JERUSALEM: In the weeks leading up to his Arab party’s entry into Israel’s history by joining the ruling coalition, Saeed Alkhrumi said his relatives and neighbors were told their homes would be demolished.
It was a vivid illustration of the challenge ahead for the Joint List, a small Islamist party that played a key role in forming Israel’s fragile new government and now hopes to secure gains for the Arab minority, including the Arab minority. impoverished Bedouin community in the south.
Alkhrumi, 49, is from the Bedouin heartland of the Negev Desert, where tens of thousands live in unrecognized villages that are largely cut off from basic services and where houses and other structures have been built. without legal authorization, which puts them at risk of demolition by the Israeli authorities.
In recent years, Israel has sought to relocate Bedouins to established cities, claiming this would allow the state to provide modern services and improve their quality of life. Bedouins see these efforts as a way to uproot them from their ancestral lands, disrupt their traditional way of life, and confine them to impoverished and crime-ridden communities.
Israeli plans to establish new communities welcoming Jews on the lands from which the Bedouins are evicted have led to many fears that Israel will repeat its settlement activities in the occupied territories, with the aim of displacing the Bedouins and changing the demography of the region.
Alkhrumi spent years negotiating with the government to recognize some of the Bedouin villages, but says such efforts were repeatedly hampered during the 12-year reign of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when right-wing parties dominated the state and its bureaucracy.
The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, an advocacy group that closely follows demolitions, says they fell from 697 in 2013 to 2,586 last year, when the country faced the coronavirus pandemic.
“When Netanyahu came to power, he increased the number of demolitions tenfold,” Alkhrumi said. “Only a country at war would demolish as many houses as there are in the Negev.”
He says his own relatives received demolition orders in the weeks leading up to Parliament’s approval of the new government and swearing-in on June 13. vote.
Alkhrumi says the new government is on track to finally recognize eight villages, which would eliminate the threat of demolition and give them access to services.
“The far right realized that these eight villages would be recognized, or maybe even more, that there would be progress and solutions for the people, and they did not want it,” he said. . “They issued hundreds of demolition orders in two weeks and they launched a media campaign against me.
Now that the UAL has made history by becoming the first Arab party to join a governing coalition, Alkhrumi hopes to continue negotiations and work with other parties to improve conditions in the south.
“I want the Arab Bedouin of the Negev to choose their way of life,” he said. “Those who want to live a traditional agricultural life as Bedouin should be given the opportunity to do so on their own land. What is the problem?”
Regavim, a right-wing group that describes itself as committed to a “Zionist vision,” says Bedouin cannot expect the government to provide services to “illegal squatter camps” established without any central planning.
“The State of Israel wants to give them all the advantages of living in a modern Western society. The only way to do it is to bring people together in one way or another, ”said Naomi Kahn, head of the group’s international division. “You cannot both expect the state to provide you with all the services it provides and refuse to obey one of the state’s rules. “
The UAL also hopes to use its political influence to help Israel’s non-Bedouin Arab minority, securing larger budgets for housing, infrastructure and law enforcement, and resisting or overturning discriminatory legislation.
The Arab community, including the Bedouin, makes up 20 percent of Israel’s population. They have citizenship, including the right to vote, but face widespread discrimination. They have close family ties to the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, and largely identify with their cause, which leads many Israelis to view them with suspicion.
Alkhrumi has no illusions about the challenge facing his party. The coalition includes eight parties from all political backgrounds. Three right-wing parties have joined in desperation to oust Netanyahu and avoid another election after four votes in less than two years.
“It’s an experience,” Alkhrumi said. “Can we influence the government to benefit our society and exploit the political conditions that exist, or should we keep it to ourselves.” The easiest way is to stand back and say I won’t get involved.
Then we have an election, and maybe the right comes back and we have Netanyahu again. “