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The Cross of Bethlehem II

Bedouin Intifada and a Flying Camel

I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers—Bedouin Proverb



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On August 28, 2010, the war between Bedouins and the Israeli Administration reached again the headlines, though no deaths were reported this time. This is a recurring item in the Hebrew news at least from the days of the First Intifada, and it would not be solved anytime soon. In fact it may even lead to interesting developments in the near future. The problem is simple. Over 60% of Israel is within the Negev Desert. Nomad Bedouins inhabit the area for thousands of years; in fact this is part of the historical Silk Road, and they ancestors were traders along it. Since the mid 19th century there is a slow process of settling down among them; In the 1950s, the IDF began limiting the Bedouins freedom, attempting to concentrate them in certain areas. Since the 1970s, the Israeli Administration began creating Bedouin towns, Rahat being the largest one. Nowadays there are roughly fifty Bedouin settlements in the Negev with a total of some two hundred thousand inhabitants, roughly half of them in recognized towns and villages, and the others in unrecognized ones.

Desert Rangers Battalion

Desert Rangers Battalion

The difference between these two categories is vast. Recognized towns and villages get infrastructure and services from the state, while unrecognized settlements get nothing. In exchange for recognition, the Israeli Administration often asks for relocation and for proper verification of ownership. “What’s the problem?” some readers may ask at this moment. Well, Israel decided to work according to the Ottoman Empire law here, demanding from the Bedouins Ottoman “Kushan” ownership papers. Not one Bedouin has such documents. The result is violent frictions each time the illegitimate Israeli Administration attempts to regularize the situation of a given tribe. This is to the extent that “Bedouin Intifada” is not a new concept.

The situation of the Bedouins in Israel is complex. They are citizens and as such they may volunteer to the IDF. In The Cross of Bethlehem I explained that in further detail; Israel defines the rights and debts of a citizen toward the state according to his – or her – ethnic group. Many Bedouins volunteer, but then – unlike the Druze – they are kept within one unit. The unit is called the Desert Rangers Battalion (Gdud Siur Midbari) which is part of the Givati Infantry Brigade. Often called the “Minorities Unit,” it includes also Circassian and even a few Palestinian soldiers. All of them must volunteer to the IDF. These soldiers serve mainly as trackers and pathfinders, and often are attached ad hoc to other military units. The point is that they are heavily monitored and kept away from strategic units and issues. They are not trusted.

Would we see a Bedouin Intifada? The Hebrew media hysteria on the issue is comical. It looks like a coordinated campaign by the State of Israel to discredit Bedouins. First, they live within the Green Line. That means the IDF cannot enter Bedouin villages in the case of an uprising. Moreover, the Israeli Police would think twice – even thrice – before entering a Bedouin settlement. They are better armed than the police, and know well how to use their weapons; the police would almost certainly be massacred. Second, since they serve in the IDF – many of them for lifelong careers – their income depends on the IDF. The Bedouins won’t upraise, but they may decide it was an error to collaborate with the Zionist entity.

When the day come and the international community decides to act militarily against what was recently defined as a terror organization, Bedouins may use their skills as pathfinders and trackers to ease the way of the international force in. Even in the days you can download recent aerial pictures from Google Earth, it is easier when someone helps you with the electronic fence and the landmines. A flying camel passing through the illusions of modern power; an old Silk Road reasserting its birth rights.

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