Israel and Egypt Attack Sinai Insurrection
Egyptian air force attacks in Sinai for first time since 1973
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Derived from an Arabic word for semi-arid desert, “Bedouin” is a term designating members of a large number of Arab tribes. Egypt features a 400,000 Bedouin population, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula; while Israel has 200,000 Bedouin citizens living in the Negev Desert and a smaller number in the Galilee. In the Sinai, they kept mainly loyal to their traditional ways, while in Israel the situation was different. Over 60% of Israel is within the Negev Desert; wandering Bedouins inhabited the area for thousands of years, their ancestors were traders along the romantic Silk Road. Since the mid-19th century there has been a slow process of settling down among them. In the 1950s, the Israeli army 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.
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. Now, Israel’s law system is incomplete. Where laws do not exist, Israeli courts often refer to British Mandate and Ottoman Empire laws. In this case, Israel decided to work according to the Ottoman Empire law, demanding from the Bedouins Ottoman “Kushan” ownership papers. Not one Bedouin has such documents. The result is violent frictions each time the Israeli Administration attempts to regularize (a polite way of referring to “state-theft”) the situation of a given tribe. This is to the extent that a “Bedouin Intifada” is not a new concept; in August 2010 violence erupted between Bedouins and the Israeli police. The latter failed to enter a Bedouin settlement after discovering that the Bedouins were better armed than they were.
Interlude: Sinai? Who Cares!
This is a reminder that the Sinai Peninsula is a vastly underdeveloped area with an extraordinary potential. Beyond its culture, it offers also astonishing coasts, which have been only partially developed. This is even before mentioning the area still has tremendous importance in the transport of oil and gas. Overall, it may well support an independent state.
Muslim Egypt, Zionist Israel and…
The recent violence looks strange. How did the Global Jihad militants arrive at their targets? They couldn’t move along paved roads; Egyptian police would have detained them. The “global” part of the name should be read “foreigners.” It means they don’t know the desert. Moving there safely demands more than a compass and a Lonely Planet guidebook. How have the oil pipes been targeted with such regularity and precision? Ever since the peak days of the Silk Road, Bedouins use their skills as pathfinders and trackers to control the routes connecting the Negev Desert and the Sinai Peninsula, as well as related pathways. The low-key Bedouin Intifada within Israel is beginning to show its muscles, when a de facto Bedouin State is helping unexpected allies and setting the basis for a future open rebellion.
The situation is so serious that two unprecedented events took place since the revolt against Mubarak began. The first was the entrance to the Sinai of at least an entire brigade of the Egyptian army. The peace agreement between the countries allows only Egyptian police forces to patrol the peninsula. Yet, in fear of the developing rebellion, Netanyahu allowed Egypt to use its army in Sinai. This is unlikely to change anytime soon. Then, in recent days, Israel allowed Egypt to make the abovementioned air attack next to its border. On June 2012, Mohamed Morsi was declared Egypt’s first Islamist president in the freest elections in the country’s history. He is the first president openly identified with the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that was defined illegal by the military-run regime. He has good relations with Iran and made several announcements showing his intentions to shift Egypt’s alliances in the area. Yet, shortly afterwards, he found himself dealing with Israel on friendly terms, and even got permission to use Egypt’s air force near the Israeli border. This is how critical the situation in the Sinai is turning.
Reality is changing fast in the Middle East. There are credible signs that Israel may begin an indirect war with Iran. If Netanyahu is badly pressed, then he may decide to attack directly. A war between Israel and Syria is also probable. In either case, when that day comes, Bedouins may use their skills as pathfinders and trackers, and their control of the routes connecting the Negev Desert and the Sinai Peninsula, to cross-over and create a new Bedouin State with their brothers on the Egyptian side. There would be nobody capable of stopping the event. A well-known Bedouin saying is “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers.” It reflects very well their hierarchy of loyalties. Should the opportunity arise, there is little doubt it would be seized. A flying camel passing through illusions of modern power; an ancient Silk Road reasserting its birth rights.
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