Letters to the editor: Freedom of speech, Bedouins and women with education

Freedom of Speech Demonstrated Here

Every few weeks there is a letter urging the Jewish Journal to discontinue Dennis Prager. I have never seen a letter asking that Marty Kaplan be discontinued. Either a) everyone likes and agrees with Marty Kaplan or b) the readers who want Prager discontinued don’t believe in the principle of freedom of speech. 

It is commendable that the Jewish Journal carries both Dennis Prager and Marty Kaplan.

William Azerrad, Los Angeles 

Improving Welfare of Israel’s Bedouin Citizens

I write in reaction to your recent story by Devorah Brous concerning the future of Bedouins in Israel’s Negev (“Stop Prawer-Begin Plan for Bedouin Resettlement” Dec. 13). While the story does raise legitimate concerns about the issues of land, infrastructure and citizen rights of Israel’s Bedouin citizens, it doesn’t do justice to the effort being made by a number of organizations, NGOs and the government of Israel to improve conditions for all Israeli citizens there.

There has been great progress in the region — that should be the lead of the story and it’s not. For example, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has established Blueprint Negev, a $600 million campaign to provide water purification, economic development, infrastructure and other improvements that benefit Negev residents and greatly benefits the Negev Bedouins. In fact, JNF recently hosted Mayor Dr. Muhammad Al-Nabari of Hura, a Bedouin community, in cities across the States for a series of outreach, awareness and fundraising opportunities for the establishment of a model community of sustainability replicable throughout the Bedouin communities of Israel. It’s time that this story be told.

It’s safe to say that the JNF is doing more for Bedouins in Israel than any other Jewish organization in Israel. The conflicts and arguments are old news filled with negative propaganda that doesn’t address the facts on the ground.

Allison Krumholz, executive director, Greater Los Angeles Region Jewish National Fund

She’s No FOB (Fan of Barack)

I have read all of Rob Eshman’s columns over the years, but his last one was beyond foolish (“Three More Years,” Dec. 13). What does it take for Mr. Eshman to understand that the current president has done more real damage than any of the previous U.S. presidents. From Solyndra, to “politicizing” the Justice Department, to failure regarding race relations between us, putting us in massive debt forever, a totally botched “affordable” health care act that will raise premiums on millions, not to mention millions already getting the pink slip. And to think Eshman still is one of the few that blames the GOP for not “getting along” with this failed and very flawed leader who lies and can never be trusted.

Melissa Cohen via e-mail

Socioeconomic Effects of Education on Families

In regard to Dennis Prager’s article about women and children (“Educated Women and Children,” Dec. 4). We know that with the challenging economy, both the husband and wife need to work to support their family. But I agree that family should come first. On the one hand, it’s good to have a college degree both intellectually and financially to earn a living. But when you think about accomplishment, while it looks better to have a career, that achievement is temporary. However, when you raise children and pass down your heritage, that is eternal. Yes, we need college and work for financial stability. But our priority should be our family. Both husbands and wives need to spend more quality time with their children. Tikkun olam starts at home. 

Suzy Baim Los Angeles

Here is one of the many holes in your arguments: “Wealthy Mormons … have a lot of kids.” I am a practicing Mormon, and my calling in the ward allows me to know who is wealthy and the number of kids in the families. The wealthiest in the ward have one to three kids, and the families with four or more kids are middle class or below.

It is not the educational level that determines the number of kids, but the family history of the mother or, to a lesser extent, the father. If both parents grew up with many siblings, almost 100 percent will have more kids. 

Zarko Garmid, Santa Monica

Dennis Prager responds:

Concerning Mr. Garmid’s data on Mormons, I checked with Lynn Bradley, a High Priest in the Priesthood and Counselor in the Bishopric in the Mormon Church. He says that wealthy Mormons (of which there are many) in his ward have an average of four to five children, and no fewer than less wealthy Mormons.

But even that is irrelevant to the point I made in my column, which Mr. Garmid simply misses.

This is what I wrote:

“As societies become more secular, the fertility rate drops. This is easy to demonstrate. Wealthy Orthodox Jews, wealthy devout Roman Catholics, wealthy Mormons and wealthy Evangelicals have a lot of kids. Meanwhile, wealthy secular people have the fewest children.”

I didn’t compare wealthy religious people to less wealthy religious people. I compared wealthy religious people to wealthy secular people.

Nothing Mr. Garmid wrote refutes that point or even addresses it.

Jahalin Bedouin fear new Israeli transfer plan

Id Khamis Jahalin sits in his sparsely furnished, illegally-built shack, and worries about his future. A father of seven, he was born in this community of tents and shacks about ten miles east of Jerusalem.

Sitting on a thin mattress that substitutes for a couch during the day and a bed at night, Id Khamis told The Media Line that a new Israeli plan to relocate the Jahalin Bedouin community, “is the worst one yet. It is not appropriate for us at all. The place they want to move us to is surrounded on all four sides and it is very crowded. I am a Bedouin and I want to live like my parents.”

Id Khamis says he used to have more than 100 goats, but as grazing land became more limited, he ate or sold most of them. He also used to work in nearby Jewish communities built on post-1967 land such as Kfar Adumim, less than a mile away. But in 2009, when residents illegally built a new school out of mud and tires, He says all of the Bedouin here lost their jobs.

Since all of the homes are built without the approval of government authorities, there is no access to water or electricity. Id Khamis has installed solar panels outside which produce enough power to run a television and lights. He has no refrigerator.

“My wife has to work very hard preparing all of the food fresh,” he says with a smile.

Several years ago, Israel tried to move these Jahalin Bedouin, along with 22 other communities — a total of 2300 people — to another location near a garbage dump. Israeli lawyers hired by human rights organizations appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to thwart that plan. Id Khamis says the new plan is even worse.

“This is private land. It is not appropriate for Bedouin. It’s like a prison. It is surrounded on all four sides. I am a Bedouin…but this is not acceptable to me. Israelis wouldn’t want to live like this, either.”

Id Khamis says Israel is trying to remove all Palestinians from Area C, the 60 percent of land Israel acquired in the 1967 war over which it continues to hold both security and administrative control pursuant to the 1994 Oslo Accords. He sees it as proof that Israel is not interested in a long-term peace with the Palestinians.

“Once they have removed all the people, they will say that the land belongs to them,” Id Khamis argues. “This is like the last bullet in the head of the peace process.”

Israeli officials say the plan has not been finalized and they are not sure why the Jahalin are launching their objections now.

“They are living there illegally and we are looking at a series of options,” Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Civil Administration, the Israeli body which administers the post-1967 areas, told The Media Line. “One option is to relocate them to the Jordan Valley. We are working with the Palestinian Authority on a proposal for 800 building units, but it has not been decided.”

Inbar said the plan is being drafted by a Palestinian company was awarded the project in a bidding process, and that Israel is simply trying to improve the Jahalins’ quality of life.

“We are trying to improve the living standards of both Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “We want the Bedouin to live in an area where they get all the infrastructure they need, like water and electricity, instead of living in tents that could be demolished.”

All of the structures in this village, including the school, have outstanding Israeli demolition orders against them.

Inbar said he was not sure why the plan’s detractors were coming forward now but insisted that nothing has been finalized.

But attorney Shlomo Lecker, who showed The Media Line a copy of the plan, said he had information that it will be presented in the next 2-3 weeks.

“The homes will be built on the outskirts of Jericho in Area A (which is under complete Palestinian control),” he explained. “Then Israel will use it as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Palestinians. They will offer to give the Palestinians this area in exchange for annexing part of Area C — [where there are Israeli communities built on post-1967 lands].”

Lecker also says that temperatures in the Jordan Valley reach 120 degrees during the summer and most Bedouin will not be able to afford air conditioning.

Speaking to The Media Line, Stephen Wilkinson of the non-profit organization Dikania explained the position of those who accuse Israel of violating international law, a charge it denies. “According to the Geneva Convention, Israel, as the occupying power, has very clear obligations when it comes to the occupied people, in this case the Bedouin. Forcible transfer of protected populations is prohibited. International law can be very complicated, but on this issue it’s very clear that it is illegal,” he charged.

Odd couple works to aid Israel’s Bedouins

When the two women travel overseas together, one passes routinely through airport security checks; the other is invariably pulled aside for lengthy questioning.

At home, one is rarely asked for her ID; the other is stopped frequently.

The one who passes easily is an immigrant and speaks Hebrew with a foreign accent. The suspect one is native-born and speaks Hebrew flawlessly.

The older of the two is Vivian Silver, born in Canada, who made aliyah in 1974 to work on a kibbutz.

Her traveling companion is Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, an Arab Bedouin born in the Negev, who wears the traditional headscarf and long, flowing dress.

What unites the two colleagues and friends is their struggle for the social and economic empowerment of Israel’s 170,000 Bedouins, especially the women.

The Bedouins, concentrated largely in the Negev, are a minority among Israel’s Arab minority and “the most disadvantaged segment of the population” in the social, economic and educational spheres, said Elsana during a recent visit with Silver to Los Angeles.

There is some irony in this status, because many young Bedouins fought alongside Israelis during the 1948-49 War of Independence, where they were highly prized as trackers and scouts, and they continue to serve in the state’s defense forces.

Such loyalty to a country’s rulers is ingrained in the Bedouin tribal tradition. “They served in the Turkish army during the Ottoman Empire and with the British army during the mandate period,” Elsana said.

Part of the Bedouins’ problem lies in integrating a traditionally nomadic, pastoral, conservative and tribal society within a modern, largely urbanized state.

However, Israeli administrators over the decades, while sometimes trying to alleviate the problems, have frequently worsened the situation, according to Israeli civil rights groups and some government investigations.

“On the formal level, Bedouins are equal Israeli citizens, but in practice, government policy has repressed the Bedouins or treated them in a paternalistic, ‘We know what’s best for you’ manner,” Silver said.

In 1998, Dr. Yehuda Paz, a New York-born educator, decided to address the problem through private initiatives and founded the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (NISPED). His first hire was Silver, now the institute’s executive director overseeing four major departments, of which the most visible is the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation (AJEEC). Elsana is the director of AJEEC, an acronym that means “I am coming toward you” in Arabic.

Working at the grass-roots level and with support from Israeli agencies, AJEEC’s projects are aimed mainly at raising the economic and educational standards of Bedouin women. Many of the projects consist of leadership and volunteerism programs familiar in other countries, but some have a distinctive local touch.

A first-time course has trained Bedouin women as DJs to organize entertainment at weddings in the women’s tents, which are off limits to men. Similarly, 24 other women have graduated as still and video photographers, who apply their skills to take pictures of female participants at community and family events, something prohibited for men.

In other programs, women have been helped to establish their own hairdressing and jewelry-design businesses, train as sports counselors and form partnerships with Jewish businesswomen.

Both visitors said they were encouraged by signs of progress in their work. One indicator is the growing number of Bedouin project volunteers, which has risen in recent years from 47 to 350, who in turn work with some 10,000 children.

In addition, “more women are getting higher education and more Israel government ministries are willing to help,” Elsana said.

Just as interesting as the projects are the two women, who come from wildly disparate backgrounds but are united by a common goal.

Elsana learned about the uncertainties of life early on. She was born in Tel Arad, a Bedouin village in the northern Negev. Its inhabitants, she said, were expelled from Israel to Jordan in 1953, were rejected by the Jordanians and lived in a kind of limbo for a decade, until the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that they had to be re-admitted. However, it took another decade until the original Tel Arad residents were allowed to resettle on their own land.

At home, there were problems, too. Elsana was the fifth girl in a row born to her parents, and the disappointed father let it be known that he might look for a second wife who could bear him a son. The parents named their fifth daughter Amal, which means “hope” in Arabic, and the strategy worked. The next five children were all boys, followed by two more girls.

Her father was an extraordinary man, a shepherd and later a building contractor, who insisted that his daughters, as well as his sons, be educated. He paid for this breach of tribal custom when his own relatives set fire to his truck and other men shunned him. Nevertheless, all 12 children have attended college through a family chain, in which each sibling supported the schooling of the next younger one in line.

Elsana earned a degree in social work at Ben-Gurion University and became the first Bedouin woman to live in a student housing project away from home. She went on to receive a master’s degree in community development from McGill University in Montreal.

She is also blessed with an understanding husband, a lawyer, who, contrary to tradition, takes care of the couple’s 5-year-old twins during his wife’s frequent travels, conferences and lectures.

Silver grew up in a “Conservadox” home in Winnipeg, early on became active in the Jewish feminist movement and recalled battling pro-Palestinian students at the University of Manitoba. In 1974, she joined fellow Habonim members in making aliyah and re-establishing Kibbutz Gezer, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. During the next 16 years, she rose to become Gezer’s building manager and secretary general.

Though the work was fulfilling, Silver, who now lives in Kibbutz Beeri near the Gaza border, abandoned two convictions she had cherished in the Diaspora.