The Mayor of Omer insists that Bedouins are behind the felling of thousands of trees on disputed lands.
Every so often we are put in the unfortunate position of having to weigh our environmental concerns against socio-political issues. A while ago, we wrote about Palestinian architect Omar Yousef whose philosophy and style are based on necessity borne out of injustice. And frequently, innocent bystanders suffer most from war, such as these innovators who eventually lost their creative designs as a result of oppressive decisions from their leaders.
This recent story from the Jerusalem Post similarly creates conflict for us; we at Green Prophet are the ultimate tree-lovers: trees are carbon sinks, they provide shade, nutrition, and spiritual sustenance. It’s hard to quantify the many benefits of trees. As such, the loss of thousands of Mesquite, Acacia, and Eucalyptus trees in Israel’s Negev Desert is a serious blow for everyone. But it is also an interesting tool of protest for the Bedouins who are suspected of killing them.
Before 1948, the Bedouins were the only inhabitants of the unfriendly Negev desert and agriculture in the region did not come easily. However, once the State of Israel was created, several waves of settlers moved there. While most of the Negev towns remain among the country’s poorest, this is not true of Omer, Lehavim, or Meitar.
Many of the country’s top executives and researchees, as well as seniors of both the civil and military sector of societies live in these three towns, according to the non for profit Adva Center. Combined, they are among the top ten in terms of the country’s average salary.
The Bedouin, who are viewed as the weaker element of society, fall on the opposite end of the earning spectrum. To date, many of their villages are considered “unrecognized” and therefore the State refuses to provide basic infrastructural services, and as recently as this past Ramadan, the Al-Arakib village was razed even though many of its inhabitants were observing their holy month.
With this backdrop in mind it is hard to criticize the Bedouin, if indeed they are the perpetrators of this unfortunate activity, for cutting down trees on land they perceive to be their own. Nor does the Mayor of Oren attempt to disguise his hostility toward the Bedouin.
The hostile Badash
“I’d hate to be the ones who did this when I get my hands on them,” Badash told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview. “For those who don’t realize it, there is a war going on in the desert.”
“Over the last few years the JNF has planted more than 4,000 dunam (990 acres) of new trees in the area. We refuse to give them up. For every tree that is cut down, we will plant 10 more. We will protect the forests from any further harm. We will put in surveillance equipment. We will put sentinels in the forest. This is an existential war and we refuse to surrender!” Badash said.
For this same issue, Bedouin protests have turned violent: last year, according to JP, one worker was injured and 20 arrests made.
However, this pales in comparison to the 150,000 or so Bedouin in the desert who are increasingly marginalized by the State’s plan to develop the Negev. According to Adva, the Negev 2015 development plan fails to address the issue of land or “unrecognized” localities, rather favoring an influx of a “stronger” population.
Given their general poverty, it is therefore unsurprising that the Bedouin have resorted to chopping down trees that the JNF has planted. It is a form of protest such that we’ve never really seen before. We’ve seen treehugging and rallies and strikes. We’ve seen occupations, critical mass, and even top-free, but we don’t often hear of tree-cutting.
A political protest is designed to draw attention to what the public consider a matter of extreme importance: we protest against our leaders who fail to adequately mitigate climate change, and we protest war. According to JP, not long before this incident in the Negev, activists put up posters on the JNF building in Tel Aviv in order to protest what they perceive as unfair treatment towards Arabs and Bedouins.
However, it is devastating that our natural commodities must suffer as a result of inequitable political policies.
“According to Dani Gigi, JNF’s regional director for the Negev and the Arava, the damage done to the forest was severe by any measure,” JP wrote.
“Putting up a security system in the forest is unrealistic. Fortification is not the answer. The solution has to come from education and law enforcement. It is important to note that the battle here is not with the JNF. We are just here as contractors fulfilling the government’s policies,” Gigi said.
If Mayor Badash and the JNF are genuinely concerned about these trees, they would do well to give the Bedouin a fair chance at expressing their complaints; education works both ways.
More travel and nature news from the Middle East:
Image via andyhaye