Yes to recognition, no to uprooting the Bedouin villages

I am frantically coloring in letters, and double-checking my spelling via google, because my ability to spell in Hebrew is atrocious, when my friend Lauren calls me, asking if I know where the protest against the Prawer plan is. I guess I’m not the only one late- she is at the correct intersection, and a moment later she says that a group with banners and a megaphone just showed up.  I finish coloring in my poster, which read “Yes to recognition, no to uprooting, no to Prawer.”  (It sounds better in Hebrew, I promise.)

Look at all that nice spelling. (translation: "yes to recognition, no to uprooting, no to the Prawer plan")
Look at all that nice spelling. (translation above”)

It’s a small crowd when we get there, and it never really gets bigger, so I’m extra glad to be there, and to see Lauren and Dave.  Most of the protesters are Bedouin, and then there are a few stalwarts from the Negev Coexistence Forum, as well as a few English speakers.    A little boy runs up to me and gives me a big sticker that says “we are all al-Arakib”, in three languages, referring to a Bedouin village not far from here that has been demolished 49 times, and rebuilt 48 times.  I sound out the Arabic letters, but just for practice- I already know what it says “kulna al-araqib”. It helps when the Hebrew and Arabic words are almost the same.

Someone is passing out postcards to sign and mail in.  We look them over.  We’re sending these to Netanyahu, observes Lauren.  I try to read it over; I like to know what I’m signing.  It’s pretty straightforward, calling on him to oppose the Prawer-Begin plan, and I sign it.  I sign it for the same reason that I’m here, because there is legislation before Parliament, expected to pass, that will give official recognition (and the niceties that come with it, like water, electricity, roads, and maybe a school) to about half of the currently unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, and will demolish the other half, evicting their residents and moving them into development towns.

Yeah, I’m against that.  Because I can’t imagine it ending well for anyone in this region, not in three years, not in ten years, not in fifty years, because when you lay the seeds of inequality this deeply, we will all pay the price.  Because maybe a lot of countries treat the Bedouin poorly but the Egyptian government (both Mubarak and Morsi) is not my ethical standard.  Because I don’t care how messy people’s legal claims are, if their great-grandparents didn’t register their land properly under the Turks, or if they were displaced more recently by the Israeli military, or by being on the wrong side of conflicts or judgments by tribal leaders, there are better solutions that taking away from the country’s most vulnerable citizens what little they have.

It’s easy to imagine how this will end.  There will be only a slight outcry, and minimal attention, it’s not for nothing that this blog is named “In the Periphery.”  The Prawer-Begin plan will become law, the police and bulldozer operators are already used to their roles from the steady trickle of demolitions and evictions that have been going on for years.  The 35 villages slated for demolition will be a memory, a story parents tell their children, a few ghostly traces visible in satellite images.

And then I imagine, what if next week’s protest (Monday, 5 PM, the corner of Metzada and Rager, next to merkaz morim, and steps from the second bus stop in the city for any bus coming from the north) is a little bigger, and the week after, there is a bigger one still?  Maybe there will be an outcry.  This past Thursday, eight houses in the village of Atir, outside of Hura, which is itself not far from Beer Sheva.  Merav Michaeli, one of the higher-profile members of the Labor party in the Knesset, was there with the villagers during and after the demolitions.  Maybe we’re not that far off the radar, maybe something can still be done.

I find protests a bit of an awkward thing, and I’m glad Lauren and Dave are here.  I keep wishing there were more people, especially more Jewish Israelis, here in solidarity.  The youngest boy is now sitting in the grass playing with the stickers, a slightly older boy is hamming it up on the sidewalk passing out Negev Coexistence Fliers to people walking by; I want these kids to know, whatever happens, that there were people who stood by their side.

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