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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=42713&mador=4

Ha'aretz, March 21, 1999

Providing refuge - but only for Jews

By Gideon Levy

 

An old expression that calls up unpleasant memories returned this weekend: The ministers of defense and the interior asked the High Court of Justice to immediately deport the hundreds of members of the Al Azazma Bedouin tribe who crossed the border from Egypt into the Negev last week, on the grounds that they are "infiltrators." If the infiltrators are not deported, the cabinet ministers said, Israel's sovereignty would be harmed. If they are deported, say the petitioners against the deportation, the lives of the Bedouin will be in danger. With this, in a single moment, we have returned to the time of Israel's border wars, between the 1948 War of Independence and the Sinai Campaign of 1956, a period in which Israel prohibited anyone who attempted to return to their homes or their fields from doing so.

"Infiltrators" was no less threatening a term than the present-day "terrorists." It was a very cruel war. One must read the book about it by historian Benny Morris in order to understand it. Peasants who tried to return to their fields to harvest their crops were shot without mercy. Among the victims of the war were more than a few Bedouin, including members of the same tribe, the Al Azazma, who last week crossed the border illegally. Not only were infiltrators deported then, but also thousands of Israeli-born Bedouin who did not leave in 1948. There is no lack of evidence of this: The head of the United Nations observer force at the time, General William Reilly, described the deportation of 4,000 Al Azazma on Sept. 2, 1950. Nine days later there was another mass deportation. In his book, the legendary hero Meir Har-Zion described the deportation of other Bedouin by Unit 101, and even asked whether the action was justified; two of Morris's books, "Israel's Border Wars" and "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949," include a great deal more evidence of the "cleansing" of Bedouin from the Negev.

According to Foreign Ministry reports from the period, Israel deported a total of about 17,000 Bedouin to the Sinai and the West Bank. True mass deportation, if not ethnic cleansing or transfer. After the great Palestinian deportation was completed and 419 of their villages were wiped off the face of the earth, Israel did not hesitate in the 1950s to deport Bedouin, most of whom never fought against the country.

But Israel's war against these native-born people did not stop then. No other group in Israel has been dispossessed of as much of its property as the Bedouin, and at the same time no other Arab group has remained as faithful to the state.

In the occupied territories, members of the Jahalin and Dalin Bedouin tribes - who never participated in the Intifida, incidentally - have been forced off their lands only in order to allow for the expansion of the already terrifying border of the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim. Their houses are being demolished and their tents confiscated by the Civil Administration, and they are being concentrated on the edge of the garbage dump. That is their place, according to Israel. For most of them, this is the second time that Israel has forced them from their homes.

Within Israel itself, the battles still continue over lands in the Negev and the Galilee, battles that almost always ends with the defeat of the Bedouin. The Agriculture Ministry's "Green Patrol" ranger unit sprays their fields, the Israel Lands Administration forces them off their lands and the state places them into backward towns where the cultural and social life of their community falls apart.

According to researcher Clinton Bailey, 96 percent of the 80,000 Bedouin in the Negev no longer live in their natural surroundings. Their children go to schools with no electricity. In their "unrecognized" villages, in the Negev as well as the Galilee, there is no running water or telephone lines. The individuals of the 25 families in the Al Azazma tribe are fighting a rearguard legal battle over their expulsion from the Negev land to which they were transferred in 1948.

Only two weeks ago, 400 other Bedouin were forcibly evicted from the land on which they had been living. Most of them live as refugees in their own country, while their sons serve and are killed in the army.

This cruel and difficult history must be kept in mind during any discussion of the fate of the refugees who crossed over from Egypt. The children of those who were deported in the 50s are now knocking at our doors. It is hard to know precisely what brought them to us, and of course it is also hard to ignore the fact that they crossed the border illegally. But this is exactly the right moment, from Israel's point of view, to attempt to repair, in some way, the historical injustice that was done and which continues to be done to these nomads. One may assume that there is some truth in their claims that they would be in great danger if they were to return to Egypt, especially after some of them denigrated Egypt in interviews with the media.

IDF doctors report that many of them are weak and exhausted. There are also more than a few infants and old people among them. By any standards, they are helpless refugees to whom Israel can and must offer refuge. A symbolic and humanitarian gesture like offering asylum to a few hundred Bedouin, most of them born in this country, is something that the country can and should allow itself to do, even if the head of the Negev regional council fears such a move. But Israel is a refuge for Jews. Only for Jews

 

 

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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