“I truly believe that history will judge all of us on how we act in the coming days. The enormity of the impending moral disaster is perhaps greater than any I have dealt with in the 18 years I have been working for Rabbis For Human Rights.”

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Rabbis for Human Rights, May 5, 2013

The government of Israel wants to advance a bill in the Knesset that will forcibly expel 40,000 Bedouin, all citizens of Israel, from villages on their ancestral lands. In past centuries, the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate recognized the land as belonging to these Bedouin. Israel, with new laws passed since the founding of the state, has unilaterally taken away these ownership rights and the government, echoed by the media, now publicly calls the Bedouin “squatters” as if they have no historical and legal connection to their homes.

The plan is to demolish the Bedouin villages and force residents into artificially created towns where there are no jobs, no hope, and crime and drugs are rampant. Experience has shown that their social structures will collapse when separated from their land and traditional way of life. Besides the moral implications, this is a dangerous strategic move for Israel — destroying the lives of 40,000 loyal (until now) Muslim citizens.

As background, I posted two columns about this last year.  Click here and here (scroll down a bit).

A Ministerial Committee is meeting Monday, May 6, to decide if the plan will be forwarded to the Knesset for approval. If you want to help stop this action, please sign this petition – and forward this on to others who might be interested in stopping this legislation. We only have 24 hours. Click here for a history of how this particular plan was developed.

I have pasted in below selections from a column by Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights which describes how this plan is a violation of the ethical and moral foundations of the Jewish tradition – and mirrors the policies that were used to oppress Jews in the past.

From the moment that I first understood our government’s intentions, I have not been able to get out of my head the final scene of “Fiddler on the Roof,” as the Jews of Anatevka are expelled from their homes. Watch it for yourselves, starting at 2 hours and 36 minutes.

I imagine the residents of El-Araqib saying goodbye to the generations buried in their cemetery, and the residents of numerous villages giving one last longing look at their lands. I imagine the Bedouin soldier serving in the IDF returning his uniform after taking a furlough to help his family pack. At least as likely, I imagine 40,000 Bedouin battling the special police force to be created to enforce this plan, and eventually being forcibly herded into the “Pale of Settlement,” where they will be allowed to live. I see the hatred in young people’s eyes, rising incidents of skirmishes between Jews and Bedouin, and the headlines mourning declining investments and rising unemployment for Jew and Arab alike. As we are warned in this week’s Torah portion, “If you reject My Laws and spurn “My rules,….I will wreak misery upon you…” (Leviticus 26: 15-16)

The bottom line is that successive Israeli governments have desired for years to move the Negev Bedouin out of villages where they have lived before the creation of the state, or in some cases from villages into which Israel had forcibly moved them during the first years of the state. The goal has also been to take over their lands. Fear mongers have told the Israeli public that the Bedouin are criminals who will take over the Negev if they are not stopped. The truth is that, if the Bedouin were granted a fair opportunity to prove their land claims, and were they to win every claim, they would hold on to 5.4% of the Negev.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation is scheduled to vote on Monday whether or not to send the latest plan to the Knesset to make it into law. Our ask is very simple. “Don’t approve this, or any other proposal that steals land and hope. Build a better future together with the Bedouin” Beyond the enormous moral implications almost impossible to grasp, there is self interest as well. The additional tension, strife and social problems will drive away investments, and discourage people from living in the Negev.

When Sheikh Sayekh al-Touri [from the demolished Bedouin village of Al-Arakib] watched that scene of the Jews of Anatevka being expelled from their homes. He exclaimed, “They did to the Jews just what the Jews are trying to do to us!” However, I was always taught that we are a people commanded to learn from our own oppression how NOT to treat others, and how NOT to repeat history, “For you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.”

And so, I also have an alternative vision in my head. It is one of Jews and Bedouin working together for the good of theNegev. It is one in which we will merit the blessing of this week’s Torah portion,”You shall observe my laws and faithfully keep My rules, that you may live upon the land in security, the land shall yield is fruit and you shall eat your fill…”(Leviticus 23:18-19), because we will remember that even the Covenant between God and the Jewish people does not mean that the land belongs to Arab or Jew, “For the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me.”(Leviticus 25:23) If we act fairly and justly to Jew and Bedouin alike, we will be truly living the Torah’s command:

“You shall proclaim freedom throughout the land for ALL its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 25:10)

Please act now. Your decision at this moment could influence whether Israel ignores the moral lessons of our own history and perpetuates strife, or whether Israel acts according to the precepts of justice and fairness at the heart of our Jewish tradition, and promotes a better future for both Jews and Bedouin in the Negev.