AL-NAQAB OR NEGEV? A BEDOUIN REALITY

Tod Sarguis (San Luis Obispo, California)

The visit by our group to the al-Naqab Desert produced some very valuable information. Our visit with a Palestinian Bedouin village laid out in stark clarity the oppression faced in the area.

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Israel has taken over much of the land, and co-opted even the traditional names of the villages in the Naqab. The Israelis call the desert the Negev, and now assert their identity on the region which was once entirely Palestinian Bedouin. It is an arid region where few ventured prior to the 1948 Nakba.

Umm al-Hiran is one of 46 Bedouin villages in the region, and it has been besieged by the Israelis who slated virtually every building for demolition. This to make room for Israeli “settlements”, which are more accurately labeled “colonies.”

During 1948, approximately 90,000 Bedouins were expelled of a population of 101,000. They were forced into neighboring Jordan and Egypt primarily, never to return. Those that tried, were branded as outlaws, and faced summary execution if spotted by Israeli forces. Israeli military rule of the region ensued from 1948-1966. Israel confiscated most of the land during this period and only 10% remained in Bedouin hands at its conclusion.

Since then, Bedouin villages have been virtually quarantined, and Israeli colonists have been encouraged to settle the area. Bedouins remaining have been enticed to urban centers, where Israel has built low quality small cities with running water and electricity.

Many Bedouin have resisted though, and remain in the 46 remote villages, where their family, traditions and ancestors have long been. They have no electricity and little water available for them, this despite the fact that encroaching Israelis are instantly given these resources, as well as transportation to nearby schools, medical services, and whatever else is needed. Small Israeli family businesses are encouraged to encroach on the region. One Israeli family plot we saw was set up as a dog boarding house and mortuary, just miles from where Bedouins struggled for a basic level of existence.

Despite getting court rulings in 2015, and 2016 allowing recognition of a hand full of these Bedouin villages, they are still at risk. We saw an Israeli settlement in the nearby forest, with the actual name of a Bedouin village. The plan was for the new Israeli colony to replace and erase the Bedouin village – it’s namesake counterpart. This strategy, which is played out all over the Palestinian areas, is an effort to fully co-opt the Bedouin heritage and replace it with an invented artificial identity.

Today the number of encroaching Israeli settlements and family run operations has reached 60, and they compete directly with the 46 Bedouin villages (35 unrecognized and not on any official Israeli maps) who are on the edge of extinction. Bedouin numbers have grown however, as the 11,000 that remained have since turned into a population of over 220,000. Bedouins control just 5% of the land, and Israeli expansionist colonialists have made it clear they want it all.

It is crucial the world knows the plight of the Bedouin people. They are a warm, hospitable and friendly people who open their doors to any who come. They have many beautiful children and are hopeful for a future for all of them in the land of their forefathers. Like other Palestinians we met, they hope for an equal chance at success and nothing more. They are a peaceful people.