Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Extreme Israeli violence in recognized Bedouin village of Bir Hadaj - Report from Negev Coexistence Forum

In the early morning hours of November 12, hundreds of Israeli police stormed the recognized Bedouin village of Bir Hadaj. The police officers were accompanied by representatives of the Israeli Ministry of Interior, who attempted to distribute home demolition orders to village residents.

                                                      Israeli police in Bir Hadaj (Photo: Adalah)

In Bir Hadaj, the Israeli police used tactics usually saved for the occupied Palestinian territories, including the use of undercover forces disguised as Arabs, known as Mistaravim in Hebrew, whose goal it is to create provocations and incur a violent response from the Israeli security forces.

Indeed, soon after their arrival in Bir Hadaj, the Israeli police fired tear gas, and rubber and sponge bullets at residents, injuring many people, including women, children and the elderly. 19 residents --including 7 minors-- were arrested in the clashes that ensued, and 29 children were subsequently taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva to be treated for tear gas inhalation.

                                      Israeli police weapons in the schoolyard, Bir Hadaj

This wasn’t the first time that the Israeli authorities have used extreme violence in Bir Hadaj. Similar, though less severe, instances of violence also occurred on October 11 and September 27, when Israeli police officers fired tear gas and sponge bullets and injured numerous residents.

NCF would like to draw these destructive events to your attention, as it seems clear that Israel is moving forward rapidly with its plan to forcibly evict 30,000 Bedouin citizens from their homes and villages in the Negev.

                        Israeli medical staff treat children for their injuries, Bir Hadaj

It is also apparent that the Israeli authorities are prepared to use egregious levels of force to carry out these demolitions and evictions. In September and October, we witnessed dozens of home demolitions in Bedouin communities in the Negev, and an increase in police violence during this destruction.

Tactics used regularly by the Israeli army in the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem are now being used inside the Green Line against citizens of the state. This reality demonstrates the fact that the Israeli government doesn’t view the Bedouin as full citizens.

NCF has written letters to the Israeli Ministry of Education - condemning the attacks on the school in Bir Hadaj and injuries of village children - and to the Israeli Ministry of Internal Security, questioning the use of undercover Israeli police officers whose sole job it was to create a provocation in the village.

                                                        Dozens of weapons used in Bir Hadaj

One of the most important ways to prevent further escalations in violence is to apply strong pressure on Israel to abandon its destructive policies towards Bedouin citizens of the state and respect the rights of Bedouin communities in the Negev. NCF urges you to publicly condemn the Israeli authorities’ actions, urge the government to investigate the recent string of violence, and clearly tell the Israeli authorities that violence like that witnessed in Bir Hadaj will not be tolerated.

In appreciation,

Haia Noach
Executive Director, Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality

Friday, September 7, 2012

One rightist group's creeping state influence, on both sides of Green Line, +972

Whether in Area C of the West Bank, in the Negev, the Galilee or the ‘mixed cities,’ Regavim has one clear goal: the selective implementation of planning and construction laws, encouraging the state to demolish Palestinian homes or public buildings.

By Rona Moran and Miryam Wijler

Israelis celebrate Jerusalem Day (Activestills)

It all began one bright morning in April, after reading an outrageous op-ed by the right-wing journalist Karni Eldad [Hebrew] about Dahamash – an “unrecognized” village in the Ramle-Lod area that we hold quite dear. Karni Eldad’s text can be summed up as a pathetic attempt at comparing the status of Jewish settlements and outposts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the state of unrecognized villages within the 1948 borders. The date of publication was no coincidence, coming just a few days before a meeting of the Ministry of Interior’s Borders Committee regarding the future of the village. After the initial rage abated somewhat, we sat down to write a response and turned to Arafat Ismail, chairman of the village committee, to help us confirm all of the legal details.

Arafat told us that Eldad’s article is actually a one-to-one reproduction of arguments that an association named Regavim had presented to various planning committees against recognizing the village. Though this was our first encounter with the association, it has been almost ubiquitous ever since – from the halls of the High Court of Justice down to the village of Al Zarnoug (where Regavim conducted a tour that was interrupted by Knesset Member Talab Al-Sana), from the Knesset committees to the planning commission meetings. They seem to be gaining power and racking up achievements, so we thought we should get to know them a bit more in depth.

Regavim’s goals and strategy

The association’s website is a good starting point. The site’s home page presents the association’s main goal – promoting a Jewish and Zionist agenda for the State of Israel on issues of land and environment, or as they put it: “safeguarding the lands of the Nation.”

Such statements are familiar from the agenda of Gush Emunim (a Jewish organization dedicated to settling in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967), not to mention the fundamental tenets of the Zionist movement since its inception. However, we see Regavim as part of a new phase in the evolution of the national-religious right in Israel, which has traditionally sought to expand Jewish control and ownership of lands in historic Palestine by settling Jewish Israelis on lands in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This movement enjoys the full support of the state and all its institutions in the pursuit of its mission. Regavim employs a complementary strategy that focuses on “enforcement.” Instead of encouraging Jewish settlement supported by the state, the association exerts pressure on the authorities to escalate processes of dispossession by blocking any horizons for development of the country’s Palestinian inhabitants. The association rejects the strategy of land redemption through the donations of private persons overseas, and wishes to “influence all governing systems of the State, make them act in light of Zionism’s ground principles and fulfill them in actual fact, to preserve the lands of the Jewish People…preventing their takeover by foreign elements.”

Betzal’el Smotrich, activities director of the association, presents Regavim as a mirror image of human rights organizations in Israel. The guiding rationale of those organizations is action towards policy-change and the righting of specific “wrongs” through a combination of legal resources, research, lobbying and campaigning. Regavim has adopted these practices, and at times even some of their rhetoric, in order to promote a lands policy that is based on absolute preference in allotting lands to Jews.

Regavim’s activities

Regavim does not deal with settling the land with Jewish Israelis, but rather with the expulsion of the Palestinian population on both sides of the Green Line. The association is active in Area C of the West Bank, in the Negev, the Galilee and the “mixed cities.” In all of these arenas, Regavim has one clear goal: the brutal and selective implementation of planning and construction laws, encouraging the state to demolish Palestinian homes or public buildings. The demolition orders issued lately for the entire Palestinian village of Susya in the South Hebron Hills are the fruit of its labors.

In recent years, since the Israeli disengagement in the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of the settlements there, the extreme right in Israel has embarked on a campaign of settling the “mixed cities” of Israel (cities with sizable Arab and Jewish populations) by forming “Torah clusters” (Garinim Toraniim) – in JaffaAcco as well as Lod. At the same time, Jewish nationalist shows of force have escalated within Arab localities.

Regavim is a characteristic expression of this wider campaign. It takes a considerable amount of cruelty to encourage the state to tighten even further the veritable noose of planning restrictions around the neck of Palestinian communities within the Green Line. Palestinian citizens of Israel own a very small percentage of the lands they had owned before 1948, most of their localities do not have master zoning plans, and the local and regional planning committees are staffed exclusively by Jewish Israelis.

Palestinian children from Lod at the weekly protest in Sheikh Jarrah, January 28, 2011 (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

The situation in the Negev is even worse: there the state doesn’t even recognize the Bedouins’ claim to any land while promoting a plan that is expected to result in the uprooting of 30,000 people and the erasure of their villages. The State of Israel has left this population in a legal limbo that makes it impossible to live: people cannot build on their land, cannot purchase land belonging to the Jewish National Fund, will not be accepted as members of Jewish communities due to screening committees, and most Jewish Israeli towns’ residents will not rent or sell them apartments. All that is left, for people who will not choose to emigrate, would be illegal construction. The state prefers that its Palestinians subjects be “criminals.”

Regavim’s activity is based first and foremost on the work of coordinators on the ground, who systematically document construction in Palestinian communities. This documentation serves the association in lobbying planning committees, local authorities, the Civil Administration in the occupied territories, and others. They have a single demand: to force these institutions to place sanctions on Palestinians. In some cases, the association appeals to court in order to force the implementation of standing demolition orders, or to produce a planning policy that is as Zionist as possible. Regavim promotes existing transfer plans such as its efforts to influence the Prawer Committee recommendations to take a harder line against the Bedouin community.

In April 2009, Regavim sued the Abu Basma Regional Council in the Negev, where the number of inhabitants in all known localities in the council’s area is about 45,000, but in fact the council provides services to another 35,000 citizens who live in unrecognized villages. The council ranks dead last in the socio-economic scale of the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and where the council is not providing inhabitants within its jurisdiction area with the most basic services: connection to the water supply grid, regular garbage collection, sanitation infrastructure, and where access roads are not paved and the council’s welfare services are collapsing.

Here, of all places, is where the Regavim association suddenly discovered an urgent need to intervene “for the sake of the council’s inhabitants.” In its petition, the association demands the demolition of eight structures, which describes as “villas” and whose owners it describes as “real estate barons.” For Regavim, then, they have no qualms about using whatever means necessary to “protect the nation’s lands.” To that end, they encourage the state to beat to a pulp its most oppressed population.

The diplomatic face of the ideological-messianic right

Regavim presents a “nicer” or at least more diplomatic face of a trend that began within the settler community following the disengagement from Gaza. The failure of the resistance to the disengagement brought about the creation of another movement –  “Komemiyut” (independence), whose goal is “enhancing Jewish uprightness as a central national idea in the State of Israel, reinforcing Jewish settlement and thwarting intentions to expel Jews.”

Among the rabbis of this movement is Dov Lior, rabbi of Kiryat Arba (the largest Jewish settlement in Hebron) and one of the leaders who expressed public support for the book  Torat Hamelech (“The King’s Torah”). Another is Rabbi Haim Yerucham Smotrich, of Beit Yatir (Jewish settlement in the South Hebron Hills), father of Betzal’el Smotrich, one of Regavim’s leaders, operations director of the association and an active member of Komemiyut.

Though Regavim did adopt the channels of legal action used by human rights organizations, it did not adopt the liberal ideology upon which legal activism is based. A closer look at the ideology of the association’s leaders and of their ties with other right-wing organizations reveals that their choice of the legal path is instrumental and tactical only. In an article published by Smotrich in Gilui Da’at, the most popular weekend supplement in the national-religious public, following the High Court of Justice’s ruling on Migron, Smotrich objects to what he defines as “High Court rule,” contests the court’s authority to rule on issues regarding the future of the settlement project, and marks the Knesset as the sole legitimate arena for discussion of such issues.

In an article published by Rabbi Yehuda Eliyahu, the association’s director, in Komemiyut’s publication, he outlines an ideal Jewish state, one that lacks any liberal values whatsoever. In his writing, Eliyahu presents the Jewish National Fund as a body that undermined the very purpose for which it was founded – redeeming the land for the Jewish people. He accuses the Fund of corruption, which he blames on the “post-Zionist spirit” of the High Court of Justice and resents the court’s ruling demanding that the Israel Land Administration administer JNF lands according to the principle of equality, allotting some of them to Arabs as well.

In an interview, Smotrich explains: “I see the State of Israel as the beginning of our redemption, and as an important phase on the way to complete salvation. But unlike many who adhere to state norms, I do not consider myself a slave of the system nor a fifth wheel on the regime’s wagon. I believe we are perfectly entitled to quarrel with the present coachman and take the reins into our own hands by means available to us.” He spoke of the warm welcome which Regavim feels from the state apparatus – “on the ground and in many departments of the Ministry of Interior, the Israel Land Administration, the Ministry of Justice etc., Regavim is regarded as a positive element whose aim is to help them meet the pressure exerted by the left.”

Compared to other new, ideologically related right-wing movements such as Im Tirtzu, Regavim has so far remained relatively anonymous among leftist activists, except for the lawyers who run into its representatives in the courtroom. Both Regavim and Im Tirtzu represent the values of the ideological right with an easy-to-digest package for the Israeli mainstream. But while Im Tirtzu is basically an advocacy organization, Regavim urges the state rather than the public to manifest its neo-Zionist vision in practice. An adequate response to this campaign will not come from small, focused victories in court, important though they may be, but rather in the public arena and through political struggle.

Rona Moran and Miryam Wijler are activists in the Hithabrut-Tarabut Movement, an Arab-Jewish movement for social and political change. This post was translated by Tal Haran.

Originally published in +972 Sept. 4, 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

European Parliament Condemns Israel's Policy Toward Bedouin Population, by Jack Khoury, in Haaretz

 The European Parliament passed a resolution on Thursday condemning Israel's policy toward the Bedouin communities living in unrecognized settlements in the Negev Desert. Human rights groups have called the resolution, which passed 291 to 274 with 39 abstaining, unprecedented. 

The European Parliament called on Israel to withdraw its government-approved Prawer plan to regulate the Bedouin communities in the Negev. The resolution was brought to a vote by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament and was based on work done by the European Parliament's Working Group on the Middle East, which held consultations with representatives of human rights groups including Attorney Suhad Bishara of Adalah - The Legal Center for the Arab Minority Rights in Israel, who briefed working group on the legal ramifications of the plan, and its relations to Israeli and international law. 

The situation of the Bedouin citizens of Israel has never before been addressed by the European Parliament. The Director of Adalah’s Negev bureau, the geographer Dr. Thabet Abu Rass commented on the decision saying that “achieving recognition by the European Parliament that the Israeli government practices the same policies of displacement and dispossession against Palestinian citizens of Israel as it does against Palestinians living under occupation is a tremendous step forward.” 

Last march, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Israel not to implement the Prawer program. 

"Whereas Arab Bedouins are indigenous people leading a sedentary and traditionally agricultural life on their ancestral lands and are seeking formal and permanent recognition of their unique situation and status," The resolution stated. "whereas Arab Bedouin communities, threatened by Israeli policies undermining their livelihoods and including forced transfer, are a particularly vulnerable population both in the occupied Palestinian Territory and in the Negev." 

In another relevant clause the resolution said: "The European Parliament Calls for the protection of the Bedouin communities of the West Bank and in the Negev, and for their rights to be fully respected by the Israeli authorities, and condemns any violations (e.g. house demolitions, forced displacements, public service limitations); calls also, in this context, for the withdrawal of the Prawer Plan by the Israeli Government."

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Get Ready for a Bedouin Uprising, by Clinton Bailey, in Haaretz

The "Law for Bedouin Settlement in the Negev," which the Knesset is expected to pass soon, has angered the entire Bedouin population in the south - one-fourth of all the Negev's residents - and threatens to drive them to violence. Although the state dealt harshly with Bedouin in the past by moving them from place to place, confiscating their flocks, destroying their homes and even spraying their crops with poison, its actions never resulted in an uprising, perhaps because these violations were small-scale: a family here, a clan there.

The proposed law, on the other hand, will adversely affect almost all the 200,000 Bedouin in the Negev. It will do so in two ways: by rejecting their claims to ownership of most of their property, and by destroying the homes of some 20,000 families, who will be transferred to undeveloped plots in "authorized" locations. All of this is part of the government's so-called Prawer Plan, upon which the law for settling the Bedouin is based.

Israel has always denied Bedouin their rights to the land they owned before 1948, because they had no official documents from the Ottoman and British periods to prove their ownership. In those periods, however, Bedouin acquired lands under their own tribal law, the law then valid in the desert, which accepted such transactions based on oral guaranty and dispensed with written proof.

In the 1970s, the state seemingly modified its stance, inviting Bedouin to register their ownership claims, which amounted to 240,000 acres in private claims. This procedure was not intended to make their claims legal, but rather to enable the state to acquire their lands through purchase, and that, moreover, at minimal prices, which the Bedouin largely rejected. Over a 40-year period, the Bedouin sold the state only 16 percent of the land they claimed. Their characteristic patience allowed them to sustain the hope that it would ultimately offer them a just compromise that would not deprive them of land they once acquired by law, albeit their own.

To their great dismay, however, the new law enables confiscation of 80 percent of this land, to be used for governmental projects, making it a matter no longer affecting a family here or there, but rather the entire Bedouin community. In addition, the compensation that the state is offering for the remaining 20 percent of the land that the new law acknowledges as Bedouin is again paltry and unlikely to be accepted, leaving the state no choice but to use force to acquire these lands - even if it is for the purpose of settling the Bedouin. Force, however, will not benefit the state, as no Bedouin will agree to build his house on land that another Bedouin still claims.

The destruction of the "illegal" homes of 20,000 Bedouin families will also not help facilitate their resettlement in new places. Nor will it transpire quietly. These homes were erected as an alternative to the tents of the Bedouin after the state forbade them to continue their migratory way of life and told them where to live until a permanent solution was found for them. In the prolonged absence of a solution, each house deemed to be located on "government land" was declared illegal and subject to demolition. However, as no alternative housing was prepared for those living in the illegal homes, not a single developed plot exists today for a Bedouin who wishes to build a permanent home in government-designated locations. Furthermore, it takes five years to plan and establish a town or neighborhood with the infrastructure needed for residential housing.

Despite this standing injustice, the new law threatens, in the first phase, to destroy the homes of 30,000 Bedouin, who are to be transferred to places that the government chooses - about one-third of those ultimately destined to be moved. This means moving them out of homes to which they have become accustomed over the course of a generation and putting them in the desert without a house. These people, moreover, are an educated generation of professionals, teachers and university students.

If someone imagines that such an operation will go down easily, he is mistaken. Indeed, the Israel Police has begun enlisting hundreds of officers to keep the peace while these houses are being demolished, an action scheduled to get under way as early as August. The pictures from these demolition and relocation operations, seen around the world, will make the recent assault by Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner on a Danish peace activist seem like a marginal event.

A proper settlement of the Bedouin is crucial to them and the state alike, but the new law is not the instrument for achieving it. The Netanyahu government would do well to postpone its ratification by the Knesset and devote more serious thought to the problem. Otherwise, conflict with the Negev Bedouin will be our unhappy lot for ages to come.

Dr. Clinton Bailey has studied Bedouin history and culture in the Negev for many years.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bedouin Land and Culture Threatened by Israel's Plans for Resettlement, by Phoebe Greenwood, in The Guardian

A stench of rubbish wafts over the Palestinian town of As Sawahira from the al-Abdali dump. The vast tip sprawls over an excavated hillside on the outskirts of the town and receives a constant stream of trucks carrying waste from nearby Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities are proposing to relocate 2,300 Bedouins from the surrounding hills to this site as part of their push to resolve "the Bedouin problem". Simultaneously, plans are proceeding through the Israeli parliament this month to move a further 90,000 Bedouin from their ancestral land in the Negev desert in Israel's south to government-planned townships.

The Israeli administration argues that a move to purpose-built communities will lift the indigenous population from unacceptable depths of poverty. Across Israeli-controlled territory, Bedouin communities argue that their culture, along with centuries-old ties to land, is being swept aside to make way for Jewish expansion.
Around 250 Bedouins from the Jahalin group already live on the fringes of the As Sawahira dump, moved here by the Israeli authorities 15 years ago from land now occupied by the Ma'ale Adumim settlement. Their modest homes and huts are overlooked by piles of rubbish on one side and the Kfar Adumim settlement on the other.

"I'm sure the dump is very damaging for our health, but the Israelis moved us here – we had no choice," says Abu Jahalin, 70. He has heard of the plans to move thousands more Bedouins to the dump. He points to the proposed site with his walking stick, explaining that it will run all the way from the top of the hill, where his sheep graze, to the piles of rubbish.

Abu Jahalin says there is not enough land to feed the animals already here: "They [the Israelis] will wall off the whole area so there will be nowhere for us to graze our animals. I'll probably end up feeding them at home. I've had to sell off most of my flock [of sheep] already to pay for animal feed." From a flock of more than 200, he has only 40 sheep left.

Khan al-Ahmar is one of 20 Bedouin communities in the E1 area outside Jerusalem that are scheduled to be evacuated. Bedouin families have lived in this village since 1951, after they fled as refugees from the Negev during the Israeli war of independence.

They live in the West Bank, but their land is controlled by the Israelis as it falls within Area C. The EU is funding Oxfam to run development programmes here. The Palestinian Authority is drafting a strategy to address their needs – but, ultimately, their fate is in Israeli hands.

In 1975, Israel declared the area a closed military zone. Today, almost every structure has been issued with a demolition order. A spokesman for the Israeli civil administration confirmed it is negotiating with the E1 Bedouins to move them and is investigating the dump as a possible relocation point.

"We are waiting for the results of an investigation into the health impacts of living on that site," Major Guy Inbar says. "I know they don't want [to move] but because they are living illegally, we have to find a better option within the law. Why now? Because now we want to enforce the law."

Unlike the Jahalin, Bedouin groups in the Negev have cultivated their land since the 16th century. They are also Israeli citizens, and yet 35 of their 46 villages are not recognised by the state. As a result, the 90,000 residents live without basic services such as water, electricity, healthcare, education or paved roads. And they are not allowed to build permanent structures.

Thabet Abu Rass, the Negev director for Adalah, an organisation that offers legal advice to the Arab minority in Israel, describes a painstaking fight for the rights of unrecognised villagers. "We have to petition the high court for each basic service, like water. Most of the time we win the cases – but the problem is implementation. Sometimes it takes 10 years. Or they grant us 'minimal access' to water, which means one tap three miles from the village."

According to a pending law for the regulation of Bedouin settlement in the Negev, due to be presented to the parliament this month, these villages will be evacuated in the next five years and ecah of their inhabitants compensated to move to one of seven government-planned townships – the poorest towns in Israel, with some of the highest crime rates.

Abu Rass argues that while the Bedouin are ill-equipped to survive in a town, they are excellent farmers who would thrive with state support to cultivate their land: "The Israelis say they want to modernise them. But modernisation doesn't necessarily mean urbanisation."

Information gathered by Oxfam from Bedouin families in the West Bank last year suggested that selling animals, mostly sheep, can earn a herder as much as £21,000 in a year. The problem is that as their grazing land has diminished, about half of this income is now spent on animal feed. Add to that the costs of trucking in water and paying for fuel for electricity generators, or investing in solar panels, and there is very little cash left over.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, says there is understanding between the government and the Bedouins that the situation is untenable. He insists, contrary to what is laid out in the proposed legislation, the Negev herders will be offered a choice to move to a town or rural village.
"The pockets of poverty and neglect in Bedouin communities must end. One [Negev] village is right next to a terrible, polluted dump. No one should be living next to a toxic dump," Regev says. "The solution is that all Bedouin[s] live in recognised communities where they receive the services they deserve."

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rabbis for Human Rights: JNF Breaking Promise to Not Plant on Disputed Bedouin Land, in JewSchool

Rabbis for Human Rights continues their efforts to persuade Efi Stenzler, JNF’s World Chairman, and Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF-USA, to stop planting on legally disputed land in Al-Arakib. Click here to send these two officials an email.

Despite hearing from hundreds of people, KKL-JNF resumed plowing disputed land in Al-Arakib on Monday.

We need to keep the pressure up! Join us in writing to Jewish National Fund in Israel and the United States. Tell them to stop planting on legally disputed land in Al-Arakib and to end their involvement in forestation on the remains of demolished Bedouin villages and disputed Bedouin land.

Residents of Al-Arakib have documents and other evidence of their traditional rights to their land dating to the times of the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate, prior to the establishment of the state of Israel.  Yet the Israeli government refuses to recognize their land claims. The State has demolished the village dozens of times in the last year and a half, leveling homes, livestock pens, and hundreds of fruit and olive trees, all to make way for Jewish National Fund forests. The government remains embroiled in protracted legal disputes with the residents about their ownership of the land.

Earlier this year, the leadership of KKL-JNF promised our colleagues at Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel that they would not plant on four plots of land in Al-Arakib that are involved in ongoing legal disputes. KKL-JNF also issued a public statement saying that it “does not plant even a single tree on land that is in legal dispute in court.” Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF-USA reiterated this position to Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, in a conversation they had just last week. But now it seems as though the Jewish National Fund is changing its tune.

Just over a week ago, KKL-JNF equipment arrived in Al-Arakib and began preparing one of the disputed plots of land for planting. Yesterday, KKL-JNF returned again and plowed more land for planting in this disputed plot. KKL-JNF has spent the last month working on other plots of land in Al-Arakib that are due to be adjudicated in Israel’s High Court in December 2012.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Jewish National Fund Resumes Forestation Project in al-Arakib, by Mairav Zonszein, in +972

After having their homes destroyed by the State over 30 times in the last two years, the residents of al-Arakib can do little else but watch as a forest is built on the ruins of their homes. 

The Jewish National Fund resumed cultivating land Monday morning in al-Arakib, an unrecognized Bedouin village in southern Israel which the quasi-governmental agency has earmarked for a large forestation project. A week ago, the families in the village got word that the JNF would return and asked for activists to come and support them.

JNF equipment, escorted by heavy police presence, showed up Monday morning and sealed off the entrance to the village.  Families and activists watched from the village cemetery, the only spot that has been deemed untouchable due to its historic and emotional significance. Residents told +972 that JNF representatives gave their word in private conversations a couple of months ago that they would not plant on a specific plot of land - known as plot 24 – since it is the subject of an ongoing court case. However this morning they prepared this precise piece of land for cultivation.

Since July 17, 2010, the village has been demolished by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) more times than anyone can count, and each time the families have returned and built it up again to confirm their claim on the land. Despite remaining steadfast in their claims to the land, most families have relocated to neighboring towns like Rahat to avoid the anguish of constant destruction, such that only a handful of residents still live inside al-Arakib.

Here is footage of the 25th demolition of the village:

The ILA claims the Bedouin are trespassing on state land, but the issue is still being fought in court proceedings over land ownership. While the residents do not have official land deeds, they do have documents from the Ottoman era showing their ancestors purchased the land in 1906. The state insists the land was appropriated in 1954 such that court findings regarding ownership before then are irrelevant anyway.

The issue of Al-Arakib is part of a larger story concerning 35 unrecognized villages inside Israel. According to a 2011 report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, approximately half the Bedouin population in the Negev, about 90,000 people—live in quasi-recognized or unrecognized villages similar to al-Arakib. The government adoption of the Prawer Plan last September calls for the uprooting of 30,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel and their relocation to established Bedouin towns (with financial compensation), thereby denying the community’s connection to the land and way of life. Critics of the plan have called it a “declaration of war” on the Bedouin community, since they are being treated like a security threat, and not as citizens with equal rights.

Rabbis for Human Rights activist Moriel Rothman contributed to this report.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

BREAKING UPDATE ON THE GROUND: The police have notified Sheikh Sayakh of El-Arakib that from tomorrow early in the morning, by request of the Israel Lands Authority, JNF people can starting planting trees on the lands of El -Arakib. The KKL/JNF maintains that it will not work on the lands that they committed not to working on, but can/will not indicate what those lands are.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Israel Police Establishes Unit to Enforce Demolition of Bedouin Homes, by Yanir Yagna, in Haaretz

Israel Police is establishing a new unit to enforce demolition and evacuation orders served to scattered Bedouin villages in southern Israel, in order to deal with “trespassing into state lands.”

The unit, which will be made up of 200 police officers, will be established in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office to enforce Israeli land laws in the Negev.

The unit’s establishment follows a government decision reached last August, in which Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich was granted permission to begin deploying the officers beginning August 1, 2012. Israel Police’s Southern District has yet to announce an official plan of operation, which will be charged with evacuations and demolitions.

The unit will operate alongside the Interior Ministry, the Israel Land Administration, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Prime Minister’s Office among others.

The plan to establish the new unit was received with harsh criticism from Negev residents, who claim that the use of force by police as a means to solve the land dispute is the “wrong move.”

“We do not need the police in order to reach an agreement. We must sit down and solve the issue through negotiations,” said Ibrahim al-Wakili, who heads the regional council of unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev. “We are not interested in a confrontation with the police…the police previously used violent force against young children.”

Israel Police’s Southern District has refused to comment on the matter.

The announcement of the unit’s establishment comes less than a month after a five-year economic development plan for Israeli Bedouin was approved by a steering committee in the Prime Minister's Office, as part of operational plans for relocating tens of thousands of Bedouin to officially recognized communities.

The proposal calls for the relocation of up to 30,000 Bedouin from areas not recognized by the government as residential locations. Known as the Prawer Plan, it was approved by the cabinet in September, based on a proposal developed by a team headed by the director of policy planning in the PMO, Ehud Prawer. At that time, the cabinet also approved a NIS 1.2 billion economic development program for Bedouin Negev.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

‘Algorithm of expropriation’: Plan to uproot 30,000 Bedouin, by Neve Gordon, in +972

Beer-Sheva, Israel - “It is not every day that a government decides to relocate almost half a percent of its population in a program of forced urbanization,” Rawia Aburabia asserted, adding that “this is precisely what Prawer wants to do.”

The meeting, which was attempting to coordinate various actions against the Prawer Plan, had just ended, and Rawia, an outspoken Bedouin leader who works for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, was clearly upset. She realised that the possibility of changing the course of events was extremely unlikely and that, at the end of the day, the government would uproot 30,000 Negev Bedouin and put them in townships. This would result in an end to their rural way of life and would ultimately deprive them of their livelihood and land rights.

Rawia’s wrath was directed at Ehud Prawer, the Director of the Planning Policy Division in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. Prawer took on this role after serving as the deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council. His mandate is to implement the decisions of the Goldberg Committee for the Arrangement of Arab Settlement in the Negev, by offering a “concrete solution” to the problem of the 45 unrecognised Bedouin villages in the region.

An estimated 70,000 people are currently living in these villages, which are prohibited by law from connecting any of their houses to electricity grids, running water or sewage systems. Construction regulations are also harshly enforced and in this past year alone, about 1,000 Bedouin homes and animal pens – usually referred to by the government simply as “structures” – were demolished. There are no paved roads in these villages and it is illegal to place signposts near the highways designating the village’s location. Opening a map will not help either, since none of these villages are marked. Geographically, at least, these citizens of Israel do not exist.


The State’s relationship with the Bedouin has been thorny from the beginning. Before the establishment of the state of Israel, about 70,000 Bedouin lived in the Negev. Following the 1948 war, however, only 12,000 or so remained, while the rest fled or were expelled to Jordan and Egypt.

Under the directives of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, many of the remaining Bedouin were uprooted from the lands they had inhabited for generations and were concentrated in the mostly barren area in the north-eastern part of the Negev known as the Siyag (enclosure) zone. This area comprises one million dunams [one dunam = 1,000m2], or slightly less than ten percent of the Negev’s territory. Through this process of forced relocation, the Negev’s most arable lands were cleared of Arab residents and were given to new kibbutzim and moshavim, Jewish agriculture communities, which took full advantage of the fertile soil.

After their relocation and up until 1966, the Bedouin citizens of Israel were subjected to a harsh military rule; their movement was restricted and they were denied basic political, social and economic rights. But even in the post-military rule of the late 1960s, many Israeli decision-makers still considered the Bedouin living within the Siyag threatening and occupying too much land, so, despite the relocation that had been carried out in the 1950s, the state decided to find a better solution to the “Bedouin problem.”

The plan was to concentrate the Bedouin population within semi-urban spaces that would ultimately comprise only a minute percentage of their original tribal lands. Over the course of several years, government officials met with Bedouin sheikhs and reached agreements with many of them. In a gradual process, spanning about 20 years, seven towns were created – Tel-Sheva, Rahat, Segev Shalom, Kusaife, Lqya, Hura and Ar’ara.

In some cases, Bedouin were already living where the town was built, but the large majority of the Bedouin were relocated once again and moved into these Bedouin-only towns. Some did it of their own volition, while others were forced. The price that most families had to pay for their own displacement was hefty: renouncing the right to large portions of their land and giving up their rural way of life.

For many years following the establishment of each town, the Bedouin residents were not allowed to hold democratic elections and their municipalities were run by Jewish officials from the Ministry of Interior. The towns also rapidly turned into over-crowded townships, with dilapidated infrastructure and hardly any employment opportunities. Currently, all seven townships, which are home to about 135,000 people, are ranked one on the Israeli socio-economic scale of one (lowest) to ten (highest), and are characterized by a high unemployment, high birth rates and third-rate education institutions.

After years of indecision, the government appointed Prawer to try, yet again, to solve the “Bedouin problem” once and for all. His mandate is to relocate the Bedouin who had been unwilling to sign over their property rights and remained in unrecognized villages. The government’s justification for not recognizing these villages is that they are relatively small (ranging from a couple of hundred to several thousand people) and are scattered across a large area, all of which makes it difficult, in the government’s view, to provide them with satisfactory infrastructure. In the name of modernism, then, the government wants to concentrate the Bedouin in a small number of towns.

Wadi al Na’am

After meeting Rawia, I drove to Wadi al Na’am, an unrecognized Bedouin village located about 20 minutes south of my house in Beer-Sheva. I wanted to ask some of the people there what they think of Prawer’s plan.

Along the highway, I passed literally hundreds of Bedouin dwellings made from tin panels, scrap wood and canvas. Chicken, sheep, goats and donkeys adorned the terraces. I was again struck by Bedouin wheat pastures because they are not irrigated, and the height of the stalk depends on the amount of rain that falls during a given year; it is easy to identify a Bedouin pasture because the stalk is miniscule when compared with “Jewish” wheat, which receives plenty of water.

Although I had been to Wadi al Na’am a few times before, I suddenly felt unsure about where I was supposed to turn off the highway and called Ibrahim Abu Afash to ask for directions. “Don’t you remember,” he said, “at the road sign pointing towards the electricity plant take a left and I will wait for you on top of the hill.”

I followed Ibrahim’s Subaru on dirt roads for about ten minutes until we reached his shieg, a large tent towering over a concrete floor covered with rugs, a row of mattresses and pillows scattered along the perimeter. In the middle of the tent, there was a hole in the concrete, with an iron pot of tea simmering over burning coals. Ibrahim sat on a mattress next to his brother Labad and right behind them were a few young men smoking Israeli cigarettes and drinking tea.

Ibrahim is the sheikh of Wadi al Na’am. When he was young he served as a scout for the Israeli military, which may explain why his Hebrew is better than mine. After a few niceties, he cut to the point.

“I met Prawer and he is a good man,” he said, and then added that “often good men do bad things.”

“The fact that Wadi al Na’am, like many other unrecognized villages, is located right under electricity grids and next to central water pipes and that we were never allowed to connect our homes to these basic services is no doubt a criminal act of discrimination.”

“You know,” he continued, “in the past two decades, several dozen single-family Jewish farms have been established throughout the Negev and more recently, ten new Jewish satellite settlements have been approved and will be constructed on Bedouin land near the Jewish town Arad. Incidentally, at least two unrecognized Bedouin villages, al-Tir and neighbouring Umm al-Hiran, are due to be emptied of their combined 1,000 residents to make way for these new Jewish communities.”

Ibrahim did not mention that in the northern Negev there are already 100 Jewish settlements scattered about, each one home to an average 300 people, but he nonetheless managed to underscore that Prawer’s scheme is biased at its very core. And even though he never came out and said that the true motivation behind the plan is the desire to Judaize the land, it is obvious that this is indeed the objective. There is no other feasible explanation for why the state does not relent and legalize the unrecognized villages.

The Bedouin as a threat

As he was formulating the plan, Ehud Prawer met many Bedouin in order to understand the complex issues involved in trying to provide a solution to the unrecognized villages. Years of service within Israel’s security establishment have led him, however, to relate to Bedouin less as individual bearers of rights and more as a national risk that needs to be contained.

Working closely with Prawer are a few people who, like him, were for many years part of one of Israel’s security arms. His right hand man, Doron Almog, is a retired military general, while Yehuda Bachar, chairman of the Directorate for the Coordination of Government and Bedouin Activities in the Negev, was a senior officer in Israel’s police force. Not coincidentally, before submitting the plan to the government, Prawer asked Yaakov Amidror, the Director of the National Security Council, to provide his stamp of approval.

The fact that the life experiences of almost all of the people responsible for providing a solution for the unrecognized Bedouin orbited around issues of security is not a minor matter, since for them the Bedouin are first and foremost an internal threat. The “Bedouin problem,” accordingly, has little to do with rights and much more to do with managing risks.

Algorithm of expropriation

Ironically, the plan Prawer drafted and the proposed law based on the plan do not really address the problems of these villages.

“If the state is so adamant about not recognizing the villages in their existing locations, I would have at least expected Prawer to state clearly that the government will build a specific number of villages and towns for the Bedouin, to specify exactly where they will be located, and to promise that they will be planned so as to take into account the Bedouin’s rural form of life,” Hia Noach, the Director of the Negev Co-existence Forum, explained in an interview.

“Instead, the plan, which will soon become law, focuses on creating an algorithm for dividing private property among the Bedouin, while discussing in a few ambiguous sentences the actual solution for the unrecognized villages. Isn’t it mysterious that the plan dealing with the relocation of the Bedouin does not include a map indicating where the Bedouin will be moved to?”

Prawer’s algorithm is an extremely complex mechanism of expropriation informed by the basic assumption that the Bedouin have no land rights. He is aware that, in the 1970s, as Israel was relocating Bedouin to townships, about 3,200 Bedouin filed petitions to the Justice Ministry, claiming rights over property that had belonged to their family for generations.

All in all, they petitioned for a million and a half dunams, of which 971,000 were claims regarding property belonging to individuals, and the remaining half a million dunams were land that had been used by communities for pasture. Over the years, the Ministry of Justice has denied claims relating to two-thirds of the land, which means that, currently, property claims amounting to about 550,000 dunams, or four percent of the Negev’s land, are still waiting to be settled.

Prawer’s plan aims to settle all the remaining petitions in one fell swoop. Ironically, though, his underlying assumption is that all such claims are all spurious. At the very end of the government decision approving the Prawer Plan (Decision 3707, September 11, 2011), one reads:

“The state’s basic assumption over the years … is that at the very least the vast majority of the claimants do not have a recognized right according to Israeli property laws to the lands for which they have sued … By way of conclusion, neither the government decision nor the proposed law that will be brought forth in its aftermath recognise the legality of the property claims, but rather the opposite – a solution that its whole essence is ex gratia and is based on the assumption of the absence of property rights.”

The strategy is clear: Take everything away, forcing the Bedouin to be grateful for any morsel given back. And this, indeed, is how Prawer’s algorithm of expropriation works.

First, only land that is disputed (meaning land that families filed suit for 35 years ago) and that a family has lived on and used consecutively (as opposed to pasture areas that have been collective) will be compensated with land, but at a ratio of 50 percent. So if a person has 100 dunams, lived on this land and planted wheat on it for the past three and a half decades, this person will be given 50 dunams of agricultural land. Most of this newly “recognized land” will not be located on the ancestral lands, but at a location wherever the state decides.

Second, cash compensation for land that had been petitioned for, but held by the state and therefore not used by Bedouin will be uniform, regardless of the location of the land and whether or not it is fertile, remote or attractive.

Third, the rate of compensation will be about NIS 5,000 ($1,300) per dunam, a meagre sum considering that half a dunam in a township such as Rahat costs about NIS 150,000 shekels. The cost of a plot is important, since the families will have to buy plots in the towns. If a Bedouin landowner has five or six offspring, by the time he buys plots for the family, he will be left with little, if any, land for agricultural use. Finally, Bedouin who filed land claims and do not settle with the state within five years will lose all ownership rights.

To where?

Hia Noach estimates that of the existing 550,000 dunams of unsettled land claims, about 100,000, which is less than one per cent of the Negev’s land, will stay in Bedouin hands after the Prawer Plan is implemented. But this, she emphasises, is only part of the problem. Another central issue has to do with the actual relocation. Where will the Bedouin be moved to and to what kind of settlement? These are precisely the questions Ehud Prawer is yet to answer.

One detail that has become public knowledge is that the unrecognized Bedouin will be relocated east of route 40, which is the Negev’s more arid region situated close to the southern tip of the occupied West Bank. While this part of Prawer’s plan is reminiscent of Ben Gurion’s strategy of concentrating the Bedouin within certain parameters in order to vacate land for Jews, it may be the case that there is something more sinister at hand. If there are ever one for one land swaps with the Palestinians in the West Bank, what could be more convenient for the Jewish state than handing over some parched Negev land with a lot of Bedouin on it?

Regardless of what the Bedouin think about this scheme, the government is going ahead with the plan and has decided to allocate about $2 billion for relocating 70,000 Bedouin. Incidentally, this is more or less the same sum that was allocated for relocating the 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The government has also stated that about $300 billion will be allotted to the existing townships, indicating that at least some of the Bedouin will be moved to these dilapidated municipalities.

It is unclear how people accustomed to living off agriculture and raising sheep will make ends meet once they are forcefully relocated. This is not merely a theoretical concern, considering that the majority of Bedouin who moved to the first seven towns never succeeded in socializing to more urban life. There are talks that three more towns will be created, but if history is any indication, it is unlikely that these will be any better suited to the Bedouin’s rural form of life.

Before leaving Wadi al Na’am, I asked Ibrahim what he thinks will happen if they do not reach an agreement with the government. He paused for a moment and then replied that he does not want to think about such an option, adding that “they will not put us on buses and move us, they will simply shut down the schools and wait. When we see we cannot send our children to school we will ‘willingly’ move.”

This is how forced relocation becomes voluntary and how Israel will likely represent it to the world.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Is a College Really What the Bedouin Need Right Now?, by Merav Michaeli, in Haaretz

While the Age of the Negev project is an excellent initiative, it will not solve the problem of the deprivation of the Bedouin's living expanse, with the Prawer Law still threatening the relocation of most of them.

President Shimon Peres will tour the Bedouin city of Rahat on Monday and announce the establishment there of a university campus, according to a report Sunday in the media. The question is: Is a college really what the Bedouin urgently need right now?

Apparently, the college has been in the pipeline for over six years already, at the initiative of local agents. The answer then, according to activists Safa Abu Rabia and Amal El-Sana, is a definite yes. Education and intellect are no less important aspects of life, they say, and it's time for the public image of the Bedouin to reflect this, and not only poverty and squabbles over land; after all, books are read and computers are used in the non-recognized villages too.

The college is being planned as part of the Age of the Negev project: an employment park - employment, not industrial, stresses Sigal Moran, who heads the Bnei Shimon Regional Council, where the park is located. An employment park because the emphasis there is not on industry but on employment - in other words, on people, and primarily on Bedouin women from the area. The stated goal: Of the 3,200 jobs on offer, at least half of them, at all levels, will go to Bedouin women.

This excellent initiative comes from the former head of the regional council, Moshe Paul - cooperation among the Bnei Shimon Regional Council, which has a ranking of 6 on the Central Bureau of Statistics' socioeconomic scale, Rahat, which has a ranking of 1, and Lehavim, with a ranking of 9. Moreover, although the park itself is located in the jurisdiction of Bnei Shimon, Rahat has been given a 46-percent stake in the joint company that will manage it. In other words, Rahat will get 46 percent of the municipal taxes collected - no less important a matter for the men and women of the city than the employment.

Another important matter is the fact that one of the 21 enterprises that have already been approved for the park is the SodaStream factory, which has moved there from Ma'aleh Adumim. Apparently, it is possible: cooperation between Jews and Bedouin for the good of all within the borders of sovereign Israel, instead of participation in depriving the Palestinians of their living expanse.

But the Age of the Negev project will not solve the problem of the deprivation of the Bedouin's living expanse, with the Prawer Law still threatening the relocation of most of them - in a manner that will allow the state to register as much land as possible in its name and concentrate the Bedouin on as little land as possible, leaving many of them without property, without rights and without a roof over the heads.

And if the Prawer provisions go into effect, the plight of the Bedouin women will be even worse. These women are the most weakened sector in Israel. Time is too short to detail their unique statistics here, but a legal report by Itach-Maaki - Women Lawyers for Social Justice outlines how the law disregards them entirely and prevents many of them from ever achieving the right to ownership, recognition of their children's rights, and the right to shelter for those who need it.

A college for Bedouin men and women is an excellent idea, but life itself must certainly be dealt with too. Home demolitions must cease; the Bedouin must be hooked up to decent infrastructure services; existing villages must be recognized; and kindergartens, pre-schools and schools must be set up for the girls and boys so that they will be able to study at the new college some day. The college-in-the-works must not be allowed to whitewash the continuing trampling of the Bedouin's fundamental rights.

Under Peres' vision, Bedouin and Jewish students will study on the campus side by side. This vision ignores the fact that already today, Jews and Bedouin study side by side at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; nevertheless, Jews going to study at a bilingual college adjacent to Rahat would be a worthy innovation.

But the spirit of this vision should start with Jews including the Bedouin and allowing them to participate in the discussions over their own future. The Bedouin were not party to the discussions of the Goldberg Committee or on the Prawer guidelines - and certainly not Bedouin women. In fact, the Prawer guidelines were prepared at the Prime Minister's Office, under a cloak of secrecy befitting a military operation against the enemy.

The Bedouin are not an enemy; and their neighbors in Lehavim and Bnei Shimon appear to realize this. It would be so much better for all of us if one day the government of Israel was to understand that too.

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Prawer Plan Promotes Racial Discrimination and Violates Rights of the Negev Bedouin, update from ACRI

Human rights organizations Adalah and Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) formally submitted their reservations to the government’s legislative proposal to implement the Prawer Plan for Bedouin in the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev (the “Memorandum of Law to Regulate the Bedouin Settlement in the Negev – 2012″).

The government established the Prawer Committee in 2009 to formulate a detailed plan for addressing the legal and practical issues of Bedouin settlement in the Negev based on the recommendations of a commission headed by former Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg. The government approved the Prawer Plan in September 2011.

In a 17-page letter to Minister Benny Begin (the Minister without a portfolio charged with the procedural aspects of this proposal), Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman, the organizations detailed their objections to the Prawer Plan, addressing two central issues: the dismantling of the unrecognized villages and forced displacement and relocation of tens of thousands of residents to recognized settlements, and the recognition of Bedouin ownership to lands.

In respect of each of these issues, the organizations maintain, the government is ignoring the facts and reality on the ground, failing to seriously examine alternatives, and proceeding with the clear intention of ousting the residents. Such an implementation of the Prawer Plan would also constitute a gross violation of the residents’ rights under Israeli law to appeal against eviction and demolition orders as afforded to them by their constitutional rights to property, dignity and equality.

With respect to the unrecognized villages: the organizations stress that the proposed legislation ignores the fact that most of these villages have existed on their lands since before the establishment of the State, while others were established when the Israeli military government forcibly relocated Bedouin residents from their lands in the 1950′s. Underlying the proposed law is the sweeping misconception that the 70,000 people residing in 36 unrecognized villages are squatters without rights to the land.

With respect to the issue of land ownership in the Negev: the organizations argue that the facts, supported by ample legal precedents, formal reports and research, prove Bedouin ties and ownership to the lands in question. The government, however, ignores these facts, while purporting that the “arrangement” it intends to impose on the residents is actually for the benefit of Bedouin citizens.

The organizations warn that the central tenant of the proposed law is the “concentration” of Bedouin in limited predefined areas which will force them to abandon their traditional agricultural livelihood, while industrial areas, a military base, and new Jewish settlements are expected to be established on the lands of the unrecognized Bedouin villages. The proposal includes the use of administrative authority, similar to the emergency powers of legislation reserved for wartime, in a manner which would grossly violate the residents’ rights to due process. Accordingly, this proposal would enshrine wholesale discrimination against the residents of unrecognized villages into law.

According to Attorney Rawia Aburabia of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “the attempt to enshrine the Prawer Plan into law is a farce. A democratic state cannot pass a law of discrimination, one that violates human rights and continues to harm a minority that has suffered from neglect and discrimination dating back to the founding of the State. Demolishing an Arab Bedouin village in order to establish a Jewish settlement on its ruins is not the action of a democracy – it is a step that takes us back to the military regime.”

Attorney Suhad Bishara of Adalah states that “the government of Israel should shelve the Prawer Plan and recognize the rights of the Arab Bedouin residents of the unrecognized villages to ownership and use of the lands on which they have resided for many decades. The government should recognize the ownership rights of the Bedouin to their lands in the Negev as a necessary step towards creating historic justice vis-à-vis this population.”

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

UN Panel Urges Israel to Shelve 'Racist' Bedouin Relocation Plan, by Dana Weiler-Polak, in Haaretz

A United Nations committee has called on for the withdrawal of an Israeli draft law that would move 30,000 Bedouin living in the Negev to permanent, existing Bedouin communities. According to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Law for the Regulation of the Bedouin Settlement in the Negev is discriminatory and would legalize racist practices.

The bill is based on the Prawer Report, which was approved by the cabinet in September. It calls for moving 30,000 Negev Bedouin to communities such as Rahat, Kseifa and Hura. The plan - drafted in response to recommendations made by the Goldberg committee - envisions land exchanges and compensation payments, and comes with an estimated price tag of NIS 6.8 billion.

The UN committee said the law "would legalize the ongoing policy of demolitions and forced displacement of the indigenous Bedouin communities."

It expressed concern "about the current situation of Bedouin communities, particularly with regard to the policy of demolitions, notably of homes and other structures, and the increasing difficulties faced by members of these communities in gaining access on a basis of equality with Jewish inhabitants to land, housing, education, employment and public health."

The UN body reviews official reports from member states as well as counter-reports filed by nongovernment organizations in these countries pertaining to issues of discrimination. Its recommendations are binding.

Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, director of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Right's office in Naqab, accused the government of "declaring war against" the Bedouin in the town.

"The government has declared war against the Bedouin in the Naqab. The Prawer Plan was written without consultation with the Bedouin community, whose lives are going to be ruined by this plan," he said.

In January the committee received a report from the Negev Coexistence Forum For Civil Equality that presumably influenced its position.

A representative of the forum said the bill would be deleterious to the Negev Bedouin and called on the government to withdraw the draft law.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Making History: J Street's National Conference

The Campaign for Bedouin Jewish Justice will be there along with Rabbis for Human Rights - North America. We'd love for you to stop by the table, but even if you can't make it you can watch conference sessions via livestream on the web on Saturday night, Sunday and Monday at

Monday, March 19, 2012

Court Rejects 6 Beduin Negev Land Lawsuits, by Joanna Paraszczuk and Sharon Udasin, in The Jerusalem Post

In a precedent-setting ruling on Sunday, the Beersheba District Court rejected six lawsuits brought by Beduin regarding private ownership of around 1,000 dunams of land in the Negev.

Seventeen Beduin, members of the al-Uqbi family, filed the six land claims. The complex and often bitter legal proceedings went on for over six years, and discussed in detail the history of the Negev Beduin and land laws dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.

The Beduin claim the land had belonged to their families since before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and that it had come into their possession by means of purchase and inheritance over generations.

However, in 1951 they say they were evacuated from the land when the IDF confiscated it, and since then the state has not granted them permission to return, and has said the land belongs to the state and was never privately owned.

Significantly, the land in question - south of the Beduin city of Rahat - includes the hotly contested area known as al-Arakib, the site of an ongoing and bitter conflict between Beduin and the state. Temporary shacks built by the Beduin in al-Arakib were demolished by the state and rebuilt on more than ten occasions, the last in 2010, and last year the state filed a NIS 1.8 million lawsuit against two Beduin families over the issue.

During the al-Uqbi lawsuit, both the state and the Beduin brought extensive expert testimonies, pitting the country's most prominent experts in historical and political geography against each other. For the plaintiffs, Ben-Gurion University's Professor Oren Yiftachel, one of the country's foremost critical geographers and social scientists, gave expert testimony. Testifying for the state was Professor Ruth Kark, a leading expert on the historical geography of Palestine and Israel from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

At the heart of the case was the debate of whether the Beduin were able to prove that they had private land rights to the disputed plots despite a lack of formal land title deeds showing the land had been registered in their name in the Ottoman land registry, the 'Tabu'.

Central to this was the question of the land's legal classification under Ottoman and British rule, and whether it had been a form of state land, known as Mawat (wasteland that could not be cultivated).

When the Israel Land Law abolished the old Ottoman land classifications in 1969, it said all land would revert to state lands unless a claimant could produce proof of private ownership in the form of Ottoman or British legal title.

The British Mandate authorities stipulated that the last date by which Beduin could register land classified as Mawat as privately owned was 1921, however the al-Uqbis - like most Beduin - had not done so.

In court, the al-Uqbis argued that the state's order to expropriate the land from them in 1951 was made on the erroneous assumption that under Ottoman law the land was classified as Mawat. They said that the land had been cultivated and owned by them, and so classified as Miri land under Ottoman legal terms.

Mawat lands were both uncultivated and not adjacent to settled lands. The Beduin, who argued that the el-Ukbi families had lived at al-Arakib before the State of Israel was established, testified that there had been tents and other structures on the land and that Beduin residents had cultivated barley and wheat there. Therefore, they argued, the Ottoman authorities can not possibly have classified it as Mawat.

In an expert opinion filed to the court, Professor Yiftachel said that these "tribal areas" of scattered tent clusters were not at that time registered with the authorities but were nevertheless considered "settled"and met the definition of a "village" in the 1921 Land Ordinance.

The Beduin also presented aerial photographs from 1945 onwards, which they said showed there had been extensive cultivation covering al-Arakib, meaning that it could not have been classified as Mawat land.

The state's expert witness, Professor Ruth Kark, gave the complete opposite view, and said that prior to 1858, there had been no fixed settlements on or near to the disputed land. The first fixed settlement had been Beersheba, she said, which the Ottomans founded in 1900 and which is 11 kilometers from al-Arakib, refuting the Beduins' claims that the land could not have been Mawat because it was both cultivated and next to a settlement.

They also contended that the Ottoman and later the British authorities had in fact granted legal autonomy to the Negev Beduin to organize land ownership according to Beduin law, which is why it was not registered as theirs in the Tabu.

However, the court did not accept this claim, saying that if the Ottoman authorities had wished to exempt a particular population from the law, then they would have done so explicitly.

Rejecting the claims, Judge Sarah Dovrat concluded the the land in question had not been "assigned to the plaintiffs nor held by them under conditions required by law."

"Regardless of whether the land was Mawat or Miri, the complainants must still prove their rights to the land by proof of its registration in the Tabu," the judge said.

Judge Dovrat added that "athough the complainants believe that they have proof that they held the land for generations, and that four families from the el-Ukbi tribe cultivated and owned the land, such claims require a legitimate legal basis in accordance with the the relevant legislation and according to precedents set out in case law."

The judge held that the plaintiffs' documents indicated that they knew they had a duty to register land in the 'Tabu' - the Land Registry - but had not wanted to do so.

"The state said that although the complainants are not entitled to compensation, it has been willing to negotiate with them," the judge added. "It is a shame that these negotiations did not reach any agreement."

The court also ordered the Beduin complainants to pay legal costs of NIS 50,000.

Attorneys Michael Sfard and Carmel Pomerantz, who represented the Beduin complainants, slammed the ruling, which they said went against an international trend of recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples to their historic lands.

"In its ruling, the court affirmed the practice of expulsion that the state carried out against the Negev Beduin, and found that sixty years afterwards there is no point in testing whether that massive expropriation of lands was legal or not," Sfard said on Monday.

Sfard and Pomerantz added the the court did not "take the opportunity to recognize, even symbolically, the historical injustice perpetrated to the residents of these lands, whose ancestors lived there for centuries."

Professor Yiftachel called the decision "troubling" and said on Monday that the Beduin were considering whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.

"[The ruling] is troubling first and foremost because it unjustly dispossesses many Bedouins who have simply inherited the land from their ancestors. The court decided that just because they didn't register their land, they ought to lose it," Yiftachel said. "It's a sad irony - Jews who bought land from Bedouins in Northern Negev became recognized owners, while the people who sold them the land are now being dispossessed."

Yiftachel said that the court had ignored new research he presented, which he said showed the Beduins had "acquired rights within a permanent land system they developed and how previous regimes have respected those rights."

"Most researchers agree that 2-3 million dunams were cultivated by the Beduin in the early 20th century, which gives them land rights," he said. "Yet the court claimed that no Beduin settlement and rights existed then. Where did the Beduin farmers live - in mid air?"

Yiftachel added that recognizing the fact that Beduin did own parts of the Negev for generations was "not only a moral duty of any enlightened state, but also the key for good Arab-Jewish relations on which the Negev will depend for years to come."

"Whatever the court decision, I am committed to the truth," he said.

ILA director Benzi Lieberman welcomed the court's ruling, and said on Monday that the ILA expected the Beduin claimants to respect it and "stop trespassing" on the land.

"The ILA will do all in its power to keep state land from trespassers - and this includes farming - in order to safeguard the land," Lieberman said, adding that the ILA would file lawsuits against those who trespassed on state land.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Negev: A Bedouin Village versus a JNF Forest, by Allen Katzoff, in The Times of Israel

The sky was clear blue after many days of rain when we drove to Al-Arakib near Beer Sheva in the Negev. The air was cool but the sun strong. All around us the desert bloomed as we turned onto the dirt road, passed a small cemetery on the left and pulled up before a large three-sided Bedouin tent. In the distance I saw groves of trees on higher ground. But the surroundings around the tent were barren, just sandy ground and rocks. I would soon find out why.
The remains of a building after it was demolished at Al-Arakib.
Note the olive and fruit trees cut down in front of it.

I was visiting Al-Arakib with Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Director of Special Projects at Rabbis for Human Rights, on one of his regular visits to the area. The Bedouin in the Negev have become a particular concern for Arik. His organization’s focus is based on the biblical precept that all people are created in the image of God (B’tzelem Elokim) and that Jews have a moral obligation to fight injustice wherever it occurs.

Soon after we were seated on carpets in the tent, Sheikh Sayakh, an older distinguished-looking man wearing a keffiyeh, entered and grasped Arik’s hand between his, smiling broadly and greeting him warmly like a dear friend. While traditional Bedouin coffee was served, I heard the village’s story.

For generations, the people of Al-Arakib lived on their land, farming and herding sheep and goats. Olive orchards surrounded the village. In 1951, the villagers complied with a government request to leave their land for six months to make room for army exercises. Subsequently they were not allowed to return. Israel then expropriated the land without compensation claiming it was not legally owned. The village residents did not learn of the seizure until twelve years ago when they returned to live on their ancestral lands upon hearing that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was to blanket their village and fields with a forest.

Today the issue is in court proceedings. Villagers still have receipts of land taxes they paid during the Ottoman and British Mandate periods as well as their traditional land purchase contracts that were recognized as valid by those governments. However, because actual land registration under the Ottomans and British was fragmentary, the residents of Al-Arakib, like most other Bedouin in the Negev, have no registry deeds.

Al-Arakib is one of 35 Bedouin settlements in the Negev, all in the same predicament. These villages, which account for 5% of the Negev, predate the establishment of the state but the government claims the Bedouin are illegal squatters. Almost all houses have demolition orders against them because building permits are unobtainable. The Bedouin pay taxes, their children serve in the Israeli army, and many commute to jobs outside the villages. But they are not provided with electric or water hookups, sewers or trash collection. Yet they still choose their traditional lifestyle on their ancestral land in the desert.

The Israeli government perceives a demographic problem in the Negev: there are too many Bedouin and too few Jews. Last year the government approved the Prawer Plan that calls for the forced relocation of over 30,000 Bedouin from these villages into urban Bedouin towns. The towns are the poorest in Israel: crime-ridden, with severe housing shortages and sky-high unemployment. Once the villagers are removed, the JNF will plant forests and the state will build new towns to attract Jewish residents. Bedouin will not be welcome.

Which bring us back to Al-Arakib. On July 26, 2010, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a warning that “a situation in which a demand for national rights will be made from some quarters inside Israel, for example in the Negev, should the area be left without a Jewish majority. Such things happened in the Balkans, and it is a real threat.” The next day, over one thousand soldiers backed by helicopters and bulldozers arrived at the village without warning. In three hours they demolished the homes of three hundred people. No one was allowed to remove their belongings before the demolitions. Large items such as cars and generators were seized. One thousand olive trees were destroyed. (Click here to view a video of that day)

The residents of Al-Arakib decided not to leave since leaving would have surrendered their land forever. They immediately scavenged through the wreckage for materials to build temporary shelters. The army returned eight days later to demolish those. And the process then repeated itself. The latest demolition was number 33. The remaining villagers now have their makeshift shelters and some prefab buildings in the old village cemetery. That affords them some protection because the government so far dares not intrude on sacred Muslim ground.

Sheik Sayakh walked with us through the remaining land of the village. Here and there were some concrete slabs, remnants of the old houses. But miraculously, small olive saplings were sprouting from the stumps of the old trees. Apparently olive trees are hard to kill unless you dig out the entire root system. A few hundred meters away, the JNF had just planted rows of samplings, bringing the forest much closer to the village. Soon eucalyptus trees will be planted all through that area, but scattered among them as they grow will be hundreds of olive trees, a living memorial to what once was.

Al-Arakib is emblematic of what will happen when the Prawer Plan is implemented. Thousands of Bedouin view the village as a trial run for what will befall them. A friend of mine, who has spent decades working in Bedouin towns, says the young, who in the past might have served in the army and gone to college, are becoming alienated and radicalized. In a recent press report it was recounted how a young Bedouin, who had served in the Israeli army, received his order to appear for his annual reserve duty on the same day he received from the government a demolition notice for his home. No firm date is given with these notices. The bulldozer will simply show up one day at this soldier’s door.

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