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Posts Tagged ‘Bedouins’

The Curse of Sinai

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

The Sinai Peninsula is a huge area, approximately 61,000 square kilometers, which is almost three times the area of the State of Israel, and its population is approximately 550,000, less than one tenth of the population of Israel. The residents of Sinai, despite  being Egyptian citizens for the most part, are not of Egyptian origin: their Arabic dialect is Saudi Arabian, their culture is different from Egyptian culture and they identify with the state of Egypt about as much as the Bedouins in the Negev identify with the state of Israel. Why is this so? The reason is that the Bedouin will never identify with a state, since the state symbolizes order and the rule of law, whereas the desert is spontaneous and the law that rules within it is the law of the tribes. Only when the Bedouin is part of the governmental system and enjoys its benefits does he identify with the state, for example in Jordan, and even there it is not always guaranteed.

The Sinai Peninsula was never an integral part of Egypt; it was annexed only in the beginning of the twentieth century, when Britain – which ruled Egypt at the time – wanted to keep some distance between the Ottoman Empire and the Suez Canal. The Egyptian state never tried to impose Egyptian law and order upon Sinai and this is easy to prove: There are few roads in Sinai and between those roads are great expanses that are inaccessible to the branches of government: police, health services, educational services and infrastructure. Even the Egyptian army viewed Sinai only as a training area and an arena for battle with Israel, and in general, it can be said that Sinai has always been an unwanted burden to Egypt, a step-son who was not expected to amount to much.

After Israel conquered Sinai in the Six Day War (in June of 1967) the Sinai Bedouins came to an agreement with the IDF: if Israel would allow the Bedouins to have autonomy and live life as they pleased, they would not object to Israeli rule over the area. Israel ignored the poppy plantations that were cultivated in Sinai, which supplied a significant part of world opium consumption, and the Bedouins ignored the Israeli tourists on the Red Sea beaches who did not behave according to the acceptable rules of Bedouin modesty. The many tourist villages that were in Taba, in in Nawiba, in di-Zahab and in Ofira (Sharm e-Sheikh) at that time, provided a good livelihood to the Bedouins. The proximity of IDF bases also brought economic benefit to the Bedouins . The good relations between the Bedouins and Israel was based on the fact that Israel had no intentions of trying to turn the Bedouins into Israelis culturally, and that Israel let them live their lives according to the principles and laws that they have lived by from time immemorial.

An important detail to note is that the border between Israel and Egypt was a line on the map, not a physical fence or wall, and this enabled the Sinai Bedouins, together with their family members who lived in the Negev, to support themselves by smuggling goods, drugs, women and illegal immigrants seeking work into Israel. The Israeli authorities knew about this smuggling industry, but for years did very little in order to stop it, because it served the economic interest of both sides and because of the desire to maintain good relations with the Sinai Bedouins, who brought intelligence information to Israel and not just goods.

When Israel withdrew from Sinai in 1982, sovereignty over the peninsula was restored to Egypt but the Egyptian state did not return to the open areas or to the high mountains of the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian government limited itself to the scattered cities that were located on the shores: on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea – Rafiah, el-Arish, Sheikh Zayed, on the coast of the Red Sea – Taba, Dahab, Nawab, Sharm-e-Sheikh, and the coast of the Suez Bay — e-Tur, Ras Sudar, Abu Rudis, Port Fuad. In an attempt to deal with the problem of unemployment in Egypt, beginning in the days of Mubarak, the Egyptian government urged many youths to go to Sinai in order to work in the oil industry, the quarries and the tourism industry. The Egyptian government initiated agricultural projects in Sinai that depended on water brought from the Nile, and the entry of thousands of Egyptians into Sinai was perceived by the Bedouins as an attempt to overwhelm them, push them out of the area and deprive them of their livelihood. This is how the tension between the state of Egypt and the Bedouin population began in Sinai after the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula.

Egypt, the Land of ‘Total Loss’

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Everyone knows what a “total loss” is: the general loss of a vehicle’s value as the result of an accident, when the vehicle becomes either impossible or impractical to repair and is sent for scrap metal.

It seems that Egypt’s situation today very much resembles a “total loss” situation following a series of accidents and misfortunes that it has experienced over the past two years, since Mubarak was sent to the defendant’s cage. As long as he was in power, the country was functional. And although it did not function well, there was a sort of dictatorial stability. But since he was overthrown nothing works in that dismal country, whose residents number today ninety million. Egypt is like a car with ninety million problems, and to describe it as a “total loss” is to understate the situation.

The problems began on November 11, 2011, with the resignation of President Mubarak after the demonstrations against him degenerated into a state of general chaos, prompting the minister of defense, General Tantawi, to demand that Mubarak step down in order to calm the raging street. Tantawi took the reins of power for half a year, to stabilize the governmental system and then transfer it to the civilian branch, the dictatorial stability of the Mubarak era turned into public chaos with increasingly anarchistic characteristics, despite the fact that the group in power had won the right to rule democratically. It seems that the governmental situation in Egypt will become a new concept in the field of political science: “democratic anarchy” or “anarchistic democracy”.

Despite Egypt’s having a president, an army, police and judicial system, it seems that these components of government do not all function as one system, but rather each one behaves according to it’s own private agenda, as if it exists as a separate country: the public elects a parliament and the court disperses it, the president issues edicts overriding the laws of parliament and the court cancels his edicts, the majority of the public elects a president but large sectors of the public want to get rid of him, an Islamist president is elected but he is forced to manage the state according to laws that contradict Shari’a, the Bedouins in Sinai are citizens of Egypt, but they behave as if Egypt is their enemy.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when seven soldiers were kidnapped in Sinai. The Bedouins kidnapped them in order to pressure the government into freeing some imprisoned Bedouins, and Morsi found himself between a rock and a hard place: if had given in to the Bedouins, thus freeing the soldiers this would have been interpreted – and rightly so – as the state surrendering to a violent group of criminals, and this surrender would have encouraged them as well as other groups to take similar steps to achieve their ends.

In such a situation, when every law breaker can pressure the government to submit to his demands, there is no state. So what can be done? Attack the Bedouins with a large military force? This is problematic because the present government claims to have a religious basis, and how can such a regime kill Muslims?

On Wednesday of this week the seven soldiers were freed healthy and whole after representatives of the army met with heads of the Jabal Halal tribes and warned them that the army would destroy anything that moved in the area. What was promised to the heads of the tribes in exchange for freeing the soldiers was not divulged, but the fact that the government was forced to appease the heads of the tribes proves who is in charge in Sinai.

The government again had to play according to the rules of the desert, where anyone who has a request must close the deal with the tribal heads. The struggle between the state and the Bedouins will continue in the next round, which is just a matter of time. Because the state has not yet freed the Bedouin prisoners accused of terrorist activity, and their liberation was the original reason for kidnapping the seven soldiers.

And this was not the first time that the Bedouins have challenged Morsi’s government: last August they murdered 16 soldiers, and during the past year they attacked a police station and security patrols, and sabotaged the gas pipe that provides Egypt with its livelihood. The Bedouins collaborate with Hamas and there were rumors that the kidnapped soldiers were already in Gaza. The families of the kidnapped soldiers appeared in the media and put pressure on the government to submit to the kidnappers demands, and Morsi had already requested and received religious permission to fight the Bedouins from the Mufti of Egypt. The army wanted to seal the tunnels that connect Sinai with the Gaza Strip, and Morsi feared Hamas’ negative propaganda and Hamas’ big brother, the Emir of Qatar.

Israel Approves Begin’s Bedouin Land Grab

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Israel’s government on Sunday approved the recommendations of Minister without portfolio Benny Begin to change the program regulating Bedouin settlements in the Negev. The reform is aimed at solving definitively the issue of Bedouin ownership claims on Negev lands, including a compromise proposal of relocation and financial compensation, bringing an end to illegal Bedouin outposts.

In September 2011 the government approved the Praver Report, which determined a layout for regulating Bedouin settlement in the Negev, facilitating expansion of existing settlements and absorption of some communities within Regional Council Abu-Basma, south and west of the “green line.”

Additional settlements will be established as part of the regional master plan for Beer-Sheva.

According to the plan, each settlement will be adjusted to the nature and character of the local population and its needs, and will be executed in cooperation with it.

The plan was accepted with mixed feelings among the Bedouin as well as among right wing critics.

Kalman Libeskind wrote in Ma’ariv about Benny Begin’s “stinking maneuver,” accusing him and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein of not just confirming through legal registration what has been essentially an illegal land grab of many thousands of acres by the Bedouins over several decades, but also promising them many new settlements to boot.

Libeskind pointed out that while the Weinstein refused to permit the application of the Levy Committee recommendations to apply Israeli law in Judea and Samaria because the government is in a lame duck period – has no duck issue when it comes to giving away enormous swaths of Jewish land to the Bedouins.

The Regavim movement on Friday petitioned the High Court to forbid the government from approving the proposed program at its meeting on Sunday, arguing that Minister Benny Begin will not serve in the next Knesset and so his proposal is a serious case of a last minute grab that should not be sanctioned.

 

See the related cartoon.

Pro-Labor Settler and Pro-Bennett Bedouin

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

There are Israeli voters making some surprising and rather unexpected choices for political candidates on Tuesday, January 22.

Yair Hizni, who grew up in a settler family in Hebron, is casting his vote for Shelly Yachimovich, the leader of Israel’s Labor Party. Hizni, a teacher who lived in the settlement community of Nokdim in Judea before recently moving to Jerusalem, spoke with Tazpit News Agency about his decision to support Yachimovich.

“It’s less about the political parties and more about who Shelley is for me,” said Hizni.

“I believe that Shelly speaks a language that people can respect – she is a very ethical and honest person,” Hizni told Tazpit News Agency.

“Shelly doesn’t take the typical left-wing stance on certain issues and has the ability to bridge between the different sectors of Israeli society and solve the problems of this country,” he said.

“Take for example, the settlers,” said Hizni. “Shelly is probably one of the few politicians on the left who doesn’t speak with hate against the settlers – as well as the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel – she is someone who wants to talk with these groups. She doesn’t speak with the hatred that has characterized many leftist politicians over the years against the settlers.”

In an interview with Ha’aretz last year, Yachimovich stated that seeing the settlers join Israel’s summer social justice protests made her “unequivocally” happy. “There is a new language, a unifying language, a uniting language,” she stated in the interview.

“But for me,” said Hizni, “Shelly’s stances on economic and domestic issues are just as important. The economy, the weaker sectors of our society – for example, the elderly, Holocaust survivors – also need to be addressed.”

In a country where politics is taken very seriously, Hizni says that his parents, who live in Hebron, found it difficult in the beginning to accept his more liberal perspective.

“In the beginning, they were shocked,” he said laughing. “Politics is very important to them. But now we talk freely about politics and I love the dialogue – even with their right-wing neighbors.”

Another Israeli citizen, Khaled Mazared of Beit Zarzir, in northern Israel, is also looking for an “honest” politician. Mazared is casting his vote for the religious Zionist party, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home.

A Bedouin who served as Captain in the IDF’s Givati brigade, Mazared believes that Bennett’s “stand on Israel’s security and his commitment to the spirit of the IDF and values of the army and soldiers’ moral is critical.”

For Mazared, who is Muslim, the fact that Bennett is religious and wears a kippa makes him trustworthy. “In the army, I served with men like Bennett, who were religious and had values. I know their word is good, and, based on my army experience, I trust Bennett,” Marazed told Tazpit.

“Bennett speaks in a simple and real way. He says that whoever is loyal to the country deserves to be acknowledged for their service and to be addressed. As a Bedouin, politicians have always made us promises and in the end, they didn’t do anything,” Mazared said.

Bedouin citizens are a minority within the Arab minority in Israel, and make up three percent of Israel’s population. Considered to be semi-nomadic tribes, most Bedouins originally came from Hejaz, a region in the northern Arabian peninsula, and immigrated to Israel between the 14th and 18th century. Some also arrived in Israel from the Syrian desert. Today Israel’s Bedouin tribes are found in the southern, central and northern regions of the country, with a significant number, especially those from northern Israel, serving in the IDF and identifying with the Jewish state.

“Most of my community want to give Bennett a chance – he is new and it seems that he will be able to appreciate the Bedouin people and help us, especially with education, government employment and public transportation. My Bedouin community has always supported politicians like General Raful Eitan and Rehavam Ze’evi in the past, and Bennett seems to follow their path.”

“I hope that Bennett does well on Tuesday,” concluded Marazed. “ I’ve done everything I can to encourage other Bedouins to vote for him.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/unpredictable-pro-yachimovich-settler-and-pro-bennett-bedouin/2013/01/22/

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