In response to a petition launched by the Jewish Alliance for Change calling on the Jewish National Fund to immediately halt their participation in the dispossension of Bedouin unrecognized villages in Israel’s economically impoverished Negev region, JNF’s CEO Russell Robinson responded with fiery indignation (full text below).
Jewschool founder Mobius juxaposes the statement over video of the recent demolition of Bedouin village al Araqib for a JNF forest. As aluminum huts crumble, Robinson claims JNF’s Blueprint Negev benefits some tens of thousands of Bedouin in and around select recognized towns. And as phalanxes of policemen shove the poorest of Israeli families from their homes (read: tents), Robinson charges further, “The NGOs and individuals who signed onto this petition did not contribute to the advancement of the quality of life of these residents; rather they seem to spend their time petitioning against those who are.” A heavy charge indeed if the leading signatories are the NGOs providing services to Bedouin that the government does not.
It takes a concerted stretch of humanitarian values to displace people for plants. Or perhaps more correctly, it’s painful rending of the Jewish people’s historical experience to prioritize Jews over non-Jews in a state claiming to be a Western democracy of the highest ethical standard. The JNF has seen only a few small donations by yours truly — which long ago stopped for this very reason. The welfare of Bedouin is important to me after my short time teaching in a Bedouin summer school in 2004.
Let us not ignore that the legal limbo of the Bedouin is thorny, complicated and contradictory. Neighboring countries fare no better in their policies towards the Bedouin. Yet hope that Israel would be a beacon of humanity was found when the government-established Golberg Committee recommended the recognition of those villages in 2008. That hope was also immediately crushed when the incoming Netanyahu government not only refused to implement the Goldberg recommendations, but established a new committee with the opposite plans: the demolition of much of the 43 villages over the next year and a half.
The Netanyahu coalition behaves as if it hates the Bedouin. In addition to renewed and unprecedented displacement ambitions, over the past year Physicians for Human Rights reports that government closed health clinics for the Bedouin, forcing NGOs to provide basic health care that every other Israeli citizen receives from the state with ease. Now legal aid agency Adalah alerts us to a proposed Knesset bill that will prohibit welfare benefits to unvaccinated children. The chuztpah of closing clinics and then making benefit conditional upon access to clinics is mind-bogglingly immoral. (Another proposed bill will strip citizenship from children born into polygamous marriages, which include many Bedouin kids. Would the same bill in Congress pass targeted at Utah?)
For a population like the Bedouin that has served willingly and loyally in the Israeli Defense Forces since the state’s founding, to be ignored by welfare and basic public services for 62 years (water, schools, health clinics) is a betrayal of the Bedouin’s long-held open hand for equal membership in Israeli society. Civil society advocates warned me this week that the third Intifada will start in Israel’s Negev if the demolition plan continues.
Until JNF invests as heavily in the health of the Bedouin as it does Jews, it remains part and parcel of this. And no lover of Israel who cares for the country’s domestic well-being should give them a dime. Read the Jewish Alliance for Change’s demands and sign the petition to tell Russell Robinson that the JNF should equally invest in all members of Israeli society.
JNF’s official response
From: “Russell F. Robinson” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: October 12, 2010 5:53:10 PM EDT
Subject: RE: Equal rights, sustainability, and development for Israel’s Negev – not dispossession of the Bedouin!
Jewish National Fund through its Blueprint Negev campaign – a consensus campaign of every mayor and government official in the Negev – is bettering the lives of all of the Negev’s residents through a thoroughly vetted plan. Project Wadi Attir will benefit the 10,000 residents of Hura and influence another 10,000 in the surrounding areas. JNF is planning an urban central park and river walk in Rahat for the benefit of its 80,000 residents, and our park and entranceway in Segev Shalom that benefits the 10,000 people that live there shows that not only do we have the desire to help this population, we are doing it. If you would like to contribute to the betterment of the Bedouin population, go to www.jnf.org. The NGOs and individuals who signed onto this petition did not contribute to the advancement of the quality of life of these residents; rather they seem to spend their time petitioning against those who are.
Our Blueprint Negev campaign includes the mayors of the Eilot Regional Council, the Arava Regional Council, the municipalities of Be’er Sheva, Yerucham, Dimona, Arad, and Ofakim, as well as many of the kibbutzim and moshavim. There have been many court cases in Israel that have ruled in favor of the Bedouin. It seems that the signers of this petition only think laws and justice are good if the verdict is in their favor. That is an insult to the people of Israel who fight every day to maintain democracy, even as they are surrounded by undemocratic neighbors. We are proud of Israel’s vibrant judicial system.