In the pipeline: Native Americans and Israel's Bedouins uprooted

In the pipeline: Native Americans and Israel's Bedouins uprooted
6 min read
14 Oct, 2016
Comment: In the US and Israel, colonial attitudes towards indigenous land have combined with the overbearing power of market forces to displace Native Americans and Bedouins, writes Nick Rodrigo
Bedouin women in Negev protest against plans to uproot the Umm Al-Hiran village [AFP]

On 1 September 188 tribes and Native Nations from across the United States and Canada pledged their solidarity and support for the Lakota Tribes' fight to stop the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.

This project is intended to carry half a million barrels of heavy Bakken crude oil across the Missouri river. According to Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which is leading the protest, the pipeline will destroy burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artefacts in neighbouring reservations.

In addition to this, the pipeline violates centuries old treaties between Washington and various tribes in the region in addition to clean water and national environmental policy acts. Protestors have been attacked by private security with dogs and pepper spray while legal measures have also been applied to restrain tribal leaders from attending protests.

Over 6,000 miles away Israel is demolishing Bedouin settlements in the Negev desert in order to expand development towns and facilitate space for the burgeoning cyber security industry in Beersheva. In 2013 the Prawer plan was passed in order to empty vast swathes of the area of 40,000 Bedouins, and sweep them into development towns, breaking up communities and eroding the Bedouin cultural ties and way of life.

The plan was shelved after widespread civil disobedience mobilised the international community to condemn the plan. However the displacement continues in a clandestine manner to this day, and the Prawer Plans designs to displace the Bedouin are creeping back into Israeli policy.

These phenomena are driven by two ideologies with strikingly similar understandings of land - Manifest destiny in the USA and Zionism in Israel.

The pipeline will destroy burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artefacts in neighbouring reservations

The 19th century was the high point for Manifest destiny. Key theorists and leaders in America believed that their country had a guiding example to set to the world, through its unique institutions and brand of democracy.

Accompanying this was an understanding that the land was divinely granted to the settler to exploit into the image of a new society, predicated on American principles of labour and capital engrossment. During the 19th century the ideals of manifest destiny did not solidify into a cogent ideology, yet it laid the groundwork for the forced displacement of native civilisations across the continent in order to facilitate more productive farms and cities for the emerging American economy.

Living conditions for Native Americans, especially the 40 percent of those living in reservations, have been at developing world levels throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

A 2012 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples found that conditions for those living on reservations were bleak. Poverty rates were nearly double the national average, and on some reservations, the life expectancy as low as 50. The report found that these conditions were not happenstance, and were the residual effects of consistent violations of land treaties through which previously designated land to Native communities was seized, fraudulently or by force - having a direct impact on the communities ability to economically subsist.

Manifest destiny underpins the continuing denial of Native land rights

Although Manifest destiny underpins the continuing denial of Native land rights, it is the effects of deregulated market principles which are driving its most rabid disregard for these rights in the latest pipeline.

According to research conducted by Food & Water Watch, 38 financial institutions have loaned Dakota Access LLC $10.25 billion in loans and credit facilities to build the pipeline. Even Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has investments in Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 who are prominent funders and shareholders in the pipeline.

Zionism advocated for a national homeland for Jews, in which they would be able to actualise nationhood and a new concept of themselves through working the land. After fraught discussion, it was decided that Palestine would be a suitable place for this nation.

Key Zionists saw this area as a place for Jewish culture to revive, and land with the opportunity for a new Jew, the "Sabra", to realise their potential through steadfast dedication to making the desert bloom. David Ben Gurion noted that the Negev would be "a vital element of our renaissance in Israel".

Under the increasing urbanisation policies of successive Israeli governments, Bedouin communities were swept into shantytowns to form the cheap labour for the "renaissance". These shantytowns were in effect holding pens for a population that needed to be controlled, while their land was taken and irrigated for Jewish only communities.

The flipside of Negev development is displacement and demolition, core policies of Israel’s ideal to 'make the desert bloom'

As Israel suffers a housing crisis, the urbanisation of Negev with Jewish only towns has continued with gusto in recent years. The CEO of the Jewish National Fund in the UK has recently commented that it is there mission to "re-educate people that the Negev isn't a desert region that should be given up on," drawing attention to the fact that the vast area only houses 8 percent of the country's population.

The reality is, that many of those development towns in the Negev are reserved for Jews only. In addition to this, any surrounding Bedouin villages have been demolished in order to facilitate their expansion. According to a report by the Negev Coexistence Forum, 982 structures were demolished in 2015, making the number at 2,452 structures demolished in Bedouin communities in the Negev between 2013 to 2015.

The flipside of Negev development is displacement and demolition, core policies of Israel's ideal to "make the desert bloom" since 1948. As with the Dakota Access pipeline, there is a financial angle to the Negev displacement. Israel's burgeoning cyber security industry is growing in the area, the second largest in the world it is worth a cool half a billion dollars, catering to sophisticated tech reliant businesses like Lockheed Martin, Deutsche Telkom and Paypal.

In the US and Israel, colonial attitudes towards indigenous land as a terra nullius (land without people) has combined with the overbearing power of market forces to displace Native Americans and Bedouins. These communities continue to resist through peaceful protest and their mere continued presence in the face of overwhelming state power.

The conquest of indigenous land by these two colonial powers has not yet been finalised, and the key battle grounds, although continents apart, are connected in more ways than one.


Rodrigo is a journalist and PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Centre. He has worked in policy analysis on the Middle East in South Africa, as well as in Palestinian and Iranian human rights organisations in Palestine and the UK.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.