Only In Israel

Friday, April 02, 2004

Navigations and Beduins

One of the things we do in the IDF is navigations. One gets a map, needs to create his own route, study it, and within a measured time, correctly go through the path you planned, collecting the points you were given by the commander. Usualy a single point is marked by a few graffitis sprayed on some rocks in the middle of nowhere.
There aren't a lot "middle of nowhere"'s in Israel though. So there are numerous territories where the army has its soldiers to practice navigations. Most of those empty areas are in the Negev, yet some are in northern Israel.
Now, you notice I said "empty". Well, it's not exactly correct.
So far I've navigated in two different territories, both in the northern Negev (yeah, near where I live). In case you don't know, among the population of the Negev, specifically in the northern bit of it, there are a lot of Beduins.
To those of you who don't know, the Beduins are nomadic, tribal folks. They've populated the area for thousands of years, they were here before palestinians, they were here at the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and it's most likely that the biblical Joseph was indeed sold to one such Beduin tribe. The Beduins are muslims, but they have different tradition than regular arabs. For one thing, their tradition forbids them to own land, which is the important part here. Now what happened to the Beduins this century is quite unique. They used to hang around the entire region. Moving along with their sheep and cattle, anywhere between Africa and Arabia. With the establishment of states in their area, they got shut down between borders. Each got stuck in another country. Most of them are in Israel, Egypt, Saudi and Jordan.
Beduins are largely loyal to Israel, unlike the Israeli Arabs, they also serve in the military (or atleast most of them). And one of the Israeli soldiers whose body was returned from lebanon, Omer Swaaed was a beduin from the Galilee. Beduins make good trackers, the myth says they can tell the age, height and weight of a woman by a footprint in the sand, and most of them are deployed along Israel's borders, fighting off infiltrators.
The problem with Beduins, is that in a certain stage in modern history they discovered the comodities of modern living. The government didn't like them travelling all around, so the attempt was made to form Beduin towns. Such towns like Rahat, Tel-Sheva and Segev Shalom were built by the government, and the houses in them were sold cheaply (almost free) to Beduins to make them settle in one place. Most secular Beduins or certain tribes among them took that deal, others chose to settle wherever they lived before, they just took land, wherever they liked and built houses on it, planted fields, and basicly permanently settled on land that isn't theirs. Those Beduin settlments began spreading throughout the Negev, and honestly, noone seems to care. I don't mind about the Beduins moving to permanent housing, on the contrary, I encourage that, but just taking land like that and moving there (atleast the Jewish settlers in the west bank had the decency to buy their land from arab farmers) can not be accepted in a lawful country, and it's bound to create problems in the future when towns begin expanding, and the land they sit upon now will be needed.
Going back to our navigations, those "empty" territories turned out to be gigantic beduin towns. with permanent stone houses, giant fields, lots of cattle, a few camels and hords of vicious dogs chasing soldiers. Now going 20 kilometers in the middle of the night surrounded by dogs should be enough, but the problem is, they expand so quickly they sometimes build over the coordinates we have to reach. So you might plan a nice path over the territory, only to discover there's a giant beduin house right on top the place you're supposed to find.
And it's not exactly the friendliest of the beduin tribes. The tribe which settles in the area we navigated in, isn't one that serves in the military, abides laws, and if such a thing exists, they could be described as "bad" beduins.
All in all it would be a scary situation if I wasn't armed. Which got me thinking on another aspect. It's amasing how safe one peice of metal makes me feel. I mean, thinking a year back, picturing myself in the middle of the night in the center of an unfriendly settlment in the desert would seem terrrifying, not anymore.
The navigations were quite good eventualy, other than a few dogs chasing me around, a cow that spook me out of my wits by appearing in the middle of my path without me seeing it, and an officer from a different course who has mistaken me for someone he was real mad at and ended up shouting at me for a few minutes before realising he got the wrong soldier. I got all the coordinates I needed to pick up, but the problem of illegal beduin villages must be solved for the sake of beduins and Israel. We need to give them some land to settle upon freely and forbid them to settle anywhere else without buying land. It's the only way bloodshed will be avoided in the future.


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