Neve Gordon reports on a new Nakba organized by the wealthy Jewish residents of the Beersheva neighborhood of Omer, which absorbed (that is, “stole”) the lands of the Bedouin village of Tarabin as it expanded. The new goal of the Jews of Omer is to make the area Bedouinrein by removing the last vestige of Arab presence, that is the local mosque. This triumphalist statement accompanies the Before and After image at right featured in the Omer neighborhood newspaper:
After a prolonged battle, we are reaching the last stage in the removal of the [Tarabin] tribe. The last group will finally be transferred to Rahat [a government sponsored city for Bedouin forcibly removed from their native lands]. The mosque which, for the members of the tribe, stood for their solidarity and connection to this place has been dismantled and transferred to the new settlement. The last stragglers, a handful of holdout families, will be dealt with in a legal framework.
Soon not a single original [Bedouin] family will remain on this land [Omer].
You can see the ‘immaculate conception’ of the image, which shows the mosque there one day and gone the next. I’d ask my readers to imagine a Polish shtetl which, as it expanded in the post-war period, eradicated every last remnant of Jewish presence, except the local synagogue. What would you say to its destruction?
Ynet reports a January “agreement” between Omer, the tribe and the Israel Lands Authority, which forced the Bedouin to give up their village and move to a new one just outside Rahat. Six families have refused to leave. The article makes clear that those who did leave did so under extreme duress:
“I wanted to remain in Omer but there were heavy pressures placed upon us and finally I had to give up. There were the police and the ILA. For years I fought them in court, but I saw that I stood against an entire State. I could no longer continue fighting and decided to give up. Every family made its own calculations. It was a very hard process. But we couldn’t continue fighting the State,” one Bedouin villager said.
The Israeli government’s plans for the Negev Bedouin are to forcibly remove them from their scattered traditional villages into Indian-like reservations like Rahat, where they will be concentrated. This would leave all the vacated lands for new Jewish settlements. This parallels similar policies in the West Bank used to displace native Palestinian villages, thus allowing rooms for expansion of the Jewish footprint. It should be noted that these are blatant land grabs which violate international law and will have to be unwound as part of any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Similarly, Israel will eventually have to make restitution to its indigenous Bedouin citizens whose villages are being eradicated in a latter-day version of the Nakba. The fact that Israel is providing alternate sites for these Bedouin to live doesn’t lessen the injustice committed against them. After all, the U.S. government in the 19th century forcibly removed Native Americans from their indigenous lands to make way for white settlers, placing the former on reservations. It should be noted that these communities remain among the poorest in the U.S. and their residents are mired in poverty, and enjoy substandard medical care and educational opportunities. This is what Israel is bequeathing to the Bedouin, whose presence in the Negev far predates the creation of the State.
In fact, those leaving Tarabin said they were promised jobs in their new community and instead face nothing but unemployment:
“We have nothing there. They promised us employment, but people are all out of work. The police there treat us with disrespect.
Does ‘making the desert bloom’ mean extirpating the presence of the indigenous Bedouin inhabitants from their native lands? Is that the price that must be paid to bring progress and western civilization to this so-called land without a people?
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.