The aim of the riots against tree-planting in the Negev? The dissolution of Israel

Israel must continue its tree-planting program exactly as planned. Otherwise, it will not be sovereign in the Negev or anywhere else.

Bedouin riot over tree-planting by the Jewish National Fund outside the village of al-Atrash in the Negev Desert on Jan. 13, 2022. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Bedouin riot over tree-planting by the Jewish National Fund outside the village of al-Atrash in the Negev Desert on Jan. 13, 2022. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Mordechai Kedar
Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and is an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

The emerging Bedouin intifada that is taking place in the Negev proves once again that violence and terrorism are not the results of marginalization, illiteracy and poverty, but stem from a new hope that is emerging and increasing, and violence is the only means to bring that hope to fruition.

This violent protest is not the result of planting trees by the Jewish National Fund. The JNF has been planting trees in the Negev for many years, and it never sparked such opposition from the Bedouin.

The reason is simple: The Bedouin living in these unplanned settlements know very well that the land on which they live is not their property, but the property of the state.

The Bedouins have tried for years to get legal recognition of land ownership, but have failed repeatedly in all their court cases, because the state lands in the Negev (except for the legally established towns) did not undergo an official division and registration, and therefore no one can legally purchase, register or prove ownership.

What, then, is driving the Bedouin to the current intifada? Hope.

In the past two years, Israel’s political system has been in a deep crisis. It is projecting weakness because the Jewish majority in Israel cannot agree to sit together and form a coalition that will preserve the power of the Jewish majority.

The split on the right illustrates to Arabs in general and the Bedouin in particular, the weakness of the main players in the political arena. Netanyahu and Bennett, in turn, tried to seek help from the Islamic movement, a movement whose ideology claims that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state.

For the past two years, many in the Arab sector have been living in hope that the conflicts between the Jews will continue to intensify and that the Jewish state will continue to deteriorate, lose its way, its power and its survivability.  Thus, its weakening may—inshallah—nullify the “Aggression of 1948” as they describe the establishment of Israel.

These same Arabs do not express this hope in words but in deeds:

1. The bloody jihad, riots and acts of arson that swept through Lod, Ramla, Acre, Jaffa and Jerusalem in May 2021, without police intervention and without the vast majority of rioters being prosecuted.

2. Carrying out the Arabs’ demand from the police to confiscate weapons from Jews in the cities involved.

3. Accumulation of huge quantities of weapons throughout the Arab sector.

4. The demand for tens of billions of shekels in budgets that the Ra’am Party received.

5. Success in blocking the Citizenship Law that restricts the importing of women from the Palestinian Authority and more.

The “Electricity Law” enacted two weeks ago is perceived in the Bedouin sector not only as legislation that would require the Israel Electricity Company to supply electricity to houses built without a permit, but as a bill that implicitly constitutes state recognition of two important things: the Bedouins’ right to build houses on territories that they have illegally taken over, and the recognition of their ownership of Negev state lands.

The Bedouins believe that by connecting their illegal houses to electricity, they gain the ownership status to the vast areas that they have stolen from the state, and now all they have to do is increase the rate of illegal construction on state lands, so that every Bedouin child will own dozens, if not hundreds, of acres. They hope that this will legalize their claim to this land.

And now, after the Bedouins’ hopes of ownership of every area in the Negev that they have taken over in the past, and will take over in the future, have materialized, the state dares to plant trees on “their” (!) lands. Hence the Bedouin violence that we have seen in recent days.

The ability of their party, Ra’am, to influence government decisions and promote laws contrary to the interest of the Jewish majority, such as the “Electricity Law” with all its ramifications, increases their hope that the state will soon be forced to recognize their status as legal homeowners in all areas in the Negev that they have taken over and that they plan to take over.

What the state must do speedily is to nip this hope in the bud. The only way to eliminate it is by quick and decisive action by the state that will make it clear to the Bedouin who is boss here. The operation must include a number of components:

  • Immediate planting in all areas scheduled for planting today and in the future.
  • Destruction of all the houses built on state land without a permit within a mile around any group of trees that will be planted.
  • Administrative detention for all the Bedouin agitators and their cronies from the northern faction of the Islamic Movement, the Bnei Kfar movement and any other organization involved in what is happening in the south.

At the same time, the state must make it unequivocally clear to the Bedouin living in the vicinity of the Beersheva-Arad road that every electricity pole that is taken down on this road will result in the demolition of 10 illegal houses (and there is not a single legal house) near the fallen post. In this way, the state will ensure that those who guard the pillars will be those who live there illegally.

The state must regain its deterrence in order to eliminate the hope that fuels the uprising. If, as a result, Ra’am withdraws from the coalition, the Likud, ultra-Orthodox and religious-Zionist parties must enter the government immediately to save an unnecessary election campaign. Then, if Meretz, Labor and Ra’am leave the coalition, it won’t matter.

Only a broad and stable right-wing coalition (one that ignores, at last, personal matters related to Netanyahu, Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and Gideon Sa’ar) will be able to return ownership of the state and its land to the Jewish majority in Israel and return lawful governance to the Negev.

At the same time, the state must make it very clear to the Bedouin that:

1. You cannot continue to live by two sets of rules—the Bedouins’ and the state’s.

2. You cannot continue to build as you please on land that is not yours, while violating the state’s Planning and Building Act.

3. You cannot marry two, three and four wives while violating the state’s Prohibition of Polygamy Act.

4. You cannot continue to live by smuggling, car theft and protection money, and at the same time receive Social Security as law-abiding citizens.

If you want to enjoy the benefits of the country—education, health and welfare—you must abandon the Bedouin lifestyle with all its criminal characteristics, and adopt a modern lifestyle where you live solely on land you bought; marry only one wife; and work in a respectful and honorable job.

The state will no longer tolerate the situation you have created in the Negev, where you live in a system of norms practiced in the desert while the modern state finances your primitive way of life. You have to decide. If you choose to live in the desert, you can forget about social security and continue to live in tents, because you will not be allowed to build anything more permanent.

Such speech is contrary to the rules of political correctness, but in a crisis situation, the state has no choice but to be determined, clear and decisive. It is time to resolve, once and for all, the problem called “desert culture” that threatens the integrity and character of the State of Israel, since a Bedouin uprising could lead the instigators of the struggle to ignite rioting in the north and the triangle, as well.

If Israel succumbs to Bedouin demands, it will continue to raise their hopes of annihilation of the state. Israel must continue the tree-planting in the Negev. Otherwise, it will not exist there or anywhere else.

Mordechai Kedar is an Israeli scholar of Arab culture, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the vice president of NEWSRAEL, where this article first appeared.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates