"In the beginning, all the world was America"
July 28, 2010 1:02 PM   Subscribe

When the State of Israel was founded in 1949, along with the arable land they inherited a vast, arid desert called the Negev. At that time, David Ben-Gurion envisioned it as Israel's last frontier. Today, as Israel bulldozes unrecognized Bedouin settlements there, this low-key narrative in Zionist history is getting a little more sunlight.

The Zionist Dream

In 1911, the first Zionists came to the Negev, the kibbutz Ruhama. They arrived to witness a sprawling mass of Nabatean ruins and roaming Bedouin bands, which Mark Twain described as "a desolation that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action". This settlement, however, was destroyed in World War I; not until Partition did Zionists return to the area, which was awarded in order to offset the loss of Galilee, and in the hope that as an "empty" space Jews might expand there.

In the 1950s, under Ben-Gurion's leadership, olim (Jewish repatriates) from poorer regions of Africa and the Mideast were settled in development towns in the Negev. Ben-Gurion himself moved to the Negev after retiring from politics. His statement, "Israel's capacity for science and research will be tested in the Negev", led to a university built there which studies, among other things, desert agriculture and technology.

The focus on the Negev increased in the 21st century, as Israel looked for ways to invest its growing wealth. Modern frontier bushwhackers have busied themselves founding eco-villages and planned communities. The Jewish National Fund, best known in the US for their 50-year "plant trees for Israel" campaign, initiated the Blueprint Negev project in 2003. The primary goal was to settle new olim in brand-new Negev communities. Other recent plans include solar energy farms and tourism.

The Bedouin

There are a few problems with these grand projects. First off, it takes a lot to get someone to settle in the Negev when there is much more pleasant land available. The result was green suburbs in the desert. Secondly, of course, the desert is not "empty". The Bedouin, like Native Americans, were around before the Israelis got there and continue to live on the Negev in large numbers. Holding partial citizenship and theoretical access to all government services, the Bedouin are much better off than Palestinians, but nonetheless faced with their share of problems. (PDF)

The State of Israel originally chose to "recognize" some Bedouin villages while declaring others illegal. Unrecognized settlements are denied electricity, water, or even military protection from Hamas rockets. (It should be noted, however, that despite this discrimination the Bedouin prefer life in Israel to neighboring countries.)

Following the creation of the independent Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, a few villages are slowly being recognized and getting crucial services. However, the government's official Negev 2015 project, planning to haul in 200,000 additional citizens, ignores the problem. (PDF)

Israeli bulldozing of Bedouin villages has occurred intermittently for decades. Individual buildings seem to be targeted, such as an eco-mosque built by international volunteers. Yesterday's destruction of an entire village is comparatively unusual. The police, for their part, claimed the residents all had homes elsewhere.

A rewrite of this deleted post.
posted by shii (45 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
This post is excellent. Nice job with a politically charged subject.
posted by HLD at 1:17 PM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is how posts should be done.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:20 PM on July 28, 2010


Outstanding post.
posted by Omon Ra at 1:23 PM on July 28, 2010


all i could think of when reading this was Dune.

a lot of the stuff in Dune suddenly has a real-world counterpart for me. neat.

this is all good stuff. israel is something i just can't get a grasp on and figure out where i stand, so i like to read what i can on it.
posted by sio42 at 1:24 PM on July 28, 2010


I would like to commend this post for its detail and objectivity without stating my own opinion on the subject of Israel.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:24 PM on July 28, 2010


This is how you make a fucking post.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:27 PM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


a lot of the stuff in Dune suddenly has a real-world counterpart for me. neat.

Totally. As if naming the planet Iraq (ok, it's actually "Arrakis") and naming the emperor Saddam (ok, ok, "Shaddam") wasn't enough.
posted by The World Famous at 1:29 PM on July 28, 2010


Is it just me, or is "inherited" a pretty loaded word in this context?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:32 PM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Indeed, most excellent post. Kudos to shii.
posted by blucevalo at 1:33 PM on July 28, 2010


a lot of the stuff in Dune suddenly has a real-world counterpart for me. neat.

Almost everything in Dune was based on the middle east and Arab culture.
posted by empath at 1:44 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you for an interesting yet depressing post.
posted by humanfont at 1:46 PM on July 28, 2010


Indeedd a fine post. However, there is a more complex view of the various places where the bedouin have lived and are living, as well as reasons for various planned migrations and bedouin allegiances. A quick tour of the bedouin, then, here.
posted by Postroad at 1:53 PM on July 28, 2010


[few comments already removed - there is a MeTa thread talking about this topic and worse threads on this topic. If you'd consider going there instead of threadshitting here, the folks who would like to talk about this subject would appreciate it.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:53 PM on July 28, 2010


I wish more people could make posts as thorough and as informative as this. Thank you. Here's my contribution: -
I am Jewish, was not born in a tent or into the Bedouin way of life. But camels are part of the Israeli landscape itself. Look at pictures of Israel 60 years ago, there were camels everywhere. They are as much a symbol of the land as the Star of David is of the state. And you don't strengthen one by weakening the other. Israeli filmmaker adopts camel race dream.
posted by adamvasco at 2:09 PM on July 28, 2010


The links say that the Bedouin 'were' nomadic a generation ago. I am very curious to what extent the Bedouin are actually nomadic now, and how much that contributed to the perception that they had homes elsewhere.
posted by norm at 2:11 PM on July 28, 2010


Nice save.
posted by briank at 2:26 PM on July 28, 2010


Israeli filmmaker adopts camel race dream.

I read that as "camel ice cream" and thought to myself, "I would eat that, but probably just the once."
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:28 PM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Certainly a quiet thread. Perhaps, just like a good meal, the silence that follows is the best measure of success?

I guess as long as there aren't any assholes at the table.
posted by atypicalguy at 2:29 PM on July 28, 2010


In a way, this reminds me of the American Southwest. A place that is beautiful in its own way, clearly some people want to live there the way it was, but then you've got other people who're all, like, "Omg, guys, we could totally make this just like living in Cleveland!"

At which point, okay, maybe you haven't actually bulldozed the houses of the people who used to live there, but you've certainly driven up property taxes and water costs and everybody's dying of allergies because you've imported all these plants that don't belong and there's no gorgeous desert view anymore, but some people still think it's better because this is what civilization is supposed to look like.

I agree with the guy about the camels. All of the attendant Middle East issues aside--not that they aren't important--the world without all these places, where everything has just been transformed into Cleveland, does not appeal to me at all.
posted by gracedissolved at 2:33 PM on July 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Look the Bedouin's should be thankful. If they were to find oil there they'd be a lot more fucked.
posted by geoff. at 2:41 PM on July 28, 2010


You can't turn a desert into Cleveland, the most you could really hope for is Palm Springs.
posted by longsleeves at 2:45 PM on July 28, 2010


Dear Gracedissolved:
Tell the descendants of the Comanches how they came to lose all they had and a once-proud plains indian, horse people as they were called, lost Comancheria, the huge totally unsettled area that they lived on as they moved from place to place, and hunted buffalo...It is not all Cleveland but a large part is called Texas now. History teaches us that one group often intrudes upon another and disperses or incorporates them. And then places alter, grow, get settled.
And now some experts on climate suggest that it is not going to be very long into the future that some 6 or mor million Mexicans are going to migrate to the US because it will be too hot to grow crops where they live. So, too, Africans will migrate to Europe...
all the world is Cleveland, finally.
posted by Postroad at 2:49 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll just never understand how Israel can commit these acts when the very same things were done to their very recent ancestors less than a century ago. Don't they remember what happened to the bad guys last time? Or are they using the American model in which millions were murdered, displaced and concentrated with absolutely no repercussions? Will the Bedouin get casinos 150 years from now?

(FSM please don't smite me for stating the terribly obvious.)
posted by snsranch at 4:10 PM on July 28, 2010


Or are they using the American model

I think you mean the model of virtually every nation on earth until the last 50 years. That doesn't make it right, but it does make it ubiquitous.
posted by Justinian at 4:26 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If not the Clevelandization of Negev, then perhaps the Palm-Springsification? Wherein water is recycled for golf courses, parks, medians and the high school. That's right, golf courses and IRRIGATED MEDIANS. In the desert.

You live in the desert because it's dry, not because it's empty and needs some shrubbing up.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:28 PM on July 28, 2010


This is an excellent post.

I'll just never understand how Israel can commit these acts when the very same things were done to their very recent ancestors less than a century ago.

Israel is no more a monolithic "them" than is the body politic of the United States. Global jewry even less so. How many American MeFites would enjoy the having the policies of the Bush II administration ascribed to them?

That said, as an American Jew I'll never understand how Israelis who support these policies can tolerate the cognitive dissonance of ghettoizing anyone, regardless of how one might differentiate or distinguish the living conditions or political frame of Gaza from Warsaw (for example.) The only settlements Israel should be building/funding in Gaza and the West Bank are new, modern settlements for Palestinians. Some of the other issues are murkier for me, but that's as clear as day.

Somewhat related:

NPR: New Hope for Iraq's Marsh Arabs -- [MP3 download]
Decimated Under Saddam, Ancient Culture Starts Over
After a decade of cultural annihilation, the marsh Arabs of southern Iraq are hoping a new government will restore their way of life. For more than 5,000 years these people maintained an ancient lifestyle in the vast marshlands. In little more than 10 years, Saddam Hussein managed to destroy most of their culture. NPR's Anne Garrels reports on the difficulties of rehabilitating the people and ecosystem.

Life on the Edge of the Marshes -- a brief ethnoarchaeological description of marsh villagers--with photos--from Expedition (1998 v.40.2)
Human Rights Watch report on Iraqi attacks on Marsh Arabs under Saddam

posted by snuffleupagus at 4:39 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aaaand here we go.

In an attempt to stave off what is probably entirely inevitable, let me say this: Palm Springs fucking sucks and I have no idea why anyone would ever want to live there.
posted by Aizkolari at 4:39 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's right, golf courses and IRRIGATED MEDIANS. In the desert.

You mean, Phoenix and every other city in that metroplex?

I fucking HATE golf courses in the desert. And giant water features at the entrance to every new scrape-it-down-and-build subdivision. Always makes me think of the palm trees that the Fremen complain about.
posted by hippybear at 4:42 PM on July 28, 2010


Almost everything in Dune was based on the middle east and Arab culture.

From the linked page:
In this article, I try to explain in detail where Frank Herbert got his name, concepts, and words from. This article is not meant to be a literary nor an exhaustive topical critique of the novels, which I am cannot fully do, because simply, I did not read the original novels. I have watched and enjoyed the movie and the mini-series, and read summaries of the novels.
Emphasis mine. Yes, the Middle East and its cultures were an influence, but not the only ones. By Frank Herbert's own words: "The scarce water of Dune is an exact analog of oil scarcity. CHOAM is OPEC. But that was only the beginning." (Google Docs viewer / original PDF) There is actually a wiki page on the religions of Dune, and in the sixth of the original Dune books (Chapterhouse: Dune, it is revealed that Jewish communities continue to exist, scattered across the galaxy. And the desert imagery was largely influenced by the efforts to control the dunes in Florence, Oregon (self-linking previous FPP).

... but I digress. Thanks for the detailed post, shii, lots for further reading.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:48 PM on July 28, 2010


I did not read the original novels.

I don't see how that's relevant. That page was just a convenient link to the vocabulary, which is almost all based on arabic or hebrew.
posted by empath at 5:06 PM on July 28, 2010




Fantastic post. Simply outstanding. Nice work, shii!
posted by zarq at 5:39 PM on July 28, 2010


Excellent. Flagged as fantastic.
posted by nevercalm at 5:42 PM on July 28, 2010


Chapterhouse: Dune, it is revealed that Jewish communities continue to exist, scattered across the galaxy

Hey, it's not like Chapterhouse: Dune is canon, right? right?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:46 PM on July 28, 2010


Israel is no more a monolithic "them" than is the body politic of the United States. Good point and duly noted, snuffleupagus.

On the other hand I can't find anything about Israelis protesting these actions. Are you saying that average citizens there are against these actions? Maybe I'm just not looking hard enough.
posted by snsranch at 6:13 PM on July 28, 2010


How many American MeFites would enjoy the having the policies of the Bush II administration ascribed to them?

I fought the Bush policies where I could, but I still accept collective guilt for them. Israelis must do the same for the governments they elect, and the actions those governments take in their name. That's democracy. The war criminals and terrorists who have led nearly every Israeli government didn't get there by coup, they were, every one, elected.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:30 PM on July 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I lived in Beersheva, the Negev's largest city, for a year while attending graduate school there.

When I came to Beersheva, it was from New York City - the cognitive dissonance was overwhelming. Beersheva is a city of 150,000 odd Israelis, most of whom are poor- or working-class. The ethnic mix was something I'd never seen outside of Queens or London... Russians, Ethiopians, Bedouins, Indians, Moroccans, Iraqis, Romanians and Argentinians all strewn together. Upon arriving there, the one thing that struck me was how there were honest-to-god sandstorms and stray dogs. Everywhere.

Inside the city itself, things were amusing. I lived in one of the reputed "worst neighborhoods in Israel," which also had virtually no street crime by American standards. Also, given how much we hear about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the States, I was surprised (but really shouldnt have been) that Bedouin Arabs and Israeli Jews live in the same exact neighborhoods. Beersheva also had very few American/Anglophone immigrants in comparison to richer cities like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. The one exception were the Black Israelites, who are African-American converts to Judaism who live in a compound near the nuclear plant in Dimona. I can't begin to explain how weird it was to be walking through Beersheva's main strip mall and to suddenly hear a mother yell after her kid in the thickest Chicago accent you've ever heard.

The university I attended had very few foreign students, but had world class facilities and a lively student body of both Jews and Arabs (both Bedouin and Israeli-Palestinians). Being a foreigner there was a novelty, but it forced me to pick up Hebrew and Arabic quickly. Also helped in making new friends. That was a good thing.

The larger region is weird. Nearby is the Bedouin city of Rahat, where Israel attempted to settle formerly nomadic Bedouins. There is massive unemployment, local services are wretched, but the residents were doing better with opening stores than half the small towns in Mexico I've been to. Then there are the "development towns" of Jews of mostly Middle Eastern origin like Yeroham and Mitzpeh Ramon where you walk around and feel like youre on Mars. Barely any tourists are in sight, except for all the adventure travelers who come to the Nabatean ruins and weird rock formations. Oh.. and Mitzpeh Ramon was full of Israeli Buddhist-leaning hippies doing their own version of Taos.

Goddamn I miss it already.
posted by huskerdont at 7:42 PM on July 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


On the other hand I can't find anything about Israelis protesting these actions. Are you saying that average citizens there are against these actions? Maybe I'm just not looking hard enough.

Apparently you're not. Why not just google israel and "peace movement?" Or, just see here. I'm frankly shocked that somebody would believe that Israelis are all supportive of their government's actions. In what countries does that actually happen? (Also... I can say this because I'm Jewish... seriously, you can't get Jews to agree about anything, so the idea that Jews in Israel are all monolithic in their politics is faintly ridiculous.)
posted by Wordwoman at 7:50 PM on July 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Snuffleupagus wrote: The only settlements Israel should be building/funding in Gaza and the West Bank are new, modern settlements for Palestinians.

This post is talking about the Negev, not the West Bank or Gaza. And it's talking about the displacement of Bedouins, who do not necessarily define themselves as Palestinian. And part of the problem is that Israel wants to relocate the Bedouin to "new, modern settlements" and the Bedouin aren't happy about it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:17 AM on July 29, 2010


The comment I was responding to seemed to go beyond the treatment of the Bedouin in the Negev, as the historical parallels are stronger when it comes to ghettoization of Jews in Europe and Palestinians today than the displacement of the Bedouin. Indeed, their situation is different and I was not equating the two.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:46 AM on July 29, 2010


I fought the Bush policies where I could, but I still accept collective guilt for them. Israelis must do the same for the governments they elect, and the actions those governments take in their name. That's democracy. The war criminals and terrorists who have led nearly every Israeli government didn't get there by coup, they were, every one, elected.
posted by Jimmy Havok

That's not what democracy means to me, nor is it a particularly useful ethical position as it dilutes the concept of responsibility. I most certainly do not accept "guilt" for the actions of GWB. To say I am "guilty" of what a criminally overreaching government does in abusing power in the same way I would be were I to club someone over the head and steal their wallet is nonsense--even moreso if I have vigorously opposed that government in elections and in power. The people who voted for GWB must bear responsibility for that, but even they are not personally "guilty" of, say, water boarding Iraqi prisoners.

There is certainly an obligation as a citizen to point out and oppose injustice perpetrated in one's name--and to actively support it's curtailment and redress-- but to me "collective guilt" is not a useful way of conceptualizing that duty, and those who offer dissent to government wrongdoing are not in the same ethical position as those who offer support.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:10 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


YouTube: "Live Video of Ethnic cleansing in the Israeli?? Negev."
posted by ericb at 3:37 PM on July 29, 2010


There is certainly an obligation as a citizen to point out and oppose injustice perpetrated in one's name--and to actively support it's curtailment and redress-- but to me "collective guilt" is not a useful way of conceptualizing that duty, and those who offer dissent to government wrongdoing are not in the same ethical position as those who offer support.

Exactly.
posted by zarq at 3:52 PM on July 29, 2010


to me "collective guilt" is not a useful way of conceptualizing that duty, and those who offer dissent to government wrongdoing are not in the same ethical position as those who offer support.

Redress must be made for the actions of the US government. Do you think that, because you didn't vote for that administration, you should be exempt from the taxes that will (or rather, should) be used to pay that redress?

I don't accept blame for the actions of the Bush administration, but as an American, I do accept guilt and the cost and effort to redress them.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:14 PM on July 29, 2010


ericb that video makes me want to write letters to Caterpillar and Volvo, as without them that building might still be standing.
posted by HLD at 6:25 PM on July 29, 2010


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