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Beersheba Bedouins Wander, but Not by Their Own Choice

Half-naked children aimlessly walk barefoot on the yellow desert sand among the ruins of their newly demolished tin huts.

Heavily veiled women garbed in black hide behind the curtains of their tents. The men, in a newly erected tent, argue loudly over who is responsible for their plight.

These people are Bedouins, traditional nomads of the Negev, uprooted and confronted by the well-meaning but obdurate bureaucracy of a modern state.

Arder is a community less than 20 miles south of the Negev metropolis of Beersheba. The Bedouins here are no longer wandering herdsmen but day laborers — of necessity, not choice — who seek work in Jewish towns and settlements. They are facing a crisis.

Their appeals having been exhausted, and last week they were forced by court order to tear down 27 tin huts which had served them as homes for the past six years. Now they will have to be relocated.

As they stand and talk, the near silence of the desert is broken by the scream of a jet fighter plane taking off from a nearby air force base.

It is from there that the problem of these Bedouins stems. They were removed from the Tel Malhata area in the early 1980s because the site was selected for one of the two air bases to replace those evacuated when Israel returned Sinai to Egypt.

The state offered them resettlement in seven modern townships. “We were ready to move, but we wanted to be resettled in a place of our choice,” Hassan Abu-Kosh, a teacher, told a visitor.

ON THE MOVE

But if given a choice, Bedouin families would prefer to move freely over the desert and prairie as their ancestors had done for centuries. They do not like permanent neighbors, even if members of the same tribe.

After six years, the Bedouins here have yet to choose a permanent home. The Interior Ministry thought it could hasten their choice by demolishing their temporary homes.

“We have offered them three alternatives,” said Shalom Danino, southern district commissioner, “and they have rejected them all. The court has simply lost patience with them.”

But there was lack of coordination among the government agencies involved.

When they were evacuated from the air base site, the Bedouins were relocated in precisely the spot from which the Interior Ministry has been trying to get them removed.

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