Costly plan to get Bedouin out of Negev gets go-ahead

May 7, 2013
Sarah Benton

A petition asking the Israeli government to Stop the Begin Plan, drawn up by Rabbis for Human Rights, is in Action Alerts to the left, and at the foot of this posting. To sign it, click here.

Bedouin children traversing a new building site in the Negev town of Rahat. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Ministers Approve Bill That Will Displace Bedouin

May 06, 2013

The Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs today (May 6) approved the draft Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev. The bill, which is based on the Begin Plan, is now expected to begin the legislative process through the Knesset.

According to Attorney Rawia Aburabia of ACRI: “Today the government approved a plan that will cause the displacement and forced eviction of dozens of villages and tens of thousands of Bedouin residents, dispossessing them of their property and historical rights to their lands, destroying the social fabric of their communities, and sealing the fate of thousands of families into poverty and unemployment. All of this while the government simultaneously promotes the establishment of new Jewish communities, some of which are even slated to be built on the fresh ruins of Bedouin villages. Rather than displacing these communities, the government should seek a true and just solution that facilitates the inclusion of Bedouin citizens into the civil and social fabric of the Negev by recognizing the unrecognized villages and acknowledging their legal ownership rights to their lands.”

Urban planner Nili Baruch, of Bimkom said in response: “The key to a solution to the issue of the unrecognized villages in the Negev is planning. A plan to formally recognize the unrecognized villages (such as the one initiated by the village residents themselves) will afford them their rights to education, health, fitting infrastructure, and sources of employment. Such a process would not only be the most likely to succeed, but also the most just, coming after years of neglect of the unrecognized villages, most of which have been in existence since before the state of Israel was established.”

Bedouin village in Negev (Photo: Ronit Sela)
A Bedouin village in Negev Photo by Ronit Sela

Israeli ministers endorse controversial plan to relocate Bedouin

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation overcame serious disagreements to approve a legal framework for moving the Bedouin into recognized communities; vote had been postponed two weeks to allow Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi to study the issue.

By Jonathan Lis, Ha’aretz
May 07, 2013

Israeli cabinet ministers agreed Monday after a heated debate to back a controversial plan for resettling the Bedouin who live in the Negev Desert.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved the Begin Law to resolve land-use issues related to the population, after Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel managed to reach a series of compromises with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former minister Benny Begin on that matter to win the support of the Habayit Hayehudi party.

The committee’s vote had been postponed two weeks to allow Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi to study the issue.

As part of the draft legislation, some 20,000 to 30,000 Bedouin are to be relocated to officially recognized towns in the Negev including Rahat, Khura and Ksayfe.

Those who are moved are to receive financial compensation as well as new plots of land. The plan is estimated to cost the state NIS 6.8 billion.

Among the concessions Habayit Hayehudi won were the inclusion in the plan of a detailed zoning map of the lands earmarked for the Bedouin and the creation of a ministerial committee headed by Netanyahu to supervise its implementation based on biannual reports.

Public Security Minister Yizhak Aharonovich of Yisrael Beiteinu nearly scuttled the plan by demanding the hiring of hundreds of additional police officers to enforce it.

It was ultimately decided that the bill would not be voted on its second and third readings in the Knesset until a deal is reached with the Finance Ministry on adding 250 officers to the police force, in addition to the 200 new positions already approved. If such a deal cannot be reached, the bill will be returned to the committee.

Bedouin leaders harshly criticized the plan, calling it immoral and impractical. “This is a step that harms the basic rights of the Bedouin. Instead of the state contributing to the Bedouin population, it is acting against it,” said Rahat Mayor Sheikh Faiz Abu Seheban. “I call on all human rights organizations to oppose the decision, since it damages the social framework in the Negev.”

“The plan will under no circumstances be carried out; the Bedouin population will not give up its land,” said Hussein Al-Rafia, the former head of the regional council of unrecognized Bedouin communities. “I think the state needs to sit with the Bedouin population and solve the problem once and for all. They have not sat with us seriously.”

Originally known as the Prawer Plan, because it was based on the proposal of a team headed by Ehud Prawer, the head of policy planning in the Prime Minister’s Office – a version of the plan was approved by the cabinet in September 2012 along with a NIS 1.2 billion economic development program for recognized Bedouin communities in the Negev.

Benny Begin was charged with listening to Bedouin complaints regarding the plan and incorporating them into draft legislation.

The state has struggled with what to do with the Negev Bedouin for nearly 60 years. The previous cabinet approved the Law for the Regulation of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev after the national election in January 2012, but the move drew heavy criticism.

In 2008, the government formed the Goldberg Committee, led by former High Court judge Eliezer Goldberg, to organize Bedouin settlement in the Negev. Based on the committee’s report, which marked the State of Israel’s first attempt to formally hear Bedouin grievances, the government drafted a legal memorandum on organizing Bedouin settlement.

At the heart of the Bedouin question is the ownership of land the Bedouins say they purchased before the establishment of the State of Israel. The agreements were verbal and never registered in the official Land Registry, and Israeli law does not recognize land claims without some form of written proof of purchase or ownership.

The Begin Law as approved by the cabinet calls for communities and employment centers for the Bedouin to be established along three main routes: the Rahat-Be’er Sheva road, the Shoket junction-Tel Arad road and the Be’er Sheva-Dimona road. The boundaries of the communities are to be drawn with regard to existing farming patterns and the government’s allocation of land. Relocated Bedouin who can prove they owned land until 1979 are to be given alternative land, while others are to receive monetary compensation.

The plan also provides for recognition of some unrecognized communities in areas that the regional master plan for the greater Be’er Sheva area has already  designated as residential. Some 70,000 Bedouin currently live in unrecognized villages in the Negev.

British Jewish groups slam Bedouin settlement bill ahead of discussions

While the government seeks to advance legislation of a bill that would see tens of thousands of Bedouin resettled, British Jewish youth groups and Israeli rights organization say the law would unjustly displace thousands.

By Edna Adato and Israel Hayom Staff

May 06, 2013

Bedouin holding signs to protest the government’s plan during the negotiations over the status of their communities in the Negev, in 2011. Photo by Yoav Ari Dudkevitch

The Ministerial Committee for legislation will review on Monday a bill aiming to regulate the settlement of Israel’s Bedouin population. Four British Jewish youth groups wrote a letter protesting the proposed law, saying the bill did not represent Jewish values. In Israel, equality and justice organizations have asked the government to scrap the bill.

The government proposal would resettle some 30,000 Bedouin, and resolve some 12,000 land claims, according to an abstract of the bill obtained by Army Radio.

According to the summary of the bill, “The unprecedented arrangements that are being offered will grant land and funding, which are not recognized by law or in legal rulings, in response to land ownership claims. These arrangements will give Bedouin the tools to cope with future challenges.”

The UJS (Union of Jewish Students) and ProZion, the UK Zionist movement for Progressive Judaism have written a joint letter asking the government to scrap the proposed legislation.

“As Jewish representative organizations speaking on behalf of a large cross-section of Anglo-Jewry, committed to the State of Israel and our Jewish heritage, we believe advancing this bill in the Knesset defies the Jewish religious imperative to treat the minorities within our borders fairly and with justice,” the groups wrote.

The groups were opposed to what they called the “expulsion of 40,000 Bedouin,” and said they supported Bedouin rights to their “ancestral lands.”

In addition, the groups demanded that the government work closely with the Bedouin community to devise a plan to regulate settlement, and called for the recognition of “all existing villages.” They also called on the government to accept all ownership claims made in the 1970s.

Israeli rights groups voiced vehement opposition to the bill, saying the law would lead to rampant poverty among Bedouin communities living in unrecognized villages.

In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and members of the legislation committee and rights organizations said that the program promoted by the bill would displace thousands of Bedouin and forcibly evict thousands more, dispossessing families of their lands and sealing many people’s impoverishment while undermining the state’s social fabric.

“The law and its policies are based on false premises, which imagine the Bedouin as ‘squatters’ while ignoring that most of the villages in question were founded before the establishment of the state,” the organizations claimed.

Ministers Lapid and Livni: Stop the ‘Begin Proposal’ regarding the Bedouins in Israel.

PETITION [To sign the petition click the headline above; the petition is in the top right hand of the page.]
by Rabbis for Human Rights

Dear Ministers Livni and Lapid,

“I am certain that the world will judge the Jewish State by what it will do with the Arabs”
– Chaim Weizmann – The First President of Israel

History will judge us harshly if we allow the expulsion of 40,000 Bedouin, and deny the Bedouin a fair opportunity to hold on to their ancestral lands.

In this matter, the Begin Proposal is no more acceptable than the Praver Proposal. We therefore ask that the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs not approve any of the proposals currently on the table.

The Bedouin are not “Criminals squatting on land not belonging to them,” and they are not “Taking over the Negev.” The Bedouin community constitutes 30% of the Negev population, and their demands involve only 5.4% of its land. Their has never been a fair process for examining their demands, and most of the land claims the government requested the Bedouin to submit in the 1970’s were never processed one way or the other. The population density in the unrecognized Bedouin villages is 6.3 times that of the adjacent Bnei Shimon Regional Council. The Bedouin occupy much less space in proportion to their numbers even if all their demands are met.

As Israel is faced with tough economic choices and serious socioeconomic problems, it is terribly unwise to use NIS 8 billion to create additional problems. The rates of poverty, unemployment, crime and drugs are much higher in the artificially created townships than in the villages. Cutting off people from their sources of income and destroying their social fabric and way of life will only increase these problems, and the funds needed to deal with them. At the same time, the increasing tension created will discourage investment, and make matters worse for both the Jewish and Bedouin residents of the Negev.

“The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied.” -Pirkei Avot

The time has come for an equitable resolution of Bedouin rights in the Negev. Any worthy resolution must preserve the following principles:

It will be arrived at only with real involvement from the Bedouin community institutions.
Full recognition for all existing villages, even if that means altering the national zoning plan.
Acceptance of the ownership claims made in the 1970’s.
Diversity of settlement types, not just towns or large villages.
Integration of the Bedouin in planning and finding solutions.
Developing the Negev equally – for all its residents.

It is in your hands to decide whether we recreate the “Pale of Settlement” and other restrictions the Jewish people know all to well, or observe the command to treat those living with us fairly and justice because “You were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.”



Information Sheet: Israel Ignores Bedouin Needs with Begin Plan, ACRI May 3, 2013

In-depth look at the problems with the bill (prepared by Bimkom and ACRI)

Joint letter from ACRI and Adalah to the Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs on Begin Plan

Read the Begin Plan in English (unofficial translation)

BIMKOM – Planners for Planning Rights is an Israeli non-profit organization formed in 1999 by a group of planners and architects, in order to strengthen democracy and human rights in the field of planning. Spatial planning plays a crucial role in determining the quality of our life and environment, as well as the prospects for socio-economic development and well-being of individuals and communities alike.

Union of Jewish Students

Pro-Zion A ‘Progressive Zionist movement’ which has ‘a vision for the State of Israel based on Progressive Judaism.’  Click here to learn more or go straight to Our Campaigns page.

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