Galilee Diary #510, September 29, 2010 Marc Rosenstein
Picturesque Arabs sat upon the ground... Here was a grand Oriental picture which I had worshiped a thousand times in soft, rich steel engravings! But in the engraving there was no desolation; no dirt; no rags; no fleas; ...no sore eyes; no feasting flies; ... no raw places on the donkeys' backs;... no stench of camels;...Oriental scenes look best in steel engravings. -Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, page 270
For twenty years, whenever we took our Shabbat walk along the dirt road around the outskirts of Shorashim, I had noticed that on the mountainside across the Hilazon Valley to the east, there was a cluster of beige houses with red roofs on top of the ridge (the Jewish community of Eshchar) and below it on the face, a jumble of darker colors (the Bedouin village of Arab el Naim). I had never seen Arab el Naim close up, until our Hebrew-Arabic website www.dugrinet.co.il recently sponsored a Friday morning visit, and I signed up. We were shown around by Fahim, a retiree from the career army who now works as a security guard on nearby Jewish communities, and is active in the village council. Like all the other 1,200 residents of the village, his last name is Naim. The village consists mainly of corrugated sheet metal houses interspersed with pens for goats and sheep. A water line was brought in a few years ago. The village is not hooked up to the sewage grid, and the story of its electric power is quite interesting: One of Fahim's children needed a liver transplant. This was paid for by the health care system. However, the doctors told him that after release from the hospital, his son would require medication that would need refrigeration. But the village was off the grid; even though it was "recognized" a decade ago as a legal settlement, it does not yet have an approved master plan, which means no one can get a building permit (which is why all the houses are temporary), which means that the electric company won't approve a hook-up. However, Fahim used "protektzia" (connections) based on his long service in the Israeli army, and the minister of infrastructure ordered a personal connection to his home. Now, the entire village operates refrigerators, lights and televisions by means of extension cords to Fahim's house, and they all share in paying his bill.
The situation of the Bedouins in Israel (who are about 20% of the Israeli Arab population) is complicated and difficult; the Bedouins of the Negev (where they are 25% of the total population) are frequently referred to as a "ticking time bomb." In court cases regarding land rights and ownership claims the diaries of 19th century Christian pilgrims (like Mark Twain) are adduced as evidence as to where Bedouin camps did or didn't exist before Zionist immigration. To legalize all the dozens of unrecognized villages is seen by some as a capitulation to squatters; while the attempt forcibly to urbanize the Bedouins has resulted in festering centers of unemployment and social dysfunction. Here in the Galilee the situation is better: while there remain communities like Arab el Naim that are struggling to modernize (and to cope with the zoning bureaucracy), many villages have made the transition to a more civilized life-style (modern houses, all the conveniences) without giving up their cultural identity.
Just as Israel was bulldozing an unrecognized Bedouin community in the Negev last week, France was loading Roma on planes and tearing down their camps. The conflict between modern states and pre-modern indigenous or nomadic peoples is not exactly unique to Israel (maybe we should suggest the Bedouins open casinos...). However, perhaps it is more acute here because the Bedouins are, after all, Arabs, and we have a fraught relationship with Arabs in general. In any case, regardless of who is at fault (and I suspect many are at fault, including, in some way, me), it does not make me proud to know that the view from lovely, middle-class Shorashim includes a shanty town that would fit nicely (except, I suppose, for the liver transplant...) in any third world landscape.