In a plan that has been termed by some, both on the Palestinian left and the Israeli right, as ‘ethnic cleansing’, the Israeli government has announced it will forcibly remove 40,000 Bedouin Arab residents from the Negev Desert area in southern Israel.
According to the statement released by the Regional Council of the Unrecognized Villages in Negev, the plan to transfer 40,000 Arabs by the Israeli National Security Council aims to uproot the Arabs from their land and resettle them “into tiny areas as refugees. It also aims at stealing the land from its owners by force. The plan is to be implemented within two years through which the dwellers of the area are about to be fiercely thrown out."
Uzi Cohen, a right-wing member of the Likud Party in Israel, has been criticized for openly calling the expulsion ‘ethnic cleansing’, and praising the policy that he says will help ‘rid Israel of non-Jewish Arabs’.
The Bedouin Arab people have been living in what is now Israel long before the establishment of the Israeli state in 1947. Traditionally a nomadic people, they have been forbidden, since 1947, under Israeli law to build permanent abodes. Their small villages in the Negev desert have been demolished by the Israeli government multiple times, as they are ‘unrecognized’ by the government. There are currently approximately 70,000 Bedouin Arabs living in the Negev, 40,000 of which are scheduled for forced removal in the coming months.
Sarah C. Aird, writing nearly ten years ago for Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said, “The Israeli government’s refusal to officially recognize these communities for more than 30 years has caused the residents tremendous hardship. The government rarely provides even the most limited services to these areas and made it illegal for private agencies to do so. As a consequence, residents in the unrecognized villages must survive without running water, electricity, sewage treatment facilities, schools, and health centers.”
Little has changed in the ten years since, and now a plan to eliminate the ‘Bedouin problem’ altogether is being implemented, despite opposition from both the Bedouin population themselves, and many within the Israeli public.
On January 17th Israel began implementing the plan, when two hundred Israeli soldiers arrived with two bulldozers to demolish several houses owned by Bedouin families. According to the Arab Association for Human Rights and the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, “At 7 o’clock they started demolishing the house of Khaled al Nasasra living in the unrecognized village of Abu Solub, leaving him, his wife and his seven children with no dwelling. Right afterwards the soldiers moved on to another unrecognized village called Tlal Rashed where they pulled down the home of Haleel Al-Hauashla. Another house of Al-Ataiga has been demolished in an unrecognized village just behind Rahat.”
The Israeli government has made it no secret that it plans to replace the Bedouin Arabs with planned Jewish communities. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, wrote to his son 11 years before the birth of the Jewish state: "Negev land is reserved for Jewish citizens whenever and wherever they want. We must expel the Arabs and take their place." By 1951, fewer than 13,000 inhabitants remained of a community that numbered somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 in the late 1940s. As late as 1953, the United Nations reported the expulsion of some 7,000 Negev Bedouin into adjacent areas of Jordan, Egyptian-occupied Gaza and the Sinai, though many later slipped back over the borders undetected.
In April 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s ‘Six-Year Plan for the Bedouins’ passed in the ministry committee. This plan, which was made with no consultation with local people, called for the concentration of the remaining rural Bedouins into seven existing townships, and seven new towns of the same character. Critics note that the existing townships are marred by conditions of extreme urban poverty and lack of services, and most Bedouin prefer to live in the desert villages.