The forgotten plight of the Bedouin in Israel

As the media focus on the release of the alleged Israeli-US spy Ilan Grapel, Israel's treatment of t

Israel's discriminatory policies based on race and religious affiliation are well documented. In 2008, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, then president of the UN general assembly, said that the state's actions on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip resembled "the apartheid of an earlier era". Aware that he was risking censure, he added: "We must not be afraid to call something what it is." Others, from the South African international law scholar John Dugard to Desmond Tutu, have echoed his sentiment.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's unease at the prospect of "different elements . . . demand[ing] national rights" within the country was made explicit in a government meeting regarding amendments to citizenship laws on 25 July 2010. His solution seems to have been to attempt to ensure "a Jewish majority" in all regions possible -- forcefully, if need be, and regardless of the protections supposedly guaranteed by the state to its people.

Two days after the meeting, Israeli security forces stormed the Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the southern desert of Negev, under cover of night, destroying all the houses and animal pens built there. The demolition of these homes displaced more than 300 people, half of whom were children under the age of 16. Since then, the villagers, who claim to possess deeds to the land proving ownership since 1906, have rebuilt their community at least 17 times; and the Israeli army, working in all but name for the controversial Jewish National Fund, has responded repeatedly with demolition. The plight of the families of al-Araqib is far from unique.

The Bedouin have lived in the Negev for thousands of years. They are its oldest inhabitants. Though some 90 per cent of Palestinians were deported from the region during the mass expulsions of 1948 -- Israel claimed falsely at the time that it was unoccupied -- approximately 200,000 Bedouin still live there today. Few of their villages are recognised by the state, which consistently ignores Arthur James Balfour's promise in 1917 to enshrine "the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" -- a promise that helped pave the way for the foundation of the Israeli state.

Citing the unofficial status of most Bedouin villages, the government refuses to connect them to basic infrastructure, such as water, electricity and sewage treatment. It is instructive to contrast this with Israel's willingness to supply such essentials to settlers' farms that lack proper planning permits. The High Steering Committee of the Arabs of the Negev views the state's current strategy of relocating 30,000 Bedouin against their will to approved townships as a form of ethnic cleansing; trees have been prioritised over the land's historical owners as its rightful occupants, as a part of some Israeli extremists' bid to rebrand themselves as "green Zionists".

The casually racist treatment of the Bedouin as a people undeserving of basic human rights should not be forgotten in the excitement surrounding Egypt's exchange of the alleged Israeli-US spy Ilan Grapel for 25 Bedouins imprisoned by Israel. These prisoners, of Egyptian origin, are believed to be smugglers, asylum-seekers and those who entered Israel looking for work. Three of them are children, who reportedly crossed the border merely to sell cigarettes. Little more is known about them and, as in the coverage of Gilad Shalit's release, the focus of the media seems squarely on the Israeli captive. Netanyahu's government denies the charges facing Grapel and has accused Egypt of "bizarre behaviour". Equally bizarre, if not more so, is Israel's own careless attitude to the Middle East's "different elements".

Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

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Q&A: What happened at Barnet's polling stations this morning?

Eager democrats who arrived early in the morning to vote in the London elections were turned away. 

What’s going on?

When polls first opened at Barnet’s 155 polling stations at 7 this morning, many registered voters found that they were not on the station’s voting lists, meaning they were unable to cast their vote. Many reports suggested that the overwhelming majority were turned away. Rules were later relaxed in some, but not all, polling stations to allow those who arrived with their polling cards (which explicitly state they are not needed to cast a vote) to vote.

Why is this happening?

It is, needless to say, unclear. But some reports have suggested that polling station staff only had the updates to the electoral register (that is, those who have newly-registered) rather than the entire register itself. Which makes you wonder why nobody realised before 7am that there might be rather more people wanting to vote in Barnet than the lists suggested.

Is this a conspiracy?

No, of course it’s not. And if you think it is, take the tinfoil hat off and stop watching Russia Today. Barnet is a Tory-led council. If this mess harms any party it is likely to be the Conservatives. We don’t know how Barnet voted for mayor in 2012, but we do know the votes of Barnet plus predominantly Labour-supporting Camden: Boris Johnson got 82,839 first preference votes while Ken Livingstone received 58,354. But remember London’s not just electing a mayor today. It is also electing the members of the Greater London Assembly – and one of them represents the constituency of Barnet and Camden. The incumbent, Andrew Dismore, is from the Labour Party, and is running for reelection. He won fairly comfortably in 2012, far outperforming Ken Livingstone. But Tory campaigners have been talking up the possibility of defeating Dismore, especially in recent days after Labour’s anti-semitism ructions (Barnet has London’s largest Jewish population). Again, if there are voters who failed to vote this morning and cannot to do so later, then that will hurt the Conservatives and help Dismore.

Is it the fault of nasty outsourcers?

Seemingly not. As we’ve written before, Barnet Council is famous for outsourcing vast proportions of its services to private contractors – births and deaths in the borough are now registered elsewhere, for example. But though postal votes and other areas of electoral administration have been outsourced by Barnet, voter registration is performed in-house. This one’s on the council and nobody else.

What has Barnet done about it?

The council initially issued a statement saying that it was “aware of problems with our voter registration lists” and admitting that “a number of people who had not brought their polling card with them were unable to vote”. Which was a bit peculiar given the polling cards say that you don’t need to bring them to vote and there were plenty of reports of people who had polling cards also being denied their democratic rights.

As of 10.40am, the council said that: “All the updated electoral registers are now in place and people can vote as normal.” There appear to be no plans to extend voting hours – and it is not possible to reopen polling tomorrow morning for the frustrated early birds to return.

What does this mean for the result?

It’s very hard to form even a vaguely accurate picture of how many voters who would otherwise have voted will not vote because of this error. But if the margin of victory in the mayoral election or the relevant GLA contest is especially slim, expect calls for a re-run. Frustrated voters could in theory achieve that via the arcane procedure of an election petition, which would then be heard by a special election court, as when Lutfur Rahman’s election as Mayor of Tower Hamlets was declared void in April 2015.

Some have suggested that this may delay the eventual result, but remember that counting for the London elections was not due to begin until Friday morning anyway.

Is there a dodgier barnet than this Barnet?

Yes.

 

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.