For the past several months a campaign has been under way in Israel and around the world, backed by an endless budget, aimed at aggravating the relationship between the State of Israel and the Bedouins. This campaign included the recent release of a propaganda film portraying the expulsion of Bedouins from their land.
The main star of the film is Theodore Bikel, who was recruited for this role mainly because of his past portrayal of Tevye the Milkman in Fiddler on the Roof. The film, in a propagandized play on words, is called Fiddler with no Roof, and that is nothing compared to the film’s content. The Bedouins are portrayed as the victims of the terrible expulsion decree that was issued against the Jews in the dark days of the anti-Semitic Tsarist regime, as described at the plot of Fiddler on the Roof. And a plot is just what it is. Difficult to believe, but the film was produced by Rabbis for Human Rights.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with this film, as usual, is Haaretz, which provides innumerable articles, all with the same angle, all presenting the same position, about the thieving and oppressing state, and about the expelled Bedouins. Freedom of debate and expression has never looked as neglected as it appears in this uniform, Bolshevist perspective of the newspaper for people who all think the same.
The debate over the proper procedure of the settlement of the Bedouins is an important debate. Some say that the Bedouins are nomads, that their entire claim to land ownership is fictitious, while others claim that the state should recognized their claims of ownership even if these are not consistent with recognized registration methods, from the Ottoman period, then the British, and now, of course, the Israeli.
For years the Israeli authorities have been struggling with this issue. On the one hand, the ownership claims have been rejected outright in legal proceedings. In some of the claims, the assertions of “ownership for hundreds of years” were exposed as fraudulent. Aerial photographs from the last century proved that “a settlement that had existed for centuries” had not even existed for a few decades.
Despite the legal determinations, the state decided on a generous arrangement. Every Bedouin family is entitled to a plot of land in one of the Bedouin towns built in the region where they live, and there are plans for the construction of many more towns. These arrangements attempt to approximate the Bedouin tradition and heritage as much as possible.
For this reason a plot of land in a Bedouin town is nearly one dunam (1/4 acre), which is much larger than the plots in other towns. On the other hand, this is an arrangement that is in line with accepted practices in modern countries, in which land ownership requires registration, and in which human habitations require infrastructure, running water, connection to the electricity grid and paved roads.
This is no simple matter. There is a clash between a nomadic tradition and a modern country. Israel is not the only country that, over the course of its establishment, has had to contend with the claims of population groups with different lifestyles. Australia had issues with its aborigines, in the U.S. it was the Native Americans, in Scandinavian countries it is still the Samis who complain about historical and current deprivation, and many other countries have gypsies.
The propaganda film does not present the tough dilemmas. The film makes life easy for itself. Israel is portrayed as the cruel anti-Semitic ruler, expelling and disinheriting and destroying and robbing, and the poor Bedouins stand helpless in the face of this abysmal cruelty. There is nothing like the expulsion of the Jews in Fiddler on the Roof to accentuate the tragedy, and to play on the most sensitive heartstrings of the world in general, and of Jews in the U.S. in particular. Here we have one more proof of what Israel is doing to its minorities. Here is one more proof of apartheid, racism, and other accusations from the familiar list.
There is, of course, just one problem with the plot of this film. It never happened.
Let’s take, for example, the repetitive chorus of the past few weeks, which sounds like this: “The Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran is slated to be turned into Hiran, a community for Jews only, via the disinheriting and transfer of the Bedouins, in accordance with the racist policy of the State of Israel.” This is also a summary of the claims in a series of articles in Haaretz.
After setting sail on the sea of lies, it’s worth returning to the solid ground of facts. First, the Bedouin members of the Al-Qian tribe, who are the focus of the current fuss, were transferred to the Yatir region of the Negev decades ago, of their own volition and at their request, due to a dispute with another tribe.
Second, when Hiran was being planned, a little over a decade ago, there were only a few Bedouins there, if any. The move to Umm al-Hiran occurred mainly in the wake of the plans for the new town. Aerial photographs prove this.
Third, only a small part of the master plan for Hiran is on the land occupied by the new squatters.
Fourth, adjacent to the Al-Qian compound, the state built Hura, a proper Bedouin village, with paved roads, electricity and water infrastructure and more.
Fifth, every family in the tribe is entitled to receive nearly a dunam of land. Even a bachelor over 24 is entitled to a plot of land, in preparation for future generations.
Sixth, in addition to the free land, with free infrastructure development, each family also receives monetary compensation for the previous, illegally built house where it lived.
Seventh, and here we’re in for a surprise, most of the tribe – 3,000 of the 4,000 members – actually felt this was a fair arrangement, and they indeed moved to Hura.
Eighth, Hiran is not designated only for religious Jews, and also not only for Jews. Any Bedouin who wishes to buy land there is invited to do so and is entitled to do so. Of course, that would cost money. In Meitar, for example, Bedouins from the surrounding area decided to buy plots of land. No one stopped them.
How is it possible to produce a film that completely ignores the background, the benefits granted to the Bedouins, the legal rulings, etc.? In response, Rabbis for Human Rights claimed that the court rulings are inapplicable and that even courts make mistakes – the Bedouins receive state compensation for only some of their lands, the transfer was executed under coercion, and even those who chose to move to a community like Hura did so out of lack of choice. The rabbis continue to claim that Hiran is designated for religious Jews, and that Bedouins will not live there. The detailed response can be found in the undersigned blog.
The rabbis and the journalists and the activists have the right to present the problems with the arrangement. They have the right to claim that the Bedouins have greater entitlements, and that any place where a camel walked, or where a Bedouin pitched his tent for the night – is his and his descendants’ forever. Criticism of government proposals, such as the Praver Plan that was drafted following the report by the commission headed by retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg, is legitimate. There are arguments that are worth voicing. Maybe there should be a better solution.
This campaign, however, is not criticism, but rather deception, disregard for the basic facts and incitement against the state. The campaign that is spreading like wildfire all over the world portrays the racist anti-Semitic style expulsion being perpetrated by Israel. Even the well-known self-righteous Norman Finkelstein has joined the fray, completely caught up in the excitement over Bikel’s heart-wrenching words. Finkelstein never misses an opportunity to goad Israel.
“This film clip is not, perish the thought, intended to compare Israel to Tsarist Russia,” write the rabbis on the web page accompanying the film. This appeared only in Hebrew. Following Yedioth Ahronoth journalist Nahum Barnea’s criticism of this outrageous comparison, Rabbis for Human Rights issued an press release that, “in certain respects, the Praver expulsion is worse than the expulsion of the Jews to the Pale of Settlement,” and we, they say “are concerned about Israel’s image.”
The concern is highly illustrated in the film. In its English version, the film leaves little room for doubt. Someone on the production team is a skilled propaganda artist. The film depicts a Bedouin receiving an expulsion notice. He refuses to leave. Suddenly two threatening helicopters appear overhead. Who knows, perhaps they are carrying bombs. Everything is insinuated. After all, no one claimed they were bomber helicopters. They simply appear in the sky.
An excellent, manipulative trick to promote the hate campaign and the exploitative state. At that stage the demolition bulldozers appear, and interspersed with them, as expected, photos of exiled Jews trudging to their bitter fate. As if the context were not clear, Bikel ends the film with a monologue that leaves no doubts: “What hurts even more is the fact that the very people who are telling the Bedouins to get out are the descendants of the people of Anatevka.”
A viewer unfamiliar with the facts is left full of anger and ill will. A masterful work of atrocious propaganda. Israel is not a civilized state. Israel is a monster.
In the background a campaign has being going on for a long time, crafted by Haaretz. There have been a lot of baseless claims, but I will make do with just two that were published this week. Oudeh Basharat claimed that Israel was robbing the Bedouins of land in Umm al-Hiran, and immediately called this apartheid. One day later, Prof. Eyal Gross claimed that Bedouins were being evicted from their homes in order to build a Jewish town. When a lie is repeated a thousand times, it becomes fact.
The words transfer and apartheid appeared in the campaign, in order to finger the culprit. This, of course, is the Zionist enterprise. This is what it did in 1948. This is what it is doing in the territories. This is what it is doing to the Bedouins. This is how incitement is created. This is how demonization is done. Haaretz readers have no inkling that Bedouin began to live in Umm al-Hiran only after the initiative to establish Hiran. Is it unreasonable to demand that a law professor know the facts before writing a report?
A fair arrangement for the Bedouins is no simple matter. One thing certain is that the path the state has chosen is not expulsion, disinheriting or transfer, but rather a generous offer that has cost and will cost the state hundreds of millions of shekels, and provides the Bedouins with tremendous benefits. This is discriminating against the Jews and affirmative action favoring the Bedouins. No Jew is entitled to receive free land in a Bedouin community, nor to buy land that is offered to Bedouins at reduced prices, when that possibility exists. A Bedouin, on the other hand, can choose between a Bedouin community and a Jewish community. If he wants to live in Hura, there is land with infrastructure waiting for him, at no charge. If he wants to live in Hiran, he may do so, under the same conditions as a Jew, Armenian or Buddhist.
When “rights groups” and Haaretz automatically side with the Bedouins who oppose the arrangement, rather than with those who support it, the arrangement is doomed to failure. Just like the “forces of progress” in the world, who fan the flames of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign and the fantasy of the Arab Right of Return. This is no way to reach an arrangement, and only bolsters the objectors. This perpetuates the suffering and the conflict and the bloodshed. What the “progressives” are doing for the Palestinians, the “rights activists” are now doing for the Bedouins.
Truth be told, it is doubtful if there is a population anywhere in the world with similar characteristics, native or nomadic, that has been awarded such a generous settlement. But the propaganda film has managed to reverse this picture, such that matters must be returned to the proper perspective. It’s not that Jews are doing to the Bedouins what anti-Semites did to the Jews. Just the opposite. It is the “rights groups” and Rabbis for Human Rights, and it’s Haaretz that are continuing the old, despised tradition of libels. In the past it was against the Jews. Now it’s against the State of Israel.