Approximately one third of the Negev’s Bedouin live in unauthorized villages. Recently Israel has embarked on a campaign to dismantle these villages, primarily by offering their residents incentives to relocate with the long-term goal of integrating them into Israeli society and the modern economy. But when the residents of Umm Hiran turned down offers to relocate to a nearby, legal Bedouin village, Israel forcibly dismantled the settlement, provoking outrage from Arab parliamentarians and demonstrations. Since then, tensions have grown even greater. Ariel Ben Solomon writes:
Will the relocation of Bedouin into modern towns succeed to the degree envisioned by the country’s ruling politicians? This objective will be hampered by the efforts of radical Arab nationalists and the Islamic Movement to infiltrate and coopt the Bedouin conflict as a tool against the state. For them, the Bedouin issue is just another front in the Israel-Palestinian struggle.
However, radical infiltrations aside, it should not be too difficult for the state to negotiate with the generally pragmatic and non-ideological Bedouin. They have not traditionally identified themselves as either ardent Palestinian nationalists or Islamists. . . .
While the government believes it will be able to enforce the law, Israel’s policy goals for the Negev need deeper thought. Is the state ready to continue evacuating illegal settlements one by one, with each possibly serving as another last stand by the Bedouin and their Arab political and international supporters? Beyond relocation, what is the goal of integrating the Bedouin into society? Integration programs have not had great success with the general Muslim Arab population, which continues to identify itself primarily as Palestinian or Muslim rather than Israeli. . . .
The violent resistance that occurred at Umm Hiran might be an example of what is to come, but Israel need not give in to fear. It should continue to enforce the law and negotiate with Bedouin families, yet remain realistic about the long-term success and idealistic goals of the endeavor.