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March 14th, 2005

A comment on the destruction of Jahalin huts to the report

Dear friends,

As our friend Annelise has forwarded to you a number of statements regarding the recent destruction of Bedouin crops by the Israeli government, I thought I would take advantage of this opportunity to share with you my perspective on the matter This latest act of state vandalism is unfortunately only one of a very long series of attacks against the Bedouin, who are the most disadvantaged group of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. I've known Nuri el Ukbi, one of the first Bedouin activists, for many years, and it is inspiring that he still finds the energy to dream and to hope.

Why does the Israeli government harass the Bedouin, who are a peaceful community that has not taken an active part in the Palestinian resistance, and even contributes considerable numbers of soldiers to Israel's security forces? In my opinion, the treatment accorded to the Bedouin is the clearest example of the nature of the global dynamic of domination by immigrant populations over indigenous people. In this process of colonization, the powerful immigrant society uses every tool at its disposal, military, economic, judicial and theological, to take away land from the native population and appropriate it to uses that fit its priorities: in our case, that includes settling new immigrants, building military airfields, and dumping polluting industries and waste dumps on people whose health and well-being is of little public concern.

It is necessary to see the larger picture, because otherwise, we find ourselves constantly surprised and shocked by new acts of maltreatment, which seem unthinkably irrational, and therefore mistakes or lapses of judgement by individuals. However, these and other abuses are done on behalf of an ideology that is embraced virtually unanimously by Israeli Jews and is supported by the political and religious establishments of the western powers. If we limit our struggle to particular instances of unfeeling brutality, we do nothing to prevent these racist attitudes from resurfacing in other areas and against other populations. But if we recognize the global nature of the discrimination, we can connect the struggle of the Bedouin with the plight of indigenous people worldwide, and strengthen both the disadvantaged and the activists working on their behalf.

This approach also helps keep us from demonizing the oppression and the oppressors, because we understand it as a part of a global culture of class privilege and not the unique blindness or malice of a particular ideology or group. In the case of Israel-Palestine, religious affiliations of both sides are assumed to be at the root of the conflict, while most of the protagonists do not adhere to the extremist teachings that indeed are present in the respective religious traditions, but only on the margins. Criticism of immoral state policies is important and necessary, but defamation of a culture and a people is counterproductive and illegitimate. Supporters of the status quo, i.e., the post-1967 occupation, and the marginalization of the Palestinian people by Zionism since 1897, tend to deflect criticism of Israel as being essentially anti-Semitic; this is yet another reason why Israeli colonialism should better be exposed as an expression of Zionism's roots in European nationalism. It is "only" one more instance of western exploitation of the East/third world, something that has been going on for centuries, and a behavoir uncharacteristic of Jews before the 20th century.

I could go on, but I suppose I should stop now; I would be interested in your responses to this thesis, either by sharing your thoughts with me or with the entire forum.

best wishes,

Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom (abu-maor)

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