Saturday, October 29, 2011

How Not to Solve the Bedouin Problem, by Don Futterman, in Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent order to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to find ways to retroactively legalize illegal outposts on privately held Palestinian land should surprise no one familiar with the coalition's contempt for Palestinians and our legal system: If we can't have Greater Israel, at least we can have Lesser Palestine. But the government's legal arsenal is also being deployed against another target - Israel's Bedouin citizens in the Negev.

Every few years, Israeli leaders decide to solve the Bedouin problem once and for all. There are no shortage of challenges in Bedouin society that could benefit from government intervention: poverty; lack of government services; grossly inadequate education; a sky-high birthrate; polygamy; involvement in smuggling, trafficking and car theft; and officially unrecognized shantytowns that keep spreading as Bedouin continue to be refused legal building permits.

But the problem that bothers our government is Bedouin land claims.

The Bedouin claim they own a portion of the Negev - about 640,000 dunams (160,000 acres ), or 4.9 percent of the Negev's total area - because these are their traditional tribal lands. The government argues that this figure is misleading, because the Bedouin want a much higher percentage of the choice areas centered around Metropolitan Be'er Sheva, conveniently forgetting that many Bedouin were forcibly relocated to this area by previous Israeli governments. The government believes this land must be kept in trust for Jewish settlement, based in part on trumped-up security fears, to prevent a band of Arab settlement connecting Gaza and the West Bank.

The recently formed Bedouin Settlement Authority is yet another attempt to control the Bedouin, rather than help them. It has invested in a huge staff of lawyers and inspectors to find ways to neutralize Bedouin land claims and to expedite the removal of Bedouin from their villages. As in the West Bank, the government's legal firepower has been tasked not with helping citizens or getting at the truth, but with keeping land out of Arab hands by any means possible.

Three years ago, the government commissioned retired Justice Eliezer Goldberg to recommend how to address the Bedouin situation. Goldberg talked to members of the Bedouin community and discovered that instead of impoverished towns with no economic base, they wanted rural settlements where they could practice their way of life. Goldberg advised that as many as possible of the Bedouin villages be left in place and recognized, presumably under a leasing arrangement like that enjoyed by kibbutzim and moshavim, and that as citizens, the Bedouin should be involved in determining their own future.

Although Goldberg did not endorse Bedouin claims of land ownership, he acknowledged that the Bedouin have a tenable, historic connection to the land they live on, and are neither squatters nor trespassers - a radical admission for a government-sponsored entity. While not satisfying Bedouin leaders, Goldberg's recommendations were a thoughtful leap past the sloganeering demonization that usually passes for government policy in the Negev.

But Yisrael Beiteinu and other right-wing parties objected, basing themselves on an interpretation of the Zionist mission that can only be considered anachronistic. Sixty-three years since we became the lords of the land, right-wing ideologues insist we are still fighting to redeem the Land of Israel. Every dunam given the Bedouin is considered a loss for the Jewish people, rather than a gain for Israeli society. Under political pressure, many of Goldberg's recommendations were dumped by Netanyahu's point person, Udi Prawer, who agreed to recognize Bedouin ownership for half of the lands currently occupied - about 200,000 dunams - but dismissed the recognition of additional villages. Prawer dredged up the old program of concentrating the Bedouin around their failed townships, with the addition of the 11 villages recognized as part of the Abu Basma Regional Council.

When that didn't satisfy his coalition partners, Netanyahu brought in his national security advisor, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yaakov Amidror, to be his hatchet man. Choosing Amidror meant Netanyahu had decided to reject Goldberg outright, and to regard the Bedouin as security problems rather than as citizens.

In Amidror's plan, apparently none of the other 35 villages will be recognized, and far less land will be registered under Bedouin ownership. An estimated 30,000 Bedouin will be forced to leave their homes, this time with the imprimatur of the Israeli justice system. Furthermore, Bedouin citizens are to be excluded from the decision-making process. It's a pity, not only because this course will lead to unnecessary conflict and damage the credibility of our legal system, but also because there are other choices. The Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages (RCUV ) and the NGO Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights, drafted an alternative plan for developing the Negev that includes giving unrecognized villages legal status and providing proper planning for their development. There are about 100 days to change course before Amidror's plan takes effect. The government should emulate Bimkom, soliciting input from Bedouin leaders and villagers, including, outreach to Bedouin women. The real Zionist challenge for 2011 is not to guard land from Bedouin for the sake of the Jewish people, nor to deploy the courts against our own citizens, but to figure out how Jews and Arabs can participate as equals in the democratic life of this country.

Don Futterman is the program director for Israel of the Moriah Fund, and one third of the podcast team of The Promised Podcast, a weekly discussion of Israeli politics from a progressive perspective.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Pro-Bedouin activists meet with White House officials

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- A coalition of Israeli and U.S. groups that campaign for Israeli Bedouin rights met with White House officials to lobby against Israel's planned mass relocation.

Doni Remba, who coordinates a Bedouin project for Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the Jewish Alliance for Change, said the White House officials met Wednesday with him and delegates from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Adalah-the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; Sidre, a Bedouin women's empowerment group; and Dukium, a Negev Desert Jewish-Arab coexistence forum.

The Prawer plan, approved last month by Israel's government, is set to remove up to 40,000 Negev Bedouin from villages and settlements that the government does not recognize.

Bedouin activists say the compensation being offered by the government is too low and that some of the unrecognized villages should be incorporated as part of any government plan.

Israel says its planned resettlement program includes fair compensation, has been permitted by the courts and clears critical areas of the Negev for planned development.'

Published in JTA Oct. 27, 2011

Pictured from R to L: Michal Rotem (Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality), Rawia Aburabia (Association for Civil Rights in Israel), (Gidon) Doni Remba (Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice: A Project of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the Jewish Alliance for Change), Dr. Thabet Abu Rass (Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; Ben-Gurion University), Hanan Alsana (Sidre Association)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Listen to 3 Israeli Palestinian, Bedouin & Jewish human rights activists on WBEZ Worldview: Israel plans to displace 30,000 Bedouin Israeli citizens

Listen to the interview broadcast on NPR-affiliate WBEZ here.

Last month, the Israeli government approved a plan to relocate 30,000 Bedouin Arabs living in unrecognized villages and tent encampments in southern Israel to settlements recognized by the state. Critics say the plan forcibly removes people from their ancestral lands and sends them to some of the most destitute parts of the country.

We hear from a wide range of Israeli citizens, both Arab and Jewish, who are concerned about the relocation. The activists are on a tour of the U.S sponsored by the Telos Group and the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel and Rabbis for Human Rights-North America.

Rawia Abu-Rabia is a civil rights attorney, a Palestinian Bedouin citizen of Israel who heads the Bedouin project of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Michal Rotem is a Jewish Israeli with the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality in Israel. And Dr. Thabet Abu Ras is an academic who works for minority rights with Adalah: the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Arab-Israeli towns go on strike over plans to confiscate their land, The Guardian

If Israel's parliament approves the proposal, 30,000 Bedouins could be removed from their homes in Negev within 60 days

Bedouins living in Israel's southern Negev region protest against government plans to confiscate their land. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

"Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the aim of the government was to assist the Bedouin minority by assimilating them into wider Israeli society. "The Bedouin community has a lower standard of health care and education than the rest of Israel, they live in substandard conditions. We are investing 1.2bn shekels [£210m] to move them into the mainstream, to reduce that gap."

Comment from the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice:

This is Orwellian double-speak: if the Israeli govt wants to improve the living conditions of the Negev Bedouin, let them honor their wishes and develop and modernize the villages in which they live, without forcing tens of thousands of them off their land with brutal violence as they have at Al-Arakib and other villages, and concentrating them in urban townships in which they do not want to live. The bottom line: the Netanyahu govt covets Negev Bedouin land for developing new Jewish settlements and JNF forests.

The govt's plan is designed to confine the Bedouin into reservations to free up their land for "Jewish development." This is an immoral policy that discriminates against non-Jewish Israelis in favor of Jewish Israelis and sabotages democracy and equal citizenship in Israel. It empties of meaning the "democratic" in Netanyahu's and Lieberman's demands that Israel be recognized by the Palestinians as a "democratic Jewish state," and insures that it will be seen as an undemocratic Jewish state which oppresses its minority non-Jewish Arab and Palestinian citizens. Why would the Palestinians recognize a Jewish state that mistreats and discriminates against its Palestinian and Arab citizens?

The article follows:

Six Arab-Israeli towns in Israel's southern Negev region have ground to a halt in protest at government plans to confiscate swathes of land from the Bedouin community. If the proposal passes through the Knesset, Israel's parliament, unopposed, 30,000 people could be forced from their homes within 60 days.

Schools, shops and municipal offices across the region closed for the day allowing more than 8,000 people to stage a demonstration in Beersheba rejecting the plan – the largest civil protest in the city's history. Arab-Israeli MP Jamal Zahalka said they were united against the proposal.

"We want to send a very clear message to the Israeli government – we are saying no. This demonstration proves that Israel's plans will be thwarted. Nobody here today will co-operate with them."

He added that the protesters would not allow another Nakba, the Palestinian term for the events of 1948, in which hundreds of thousands became refugees.

The Israeli ministerial committee approved a plan to settle the long-standing land dispute between the Bedouin communities in the Negev and Israel on 11 September. Based on a report produced for the prime minister's office, it suggests that more than 30,000 Bedouin living on land claimed by Israel should be resettled in six towns created and recognised by the state in 1973.

Of the 12,000 sq km (2,965,000 acres) of Negev land, the government plan apportions 200 to the Bedouin, with compensation offered to anyone forced from land they can prove ownership of.

Around half of the Negev's 180,00 Bedouin live in unrecognised villages, without running water, electricity or public services of any kind. They are the poorest minority group in Israel.

Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the aim of the government was to assist the Bedouin minority by assimilating them into wider Israeli society.

"The Bedouin community has a lower standard of health care and education than the rest of Israel, they live in substandard conditions. We are investing 1.2bn shekels [£210m] to move them into the mainstream, to reduce that gap.

"The idea that the Bedouin do not want to make this move is simply not true."

Bedouin leader Amal Elsana-Alh'jooj said the report failed to recognise Bedouin claims to the land prior to the creation of Israel, as recommended by the government-commissioned Goldberg committee in 2008. An estimated 90,000 Bedouin lived in the Negev before 1948.

"If we accept what they are offering, we will see a violent, over-crowded poverty-ridden area," she said. "We want to restart the negotiating process so we the Bedouin can start to contribute to the area and not just be people living in poverty."

Phoebe Greenwood inJerusalem,, Thursday 6 October 2011 13.09 EDT