By Vivian Silver
“There Must Be Another Way”…Israel’s entry to last year’s Eurovision Song Contest sung by Ahinoam Nini and Mira Awaad keeps repeating itself in my head. It must be related to the news of the repeated brutal demolitions of Alarkib, one of Israel’s unrecognized Bedouin villages about 10 minutes north of Beer Sheva. Anyone viewing TV or video clips of these recent demolitions has to cringe at the sight of hundreds of police, on foot and on horses, armed with clubs and protective shields, charging the civilian population of men, women and children.
The Israel to which I made aliyah 36 years ago would not be capable of such a monstrous action. The Israel which I bequeath to my children is a more just country that chooses to negotiate solutions to difficult issues rather than resort to brutal force against its own citizens. The Israel which I dream of treats all of its citizens equally, regardless of nationality, religion, gender or socio-economic status.
I have lived in the Negev for more than 20 years now. For half of those years, the Bedouin were an invisible people to me, as they are for most Jews in the country. However, for the last half of those years, I have come to know many Bedouin personally, and have become familiar with the numerous challenges these people face.
Are there thieves amongst them? Absolutely, just as there are in any society. They may be in disproportionately higher numbers, but it is likely that their numbers are similar to those of seriously disadvantaged societies anywhere else in the world. It cannot be easy living in a tin hut without electricity or running water when your neighbors live in villas in suburban communities rated high up there on Israel’s socio-economic ladder. Their situation is exacerbated by the highest rate of unemployment in the country.
Are there academics and professionals amongst them? Yes, of course. These are the people who are proactive, social change agents doing their best to help transition their community from passive to active players who are creating their own solutions rather than remaining “the problem”. These are the people who work in non-profit organizations running training and educational projects that will reduce unemployment and empower the population. These are the people who refuse to accept the results of the outrageous discrimination in allocation of government resources that widen the socio-economic gaps between Jews and Arabs year after year. These are the people with whom I work on a daily basis, the people who humble me by their extraordinary stamina, who do not succumb to their anger and disappointment, even when faced with those menacing bulldozers that leave whole villages in utter ruin.
The irony does not escape me. We are told that the village was destroyed because it interferes with the “Ambassadors Forest” – the forest inaugurated in 2005 by the Keren Kayemet – JNF. I cannot help but wonder how the ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions from Europe, America, Asia and Africa now feel, those who were serving in Israel at the time and who were invited to plant trees at the site. I venture to guess they were not informed that the land on which they were given this honor is actually under dispute.
No matter what one thinks of the ongoing land conflict between the Bedouin and the state, no matter what side you are on in the political spectrum, it is impossible to condone such barbarous actions as those continuously taken by the authorities of my country, when it sends police to launch surprise attacks on villages at sunrise and razes them to the ground.
So once again, human rights organizations will send packages of food and clothing to the villagers who have lost everything. The Islamic Movement will raise money to put up make-shift shaded shelters and rebuild the huts that were destroyed. Our organization, NISPED-AJEEC, will send Bedouin volunteers who have been trained at our center to run a summer camp for the traumatized children. Sadly, the children who have been displaced will be told by their parents that it is the Jews who are responsible for the destruction.
And we Jews who witness this all will wonder what happened to the Israel of our dreams.
There must be another way…