Who are the Bedouins and were did they come from? An ordinary Israeli citizen, who went to an ordinary Israeli school and who reads the mass circulation Israeli newspapers and listens to the major TV channels, knows that the Bedouin were once a kind of exotic nomads, wandering the desert on camel. And the ordinary Israeli also knows that nowadays the Bedouins are dangerous people, invading state lands in the Negev, who "breed too much" and become a "demographic danger". Everybody knows that, just as there were countries where everybody knew that Jews were in the habit of mixing blood in the Passover matzes.
But where exactly did these Bedouins come from? How did the innocuous camel riders become such a major threat? And how did the Negev lands turn into state lands which need to be defended agains these invaders? Few people in Israel know (or want to know).
Last Wednesday, quite a lot could be heard at the hall of Justice Sarah Dovrat in the District Court of Be'er Sheba, who continues to preside over the proceedings of Nuri al Okbi's claim of the land from which he was deported, from which his entire tribe was expelled, in 1951.
Those who came to the courtroom could hear the state's expert witness withdraw, step by step, in the face of the sharp cross-examination conducted by Attorney Michael Sfard. They could hear of the centuries of the Bedouin life in the Negev, of the Tribal Court which sat in Be'er Sheba where Bedouin sheikhs were the judges and where land ownership cases were deliberated and decided in accordance with the Bedouin Customary Law. Of the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire which recognized Bedouin land ownership and never tried to take land away by force. And even of the Jewish National Fund, which in the days before 1948 bought land from its Negev Bedouin owners, and paid the full price, and never (then) argued that it was state land.
Those who came to the court could also hear of the creation of Israel. Of the only democracy in the Middle East, which soon after it came into being proclaimed the entire Negev to be the property of its newly-established government, making a Bedouin into no more than an invader and squatter on state land. Of the expulsion of these Bedouin invaders from most of the Negev, in the early fifties - some beyond the country's borders, some to a small area called "The Sayag" which the state graciously allocated to them. That even there, where they were brought by the state, they were and are considered to be squatters and invaders and are treated as such...
Interesting things happened in that courtroom, a legal drama by any standards. But the courtroom has room for no more than a handful of spectators, and none of the media bothered to publicize what took place. The media had other things to tell about the Bedouin. For example, that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Aharonovitz have resolved to "smash the Bedouin takeover of land in the Be'er Sheba Region", a takeover which is conceived as a dire threat which might lead to "cutting off of the Jewish territoririal continuity". The Ministry of Finance already allocated generous funds for the establishment of a new commando unit, to be charged with stifling any new Bedouin construction.
Pending the creation of the new commando unit, existing police units are already doing their best in this good cause. This week, very early in the morning, no fewer than 500 police officers - armed with guns and accompanied by large dogs – conducted a raid on the Tlalka Tribe.
The Tlalkas are already used to the visits of government officials, which take place about every month, and are usually composed of bulldozers and their escorts. The Tlalkas no longer try to rebuild the stone houses which they once briefly had, nor even the tin shacks which were their abode for long. They live again in tents, and after each visit of the bulldozers they put these tents together again and put in them what survived of their gear. There had already been some forty visits of this kind.
This week was a different kind of visit. For once the police had not come to destroy but to arrest. They had a list of 18 young Tlalka men, and they combed the tents until finding and taking all of them into custody. As the police told the press, this is a dangerous gang of squatters and invaders, who regularly and systematically harass civil servants and violently prevent them from performing their public duties. Specifically, gang members claim that the land they live on has been the land of their tribe for generations, and deny that it is state land. The dangerous gang also filed claims in court to recognize their ownership, and pending the end of these proceedings asked the Jewish National Fund to stop creating facts on the ground and planting forests on the disputed land. "These highly dangerous people used violence against public servants, threatened employees and contractors of the Jewish National Fund, and burned down the vehicles, tractors and the seedlings planted by the Jewish National Fund" said the police representative. The court was persuaded to remand the gang members in detention.
Perhaps now the dedicated public workers of the Jewish National Fund can proceed to peacefully pursue their important public job, and secure the lands of the Jewish state against the nasty invaders and squatters.
See earlier references: