|Sanaa Ibn Bari|
Meretz USA co-sponsored an appearance yesterday (May 24)–with Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the Jewish Alliance for Change–by a young Bedouin-Israeli attorney. Sanaa Ibn Bari is active (in a non-professional capacity) with the Negev Coexistence Forum, a joint Jewish-Arab Israeli NGO.
As a few of us were waiting at the conference table for the formal discussion to begin, some of us chatted about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech before Congress. I hadn’t seen it, but I’ve just read the NY Times news report and viewed some taped snippets. Rob Malley, the ex-US diplomat and a veteran analyst on the Middle East appears to have been most apt in concluding the following: “We’re not talking about a peace process anymore; we’re talking about a P.R. process…. None of this is going to help avert any of the dangers that the president mentioned in his Sunday speech, that Israel faces.”
And, as is often (but not always) the case, I found Thomas Friedman instructive in his most recent column (“Lessons from Tahrir Square“). He advised the Palestinians to begin a campaign, along with Israeli Jews, to persuade Israel’s “silent majority” of their peaceful intent, to rally behind the formulation of “… a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed adjustments — including Jerusalem, where the Arabs will control their neighborhoods and the Jews theirs.” Unfortunately, the slogan Friedman urges of “two states for two peoples” may actually be more problematic now for Palestinians than for Israelis.
I suspect that Ms. Ibn Bari may not be enthusiastic about the notion of a “Jewish state,” due to the shoddy treatment Negev Bedouin have received (a population that is traditionally loyal to Israel, as exemplified by the customary practice of many Bedouin men to volunteer for service in the IDF). She is a warm and friendly person, however, who seems genuinely committed to equal citizenship for Jews and Arabs in Israel. Israel’s Jewish majority needs to convince its Arab minority that it can enjoy fully equal rights within a country that is culturally or religiously identified with its majority (as are most countries in the world, by the way).
As Ibn Bari indicated, 40 percent of Israel’s 200,000 Negev Bedouin live in “unrecognized” villages, which means that they are not provided electricity, water, schools or clinics, nor even located on maps. Their homes and other structures (like an unrecognized school or clinic) are subject to the threat and reality of repeated demolitions, because they are not granted building permits. The other 60 percent live in seven towns set aside for the Bedouin, but they are congested and their services are under-funded by the government. Also, as stated by Ibn Bari, they were not planned with economic development in mind, and therefore the unemployment rate hovers around 80 percent.
Instead of being regarded as fellow Israelis, their 33 percent proportion of the Negev population is often spoken of as a “demographic threat.” And they now face the threat of ambitious plans for development and forestation by the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, which leave no room for Bedouin homes.