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The bad feelings in Beit Ja'an pale alongside the legacy of hostility spawned by the NRA's Green Patrol in its dealings with Israel's Bedouin community. Here, the quest for nature preservation came into direct con-flict with indigenous culture and claims to land ownership. A cursory

review of Bedouin history in Israel suggests that, as in most of the serious dilemmas in conservation, there is no right or wrong party.

When the Roman Byzantine government in the Holy Land collapsed in the seventh century, Palestine's deserts—or badia in Arabic—became the domain of the Bedouin.[85] They were divided into seven tribes or confeder-ations of tribes, spread across the southern half of what is now Israel, all of Jordan, and the Sinai. The Turks had a post office in Gaza until 1900 when it moved to Beer Sheva. For the most part, however, until 1948 the Bedouin of the Negev were on their own and wandered freely.

Each tribe was related to a common ancestor. Within a tribe, any mem-ber could use the pasture and water sources of his territory. But rival tribes were absolutely excluded, except in the case of agreement or alliance. Even without the trappings of modern maps and surveying, borders were clearly demarcated, and whoever wanted to pass through a Bedouin tribe's lands needed permission. Unlike some of the tribes east of the Arava, who only migrated, the Negev Bedouin would cultivate, especially during years of plentiful rain.[86] For extended periods, however, the land could be dor-mant.[87] To the Bedouin, this in no way meant that they had relinquished their claim. The calls by the Turks and later the British on the Bedouin to register these lands were largely ignored. Bedouin perceived it as merely a ruse for collecting taxes.[88]

All this changed when Israel assumed control of the Negev desert in 1949. The new nation had the jeeps and the national will to penetrate this inhospitable arid region. The Bedouin understood that the rules of the game had changed.[89] Of the fifty-three thousand Bedouin that the British registered as living in this area, all but 12,500 moved on.[90] They scattered to the West Bank, to Gaza, and mostly to Sinai and Jordan. Initially the Bedouin, like all Israeli Arabs, were considered to be a security threat. Israel set a policy of concentrating the Bedouin in the area east of Beer Sheva on some thousand square kilometers of land. After the 1948 War, the Bedouin district was declared a “closed area,” and until the policy was canceled in 1966, Bedouin were not allowed to leave or take their flocks to other parts of the Negev without special permission. Ben-Gurion, of course, perceived the Negev as largely unsettled and as the ultimate land reserves for Jewish immigrants, who would continue to come.

After Israel conquered the West Bank and Sinai in 1967, connections be-tween members of Bedouin tribes were renewed, and there were extensive migrations towards the Negev. In the aftermath of the cancellation of mili-tary restrictions, Israeli Bedouin began to wander throughout the country, reaching as far north as Rehovoth and as far south as Eilat. There were problems

associated with this return to nomadic living. For instance, Bedouin would regularly break water pipelines to water their flocks. Yet the huge land reserves in Sinai overshadowed any concerns about control of Negev lands.

The Yom Kippur War and the subsequent peace negotiations with Egypt set in motion a process where the bulk of Israel's military training shifted from the Sinai desert to the Negev. There was increasing pressure to settle the Bedouin, whose numbers had grown dramatically.[91] This was hardly a new concept in the area. The Turks founded modern Beer Sheva in 1900 in an effort to settle the area's Bedouin (see Figure 31).

The Israeli government decided to establish seven cities in the northern Negev in which Bedouin tribes could live. The first of these, Tel Sheva, be-came residential in 1967. The conditions and the incentives offered to settle, by Israeli standards of the time, were attractive.[92] The Bedouin, of course, re-sisted.[93] Many were indignant at what they perceived as a violation of their rights and dignity. Others were less political but simply did not like the town or want to live in the proximity of rival tribes. Only about 40 percent of the Bedouin initially agreed to move into the new cities.[94] The homes provided for the Bedouin were by no means inferior by Israeli standards, and the towns were relatively spacious when compared to similar Bedouin villages created in Jordan.[95] Nonetheless, the cities' infrastructure and social services were perceived as inferior to that offered Jewish development towns.[96]

It was at this time, in 1977, that the Nature Reserves Authority estab-lished the “Green Patrol.” The initiative brought together the four major territorial players in Israel: the Land Authority, the JNF, the Nature Reserves Authority, and the Ministry of Agriculture. Zvi Uzan, the Minister of Agriculture, was the most militant advocate for countering Bedouin proliferation, and he lobbied for a common initiative to address the issue. When a Bedouin herd passed through his Moshav farming set-tlement, defiling the local cemetery, he was sufficiently indignant to get a Green Patrol approved.[97] Technically the Patrol was established to protect the government-owned open spaces from a variety of illegal squatters. But clearly they were most alarmed by the Bedouin in the Negev, whose pop-ulation had tripled during Israel's first thirty years.

NRA director Avram Yoffe “volunteered” the services of Alon Galili, a veteran ranger, and gave him three subordinate rangers and a jeep. Galili, who had recently become director of the southern region in the NRA, was unenthusiastic about leaving his new job. But General Yoffe had given an order, and Galili stayed at the helm for twelve years.[98] Although the Green Patrol is invariably associated with government efforts to expedite Bedouin settlement in the new urban centers, Galili claims that there were

Jewish farmers with whom they were also in constant conflict, as well as a sleazy underworld element, “who raised horses, grew drugs, and set up il-legal dumps.”[99]

The Green Patrol well understood that there were two sides to the issue. Many Bedouin had never bothered to register their lands when it had been possible during the Mandate and later were prevented from doing so by military orders. When the orders were lifted in 1966, they rushed out to stake claim on as much land as possible. Joint committees were created to deal with the problems of farmers (represented by Ministry of Agriculture personnel) and with the Bedouin (represented by a sheikh or a tribal leader). But it was not an effective format for dispute resolution. The Green Patrol was authorized to negotiate only with regard to the timing of the evacuation rather than the land rights themselves.

When discussion failed, the Green Patrol enforced the law—with an emphasis on force. Relying on the notion that “if you show them you are strong once, then the Bedouin will give you respect in the future,” Galili nurtured the Patrol's tough image.[100] Indeed, Galili was frustrated with the police, who brought with them operating procedures he found too timid for the rules of the game required to confront the Bedouin in the field. When Arik Sharon became Minister of Agriculture in 1977, he iden-tified with the Patrol's mission and expanded its ranks.

Systematically the Green Patrol began to remove Bedouin from State lands. Thirty armed inspectors would typically come to enforce an evacu-ation. It was not a pretty scene. The press reports were generally sympa-thetic toward the illegal squatters.[101]

Galili claims that no one was ever bodily removed without first at-tempting to resolve the matter amicably. The first three workers at the Patrol were all fluent in Arabic, and there was a disproportionately large percentage of Druze rangers. Non-Arabic speakers were sent to Arabic lan-guage courses. But frequently dialogue was fruitless, and there was a standoff. At this point the Patrol resorted to a variety of tactics to make its point. There was undoubtedly some exaggeration about the Green Patrol's brutality, and Galili is quick to point out that while there may have been a thousand complaints to the press, only twenty-three were filed with the police, and all of those were investigated and dismissed. Bedouin tell a completely different story.

Farkhan Shlebe might be the “model modern Bedouin” that Israel would like to put on display for the world. He runs a highly successful tourist operation and, like most energetic entrepreneurs, always seems to be on one of his three phone lines, the fax, or the computer. His Hebrew is

almost accentless. He is a veteran of the Israeli army. He has a picture of the late Yitzhak Rabin on his wall. But he hates the Green Patrol, who he believes declared war on the Bedouin:

Rumor had it that if you wanted to join the Green Patrol, Alon Galili would punch you in the chest. If you cried out, you weren't tough enough to make it. They would attach a jeep to a tent and just drive off. They would poke holes in our jerry cans so that we'd run out of water. Imagine how a man felt when he returned from the army to find his tent destroyed and his wife beaten. They shot our dogs even when they knew there weren't any rabies involved. They never bothered to ask if the dog might have been vaccinated against rabies, and they certainly could have. Maybe the collar had just fallen off? As a boy I remember I would see one of their jeeps in the distance and then would pull down the tent, hoping they wouldn't be able to see us. The very sight of their jeeps filled us with fear. I had a puppy and I would lie on it inside the tent just praying they wouldn't shoot my puppy.[102]

Green Patrol brutality and associated intimidation tactics have become almost a new chapter in local Bedouin folklore. The fact that many of the Bedouin were active in the military service did not sway the Green Patrol. Some Bedouin tried to use their connection with the military to attain per-mission to graze on certain closed military zones. But the Green Patrol was not inclined to allow such concessions. Beyond demoralization, for many families the policy was financially disastrous. They lost their most basic means of production. Any trespassing livestock was subject to immediate confiscation, and frequently Bedouin had to sell their animals at a fraction of the market price to opportunistic meat suppliers, mostly from the West Bank and Gaza.[103]

Although the conflict was over different values and cultures, much of the controversy centered around Alon Galili. Galili added fuel to the fire when he shot two thieves who were breaking into a local grocery store while he was on civil guard duty at his home at Sdeh Boqer. They turned out to be Bedouin. Galili warned them to stop, shot in self-defense, aimed for and hit them below the knees, and drove to the hospital the one who did not escape. But the incident was a cause célèbre for his many critics. The NRA management refused to abandon Galili as a scapegoat. Dan Perry, for example, believes that Galili's image is unfounded, caused by Bedouin exaggeration. The Green Patrol's strategy always emphasized re-spect (the Galili shooting incident he attributes to “bad luck”).[104]

But it was lack of respect that seemed most to enrage the Bedouin, who place a premium on individual dignity. They point to Jordan as an example

of a nation that knows how to treat Bedouin correctly. Jordan has its own way of inducing Bedouin to settle, and this was highlighted when Bedouin were uprooted from their traditional caves inside the historic site of Petra. Nonetheless, the Hashemite Kingdom does a better job of ven-erating Bedouin tradition, and although in decline, nomadic grazing continues.[105]

Ultimately, it is not the Green Patrol's tactics but its mission that re-mains contested. Many environmental leaders are unapologetic about framing the issue in nationalistic as well as ecological terms. “The Green Patrol performed an enormous mitzvah, a good deed,” declares scientist Aviva Rabinovich. “The war over land is painful and difficult, and it always will be. We are fighting here. (There should be no illusions in this regard.) It's a battle for this land and our survival.”[106] Rabinovich claims that the aerial photographs from 1917 to 1948 that she used as an expert witness in NRA court hearings clearly showed that the Bedouin never laid any real claim on most of the Negev.

Ecologically, Rabinovich sees the conflict as part of the general dynamics surrounding overpopulation in developing countries. “Before the creation of the State, Bedouin would have one or two children. Most of their children died. Now, they have ten or twenty children per family. There are those who cry about the loss of their culture. Well, that's the price of having twenty children instead of two. With antibiotics we changed their world. And I un-derstand that a Bedouin may want to live like his grandfather did and enjoy the nomad's life. But the land simply can't sustain that population level of nomads. If you want to have twenty children, then live in a city.”[107]

Israel's Bedouin do not deny the impact of overgrazing on the desert, but they believe that the division of land is grossly inequitable. They have ac-commodated the best that they can, switching from goats to sheep (which cause less erosion). They also have become better at utilizing the legal sys-tem to fight for their rights and at arguing ecologically. Dozens of cases were filed by Bedouin contesting expulsions; at the very least, the suits pro-vided considerable delays. There is a ten-year average span from the time of filing until the final ruling.[108] One case dragged on for nineteen years.[109]

When removed from the charged nationalistic context, the debate over the actual impact of grazing herds on semiarid lands is a fascinating eco-logical issue. Goats, particularly aggressive in foraging, have traditionally been identified as agents of erosion and enemies of plant and tree rejuve-nation. Indeed, no sooner had the British caught their breath and taken control of the Mandate after World War I than they issued an Ordinance prohibiting the grazing of goats on protected forestland in Palestine.[110]


Yet today many ecologists argue that the disturbance to the land caused by moderate doses of grazing may actually increase soil productivity. Because undisturbed soil is crusted by salinity and microphytic organisms (algae and lichens), seeds cannot take hold and germinate. In addition, the grazing animals leave behind droppings that provide an important source of nutrients. Grazing may also be beneficial for biodiversity, because it lim-its competitive exclusion. Dominant species that would otherwise over-whelm weaker ones are kept in check by the grazing animals.[111] The variety of plant types in the Mediterranean areas of Israel is four times higher than in regions with a similar climate in California. This can be ex-plained by the regimen of human disturbance in the former region dur-ing the past thousands of years. Among these disturbances, the grazing of domestic animals may have an important place.[112]

With the major expulsions complete, an uneasy equilibrium in the po-litical realm between the parties has also set in. NRA personnel try to co-ordinate grazing schedules for the forty thousand Bedouin who now live in Israel's deserts, primarily the northern Negev. The Bedouin tribes were allocated eight hundred thousand dunams for grazing. Although the quota allotted is one hundred twenty thousand goats, the actual number toler-ated is closer to two hundred thousand. Between February and May the flocks are moved toward the western Negev. Then they drift eastward in summer.[113] The NRA monitors the movement and hurries the stragglers along. But Israeli Arabs hardly see it as a benevolent public servant.

The younger generation of Bedouin is increasingly comfortable with city life,[114] and more than three quarters of the population have settled.[115] Although scores of Bedouin still live in tents, very few truly nomadic Bedouin remain in Israel today. As Bedouin acclimated to their new lifestyle, attention gradually began to focus on social services and employ-ment. There is much to improve.

For all the official lip service, as well as bona fide efforts, the Bedouin remain one of the poorest segments of Israeli society. Ironically, poverty and pervasive unemployment are reflected in sustainable environmental indicators. For example, Rahat, the largest Bedouin town in the Negev, has a car “motorization” rate only one-fifth of Tel Aviv's while produc-ing thirty times less garbage per capita.[116] On the other hand, although the birthrate has begun to show signs of a slight decline, an average Bedouin family still has more than ten children.[117] As a result, the Israeli government recently agreed to expand the number of Bedouin cities from seven to fourteen, with a corresponding effort to upgrade condi-tions in them.


For a while it seemed as if the worst tensions were over. Then in August 1998, the newspapers reported that a NRA ranger shot and killed Suliman Abu-Jlidar.[118] Subsequent investigations revealed that the gunman was not an NRA ranger at all but a traveling companion of the victim, and criminal charges were dropped. Still, the incident reopened all the old scars and dashed any illusions of reconciliation. The Green Patrol may have won its war for desert lands, but in so doing, it lost the sympathies of Israel's Bedouin and Arab communities for the foreseeable future.

To offer a complete picture, it is important to mention that the Nature and National Parks Authority has begun to make a token effort to reach out to Israeli Arabs. In 1997, Giselle Hazzan, a vivacious and thoughtful Technion graduate, was given the job of organizing an educational initiative, based out of the Ein Afek reserve, that would target Israeli Arabs. Ein Afek is one of the last remaining pockets of wetlands in Israel, and it is surrounded to the east by Arab villages. Focusing on the younger generation, Hazzan's program brings roughly 25,000 school children from 50 Arab communities each year.[119] There they enjoy a stimulating dose of ecological wisdom, conserva-tion biology, and the lumbering water buffalo that used to be so prevalent throughout the landscape. Any educational and managerial criteria would deem the Arab educational program a huge success. Yet it is still most con-spicuously defined by its modest scope and the fact that Hazzan's remarkable achievements have been attained within the contraints of a half-time position.

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