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January 13, 1995 - Image 52

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-01-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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I

n Courtroom Three of the
Supreme Court, a new, well-
lit place with high, white
walls, stone trim and polished
wood benches, some 50 Bedouin
men sat in the back rows.
Dark-skinned, unshaven,
wearing kaffiyah headdresses,
they are members of the Al-Azaz-
ma Bedouin tribe of the Negev
desert.
In mid-December scores of
Al-Azazma
Bedouin families
hadpacked up
their tents in Ra-
mat Hovav, Is-
rael's chemical
industrial zone
and toxic waste
dump near Beer-
sheva. After five
years there, their
large families
were coming
down with lung
diseases. They
had moved about
15 miles south to Bir Hadaj, a
2,000-plus-acre plain they
claimed had been owned by their
tribe for generations. Govern-
ment authorities, who laid title
to the land for the State of Israel
in 1961, ordered them out. They
offered the Bedouins a choice:
Move into one of the seven
Bedouin towns the government
had built in the Negev or go back
to Ramat Hovav, where hun-
dreds of Al-Azazma families re-
main. The Bedouins at Bir Hadaj
decided to stay put.
The Supreme Court urged
both sides to find a solution. But
if no solution was found and the
Bedouins didn't leave Bir Hadaj
of their own accord, the court
ruled that starting three days
hence, Dec. 29, the government
would move the Bedouins out by
force.
`This is our land," said Dahlal-
lah Abu Gardud, one of the
Al-Azazma leaders, speaking out-
side the courtroom. "I don't care
if they bring tanks. I don't care if
they bring jets. We'll fight. Our
families' graves are on that land,
and we are prepared to die there."
This is the popular sentiment
at Bir Hadaj. "I don't get worked
up by it," said Eli Babai, head of
the government's Bedouin
Administration. The Al-Azazma
tribe's claims, he said, are
"complete lies."
The dispute over Bir Hadaj is
part of a battle over land
between the Negev Bedouins

and the Israeli government that
goes back to 1948. For centuries
before the War of Independence,
the Bedouins had raised crops
or wandered with their sheep
and goats across the desert.
During the war, about 60,000
Negev Bedouin fled to Gaza, the
West Bank and Jordan. The Is-
raeli army concentrated the re-
maining 12,000 or so in tent
settlements in the Beersheva-
Dimona-Arad
area of the north-
eastern Negev.
Israel then
began declaring
the Negev state-
owned land. The
Bedouins ap-
pealed, but except
for the few cases
in which they
could produce old
land registry doc-
uments proving
ownership, the
courts ruled in fa-
vor of the state. The Negev
Bedouins are still pressing their
claim to as much as 140,000
acres of the Negev. (Some 50,000
other Bedouin live in 25 settle-
ments in the Galilee, with little
public resistance.)
For decades, the Negev
Bedouins have been fighting and
losing a war of attrition with the
Ministry of Agriculture's "Green
Patrol." The Bedouins pitch their
tents or erect their cement-block
houses and tin shacks on a piece
of land, and the Green Patrol
comes with its tanks and bull-
dozers to flatten them. The
Bedouins move on to set up an-
other settlement, and the Green
Patrol knocks it down.
Mike Blass, the state attorney
in the Bir Hadaj case, said that
before 1948, the Bedouins could
stay on the land without any
problems. "But when Israel had
to build roads, towns, military
airfields, what could it do? Just
because the Bedouins wandered
from this valley to that valley,
does that mean all the land be-
longed to them?" he said. "Maybe
some of them can continue liv-
ing in the tents, but in the end,
the 21st century is going to prove
stronger than their traditions."
Mr. Babai would not say
when the Green Patrol would
move on Bir Hadaj. "You think
I'm going to announce it? It'll be
a surprise."
Will the patrol use force? "It
won't be done with hugs." ❑

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