Leeor Kaufman’s Destiny Hills, screened at the Jerusalem film festival this week, documents the struggle of Mohammad of the al-Talalqa Bedouin tribe of the Negev to assert his right to live on his tribe’s ancestral land.
In cinematic terms the film is impressively accomplished, and Mohammad, his wife, his four sons, and the rest of their family are so winning, pleasant, and determined that I walked out of the film wishing they were my neighbors. The family, which lives in poverty, endures the repeated destruction by Israeli authorities of the jerry-built shacks and cinder-block structures they erect and re-erect on the Destiny (Goral) Hills, land that once belonged to the tribe and which they still claim. They resist the government’s policy of resettling the Negev towns and claim that the state has not lived up to agreements it signed years ago with the tribe’s leaders.
While Kaufman’s film portrays life rather than makes political statements, I’m sure that most viewers’ immediate reaction is to sympathize with the Bedouin and their wish to maintain (a modern version of) their traditional lifestyle on the lands their forefathers roamed. I’m not expert in the details of their dispute with the government or the terms under which their land was, with the consent of their leaders, taken from them. But as a minority population with little representation facing a strong state, it’s not surprising that they’ve gotten a raw deal.
But remember that this is an anti-settlement blog. That is, I don’t believe that history and attachment to the land are sufficient reasons to waive the law and permit people to set up house wherever they wish. They are important, but they need to be balanced against other values—for example, our need to preserve green, uninhabited spaces in our ever more densely populated country, and the need to provide social services like health, education, and welfare, in effective and efficient ways.
Once scene in the film shows us the town where the government wants Mohammad and his family to live. The houses are shacks and the spaces between them ugly and dreary. According to Mohammad, the social services that the government has promised to supply are of low quality. So he has little incentive to settle there and every reason to seek to augment his meager construction worker’s salary (he commutes to distant Tel Aviv) with some subsistence farming and sheepherding.
But, in the end, the best interests of all Israel’s citizens, Jews and Arabs, is to prevent wildcat, sparse settlement. I oppose the establishment of new Jewish settlements in the Lachish salient, which threatens to destroy central Israel’s last extensive rural region. By the same token, I want to see the Negev kept safe from wildcat and, unplanned settlement, whether by Jews or by Bedouin. That doesn’t mean that the area must be uninhabited—just that settlement needs to be planned carefully and kept at levels consistent with preserving the landscape and environment.
If you get a chance to see Destiny Hills, by all means do so. Mohammad al-Talalqa and his family deserve our admiration and respect. Whether they should or should not be allowed to live on the Goral Hills is another matter. We need to respect their traditions and their ties to the land, and we need to respect the land itself.