Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More at The Real News


In recent years, the government has adopted the so-called Prawer Plan, reversing several earlier decisions to recognize unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev Desert. The new plan, explained by Association for Civil Rights in Israel lawyer Rawia Abu Rabia, will relocate 40,000 Bedouins in southern Israel for the establishment of 10 Jewish villages in their place. The Real News' Lia Tarachansky speaks with Haia Noach, Executive Director of the Forum for Co-existance in the Negev, and Salim Abu Kian, from Umm el Hiran, one of two villages (along with A Tir) slated for evacuation.


LIA TARACHANSKY, JOURNALIST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: The Negev Desert, Southern Israel. This vast, diverse landscape is at the forefront of the new fight for land in Israel. In recent years, millions were invested in bringing Jewish citizens to this part of the country, and moving non-Jewish citizens out. Over 200,000 Bedouins live here in seven municipalities and over thirty unrecognized villages. A new plan that involves multiple branches of government, semi-governmental bodies, and corporations is starting a campaign of demolition, displacement, and forced urbanization. Rawia Abu Rabia is a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. She explains the impact of this project.

RAWIA ABU RABIA, LAWYER, ASSOCIATION FOR CIVIL RIGHTS IN ISRAEL: 60% of the country’s territory is the Negev Desert. The Bedouins are asking for only five percent of the Negev’s territory. Most of the lands the Badouins have lived on since before the establishment of the state, before all the laws, they were there. Some are villages of the internally displaced who were moved there in the 50s, what this plan proposes is less than one percent for them, of the Negev’s territory. TARACHANSKY: In previous stories, The Real News covered the village of Al Araqib where the Jewish National Fund, or JNF, a semi-governmental body in charge of forestry, demolished the village over thirty times to build the Ambassador’s Forest. Haia Noach is the director of the Negev Co-Existance Forum.HAIA NOACH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEGEV COEXISTENCE FORUM FOR CIVIL EQUALITY: This area was actually before ’48 the house of thousands of Bedouin Arabs. Which most of them were expelled or driven away, or left the area in ’48 and during the beginning of the 50s. We are in the midst of litigation process and still the JNF is working as [if] the land belongs to the state. Just changing all the ecology here, all the landscape as you can see. TARACHANSKY: At the same time the JNF is building a new forest on the lands of Al Araqib, it’s expanding the Yatir forest in the Northwestern Negev onto the lands of Um el Hiran. In a new promotional campaign with the Israeli airline El Al, the JNF promises to plant a tree for every plane ticket sold to expand the section of the forest it calls Hiran. But nowhere in the promotional material is it mentioned that the area on which the forest is to be planted is home to two Bedouin villages of the Al Gian family. This campaign, coordinated with the government, is propelling Umm el Hiran and A-Tir into the beginning of a similar fight to the one waged by Al Araqib. In November the government approved the demolition of dozens of the villages’ homes.SALIM Al-KIAN, UMM EL HIRAN VILLAGE: The people who live here are not lowlives, really, you have school teachers here, and lawyers, managers, and engineers, all the people here are educated. They go to work, and come back to the village. In agriculture, we have no agriculture because we have no water. 60 years with no water. Electricity as you can see is all generator-powered, which is very expensive. But we have no choice. There are sick people and children here, we need the electricity. TARACHANSKY: Why don’t they recognize your village?AL-KIAN: Because we’re Bedouins, there’s no other answer. TARACHANSKY: The JNF refused to comment on the case, saying only “The JNF does not plant even one tree in an area under legal dispute,” This despite its clear plantation on the lands of Al Araqib, a case currently undecided in the courts. NOACH: The JNF is now actually the operator. The Arab population, that is indigenous to the Negev lives in awful conditions in the unrecognized villages, and in the state-planned towns. The state-planned towns are actually the poorest in Israel. When you’re looking at the cluster of socioeconomic indicators they are the last ones. TARACHANSKY: Before moving to this area in 1956, the Al Gian family, which populates the two villages was displaced four times by the nascent Jewish State, until under military rule, they were resettled here and promised it would be for the last time. Since, they’ve become citizens of Israel and serve in the in the Israeli army. On the same day Salim’s son received his order to appear for army reserve duty, he also received a demolition notice for his home. AL-KIAN: They promised us that this will be our place forever, and in the last ten years we see demolition orders. Nobody comes to you, nobody talks to you, they only place demolition orders, and destroy houses and uproot trees, and there’s no water, and no one to speak to. They tell you – there’s water in Hura, as if I was born in Hura. TARACHANSKY: Hura is a government–constructed municipality near the villages. It is one of seven such towns the government wishes to relocate all Bedouins to. The process began in 2003 when the government commissioned the Goldberg report, seen by many in the field as a sign of hope. ABU RABIA: It was seen as a sort of turning point, because before that the Bedouins were treated from a security perspective, and all of a sudden they were seen from a civilian perspective. Two general principles this committee outlined were, first that the unrecognized villages should be recognized as much as possible. The very use of the term “villages” and not the government’s usual term – “spread,” and “infiltrators” and all that rhetoric, and secondly, the committee recognized the Bedouins historic rights to their lands. NOACH: The reason it changed, was a lot of pressure from the right-wing parties. TARACHANSKY: What do you think it was that motivated the state, all of a sudden?NOACH: Well, the pressure on the Negev is getting bigger. Lots of projects, you know, the army is brining all these large bases to the Negev, you have Israeli highways that are going towards this direction. Jews are coming to the Negev only, or let’s say most of them, to be accurate, are coming to the Negev because they have extra rights. They are getting farms, income tax deductions, you have.. TARACHANSKY: It sounds like this is the new West Bank.NOACH: It’s… they are turning it into… into.. a fire zone. You know, they are putting tension. Last month there was a decision to build ten new villages near Arad, in the area of Arad. They build villages for the evacuees from the Gaza settlements, all the redeployment. People are coming here to the Negev. TARACHANSKY: But when the report came out, the Prime Minister’s Office intervened, appointing Ehud Prawer to implement its recommendations. Prawer, the former deputy head of the National Security Council, reversed the trend of recognition set by the Goldberg report. ABU RABIA: In his process, that lasted two years, there wasn’t a single member who was Arab or Bedouin. A, he doesn’t use the term “villages”, he goes back to “dispersion,” or “spread”. His guiding principle is urbanization, returning to the idea of concentrating them in Be’er Sheva or the Bedouin municipalities, or in the eleven townships of Abu Basma. And only in exceptional cases, establish a new village. This means uprooting roughly 40,000 Bedouins from their homes. TARACHANSKY: The government explained its forced urbanization plan by saying it is unable to provide services to the 35 villages it refuses to recognize. However beside the encroaching JNF forest, in recent months a new plan was revealed for the establishment of ten small Jewish villages in the places from which the Bedouins are to be evicted. ABU RABIA: When the planning authorities discussed the obejections the Bedouins raised to the urban plan of Be’er Sheva, the committee appointed a researcher, to weigh their resistance. TARACHANSKY: Was it Talma Duchan? ABU RABIA: Talma Duchan. And she actually concluded that A-Tir and Umm el Hiran should be recognized, so the Prime Minister’s office intervened, reversing her decision to recognize the villages. Later it was revealed that it was for security considerations, they didn’t want territorial contiguity between the occupied territories, the Hebron area, and A-Tir, Umm el Hiran which are close to the Green Line. And that was their deciding factor, and so they intervened. And if that’s not enough, just recently, the same government that says these villages can’t be recognized for all kinds of reasons, decides to establish ten Jewish villages on this very place, where villages exist and people live. TARACHANSKY: The realization of this plan was designed with the settlement movement at its heart. The plan was made clear in an interview with the former head of the Settlement Department at the World Zioinist Organization who outlined the creation of a contiguous Jewish bloc from the West Bank settlement of Susia to the Israeli town of Arad. TARACHANSKY (Quoting Ofer Laufman, Former Head of the Settlement Department, World Zionist Congress): “This is a flagship project for the department. A first rate Zionist mission for the establishment of a Zionist settlement bloc in a place nearly abandoned by the government for Jewish settlement. If it succeeds, it will be incredible.” TARACHANSKY: The Settlement department of the World Zionist Organization was created by the Jewish Agency with the distinct purpose of settling Israeli citizens beyond the Green Line, in violation of international law as the areas are militarily occupied since 1967. In 2002, then-Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon relegated the Galilee in the North and the Negev in the South as new frontiers for the department to settle. In 2008, settlers from the settlement of Susia were brought here to plant the seeds of a new Jewish village, Hiran, on the lands of Um el Hiran, following in the same way new outposts are build in the West Bank. Despite repeated attempts, the government ministry in charge of settling the Negev and Galilee refused an interview with The Real News. I’m Lia Tarachansky in Umm El Hiran, the Negev Desert.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Neglect at Schools Spurs Strike by Parents in Bedouin communities, by Yanir Yagna, in Haaretz

Parent-initiated strikes are paralyzing schools and kindergartens in two different Bedouin communities in the Negev. The strikes are in protest of long-standing neglect of equipment and poor sanitation and safety conditions.

The parents’ committee of theBedouin area of El Azazme has shuttered 12 kindergartens for the last 12 days, while at Lakiya, the parents’ committee has closed both schools and kindergartens serving some 5,000 pupils.

Photograph from Step Forward, an NGO with the objective of promoting
educational opportunities and economic advancement programs for
the Bedouin community of Southern Israel.

“The games are old and dirty and the chairs are broken,” says Mussa Abu Bina of the El Azazme committee. “The kids can’t be in the kindergarten because of the noise of the generator. The sand boxes are filthy, some of the playground facilities are unsafe, the toilets are broken, and we lack basic equipment such as drawing paper and markers.”

Some parents told Haaretz: “The Education Ministry claims it doesn’t have money to help the communities, and refer us to the Abu Basma regional council. They, in turn, refer us back to the ministry.”

The regional council’s acting chairman, Rahamim Yona, replies that, “We’re doing our best to solve the problem but we lack budgets. We reported the problem to the Education Ministry a year ago.”

The situation in Lakiya is similar, claims Mer’i al-Sana, of the parents’ committee there: “All the schools are in the same dire conditions because we never received the basic financial support given to other educational institutions. It’s inconceivable that kindergarten teachers pay for cleaning materials from their meager salaries, because there are no funds. Last week the school children didn’t receive their report cards because the school hasn’t had a budget for paper. There are 18 air-conditioners in the junior high school but none of them work. There even isn’t enough money to fix broken windows.”

Nir Shmueli, deputy director of the Education Ministry in the south, counters that the ministry ordered the Abu Basma regional council to buy equipment for the kindergartens, and that the problem in Azazme would be solved “within a week.” As for the situation in Lakiya, the ministry did not comment by press time.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bill Will Turn Bedouin Dispossession into Israeli Law, by Dr. Yeela Raanan, in the Alternative Information Center

A new bill seeks to turn the controversial Prawer Plan into Israeli law. If the Knesset passes the legislation, it will pave the way for Israel to step up its efforts to disposess the Negev's Bedouin and relocate them to impoverished townships. This bill has gone totally ignored by both local and international media.

On January 3rd the Government of Israel published the memorandum of a bill named "Regulation of the Bedouin settlement in the Negev", which states the steps to be implemented in order to relocate the overwhelming majority of the residents of the Negev's unrecognized villages and to confiscate about two-thirds of the land remaining in their possession.

As can be expected, the Government of Israel is anticipating resistance to this new bill, so within the bill are violent measures to ensure its implementation. This bill is currently going through the legislative process in the Knesset, and will likely become law soon.

We call all our friends to help us prevent the Knesset and government from passing this disastrous bill.

Following is a short history bringing us up to this legislature, then a short description of the bill, with a highlight on its most dangerous aspects.

(The memorandum can be found at this address (Hebrew only):

Brief overview of current situation

Coerced urbanization: Israel has had destructive policies towards its Bedouin minority for decades. The results of these policies are seven Bedouin towns, which are always rated as the poorest municipalities in Israel, with severe social breakdown, harsh unemployment, and the absence of any traditional or modern positive roles for the women in the communities. Israel created these towns with willful disregard for the traditions and the needs of the community, rather with the lone aim of minimizing the land available for the use of the community. Over the last half century Israel has managed to "settle" half the Bedouin community in these failed towns.

Policies of non-recognition: The other half of the Bedouin community has been adamant in holding on to its traditional lands and culture and the government has made them pay a steep price by withholding basic services and infrastructure through the policies of non-recognition. Forty-five villages, of 1,000 -10,000 residents each, are not recognized, making the people live without roads, no connection to the electric grid, no running water or sewer system, very minimal health and education systems, and worst of all – no administrative system by which to request building permits, rendering all the homes "illegal" and therefore slotted for demolition.

Land use: Before 1948 the 90,000 Bedouin were virtually the only residents of the Negev. By 1952 there are only 12,000 Bedouin, the rest had been persuaded one way or another to leave the country. Today there are about 200,000 Arab-Bedouin, comprising 1/3 of the Negev population, and who are using only 320,000 dunams of the 13,000,000 of the Negev. The new bill will reduce this even further – to less than 150,000 dunams.

For comparison sake: the Jewish farmers in the Negev are using 1,000,000 dunams of land for agriculture, the Bedouin are currently using about 195,000 dunams, and this will be reduced by the new bill to close to zero. On the other hand – there are more people that make a living as farmers in the Bedouin community than among the Jews of the Negev. Needless to say the new bill will bring the Bedouin community to be even poorer and more dependent on governmental handouts than it is already; accordingly this will further decimate the community.

The bill:

The policy starts with a call to all Bedouins to ratify their land claims, if their father or grandfather filed a land claim in the procedure the Government of Israel initiated in the 1970's. Then the conditions of the land holdings are examined by the government: Did the ancestor utilize the land during the 70's?/ Is the land utilized by the descendent today?/ Have all siblings and cousins ratified their land claim?/ And some more conditions. If all conditions are met – then the person will receive a promise from the government to receive a land parcel up to half the size of the land claim he/ she is giving up. However the government will keep its promise only if the Bedouin person will clean off the land they are using now of all buildings, people, animals and trees at the demand of the government, and the land parcel will be allocated only at a location the government will decide on in the future.

The threats the bill poses for the Bedouin community:

Its aim is land confiscation: As stated earlier, this bill further reduces the availability of the land, an important resource for the residents of the Bedouin villages, who still mainly live by farming. This is further disturbing as the Bedouin are recognized by the U.N. as an indigenous people, and thus deserving of land (and other) compensation – not land confiscation.

Extra Power to Governing Bodies: Articles #71-#73 permit the Authority for the Settlement of the Bedouin (after a formal claim by the Prime Minister), to render a certain area to be cleared out immediately, and demolish all buildings and evacuate all people, without the necessity for a court injunction, as is the law today. Further the bill states that the courts have very limited possibility in preventing this process from being carried out. All the Bedouin villages are to go through this process.

Unwarranted Creation of Family Strife: Articles #42-#43 state that the percentage of the land that a person will receive as compensation depends on the percentage of the original land claim that has been ratified. In plain language what this means is – if all cousins (the grandfather being the original land claimer) enter the process this bill suggests, then (if all other criteria are met) all can receive compensation in land (which is strongly preferred to monetary compensation) of up to 50% of the size of their personal land claim. However if some choose not to enter the process, then the other cousins will receive less land as compensation. This is set by the bill to create family pressure on the descendants of the original land claimer to enter the process and officially forgo their land claims. The end result will be the creation of family strife among most Bedouin families in the Negev, strife that will probably continue on for generations, destroying even further the strained social fabric already decimated by forced urbanization and dislocation. It is unimaginable that a government will pass a bill that is so destructive to family life, all for the purpose of forcing people to forgo some more of their historical claims to land.

Diminished protection by the courts: The bill also prescribes that in cases of conflict with other laws, it is above other existing laws in Israel, reducing further the possibility for members of the Bedouin community to turn to the courts for protection.

Another blatant racist ruling in this bill is that Bedouin may not receive land compensation and may not settle west of route #40, but rather within a clearly delineated area, mapped in the bill, which is clearly reminiscent of a reservation or a "Bantustan".

No allowance for settlement planning: Furthermore, the bill does not include any discussion or procedures for recognition of villages, processes for planning the villages, or possibilities for people of the community to make choices as to where they may live, and the character of their communities. So when the clearing process described in articles 71-73 comes into effect, the government will be the sole decider of the new locations for tens of thousands of people.

Impeded process of consideration: The government has nominated Minister Beni Begin to listen to the grievances of the Bedouin men, and to implement change in the bill according to the needs and wishes of the Bedouin community. However, we have heard Minister Begin's talks, and unfortunately we find that he has no real ability or wish to listen to members of the Bedouin community. Rather, we find him frustratingly eloquent and an emissary of the government in convincing members of our community to enter this destructive bill.

Implementation of this bill will create severe suffering: We do not believe this bill can be implemented, as its aim – further reducing the ability to hold on to what is left of the Bedouin ancestral lands – is an abomination for members of the Bedouin community. However, if this bill passes, and if there is an attempt to implement this bill, the Bedouin community will suffer greatly: with bulldozers razing villages to the ground, land confiscated by force, many incarcerated because of their refusal to give up their lands, and possibly the eventual success of the bill – total urbanization and loss of land as a source of income to the Bedouin people, and the destruction of their culture.

Thousands of Bedouin have demonstrated in Beer Sheva and in Jerusalem, showing their abhorrence to this bill. The Israeli media, cooperating with the government, completely ignored these demonstrations.

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