WHERE, O WHERE, IS THE BEAUTIFUL ISRAEL OF YORE?

A vignette from the glory days.

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The right-wing Begin government, elected in 1977, began forcibly transferring the Bedouin of the Negev desert into a reservation area, pending their forcible resettlement in industrial townships. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) urged instead that they be permitted to establish agricultural settlements (moshavim). Hundreds of Bedouin families had already applied for planning permission to this end, to no avail.

A senior Israeli official responsible for these issues was asked why his government opposed Bedouin moshavim. He erupted:

Of course we’ve rejected that idea… Quite rightly. Moshavim! We should give good agricultural land to the Bedouins? The Jews do agriculture far better than the Bedouins, and the Jews will have the moshavim, not the Bedouins.

But the Bedouins can learn the new techniques of desert agriculture as well as Jews.

Listen to me. The Bedouins are human material that is the antithesis of order. And you need order to establish moshavim. We want that land for the Jews! Every inch of land is now of vital importance for the future of the country. The Jews of Israel need the land; that land belongs to the State, and the State will give it to the Jews to work. And the State will decide, not the Bedouins, where the Bedouins will live and what they will do.

As Israeli citizens, don’t the Bedouins have the right to choose what kind of life they want to live, and where, just as do Israeli Jews?

They can choose.

You mean you are considering an alternative to the townships?

I mean they can choose. Of course they can choose. They can go outside the reservation area with their flocks and the Green Patrol will come along every day and confiscate their goats and take their sheep off to the quarantine station and bring trespassing charges against them. But they can keep on like that if they want. Of course they have a choice. To keep on like that or go into an industrial township. What do you think they want the moshavim for? They want the land, that’s why, land and water. Well, I’m not going to give it to them. These six industrial townships are the maximum of what I have to offer—maybe another township or two, but that’s it. There are two possible options for settling the Bedouins—agriculture and industry—and I’ve decided that they’ll work in industry. If they had moshavim they’d only start spreading out, slowly annexing more and more land to their settlements. All they want is our land. And in any case there’s no water to give them.

There’s water to give to the twenty Jewish agricultural settlements now being built in the northwestern Negev.

The water is only for Jewish settlements. I’m not giving it to Arabs.

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