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Indigenous (In)justice: human rights law and Bedouin Arabs in the Naqab/Negev

Book Author(s) :
Ahmad Amara, Ismael Abu-Saad and Oren Yiftachel
Published Date :
February 2013
Publisher :
Harvard University Press
Hardcover :
348 pages
ISBN-13 :
978-0979639562
Review by :
Ramona Wadi

Within Israel’s imperialist-supported colonial expansion, the issue of Bedouin in the Naqab remains largely on the periphery, despite its centrality to the wider context of ramifications pertaining to the colonising of land and the Palestinian indigenous population. The lack of visibility is evident in the historical portrayal of hostile narratives – a trend recurring in Zionist media portrayal of the Bedouin, as well as through the absence of a complete analysis of colonisation, expropriation and home demolitions in the Naqab.

Indigenous (In)Justice: Human Rights and Bedouin Arabs in the Naqab/Negev (Harvard University Press, 2013) is a collection of essays that seek to address the discrepancies within the incomplete discourse by adopting a historical perspective that takes into account Israel’s settler-colonial project. This includes legislation manipulation to ascertain dispossession, international law with regard to the indigenous populations and specifically within the context of the Bedouin, as well as the importance of placing indigenous rights within a broader context of citizen and human rights in order to analyse the structures preventing proper recognition, identification, self-determination and autonomy for the indigenous population.

Colonialism and subsequent nation-states have ensured a dominant narrative that restricts resistant expression of the indigenous. At national and international level, legislation has catered for the threat perceived mostly by settler states that indigenous demands constitute a threat. “Indigenous communities’ demands for recognition of their land rights have been traditionally designed not to threaten the existence of the nation-state but rather to reassert the basic rights cherished and required by indigenous people in order to ensure their survival.”

The introduction clarifies the centrality of the Naqab Bedouins as “part of the broader indigenous Arab people of Palestine,” emphasising on the repercussions of Israel’s colonisation plans as detrimental to the broader concept of dispossession and land appropriation in Palestine. In particular, the central theme recurrent in this collection of essays is the subject of settler-colonialism, which is regularly eliminated in a manner that reflects international frameworks of separating current political issues from the historical colonial and imperialist plunder.

Colonisation of the Naqab was justified by the Zionist fabrication of the “barren land” – a phrase that was interpreted through various contexts in order to delegitimise and colonise Palestinian territory. In the case of the Naqab, the Bedouins’ semi-nomadic lifestyle was utilised to generate ambiguity with regard to land ownership and territorial claims, resulting in state legislation and policies that enforced urbanisation through various oppressive measures, such as deprivation of basic services, home demolitions, refusal to grant building permits and non-recognition of Bedouin villages. The urbanisation process, as explained by Ismael Abu-Saad and Cosette Creamer, reflected the Zionist plan of rendering the Naqab devoid of the indigenous community due to forced displacement which, Minister of Agriculture in 1963 Moshe Dayan is quoted in the book as saying, would ensure that “this phenomenon of the Bedouins will disappear”.

Legal manipulation by Israel included the reinterpreting of Ottoman and British Mandate laws in a manner that reflected Zionist plans for Judaisation. Constructing oblivion through legal channels necessitated a framework that subjected the indigenous population to alleged modernisation that, in return, allowed the state to expropriate land, reallocate the community and block legal disputes. Three frameworks were defined by Ahmad Amara and Zinaida Miller – legislation that approved appropriation of Bedouin territory, the reinterpretation of Ottoman, British Mandate and Israeli law, as well as the organisation of administrative committees that depoliticised Bedouin territorial claims.

Viewed within the international context, Israel’s colonial, oppressive policies against the Bedouin reveal the dissonance between alleged protection of rights and the legal frameworks that sustain the colonial and imperialist agenda. International legislation, proposals and conventions claiming indigenous protection have failed to address the widespread injustice due to the dominant narrative’s input in drafting – an argument brought forth by Rodolfo Stavenhagen and Ahmad Amara in their discussion of individual rights versus collective rights. “The indigenous argument derives less from a specific interpretation of universal individual rights and more from another source altogether: the rights of peoples.”

Based upon factors identified by the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations pertaining to subjugation, exclusion, cultural distinctiveness, dispossession and marginalisation, the international community has failed to come up with a concrete definition of indigenous – a failure noticeable within the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Within the context of the Naqab Bedouins and Israel, the settler-colonial state is obliged to recognise the historical land rights of the indigenous, yet imperialism facilitates the subjugation of the indigenous through its need to sustain Israel’s colonial expansion – an insight that is expounded upon in the book’s conclusion by Oren Yiftachel which insists upon a discussion of the “colonial paradigm” in relation to the Bedouin.

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