Left: Save Negev for Arab "Right of Return Refugees"
Groups on the extreme political Left have joined residents of an illegal Bedouin town to condemn a pro-Israel Christian organization over a donation to a forestry project in the Negev. The Christian group, “God TV,” has given one million saplings through the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and has donated money toward water projects as well.
Bedouin Israelis living in the illegal village El-Araqib have criticized the forestry project because some trees have been planted at a site nearby. While the trees are not on the land seized by El-Araqib's residents, residents expressed concern that trees could be planted on that land at some future point.
One Bedouin activist revealed the actual reason for opposition to the forestry plan, revealing plans to save the land on which Israel is building forests for Arabs outside Israel exercising the so-called "right of return" in the future.
One of the Arab demands, recently restated by Saib Erekat in the Guardian, is that Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 during the War of Independence, and all of their descendants, be considered refugees and allowed to “return” to Israel. Several million people now claim descent from the roughly 700,000 Arabs who left during the war.
The land on which El-Araqib was built “belonged to the Alamat tribe before 1948, who have since been refugees in Jordan,” the activist claimed. A coalition of far-Left groups issued a similar statement, saying that forestry projects in the Negev are “preventing Bedouin Israelis from ever returning to their land.” This, of course, contradicts the very definition of a Bedouin tribes, who are nomadic and did not own land historically.
Howver, Bedouin tribes in particular now claim ownership over large tracts of land in the Negev. Their claims are disputed by the Israeli government, which states that much of the Negev, including the land on which El-Araqib was built, is state land.
The government has built cities such as Rahat designated for Bedouin use; , many Bedouin say the cities do not suit their traditional lifestyle, and that city life leads to unemployment and to tension between rival clans.
Opposition to the God-TV funded project reached new levels in recent weeks. Leftist Rabbis for Human Rights founder Arik Ascherman wrote a prayer terming organizers of the forestry project “planners of evil” and calling on G-d to support the Bedouin. Professor Neve Gordon – known for his support of a boycott on Israel and attempts to get other countries to join it– slammed God TV as an “extremist Christian group” that could turn land conflicts in the Negev “into a religious confrontation.”
The New Israel Fund has pointed out that many of its projects in the Negev are aimed at improving life for Bedouin Israelis.
Among other things, the Jewish National Fund has invested $7 million in water projects in Rahat, has worked with Bedouins to create sustainable agricultural projects, and is gathering funds for the construction of a medical center that would train Bedouin medical personnel as well as providing care to all residents of the Negev.
In addition to funding projects to build the land of Israel, God TV has brought thousands of Christian tourists to Israel.