[Marxism] From Marxmail home (Negev as Israel's toxic waste dump)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 3 07:49:57 MDT 2004

Going south deep into the heart of Israel’s Negev
Desert, small Bedouin villages sprout in the distance.
They seem peaceful and majestic in the desert heat,
cut into the landscape dotted with shacks for living
quarters and tents constructed with burlap and wooden
sticks not far from the 52 active military zones in
the Negev.  The old men in their khafeyas sit drinking
Arabic coffee, stone-faced – as if they’ve seen this
all before.  The women are nowhere to be seen.

The Bedouin village of Wadi al-Na’am sits under the
shadow of a chemical industrial zone.  Following the
dusty road off the highway, it emerges from the left,
dark and oppressive, an architectural catastrophe.

4,000 people live in the vicinity of Ramat Hovav,
Israel’s toxic waste dump – one of 17 chemical plants
in the area. Opened in 1975, it has left a trail of
wreckage adding to the dire situation:  high infant
mortality rates, cancer and numerous other health
effects from the effluent, 97% of the village
population on national insurance.  The electric power
lines run past the village yards away connecting
nobody to the grid.

Orly Almi, Project Coordinator for the Unrecognized
Negev Villages for Physicians for Human Rights reports
of a high proportion of abortions, heart disease at a
young age, high levels of cancer and high rates of
congenital defects.  Added to this, the government’s
own epidemiological survey released after years of
pressure shows that there is a high rate of birth
defects and subnatal births amongst the Bedouin

The Ministry of Health, unwilling to expose their
doctors to the health hazards from the plant does not
provide health services in the village.  Other
disagree with that assessment and claim that the
Bedouin Authority is using the denial of health
services to push the villagers to move to Segev
Shalom, a nearby settlement.  The solar powered
medical clinic hand-built by volunteers sits empty.
Bustan, the NGO who headed the project, is now
searching for volunteers from the medical community to
make use of the new facility due to the government’s

Many now say, exhausting all the legal options will
not bring back the dead or alleviate the suffering.

This battle over land, power, government resources,
culture and history is being fought through planning
authorities, government ministries, the court rooms,
the community leadership, security forces and at the
political level.

The unrecognized villages do not appear on the
official maps of the State of Israel and are not
included in the figures for the Central Bureau of
Statistics.  These villages are not officially
recognized by the state so there is no legal
responsibility to provide even basic services.  The
lands were classified as agricultural, rendering all
buildings erected as illegal.

These land disputes originated in the forties and
fifties.  With the establishment of the State of
Israel in 1948 came a new regime and new priorities
over land use.  And everyone has a different
interpretation of what happened.

This is the backdrop to the regional trauma.

Here in the desert, the Bedouin talk about time in
generations and their connection to the land.  They
have grown old on different mythologies here – their
narratives still being shaped.  The world is moving
faster than they have the capacity to respond.  They
suffer from the same discrimination as the other Arabs
in Israel, but their issues are more acute, more
immediate and will certainly require international
attention.  The are doing what they can to maintain
what they have despite the numerous pressures within
the culture and the influences coming from outside.

Judging from the treadmill of government bureaucrats,
NGO’s, members of the Knesset and international
journalists making the rounds, there could be
something like a genuine Bedouin revival happening –
one which is being characterized in the context of
indigenous rights, access to basic services like
water, electricity, housing, health care, proper
sewage facilities, refuse disposal, education, and
recognition of cultural rights.

But some believe, these are the symptoms of tensions
about to burst.

For everyone who says that the situation is headed in
a better direction, there are others who are
predicting a coming Bedouin intifada as Israel’s
liberal Haaretz newspaper characterized it recently.

Asked if one is possible, Muhammad Zeidan, the head of
the Arab Human Rights Association said, “The Bedouin
are peaceful, but they are human beings.  I don’t
think they have a choice, they are being pushed to do

What adds to the complication is the Sharon
government’s plan for the Gaza withdrawal – a plan if
implemented will surely mean new settlements in the
Negev adding to development pressures in the region.
Some of the Bedouin community are opposing these moves
outright as this will inevitably mean encroachment on
their traditional lands.  To paraphrase this line of
thinking, many are wondering, “how can the government
take away our land, deny us basic rights like access
to water, electricity, education and health care and
continue to poison our lands with chemicals – we’ve
been here since before 1948.”

According to the Regional Council of Unrecognized
Villages in the Negev, the problem of the unrecognized
villages has become increasingly aggravated since 1965
when the government approved the Planning and
Construction Law as well as an outline plan in which
hundreds of Bedouin villages and localities were
deliberately ignored and considered not to exist. The
lands were classified as agricultural land, rendering
all buildings erected as illegal.

The 1981 Removal of Intruders Law detailed the legal
process for the removal of the inhabitants of
“illegal” homes in Israel.  The proposed amendment to
this law will consolidate the body that issues
demolition orders and the body that implements them –
a process which will target the existing 45
unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and
streamline efforts to build Jewish settlements in
their place.  Many legal experts claim that the
Removal of Intruders Law could affect 70,000 Bedouin
citizens of Israel who continue to live with
substandard services from government.  The remaining
Bedouin live in 7 state established towns which were
given full recognition.

“We want the government of Israel stop this
hypocritical and outrageous policy of the systematic
removal of the Bedouin community from their
traditional lands while they aid in the construction
of new Jewish settlements in the Negev.  We call on
the international community and the Jewish leadership
to express their outrage to Israel,” says Jafar Farah,
Director of the Mossawa Center, one of the 29
organizations that form the Together Forum, which
advocates for Bedouin rights.  Farah has already
raised the issue with the U.S. government.

Under Sharon’s Negev Development Plan, the government
intends to turn the six largest unrecognized villages
into official recognized towns to place all the
remaining Bedouin.  This is unacceptable to the
Bedouin since in their view it does not give full
consideration to their historical claims to the land.

There is even talk of constructing a hippodrome – some
are already joking that the characters at the horse
racing track will have more rights than the Bedouin.

In January of 2004, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and
the Minister of Industry and Work Ehud Olmert declared
in a meeting with the Head of the Council of the Arab
Unrecognized Villages, Jaber Abu Khaf, that the
government will start to implement their plan to
transfer 38 villages.  Following this meeting, the
Minister of Housing participated in the establishment
of a new Jewish village on the lands of the Al-Ukbi
tribe by moving in mobile homes in the middle of the

Almost 38 % of the governmental funds for the Arab
Bedouin communities in the Negev will be allocated to
implement land confiscation policies of the government
especially in the unrecognized villages.  Over 150
homes have been demolished and 30,000 dunams of crops
were sprayed and destroyed in the Negev in since 2002.
There is general agreement amongst the Bedouin
leadership that the government’s plan does not take
into consideration the cultural sensitivities of
indigenous Bedouin culture.

Abu Afash Labad, one of the village council members,
addressing a group says, “our true identity is the
land.”  He says that he is not relying on his
citizenship to gain his rights because the state does
not treat him as a citizen.  He says the state is
using the denial of basic services as an instrument of
power to evacuate the Bedouin from their lands.  Just
last month, twenty three people of the Abu Elkian
tribe including a ninety year old grandfather was
injured when security forces arrived to demolish seven

According to Ariel Dloomy of the Negev Coexistence
Forum, as a Jewish citizen he has the right to live
wherever he wants to.  But Bedouin citizens don’t have
a choice – they can either stay illegally where they
are or move to seven settlement towns that have among
the lowest socio-economic indicators of any village in
Israel.  The Negev Coexistence Forum was initiated by
Jewish and Bedouin citizens to promote issues of
coexistence and mutual understanding and to raise
Bedouin issues to the Jewish population such as the
underfunding of the new regional council which was set
up to implement workable solutions on land use in the
region.  “We are calling on the government to start
negotiating with the Bedouin and to treat them as
equal citizens, not second class citizens,” says

Compounding the tensions is the use of aerial spraying
of chemicals by the Israel Land Administration office
for the purposes of destroying the crops of the
Bedouin which are predominately barley and wheat.
Roundup, the chemical being used in the spraying
associated with genetic defects and possible
carcinogenic effects.  The central production plant
belongs to the Monsanto company in the United States
and in Israel is produced by Agan Chemicals of Ashdod.
  Although there are a number of substances that would
be considered harmful to humans, the possible long
term effects of the main ingredient glyphosate is
associated with renal damage, impaired fertility and
an increased risk of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  Arab
legal organization Adalah has taken the government to
court to stop the spraying.

A few weeks later, Nuri Al-Ukbi is holding court with
a group of journalists on a beat up wooden table in
one of the back rooms of the Writer's House in Tel
Aviv.  You get the sense this isn’t just a press
conference for him, this is his life.  As Chairman of
the Association for the Support and Defense of Bedouin
Rights in Israel, he says that the Arab-Bedouin
population is entitled to the same rights as any other
sector in the country.

In January when the ten new homes were constructed in
the new Jewish settlement of Giv’ot Bar on the land of
Elarakib in the middle of the night between the cities
of Be’er Sheva and Rahat, the ancestral lands of the
Al-Ukbi tribe, the government also sprayed 4,000
dunams in three separate villages and the homes of 50
Bedouin families, poisoning wheat fields in the
process. The new village was constructed while the
government plans to demolish a number of Bedouin
villages in the Negev under Sharon’s Negev Development

The Al-Ukbi tribe are not opposed to Jewish settlement
in the Negev – they just want the authorities to
provide a suitable settlement solution for them and
the other Bedouin in the Negev.  The last appeal of
the Association for the Support and Defense of Bedouin
Rights in Israel over the Giv’ot Bar development was
on June 29th in Beer Sheva district court where the
Judge rejected the appeal of the association in
conjunction with the Local Committee of the Al-Ukbi

So for now, Nuri Al-Ukbi will continue to talk about
the swindle of the 1951 planting season when his tribe
was originally moved for ‘security’ reasons. He has a
whole tribe to answer to. He knows that these land
disputes have gone on for generations and they will
take generations to solve.  For now, he’s not going
anywhere.  He’ll still be here – a fixture in the



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