The JNF and Bedouin Communities

 

Al Araqib, Negev 18/1/2011. Photo by Oren Ziv activestills.org

Al Araqib, Negev 18/1/2011. Photo by Oren Ziv activestills.org

Israel’s non-Jewish minorities include a significant Bedouin community, particularly in the Negev. Many Bedouin  communities were sedentary pre-1948 and many more settled in the second half of the 20th century. This was a response to a decline in available grazing lands, as Israeli farms, towns and cities developed, and as borders became less permeable. Many Bedouin villages grew around permanent Bedouin cemeteries and irrigation sources. 1

David Ben Gurion claimed that the Negev was empty, and declared it a Jewish obligation to make the desert bloom. 2 Failure to recognise and understand the presence and land rights of indigenous Bedouin communities has meant that many environmental projects (including the JNF’s tree-planting) have been carried out at the expense of the Negev’s Bedouin. Today Bedouin land rights remain unrecognised and as a result Bedouin are unable to secure building permits for homes in their villages. Most Bedouin villages in the Negev are now deemed illegal by the Israeli government and on this basis are subject to state-ordered demolition.

Case study: Al Araqib

Al Araqib is a Bedouin village located in the Negev off Route 40 along the highway from Beersheva. According to Israeli authorities, the village is unrecognised and illegal, as it was declared state property in 1954 for ‘security reasons’. 3

Prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, there were about 65,000 to 90,000 Bedouin living in the Negev. Approximately 85 percent of them were expelled from their homes by Jews wishing to populate the area. 4

In 2010, the Israel Land Authority initiated the next demolition to prepare the land for an ‘environmental’ JNF forest. The JNF has been supported by US evangelical organisation God TV to plant a one million tree forest on the lands of Al Araqib. Since 2010, the village has been demolished fifty nine times. 5

Currently, the JNF is involved in an ongoing plan called Blueprint Negev to “revitalize, develop and preserve the Negev desert,” 6 in the south of Israel. This involves projects that forcefully displace Bedouins, to make way for exclusively Jewish areas.

In September 2011, the government released the Prawer report, which proposed the transfer of 40,000 Bedouin from unrecognised villages into seven recognised villages in the area, without any consultation with the communities involved. In December 2013, Mass protests and worldwide outrage put a halt to the Prawer plan. Although the Prawer plan has been shelved, the state still intends to displace the Bedouin. 7

 

“I ask you and your groups to tell people what’s happening in the Negev. People think that the JNF is making the Negev green, but they are destroying the Negev. We ask people to open their eyes. Samud [to us] in Arabic means ‘stay on your land.’ We will stay on our land against the government, against the JNF.” Sheikh Sayah Al- Turi from Al-Araqib

For more information see the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality

JNF promotes itself as a green charity, fundraising in Jewish communities around the world to support tree planting, and other environmental initiatives in Israel. But what is the JNF really doing with your money?

JNF and Settlements in the West Bank JNF and ongoing Dispossession JNF and the Environment The JNF in Australia

Notes:

  1. Frantzman, SJ, & Kark, R 2011, ‘Bedouin Settlement in Late Ottoman and British Mandatory Palestine: Influence on the Cultural and Environmental Landscape, 1870-1948’, New Middle Eastern Studies, 1 (2011),  <http://www.brismes.ac.uk/nmes/archives/268>
  2.  Weitz, J., 1974, Forest and Afforestation in Israel, ed. I. Arnon, trans. S. Levenson, Massada Press, Jerusalem, pp.195-96
  3. Jeffay, N. 2011, ‘A JNF Drive To Make the Desert Bloom Means Destruction for a Bedouin Village’, Jewish Daily Forward, 9 February, accessed 10/08/14, http://forward.com/articles/135320/a-jnf-drive-to-make-the-desert-bloom-means-destruc/?
  4. Kestler-D’amours, J. 2012, “I want to live in a state that’s not racist;” a Bedouin keeps fighting for his people’s rights’, Electronic Intifada, 22 May. Accessed 15/07/14,  http://electronicintifada.net/content/i-want-live-state-thats-not-racist-bedouin-keeps-fighting-his-peoples-rights/11319
  5. Levy, G. & Levac, A. 2013, ‘Drafting the blueprint for Palestinian refugees’ right  of return’, Haaretz, 5 October, accessed 14/07/2014, http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/twilight-zone/1.550550 and Edmonds, R. 2012, The JNF-KKL and the Politics of Planting, Australian Jewish Democratic Society, 4 December . Accessed 14/08/14, http://www.ajds.org.au/jnfplantingpolitics/
  6. Jewish National Fund, 2014, ‘Our History’, Jewish National Fund, accessed 03/06/14, http://www.jnf.org/about-jnf/history/
  7. Ben Solomon, A. 2014, ‘Shamir to ‘Post’: Changes will be made to Beduin resettlement plan before new push’, Jerusalem Post, 8 January. Accessed 12/09/2014, http://www.jpost.com/National-News/Shamir-to-Post-Changes-will-be-made-to-Beduin-resettlement-plan-before-new-push-337436

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