Last week’s demonstrations against Israel, close to the Bedouin village of al-Atrash, may have just triggered the early stages of another Intifada in all of Palestine-Israel that could make last May’s war look insignificant.
Early last week, sit in tents set up in the village of al-Atrash-Sawa were destroyed by Israeli forces who sought to violently put down a locally organized demonstration against Israeli efforts to uproot the indigenous Bedouin villagers of the area. The protests were sparked by a quasi-governmental body, known as the Jewish National Fund (JNF), when its activists travelled to the Naqab (Negev in English) to plant foreign trees in the agricultural lands used by Bedouin farmers.
In Israeli and Western media the story was quickly portrayed as a Bedouin revolt against tree planting by Israelis, which some Israeli environmental activists say is a good thing for the area. However, not only has there been controversy in Israel about the Pine Trees that are being planted, as they have shown to pose a fire hazard according to some studies, but the story really had nothing to do with the trees themselves. In reality, the Bedouin community in the Negev have for years been suffering from displacement efforts which would see the area taken over by Israeli settlements, infrastructure, and military projects, at the expense of the native inhabitants of the land.
Since 2017, an average of 2,000 Bedouin homes have been destroyed on a yearly basis by Israel. This is despite a pledge being made by the Israeli government to focus on developing and relieving the abject poverty faced by Bedouins in the Naqab area. There are today roughly 300,000 Bedouin’s living in the area, in over 50 villages, however only 6 of those villages are officially recognised by the Israeli government. In contrast, well over 100 Israeli settlements and Kibbutzim are located in the area and are all recognized by the State. The Bedouin communities, facing regular home demolitions, also often live without direct access to water, electricity, or basic services from the Israeli government.
Yet the story for Bedouins in the Naqab didn’t start there. Their communities have faced hardships since 1948, when a community of around 100,000 were reduced to only 11,000 during Israel’s ethnic cleansing of 85% of the Palestinian population in the Holy Land. The remaining Bedouins, who had historically moved around the vast lands surrounding them, were rounded up into the al-Siyaj area. Then in 1965 the Israeli Knesset legislated that much of that area was to be considered illegal to build in. This meant that even pre-existing homes built in the areas of the Naqab, considered to be “agricultural areas” belonging to Israel, were deemed illegal. The land was now off-limits to the native Bedouins.
The Bedouin community has long been cut off by the Israeli State from their relatives who were displaced into areas such as the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Many were eventually even drafted into the Israeli military which exploited their understanding of the Arabic language against Palestinians, successfully blocking an outbreak of Palestinian nationalism amongst Bedouins. Since the Prawer Plan of 2013, which threatened to ethnically cleanse up to 70,000 Bedouins from their villages, organizing from Palestinian citizens of Israel from cities like Haifa, Jaffa and elsewhere has ushered an awakening amongst Bedouins. The Prawer plan was eventually dropped, but Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is now pushing for ethnic cleansing through other means — some of them being afforestation and home demolitions in order to seize more land.
Ayelet Shaked, who belongs to PM Bennett’s Yamina Party, last month announced the construction of four new Jewish-Israeli settlements in the Naqab, as part of a ten year plan to increase the Jewish population of the area to 2 million and to construct 12 new major settlements, along with military bases and new Israeli infrastructure in the land.
Violent crackdowns and mass arrests, following violence on Thursday between Israeli forces and Bedouin protesters, have now triggered a mass campaign across the Palestinian occupied territories and inside Israel itself from Palestinians, who are standing up against ethnic cleansing efforts in the Naqab. Bedouins of the Naqab also seem to be (in much larger numbers) now identifying as Palestinians, along with the Palestinian national liberation movement, which has come as a result of the intermingling of the communities and the Palestinian activism aimed at protecting them. It is widely believed that if this escalates, not only may it lead to the disintegration of the current government’s majority in the Knesset, as the ‘Arab United List’ of Mansour Abbas has threatened to resign, but also an uprising about Palestinian citizens of Israel, as was seen last May.
Although Israel has tried desperately to separate the people of East Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza Strip, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the Bedouins, they are now uniting in an unprecedented way. In larger numbers they are beginning to see each other’s causes as their own. Ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem now receives a strong response from all Palestinians, as does ethnic cleansing in the Naqab. The new generation of Palestinians have grown tired of the false hopes of a “two-State solution” and are now seeing the only path forward as an armed struggle in order to liberate every inch of historic Palestine.
What began as a project for the Israeli right wing parties to score points and to work on a greedy project of unnecessarily working to Judaize the Naqab, has now dramatically backfired on them. The new infrastructure, such as new roads and trains leading to the Naqab from the rest of the country, has worked to make the Bedouin villages more accessible to Palestinians in Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth, Kufr Qassem, Umm al-Fahm and elsewhere. This is a disaster for Israel. Although the Israeli government is acting as if they have the situation under control, they are in fact one wrong move away from triggering a strong unified Palestinian response. For the first time in the History of the conflict, it genuinely seems now as if the Palestinian people have real power and that comes from their united efforts. Israel’s worst nightmares are now unfolding before its eyes and its continued stance of rejecting a “two-State solution” has a large part to play in this.