Last week McClatchey had an important story about the fate of Bedouins in Israel. There is a lot of talk about how Israel is a beacon for democracy in the Middle East, and often even those who admit that the Jewish state's founding myths are untrue and protest the occupation are hesitant to admit that there are many Israeli citizens who are treated unequally by the law. The Bedouins are a case in point. The government is destroying their homes and trying to remove them from their land to make room for Jewish citizens. In any other context, this would be called ethnic cleansing:
Israeli leaders have a $3.6 billion plan to transform the vast Negev desert into prospering Jewish communities. Finesh and 80,000 other Bedouin say the land is theirs, however.
As Israel presses ahead with the development, a Human Rights Watch report released Monday concludes that it's using "discriminatory, exclusionary and punitive" policies to push the aside the Bedouin, who are descendants of Arab tribes that once roamed the Negev.
"Israeli policies have created a situation whereby tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens in the Negev have little or no alternative but to live in ramshackle villages and build illegally in order to meet their most basic shelter needs," the report says.
Since Israel was founded nearly 60 years ago, its leaders have been wrestling with what to do with its small Bedouin minority, now climbing above 160,000.
Israel has pushed about half the Bedouin into sterile, depressed new desert towns, demolished thousands of illegal shanties and transformed their sheep-grazing pastures into dangerous military zones.
About 80,000 Bedouin living in more than three dozen unauthorized shantytowns and villages refuse to move, even though they receive no electricity or water from Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has set up a commission to come up with innovative ways to handle the holdouts.
"The government of Israel understands that it needs to solve the problem of the Bedouin," said Yehuda Bachar, the director general of a newly established government department for Bedouin affairs. "If it is not solved now, it will not be solved for many years."
The intent behind the plans is clear: Israeli leaders want to move the Arab residents to make way for Jewish developments.
The Israeli government is looking to spend $3.6 billion over the next seven years to lure more Jewish residents to the Negev, a triangular desert that makes up more than half of the nation's land.
"The only chance for the development of the Negev is that we bring more Jews," said Shmuel Rifman, the mayor of the local Ramat Negev Regional Council, who supports a trickle-down theory when it comes to the Bedouin.