I am proud to be one of 775 American, European and Israel Rabbis, Cantors and Rabbinical Students to sign a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu asking him to withdraw what is known as the Prawer/Begin bill which would result in tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel being forcibly removed from the land on which they live and being relocated to urban areas in the Negev. You can find the text of the letter at http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5149/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14782
This is a critical moment for Israel as this bill would result in the dislocation of so many citizens against their will.
At issue are “unrecognized” Bedouin settlements in the Negev which do not receive government services. The government proposes to move the Bedouin residents of these settlements into urban areas where they can receive government services.
While on the surface this may seem appropriate and beneficial to the Bedouin in some ways, it must be noted the urban areas into which they would be moved already have high poverty levels and unemployment. In addition, the plan does not take into account the desires of the Bedouin. There has not been consultation with the Bedouin themselves who deserve, as citizens of Israel, equal treatment under the law.
This is not to say that life for the Bedouin can not be improved. It can. But, it can best be improved by developing a plan which works together with the Bedouin instead of one which imposes a solution on them. Respect for life style and for connection with land calls for Israel to work to deliver services to these people where they currently live.
There are many reasons for the plan and one of the reasons is to allow Israel to further economic development in the Negev. However, as the letter points out, allowing the Bedouin to stay on the land on which they live would still allow for plenty of room for growth in the Negev and for the establishment of industry and military bases as are needed.
This is clearly a very emotional issue and I urge you to watch a video featuring noted actor Theodore Bikel who likens the planned expulsion of the Bedouin to the story of Fiddler on the Roof and the Jews leaving Anatevka. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLeWQ470G6o This video puts this plan into a context which should concern all of us.
I urge you to learn more about this issue by going to Truah.org or rhr.org.il/eng to read about the action taken by Truah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and Rabbis for Human Rights. You can also read more about the plan and the knesset debates in the Israeli press at jpost.com or haaretz.com
If you would like to write a letter to members of the knesset, you can do so by going to http://www.truah.org/issuescampaigns/bedouin.html and clicking on “take action”.
One of the hallmarks of Israel has always been equal treatment for all citizens. The Prawer/Begin plan ought to trouble all of us who love and care for Israel. Please take a moment to consider this issue seriously and make your voice heard.