“It’s not just a question of space – our land has symbolic value”
There are 203,000 Negev Bedouins in all, if you count those who have been displaced [the Israeli army has been conducting military operations in the desert since 1968]. Today, 97,000 Bedouins live in the Negev, and 40,000 of them will be directly affected by the Prawer-Begin plan. But we all know that, sooner or later, the rest will be affected by the plan as well.The Bedouin people are semi-nomadic. We move according to the seasons, and take our livestock to graze far away from the desert. But we also have homes, and we go back there every few months.In the eyes of Israeli law, some of our dwellings are illegal [officially, Israel will only recognise land ownership in the Negev if the owner can show a document provided by the British Mandate of Palestine administration in 1921. Very few Bedouins ever got hold of this document]. However, some of us have land deeds from the Ottoman Empire dating back some 300 years; others obtained deeds in the 1930s under the British mandate, but these are worth nothing to the Israelis.Bedouins usually cook outdoors.“We’re scared of losing our accent, our traditions…”Under the plan, every household will be granted a new home, but this doesn’t fit into our lifestyle at all. Our land has symbolic value; it’s not just a question of how much space we get. For example, in our homes, there’s this area called the Diwan, where we welcome strangers. We separate our private lives from what we show our guests. If the new homes are anything like those in the seven villages that exist already, there probably won’t be a Diwan.The Diwan is a specific room in Bedouins' houses used to entertain guests. Photo by Yoan Lerman.The Israeli state wants to stop us from being nomadic: we’ll find ourselves in villages built from scratch, surrounded by Hebrew-speaking people. However, most of us don’t speak Hebrew. It’ll be very hard for us to integrate. A quarter of Bedouins live from breeding livestock, and about 40 percent from agriculture. They want to take these practices away from us. We are scared of losing our accent, our traditions … We would feel like prisoners in these new buildings, both physically and psychologically.Buildings like this one, in Hura, were built to house Bedouins. However, many Bedouins say they're not adapted to their culture.“For us, it’s as if it’s becoming occupied territory”It’s true that there were Palestinian flags at Monday’s demonstration, and many of the protesters were not Bedouins. But this doesn’t change the problem. If other people join our protest, it’s because they have sympathy for our cause. They’re fighting for the same core issue of land grabbing and displacement that we’re experiencing. We feel like Israeli authorities want to kick us out. We feel that it’s our land, and we are losing it for the sake of territorial expansion. For us, it’s as if the Negev is becoming occupied territory. [Editor’s Note: The Negev desert has been under Israeli administration since the 1948 partition].