Last month I visited Hajj al-Ahmed, 61, in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert. Under Israel’s new plan for developing the Negev, this small village is to be removed and its people relocated to a reservation-like city. And a community of Jewish Israeli settlers is poised to take over the sheikh’s village, as Max Blumenthal and Allison Deger have reported here before.
Hajj al-Ahmed told us that the Israelis had relocated his village several times since 1948, under the auspices of the Jewish National Fund, which was planting forests. At last his family came to al-Hiran in 1965. Since then the Bedouins had been promised many improvements, such as good roads and water. But the roads and water had never come. Instead they were provided to nearby Jewish communities.
And now the Bedouins of al-Hiran are being told that they will be uprooted again because their village is unrecognized.
Here are two video conversations I had with the sheikh. In the first one, above, I ask him what he thinks of Zionism, and he says that I wouldn’t want to hear his answer then says he regards it as a mosquito.
“You Americans are the people who actually have control here, you and the Congress make decisions that create this situation,” he says, with Irene Nasser’s translation.
Then he asks me, “Is there a democratic state in Israel?” and proceeds to answer:
“Show me the democracy in Israel. I was here before Israel was here and now they are talking about devleoping the Negev. ‘We did all of this for the Negev.’ Show me what they did: what roads did they build? Equality doesn’t exist. The people are supposed to be equal.’
He also speaks of the Bedouin contribution to the city of Beersheba. If the Bedouins didn’t go to Beersheba, the whole city would collapse.
In the second video, I ask Hajj Ahmed about the statement I’ve often heard, that Israel made the desert bloom. Hajj Ahmed says the statement is preposterous, if you just look around. And he cites the situation of the Bedouin.
They haven’t done anything in the Negev. Even the ceiling that is above us, it’s illegal. I’m not allowed to have it. Not allowed to plant any trees. We’re not allowed to do anything.
So with those constraints on Bedouin residents, how is the desert blooming?