Friday, September 4, 2015
So prized was the Negev to Israel’s founding generation that David Ben-Gurion, the man who is considered to be one of the founders of the state, and its first Prime Minister, built a home there, which he called Sde Boker – translated as cowboy field. Moreover, he and his beloved wife Paula are buried there. Ben Gurion and later, Prime Minister Arik Sharon, who also lived in the Negev, considered that land a blissful respite from their weekly work. These men and the thousands of others, who have made the desert their home, see it as a picturesque and superbly scenic habitat that freshens the soul.
Nevertheless, there was and is a darker side to Ben Gurion’s ideal of the Negev. He had a vison of “blooming the desert”, which he expressed as follows:
"The desert provides us with the best opportunity to begin again. This is a vital element of our renaissance in Israel. For it is in mastering nature that man learns to control himself. It is in this sense, more practical than mystic, that I define our Redemption on this land. Israel must continue to cultivate its nationality and to represent the Jewish people without renouncing its glorious past. It must earn this — which is no small task — a right that can only be acquired in the desert."
This dream conflicts with that of most Jewish Israelis. Indeed, until recently land-use in the Negev was primarily recreational. The desert is seen by most Israelis as a place of calm and serenity, one to be utilized for hiking, day trips and the home of the Bedouin. Nevertheless, the dream of “blooming the desert” persists.
There is nothing as rotten as a decaying dream. One rooted in a romantic vision of the past. And in the second decade of the twenty-first century Ben Gurion’s dream reeks. Today, we are in an age of sustainability, protection of common resources for future generations and ecotourism. Moreover, science continues to teach us that desert ecosystems are both fragile and complex. Therefore, they must be left alone. The land is to be used for non-use.
However, that began to change in the mid-1990s. First, as the government became more right-leaning and nationalistic, a number of commissions were empaneled to draft plans to import as many as 500,000 Jews into the Negev and to force some 80,000 Bedouin to concentrate into the government’s pre-built and pre-planned towns - away from their indigenous tribal and family-based settlements. Another factor is the decision by the government, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of Israel, that those Bedouins who did not have a paper title or whose families did not register their lands with the British in 1921, de facto did not own the lands they occupied, i.e., they are squatters.
In essence, the Government of Israel (“GOI”) seeks to Judaize the Negev. Like previous like-minded European colonialists, the government seeks to concentrate its indigenous peoples into reservations or ghettos, see e. g., the South Africa’s townships; the United States’ Indian reservations and broken treaties; Canada’s First Nations; Australia’s Koori (e), Murri, Nunga, Nyoongah, the Tasmanian Palawa and New Zealand’s Mauri. The main difference between Israel and the other colonial powers is that they ghettoized their aboriginal populations during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while Israel is doing so in the present day – an era of human rights, and the government’s accession to numerous human rights treaties, which would lead one to believe that it should know better. However, when ideology collides with reality, reality always appears to be vanquished, until it catches up.