Two Bedouin sheikhs reveal their support for the Begin Plan, Israel’s strategy to improve the welfare of the Negev Bedouin and resolve land issues in southern Israel. While Sheikh Awde A-Zanoon and Sheikh I’d Abu Rashed do not hesitate to criticize former Israeli policies toward the Bedouin, they also express their satisfaction with the proposed plan, praising Minister Benny Begin for his personal involvement and efforts to jointly reach a solution.
The Begin Plan is an improvement on an outline suggested by Ehud Prawer of the Prime Minister’s office (which was based on the report of an official committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg.) The plan will not only settle all land claims by the Bedouin, giving them property on which to build houses legally, but will set up employment, social, educational and health programs for the 210,000 Bedouin men, women and children in the Negev. Nearly 2.2 billion dollars is being invested in implementation of the plan.
Cooperation between the Israeli government and the Bedouin is emphasized by the sheikhs, as this is the best way to find an equitable resolution that respects Bedouin traditions and culture. However, support for the advancement of the Bedouin in the Negev is not limited to governmental action: in an act of Jewish-Bedouin cooperation, the Yerucham municipality is giving Sheikh A-Zanoon’s village 500 dunams (124 acres) of land.
Strong criticism is also expressed towards “people on the outside,” primarily Israeli Arabs from northern Israel and foreign activists. These outsiders are agitating against the plan, but as Sheikh A-Zanoon says “they lack nothing” while the Bedouin suffer from difficult conditions. These agitators offer no better alternative yet are willing to sacrifice the future of the Bedouin for their own political interests.