|Haya Noah and Gady Algazy|
Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality
An open letter to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Conference in Atlanta:
Equal rights, sustainability, and development for the Negev ¡V not dispossession of the Bedouin!
On October 10-11, the JNF will be holding a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. From Israel, invitees to the conference include two government ministers, the mayor of Jerusalem, and a number of persons connected to various projects in the Negev, some involving the JNF and others sponsored by it. No doubt, the JNF will presume to be speaking speak for the entire Negev during this conference.
In 2005, the JNF launched its own program for developing the Negev, announcing that it will be placing the Negev at the center of its activities in Israel. Subsequently it became the major contributor to various projects in the region. The program set an ambitious demographic target: between the years 2005-2010 the population of the Negev, meaning the Jewish population, was to be increased to 500,000. After this goal was not met, a more modest target was set: to increase the Jewish population of the Negev to 250,000 by 2013. Neither of the two targets was formulated in democratic consultation with the current residents of the Negev.
To implement its plan, the JNF is using two complementary strategies:
„X Bringing Jews to the Negev in order to achieve demographic superiority over the Arab population.
„X Intensive forestation measures involving massive dispossession of Arab Bedouin from their lands, in order to ¡§free space¡¨ for the Jewish population.
The first strategy has yielded few results, and it appears that, all told, with regard to the Jewish population at least, there is a negative migration balance in Negev. In contrast, the forestation efforts of the JNF have been more successful. The JNF is planting trees on thousands of acres of land. Many of them not at all empty but contain Bedouin villages; on most these lands there are ongoing legal claims of Bedouin ownership.
Two of the many examples illustrate well the systematic pattern of the JNF action.
First, the village of Twail Abu Jarwal, located in the heart of Givoth Goral (¡§Destiny Hills¡¨), destroyed about fifty times over the past four years to make room for a JNF forest.
Second, the village of Al-Arakib, north of Beer Sheba, which recently made headlines. This village is situated in the heart of the ¡§Ambassadors Forest,¡¨ an area in which the JNF conducted massive forestation until mid-May 2010. Since the end of July 2010, the village has been destroyed five times ¡V one of them during the month of the Ramadan fast. In this case, too, the intention of the JNF is clear: to entirely dispossess the people of the Al-Touri tribe living there, the same Bedouin tribe originally expelled from the site during the 1950¡¦s, and to completely afforest the area so that they can no longer return. Following repeated demolitions, hundreds of villagers, men, women and children, are currently living in makeshift open booths, exposed to the extreme heat of the day, soon to endure under these conditions the approaching winter.
The JNF has completed all its work surrounding the village and is awaiting its final evacuation at the same time that Awjan, an area of small hamlets and agricultural farms in the southern part of Givoth Goral, has already been marked as the next target for dispossession and expulsion.
On the JNF website you can find a number of projects for the Bedouin population, and you can even make an online contribution to them. But anyone familiar with the details knows that, in fact, this is merely lip service being paid by the JNF, whether in an attempt to somehow whitewash its policy of dispossession, or to gain the confidence of certain segments of the Bedouin community, counted among the poorest groups in Israel. Projects like Wadi Atir and Nahal Grar, or a few other small projects intended for the Bedouin population, are in no way proportional to the actual size of the Bedouin population of the Negev and, naturally, bear no relation to the huge sums and resources that the JNF is investing in the region.
The Bedouin, the indigenous inhabitants of the Negev, comprising nearly 30% of the region¡¦s population, are being forced to pay the price of the JNF activities in the Negev. This situation is intolerable! The JNF must not be allowed to serve as the vehicle for implementing the policy of the Israel Land Administration (ILA) ¡V the dispossession of the Bedouin from their land.
At the forthcoming Atlanta Conference, the JNF leadership must clearly and openly declare that they refuse to continue cooperation with the ILA and unequivocally demand that the ILA cease demolition of Bedouin homes. Furthermore:
„X The JNF must stop forestation activities in areas of existing Bedouin villages as well as on lands for which Bedouin have made legal claims of ownership, pending final court decisions.
„X The JNF must no longer be complicit in the dispossession of the Bedouin, but rather recognize their contribution to the flourishing of the Negev.
„X The JNF should join the call of human rights organizations in Israel to allow the Bedouin live their lives on their traditional lands, as they have for many generations.
In the framework of true environmental planning, planning that involves the participation of the Bedouin in determining their own future, Bedouin villages would be able to find their place in a Negev that also includes forests and tourist sites.
Ultimately, the lives of human beings are more important than forests of trees. And people who have not been dispossessed from their land, citizens whose rights and culture are treated with respect, citizens that can be confident of the rights in the society in which they live, are the basis for building trust between the state and its minorities.
If no such call emanates from the Atlanta conference, the JNF will doubtless bring money to the Negev, but it shall also bear responsibility for the gross infraction of Israel¡¦s commitment to the values of equality and justice reflected in its Declaration of Independence, and to which the state is obligated by the international conventions it has signed.
Atlanta is the place to do real soul searching and not to take pride in acts of robbery and looting green-washed by notions of sustainability. True sustainability is not about one national or ethnic group living at the expense of another; sustainability does not mean dispossessing one for the benefit of another; sustainability does not involve the outrageous exploitation of the limited resources of indigenous peoples living in the State of Israel. Rather, sustainability is about sharing resources equitably; if not, it¡¦s merely a euphemism for entrenching colonialism and ethnic discrimination.
If the JNF does not change its policy, it would draw the State of Israel to a war against its own citizens, the Arab population of the Negev, igniting a conflagration that cannot easily be extinguished. We, residents of the Negev, human rights activists and social organizations in Israel, make one last call for the leadership of the JNF to cease destroying the Bedouin villages in the Negev ¡V and to stop the dispossession!
Haia Noach - firstname.lastname@example.org
Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality