Monday, January 17, 2005

Planting with Bedouin in Israel

On Saturday Bill Baldwin, a retired Anglican priest from Ottawa now with CPT in Hebron, and I helped to plant olive trees, this time in Israel, not Palestine.

We travelled from Jerusalem in a hired coach with Israelis and a handful of other “internationals” to the Bedouin village of Al-Sidr in the Negev Desert, not far from the Dimona nuclear station and right next to the Nevatim air base. The Israeli air force had moved there in 1983 after the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt. The base stood on Bedouin land, but the Bedouin were permitted to build close to the fence surrounding the base.

The Bedouin village remains officially “unrecognized” by the authorities. This means that the Israeli government does not provide mains water, electricity or sanitary services. About forty other Bedouin villages in the Negev desert are in the same predicament. Without electricity, children have to do their homework by candlelight in the winter. The Bedouin are Israel’s forgotten citizens.

Last June the Israeli authorities issued “warnings before demolition” for every house in Al-Sidr, presumably to extend the air base. No alternative accommodation was offered. This stands in sharp contrast to the treatment of another group of Israeli citizens – the settlers in the Gaza Strip who have been offered generous compensation and alternative sites for the settlements they are to evacuate.

Not for the first time in Israel, military requirements are taking precedence over human needs. So Bill and I were glad to join the coach-loads from various parts of Israel, converging to plant olive saplings in Al-Sidr and to help draw international attention to the fate of the village. The fence of the air base is in the background of the attached photograph.

For me there was one disappointment. The shortest road from Al-Sidr back to Jerusalem passes close to Hebron. How convenient! But no: Israeli civilians are not generally allowed to enter the occupied West Bank. Our coach was diverted to avoid crossing the Green Line separating Israel from Palestine. Look at the map. Trace the journey from the Negev to Hebron via Jerusalem and you will understand my exasperation.

Planting in Negev Posted by Hello

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