‘All is desolation and destruction’
Last week, the British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights (BFRHR) sent letters to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Ministers Lapid, Livni and Meir Cohen, protesting against the Knesset’s proposed Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev.
If the Bill is passed, it will result in the forcible eviction of thousands of Bedouin from their villages into existing townships.
Mohammed Aziz is one of those at risk. A visit to his Negev village of Al Araqib testifies to the reasons why the BFRHR has launched its campaign.
The very morning we arrived, his home had been demolished for the 50th time since July 2010.
All that is left is a pile of stones. He stands barefoot in a tent, barely able to contain his distress, yet apologising for the lack of hospitality.
A cemetery, dating back to 1913, is all that remains in the village. Mohammed swings his arms across the wasteland beyond the tent. “It’s all desolation and destruction,” he says.
There are more than 40 Bedouin villages in the Negev, unrecognised by the Israeli government. They occupy less than five per cent of the entire land of the region.
The families who live in them have no infrastructure: no sewage, water, electricity, roads, education or health services. The poverty and destitution is shocking.
The BFRHR is calling on the government of Israel to stop the Bill and settle the land claims of the Bedouin in a fair and just way, in the name of democracy and Judaism.
When we cease to protect the most vulnerable and weakest members of society, we are betraying the central tenets of Jewish ethics. If we care deeply about the Jewish state, we should be part of a vocal campaign to encourage the government to consult with the Bedouin over their long-term future. They are, after all, Israeli citizens.