Industrial Disaster Draws Attention to Bedouin Villages

One of the issues that gets far too little attention within Israel is that of the so-called “unrecognized villages.” These are basically shantytowns where Bedouins who are Israeli citizens live, but because they are not officially recognized municipalities, they get no services, even basic ones in many cases, like water and electricity. The people in these villages represent the lowest stratum of Israeli citizens.

In recent years in the United States, more attention has been paid to the placement of plants and factories which are especially harmful to the environment around them, and which are hazardous to people living near them, near minority and poor neighborhoods. The same thing is at work here in Israel.

The incident, an explosion at the Makhteshim factory in Ramat Hovav near Be’ersheva, has drawn some attention to the serious environmental hazards accompanying Israeli industry. It’s also drawn attention to the plight of the Bedouins in the Negev, at least those in the Wadi Na’am area near Ramat Hovav.

The effect of the explosion on Monday is still not fully known, but although evacuations both of workers and of nearby residents, including the Bedouin, came about fairly quickly, the problem is not incidental. As these reports here, here, and here indicate, pollution of the area was a pretty serious problem even before. The “solution that was arrived at was to establish an army base in Ramat Hovav, not exactly an effective solution.

Unfortunately, as this article alludes to, environmental regulation is weak, despite the presence of a significant environmentalist movement and trend in Israeli society.

The Bedouin nearby have been demanding to be relocated for quite some time. Now, their pleas may get more of a hearing. It is not a matter of simply picking up and moving, as both economics and the difficulty for Arabs of relocation within Israel, particularly these days and due both to prejudice and to government regulations, means they need government action to relocate.

Getting Past Blame: Present Realities and How To Move Forward

Virtually any article, except for unusually long ones, necessarily narrows its focus and leaves out important aspects of the broad subject it is discussing. In facile, pseudo-intellectual attacks, those who disagree with such articles often point out what is not there, as if it is possible, in just a few pages, to consider the breadth and scope of any problem, much less one as complex as the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In the new edition of the London Review of Books, there is a pair of articles, however, which, when taken together, give a fairly rounded view of the situation as it stands now in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Making them perhaps more valuable and credible, the article criticizing Israel is written by a Jewish former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman; while the article criticizing the Palestinians is written by an American of Palestinian ancestry, Prof. Rashid Khalidi.

Khalidi continues a theme explored in his superb book, The Iron Cage:The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Palestinians are often portrayed, by themselves and others in very distorted ways. By pro-occupation zealots, they are depicted as far more powerful than they are, and powerful enough to constitute a substantial threat to Israel. That characterization is absurd on its face, and it is a measure of the hysteria this subject can generate that there is a significant, albeit minority, number of people who actually believe it. But they are also often portrayed by their own supporters, and even at times by themselves, as completely helpless actors who are pure victims and have no role in creating the situation they now find themselves in. Khalidi’s valuable self-criticism paints a more realistic picture.

In “Shared Irresponsibility,” Khalidi draws careful attention to the actions of both Fatah and Hamas in creating the split that exists now in the Palestinian political body and which finds its expression in a geographical split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Khalidi writes, “Fatah and Hamas have been fighting for control of a Palestinian Authority that has no real authority. The behavior of both has been disgraceful…In the four decades since the founding of the PLO, there has never been such a gulf between two parts of the [Palestinian] national movement.” Continue reading

The JNF Bill–A Backgrounder

Last week, I reported on a petition circulating opposing a bill in the Knesset that would affirm the Israel Land Authority’s practice of leasing Jewish National Fund land in Israel to Jews only. I offer here some background on this issue…
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It is often said that a major sign of discrimination against Arabs in Israel is that the cannot buy land. It is important to note that Jews can’t either. The exception is the 7% of land that is privately owned (about half of which is owned by Arabs and half by Jews), though this land very rarely changes hands. Instead, the practice governing the remaining 93% of the land, which is administered by the Israel Land Authority (ILA), is that it is leased, for terms that can be short or up to 99 years.

Of course, leasing ends up being discriminatory in practice, but on paper, Arabs have the same right and opportunity to lease land. The exception has been Jewish National Fund (JNF) land. This is the issue that has been raised in recent years by Arab citizens of Israel who have sued the state to allow Arabs to compete for lease tenders on JNF land. The claim is that since the ILA administers this land, it falls under the Basic Law of Israel which prohibits discrimination against any of its citizens. The Attorney General agreed and ruled that tenders for JNF land must be open to all. The High Court has not yet ruled, but it is widely expected that they will concur with the AG’s ruling. This is why the current bill, stipulating that JNF lands must be administered according to JNF guidelines (which stipulate that the land was bought for use by Jews) is being promoted in the Knesset. It is an attempt to circumvent the High Court and the Attorney General. Continue reading