When the JC asked me to write about the Bedouin bill, which narrowly passed its first reading in the Knesset this week, I should have declined, for more than one reason.
First of all, my good friend, Major General (Ret) Doron Almog, is the chair of the committee to implement the Cabinet plan for the Bedouin sector in the Negev, which would resettle some 30,000 Bedouin into cities and resolve around 12,000 land claims.
For years, this brave man served our country in uniform, and now, as a civilian, he is on the front line again, not to fight enemies of Israel but to help solve a huge national problem: how to help the state regain its sovereignty over the vast territory in the south, while alleviating the standards of living of the local Bedouin community, which is the poorest in Israel.
I hate to criticise such an ambitious endeavour, especially when led by a friend. However, there is even a more serious reason why I should have declined. My wife, Dr Dalia Dromi, is the director general of Bimkom, an association of planners that defends planning rights.
Working with the Bedouin for years, Bimkom is opposing the government plan because, as their website states, “its implementation will cause the displacement and forced eviction of dozens of villages and tens of thousands of Bedouin residents, dispossessing them of their property and historical rights to the lands, destroying the social fabric of their communities, and sealing the fate of thousands of families into poverty and unemployment”. Anything I say to refute this will put me in greater trouble than with Almog.
To the uninformed but fair Israeli observer, who is not automatically opposed to anything the government does, and on the other hand is not biased against the Bedouin, it looks like both sides have a point. Both agree that, for decades, Israel has neglected the Bedouin community and allowed it to remain at the lowest socio-economic level.
This is while Bedouin soldiers, as pathfinders, risked their lives to save the lives of their Jewish comrades.
The supporters and opponents of the government plan further agree that the time has come to put an end to the present, awkward, situation in the Negev. However, they are divided sharply on how to do it.
The government believes in grouping the Bedouin in large townships which will be economically and socially sustainable. The opponents of the plan call for allowing the Bedouin to stay where they are, while improving the infrastructure of their present villages.
A situation where both sides are right, can lead either to a sharp conflict or to a compromise. A good compromise leaves both sides equally dissatisfied. I pray that both the government and the Bedouin will have the courage to settle for less than everything. As I said before, I have a personal stake here.