September 14, 2010
For Immediate Release
Contact: Doni Remba
Jewish Alliance for Change
Prominent American Jews Petition Netanyahu: End Destruction of Bedouin Villages in Israel 
Join in solidarity with thousands of Israelis demanding just solution to the plight of Bedouin Israelis
 Israeli authorities razed Bedouin Negev village of
 Al-Arakib for 5th time in as many weeks
Jewish Alliance for Change calls Israel's Bedouin policy "an egregious failure, morally bankrupt, an assault on the soul of the Jewish state."


Washington, DC - Sept. 14, 2010 - Over fifty prominent American Jews, including rabbis, artists, academics and organizational leaders, are calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end the demolition of unrecognized Bedouin villages in Israel and to negotiate a just solution to the plight of Israel's Bedouin Palestinian Arab citizens in the Negev. 

The petition effort, now with over 3,500 signatories and growing, is being organized by the Jewish Alliance for Change (JAFC) (, a pro-Israel Jewish nonprofit organization which works to mobilize the American Jewish community, and the American public, to support a progressive agenda for change.  JAFC also educates the public about President Obama's efforts to bring peace and security to Israel and her neighbors.   JAFC has brought together under a big tent a wide range of ideologically diverse organizations who have agreed to co-sponsor this campaign:  Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, Meretz USA, the Shalom Center, The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring, Jewish Voice for Peace, Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and Tikun Olam. 


The American Jewish leaders' petition expresses solidarity with an Israeli petition, signed by over three thousand citizens of Israel and others, sponsored by the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Economic Development (NISPED), an Israeli nonprofit in Beer Sheva which promotes Arab-Jewish equality and empowerment for the Arab citizens of Israel, particularly the Arab Bedouin community in the Negev.    The American Jewish petition is hosted by at, and emailed to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren each time it is signed.  


The petitions were prompted by the destruction of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al-Arakib in the Negev on July 27 by bulldozers from the Israel Land Administration (ILA), and the forcible removal by 1,300 Israeli police of over 300 Bedouin Palestinian Israeli citizens - mostly children - leaving them homeless, expelled from their land, and bereft of their possessions.  The residents of the village started to rebuild their homes, but ILA bulldozers and the Israel Police have demolished the village five times in as many weeks, most recently on September 12, according to reports in the Israeli media.   


A betrayal of Israel's founding democratic and Jewish values


"For the Israeli government to wipe out an entire village, destroy its crops and farmlands, and evict 300 citizens, mostly children, is a betrayal of Israel's founding Jewish and democratic values; it is an assault on the heart and soul of the Jewish state," said JAFC President Doni Remba, a veteran American Jewish nonprofit leader and pro-Israel peace activist. "Israel's Declaration of Independence expressed its founding commitment to 'foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants,' 'based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel' 'ensur[ing] complete equality of social and political rights to all'," noted Mr. Remba.  "If these words are to have real meaning today, rather than becoming empty promises, the Israeli government must do a complete 180.  Israel's policy towards its most disadvantaged citizens - the Bedouin community in the Negev - is an egregious failure and morally bankrupt," Mr. Remba said.   


"It's obscene that the Israeli government is demolishing an entire village and forcibly evicting hundreds of families instead of working out a just, comprehensive and agreed solution to its greatly distressed 170,000 Negev Bedouin citizens.   There is nothing about Zionism that requires the Israeli government to systematically discriminate against its non-Jewish Arab minority citizens.  The government of Benjamin Netanyahu is sullying the justice of the Zionist cause.  'A nation's greatness' - its moral character - 'is measured by how it treats its weakest members,' wrote Gandhi.  Acts like these only sap support for Israel around the world in democratic countries that share Israel's commitment to liberty, equality and civil rights," added Mr. Remba. 


Leading American Jews endorsing the petition 


include Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C., designated in Newsweek's 2009 list as the most influential rabbi in the United States; Rabbi Ellen W. Dreyfus, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and senior rabbi at B'nai Yehuda Beth Sholom in Homewood, IL; Rabbi Arthur Green, Rector of Hebrew College Rabbinical School, Newton, MA;  Rabbi Toba Spitzer, Past President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, West Newton, MA; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center, Philadelphia, P.A.;  Rabbi Sharon Brous, IKAR, Los Angeles, CA; Tony & Emmy Award-winning actor and singer Mandy Patinkin; political philosopher Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, N.J.; actor and musical artist Theodore Bikel, Los Angeles, CA; Deborah Dash Moore, Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and Frederick G.L. Huetwell Professor of History at the University of Michigan; political philosopher Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at University of Chicago;  J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, Washington, D.C.; New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch, San Francisco, CA; Americans for Peace Now CEO Debra DeLee, Washington, D.C.; writers MJ Rosenberg, Media Matters for America, Washington, D.C., Leonard Fein, Boston, MA, and Prof. Peter Beinart, City University of New York; Prof. Steven M. Cohen of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York; Edward Witten, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, N.J., one of the great living physicists; Peter Edelman, Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C.;  Gerald Bubis, Founding Director of the School of Jewish Communal Service and Alfred Gottschalk Professor Emeritus of Jewish Communal Studies, Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles, CA;  Rabbi Marc Gopin, Director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA; Devorah Brous, Los Angeles, CA, founder of the Jewish/Bedouin environmental justice organization BUSTAN in Israel; Shaul Magid, The Jay and Jeannie Schottenstein Chair, Jewish Studies in Modern Judaism and Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN; Samuel Fleischacker, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Jewish Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago; Mark Rosenblum, Associate Professor of History, Director, Jewish Studies Program and Center, Queens College, Queens, N.Y.; Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology, Columbia University, N.Y., N.Y.; Dr. Shems Prinzivalli, President, Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), N.Y., N.Y; Dr. Moises Salinas, President, Meretz USA; Ron Skolnik, Executive Director, Meretz USA; Charney Bromberg, former Executive Director, Meretz USA, N.Y.; Daniel Sieradski, former publisher of Jewschool, Brooklyn, N.Y. 


Other prominent religious leaders endorsing the petition include Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Director-Social Justice Organizing Program, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Wyncote, PA;  Rabbi Jill Jacobs, N.Y., N.Y., Rabbi Ellen Lippman, Co-Chair, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, N.Y., N.Y., Rabbi Charles Feinberg of Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, DC and Co-Chair, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America; Rabbi Laura Geller, Los Angeles, CA; Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA; Rabbi Andrea London, Beth Emet - The Free Synagogue, Evanston, IL; Rabbi Brant Rosen, Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, Evanston, IL; Rabbi Brian Walt, Taanit Tzedek-Jewish Fast for Gaza; Rabbi Michael M. Cohen, Rabbi Emeritus, Israel Congregation, Manchester Center, Vermont. All affiliations are for identification purposes only.  A full list of prominent lead endorsers, which continues to grow daily, has been published at the petition website. 


Interviews with JAFC experts on the Bedouin issue in Israel


To arrange for interviews in Los Angeles with Devorah Brous, founder of the Jewish/Bedouin environmental justice organization BUSTAN in Israel, and co-director of the Jewish Alliance for Change Bedouin-Jewish Justice Campaign, who spent 15 years working with the Negev Bedouin, please contact Ms. Brous at


To arrange for interviews in New York City with JAFC President Doni Remba please contact Mr. Remba at   

Al Arakib after being demolished the 5th time on 9/12Background:  Why this petition?  
The 170,000 Bedouin Palestinian Israeli citizens in the Negev are "by far Israel's most disadvantaged community in terms of per capita income, unemployment, poverty rate, education and public infrastructure," according to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues.  Out of this population, some 90,000 Bedouin live in over 40 unrecognized villages which the government refuses to connect to Israel's national water, sewage and electricity systems.   The villages lack other basic services such as health care, schools, paved roads and telephones.   Al-Arakib, razed by the Israel Lands Administration five times in the last five weeks, is one of these unrecognized villages.  
The Bedouin land claim in the Negev is well founded:    The Israel Lands Administration claims that the Bedouin have no property rights to the land where the villages are located.  But Israeli academic experts and the Negev Coexistence Forum, a Bedouin rights group, have testified that Al-Arakib existed before the founding of Israel in 1948 and that the residents returned after being evicted by the state in 1951.  A dozen residents of Al-Arakib currently have land claims pending in the Beer Sheva District Court.    
"The ILA has previously offered the Bedouin the opportunity to live on the land if they paid rent to the state," said BUSTAN founder Devorah Brous, who now serves as co-director of the Jewish Alliance for Change Bedouin-Jewish Justice Campaign.   "The Bedouin have rejected this offer, and for good reason.  Paying rent to the state would be tantamount to surrendering their property rights to land they have long justifiably believed is theirs, where they have lived for decades," she noted.  "On the contrary:  under the principles of eminent domain and elementary justice as practiced in every decent democratic society, it is the State of Israel that owes the Bedouin fair compensation, and a livable mutually acceptable alternative for their expropriated land in those cases where their villages are not recognized by the state."     
How the Israeli government makes the problem worse:  The Israeli government has attempted over several decades to resettle the Bedouin into seven urbanized townships, where 65% of the Negev Bedouin now live.  But the new towns are "over-crowded, badly serviced, and deprived the inhabitants of their traditional lifestyle," reports the Task Force.  These recognized townships are severely under-funded, suffer from minimal infrastructure, high crime rates, no industrial zones and paltry job opportunities.  No Bedouin can legally farm or own livestock.  The Bedouin view these townships as "living graves," one reason why they resist being forcibly relocated there. 
In November 2008, the Israeli Government's Committee for the Regulation of Bedouin Settlements in the Negev, headed by retired Justice Eliezer Goldberg, concluded that "Israel must change the legal status of at least 46 villages so as to prevent perpetuation of the community's unbearable state."  
Ignoring these recommendations, the Netanyahu government announced in January 2010 that it would triple the demolition rate of homes and farm buildings in unrecognized Bedouin villages, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz (Feb. 18, 2010).  "The terrible recent events at Al-Arakib are just the tip of the iceberg," said Mr. Remba.  "I'm afraid we're in store for more of the same at an escalated pace in the coming weeks and months, if the Netanyahu government doesn't change course.   Continuing this policy is bad for Israel on so many levels," he added.
An August 8 editorial in Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper expressed dismay at the path the government is following towards the Negev Bedouin.   "Destroying their homes and pushing them into the crowded and poor Bedouin cities creates a much more severe political and social problem" than allowing them to remain in areas that Israel claims as state land.  The editorial concludes:  "It's hard to understand why Israel is pushing a significant sector of its citizens toward extremism and crime.   On the ruins of Al-Arakib a new generation of Bedouin will sprout that is alienated from the state, enraged and desperate."   
"How this can be in the interest of Israel's security or well-being, or the preservation of its good name in the world, is simply unimaginable," said Mr. Remba. 
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Jewish Alliance for Change