. For Israel, that land is the Negev.” Russell Robinson, asked if the JNF and OR use the phrase “manifest destiny” as part of an overarching strategy, said: “Words are sometimes used in different ways for different people, and we’re talking to Americans. You try to bring them to you with vision and with romance: Here God is, allowing you to participate in the creation process. I think that manifest destiny is part of our responsibility. Call it manifest responsibility.”

Today, several Blueprint Negev settlements run micro-tourism enterprises on the frontier, staking out a Jewish presence as they invite Zionist devotees from all over the world—potential immigrants—to lay claim to the status of both the “native” and the “pioneer.” In recent years the JNF has recruited American students to journey to Negev Jewish communities for an “alternative” spring break, where they volunteer on an agricultural settlement, visit Blueprint Negev projects and even listen to Bedouin storytelling. In addition to paying their own way, participants are required to raise $975 for Blueprint Negev. At one tourist village, visitors can view themselves as pioneers as they sleep in teepee structures like the conical tents used by both the early Zionist pioneers in temporary camps along the frontier, and the early Israeli boy scouts who wore desert kaffiyas with their uniform. Alternately, visitors can play the role of the Indian, as Jewish settlers lead them through Indian ceremonies and offer them “wigwams” at the end of the night.

“The Wild South”

A man sits astride a weary horse with gentle eyes; in his right hand, he holds a lasso, in his left, the reins. “Yes, there are cowboys in Israel,” the Israeli Tourism Ministry advertised in a 2007 edition of the New York Times Magazine. Like an American cowboy, the Israeli’s hat is worn and floppy, his red plaid shirt is rolled up informally at the sleeves, he has a full beard and his eyes squint in the sun. The bottom of the page reads, in capital-lettered fine print: “NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN YOU.”

“This land is ours,” said Robinson. “There is no controversy, no argument, no discussion. But if we don't take care of it, it can become desert; it can be taken from us.” JNF-America’s president sees the “reclamation” of the Negev as fundamental to ensuring the state’s survival. Meanwhile, the Or Movement defines “taking care of” the land in terms of staking Jewish belonging and ownership.

The relationship between Bedouin and Jews in the Negev has never been tenser. In recent years, the “last frontier” has to come to be referred to as the “wild South,” as Jewish squatters on state lands have used vigilante tactics in response to what they call Bedouin trespassing. The flashpoint in this twenty-first century conflict came in early February 2007, when Shai Dromi, a Jewish rancher developing an illegal settlement on the Green Line (the boundary between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories) in the Negev desert, killed Khalid al-Atrash, a Bedouin man attempting to steal his sheep. Within a few weeks of the killing, amidst a flurry of pro-Dromi protests spreading all the way from the desert to Jerusalem, the incident reached the Knesset, where a “self-defense bill” to legalize Dromi’s actions—inspired by Texas law—passed all of its readings and became law. “What happened to Dromi could have happened to us,” a settler told a local newspaper. “If we have to go to war, we’ll go to war.” Another area farmer offered his preferred solution: “Every person wakes up in the morning, goes and shoots a Bedouin. There are 100,000 people shooting Bedouins. What are you going to do, punish them all?” Small Jewish militias sprout in the Negev each day, he said.

For such settlers the Zionist mantra of “making the desert bloom” does not only mean seeding the Land of Israel with Jewish development. It does not even mean combating desertification, realizing the potential of a land supposedly laid to waste by its non-Jewish inhabitants. It means eradicating Bedouin invaders on their terrain.

These settlers are not the first to interpret Ben Gurion’s vision thus. Indeed, after masses of Palestinians were expelled from their lands during the 1948 war, the head of the JNF, Josef Weitz, strongly objected that, unlike in the north of the country, not all Negev Bedouin returnees following the war were evicted. He lamented that their pastures were not universally “plowed over so that no trace of them remains,” making way for Jewish farmers to cultivate ready-made fields.

Orenstein suggests that with the OR-JNF alliance, the JNF’s environmental “land reclamation” efforts in the Negev have begun to lose their distinction from the OR Movement’s goal of “reclaiming land for Jews.” Others, such as Devorah Brous, the founder of the Bedouin-Jewish environmental justice NGO Bustan, argue that the JNF’s approach to “land reclamation” was always double-edged.


The JNF, after all, literally planted the borders of the Jewish state. As Hebrew University geographer Ilan Solomon explains, the JNF tree line follows the Green Line, demarcating the border so distinctly that it is visible from space.

All over the country in the years following the 1948 war and the establishment of the state of Israel, the JNF planted pine forests on the sites of Arab villages whose inhabitants had left or were expelled from their homes. Today, as the JNF continues to advertise itself as “the caretaker of the land of Israel on behalf of its owners—Jewish people everywhere,” Palestinian-Bedouin citizens of Israel are seen as, at best, guests in the country’s national parks.

More recently, the JNF has planted forests expressly in order to limit Bedouin “incursion” into open spaces and restrict Bedouin herding. To that end, after the “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005, the JNF set settlers from Gaza to work planting 500 acres of olive trees in a ring around the affluent Jewish suburb of Omer. Soon to be accompanied by a golf course and hotel, another planned 2,000 acres of olive trees will render it one of the largest urban greenspaces in Israel. Omer Local Council chairman Pini Badash explained that the planting project aims “to assert control over the land within Omer’s municipal boundaries” and limit Bedouin grazing. After guiding a tour to the Bedouin village of Tarrabin, on the outskirts of lush Omer, Brous offered her own interpretation: “Planting as a means of demarcating Jewish versus Arab space is a tangible form of greenwashing. We have seen similar planting schemes throughout the country over the years, but this is the first time the JNF and planning authorities have asserted themselves so bluntly, without a more romantic spin to the public."

Because the JNF is not the institution that directly slates Bedouin villages for demolition, and because of the JNF's historical image as treeplanting organization, it has managed to evade concerted scrutiny. Until now.

In the past, few Israeli environmentalists or civil rights advocates focused their energies specifically on the link between JNF-KKL projects and the uprooting of Arabs. In the south of the country, Brous devoted fifteen years to exposing the ongoing greenwashing of Bedouin displacement in the Negev. She was the first analyst and organizer to take note of, and write about, the JNF's Blueprint Negev. Her analysis helped catalyze several emerging efforts, including the new international campaign launched by the US-based Jewish Alliance for Change with the unprecedented cross-Atlantic collaboration of nearly 40 organizations in Israel and the U.S. And on the ground, Bedouin organizers have increasingly incorporated an environmental justice analysis into their international advocacy efforts during a series of protests in front of the JNF offices in the Negev late this summer.

Bedouin “Blindspot”

On JNF-America’s six-day “environmental mission” to Israel in May, the itinerary featured a visit to an OR Negev settlement to “learn what life is like as a true modern-day pioneer.” OR Negev settlers established the Jewish outpost of Givot Bar on the lands claimed by al-‘Araqib residents in 2004. Just a few years later the JNF replaced Givot Bar’s caravans with permanent houses and heralded the budding Forman-Axelband Family Forest project, planned for the remaining area.

While the American Jewish delegates were speaking with OR Negev settlers, Nouri al-‘Uqbi received visitors of his own in al-‘Araqib. Al-‘Uqbi, perhaps the most tenacious Bedouin advocate anywhere, has been non-violently resisting removal since 2006, awaiting the monthly demolition of his makeshift dwelling, and continually re-pitching a protest tent next to the stone foundations upon which he was born.

Had the Americans on the “environmental mission” come just three months later, they might have noticed an unusually large number of police in the area. They might have spotted a few dozen Bedouin and Israeli protesters camped nearby. More likely, the itinerary would have been changed well in advance of the moment when bulldozers rolled in to demolish the village of al-‘Araqib.

Rebecca Manski is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She worked as a Communications Consultant for NGOs in Israel/Palestine between 2003-2008. A version of this article first appeared in Middle East Report 256 (Fall 2010)."

Read Greenwashing the Blueprint: Devorah Brous, JNF and the Negev - A Personal Preface to this essay.