editorial | israeli bedouin

More than mere squatters


ISRAEL HAS always trumpeted the fact that it is the leading democracy in the Middle East and the only country where Arab citizens can openly criticize their government. Arabs even serve in the Israeli military. Many are Bedouin, members of traditionally nomadic tribes or clans who have maintained a peaceful coexistence with Israeli Jews since before 1948. However, many Israeli Bedouin live in unauthorized villages on state-owned lands that have never been recognized by government planning authorities.

Since the residents of these villages are all legally regarded as squatters, their houses are considered illegal construction and subject to demolition. This also means that these Israeli Bedouin cannot get access to electricity from the grid or running water, despite the fact that their hamlets have existed for decades, if not centuries. Recently, Israel announced a plan to resettle 30,000 Bedouin in new townships well apart from their traditional homes. Such a plan of demolition and relocation against Israeli citizens, many of whom have served their country, is arbitrary and unfair.

The decision to relocate the Bedouin appears to be motivated not by prejudice, but by a misguided paternalism. Israeli authorities believe the new homes will be safer, healthier, and better-sited for environmental purposes. Nonetheless, the Israeli government should try harder to allow the Bedouin to continue to live in the villages where they were born and their parents died, and seek ways to grant them title to their land. Health and safety issues can be dealt with as needed. Otherwise, Israel risks alienating some of its most loyal citizens, and calling into question its promise to deal fairly and equally with all its people, regardless of religion.

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