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Bedouin Resettlement Causes Frustration and Despair

July 11, 1991

ABU KAF, Israel (AP) _ Salaman Abu Kaf sat on the floor of his two-room shack, legs crossed, and shook his head as an army jeep drove uninvited through his small olive grove.

Nearby was the bulldozed ruin of his son Ibrahim’s house, which was built illegally.

Ibrahim spent two months in prison for refusing to demolish the house. He, his wife and four children now share Salaman’s two rooms.

Their 2,500-member Abu Kaf tribe is supposed to be moved to a government- sponsored town that will provide water, electricity, sewage and social services.

The tribesmen refuse to abandon land they have occupied for generations in the Negev Desert, however, and want a rural village instead. Israel says the chronic water shortage makes that impossible, and offers greenhouses in the government town.

It is a dilemma confronting every urban developer: how to give a rural populace the modern services it demands, yet avoid disrupting the social fabric.

This case also has political overtones because the Bedouins are Arabs and, while loyal to Israel, are not immune to the Palestinian uprising in the neighboring occupied lands.

″A bigger and bigger part of the Bedouin population sees itself as ... part of the Palestinian public,″ said Haim Oron, a left-wing legislator who monitors the situation.

″Bedouins have been living here - my father, his father and his father’s father - for more than 250 years,″ Salaman said. ″Israel has been here for only 40 years. ... We say we are friends, then the Israelis come and start telling us what to do.″

Dr. Alexander Bligh, the government’s adviser on Arab affairs, agrees the resettlement program creates resentment, but says the Bedouins cannot have it both ways.

″They are speaking about not getting government services, health and education,″ he said. ″We can provide these services only in permanent settlements.″

To make the Bedouins move to town, Israeli authorities have begun razing tents and shacks they say were built illegally. Twelve houses in Abu Kaf were torn down last year.

Almost half the 80,000 Negev Bedouins have been moved into five government towns since 1967 and two more towns are being built.

Clinton Bailey, an Israeli who has compiled the first anthology of Bedouin poetry, says the government should have consulted the tribes before lumping different clans together in towns.

″The Bedouins have the very strong problem of not being socially and psychologically ready to live in close quarters with people from other tribes and, in some cases, clans,″ he said.

An Abu Kaf resident who would not give his name said: ″The framework of our society is completely different. The towns will ruin it and have ruined it.″

Bedouins claim 250,000 acres of the Negev, and some hold ownership documents. Oron, the legislator, said members of the Abu Kaf tribe will not move to the town until they have been compensated for the land.

Many Bedouins are homeless because of similar attitudes and a high birth rate. Some families who agreed to move lost their homes before being given government plots.

Young Bedouins have to postpone marriage until they can provide homes and the frustration often sends them into the street, stoning Israeli cars.

″The government has made a mistake,″ Salaman said. ″It is not right this way. There are people who don’t want a Jewish government; they are not happy.

″Jews and Arabs were friends, now they do this.″

He pointed at his belly and added: ″They have put a war inside, in the gut.″

Dr. Yunis Abu Rabiya, the first Bedouin to graduate from Israeli medical school, said: ″We will not agree to any plan unless we are part of it. The problem of property has yet to be solved, and a solution has to be found for the sheep and goats.″

Bligh meets regularly with Bedouin representatives at his Jerusalem office and has worked out a compromise proposal that would cost the government about $200 million.

It includes special mortgages for building modern homes and an arrangement under which Bedouins would trade their land for a few irrigated acres in a government town.

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