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.

Read More - http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/un-panel-urges-israel-to-shelve-racist-bedouin-relocation-plan-1.420692

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 conference.jstreet.org.

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.

Read More - http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?ID=262501&R=R1

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.

Read More: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-negev-a-bedouin-village-versus-a-jnf-forest

Thursday, March 1, 2012

JNF Should Plant Trees, Not Uproot Families, by Rabbi Jill Jacobs, in JTA

As a child, I proudly brought my spare change to Hebrew school to drop in the little blue boxes. With this money, my teachers told me, the Jewish National Fund would plant trees in Israel. I never imagined that these nickels and dimes would also help to evict Palestinians from their homes.

Last week, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America called on the Jewish National Fund and its partner organizations to issue a public statement that they will no longer evict Palestinians from their homes in eastern Jerusalem.

In November, RHR-NA mobilized American Jews to write nearly 1,500 letters to Russell Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund of America, asking him to stop a JNF subsidiary from evicting the Sumarin family from their home in Silwan, a neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. The eviction would have allowed the home to be transferred to Elad, a settler organization that aims to Judaize eastern Jerusalem. The Absentee Property Law, which was the legal basis for this eviction, allows the State of Israel to take possession of eastern Jerusalem properties whose owners were not physically present when Israel first took control of the area in 1967. In the case of the Sumarin family, the children of the original owner were declared absentees even though other members of the family were living in the home at the time.

Though JNF responded to the uproar among American Jews and halted the eviction of the Sumarins, the organization and its subsidiaries are currently pursuing other evictions.

It’s time for JNF once and for all to end its policy of evicting families.

This is not ultimately a story about whether a few families can stay in their homes. What happens in Silwan may determine whether a peaceful solution remains possible. What happens in Silwan speaks to the the moral and democratic soul of Israel. And the crisis in Silwan opens our eyes to the role that American money plays in perpetuating the conflict.

By moving into Silwan and other eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, ideological settlers are putting facts on the ground that make peace more difficult. Visiting Silwan last November, I saw the homes of recent Jewish settlers standing next to the homes of longtime Palestinian residents. These Jewish homes sported Israeli flags, guard booths, barbed wire and sky-high fences. The settlers walk through the streets carrying rifles. The juxtaposition between these fortified houses and the more modest ones of their neighbors serves as an answer to those who ask why Jews can’t live anywhere in Jerusalem. This is not an attempt at peaceful coexistence; it is an armed takeover that threatens the very possibility of peace.

I’m deeply concerned as well about the moral and democratic soul of Israel. I believe strongly that Israel has the potential to live up to the very best of Jewish values, and to be the “light unto the nations” to which its founders aspired. Jewish history teaches us the pain of being expelled from one’s home. And Jewish law sets up strong protections against seizing property without cause and without incontrovertible evidence. I am proud that Israel’s Declaration of Independence commits to “ensur[ing] complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” I pray that we will realize this vision soon.

Settler organizations argue that the Absentee Property Law simply allows for the return to Jewish hands of property owned by Jews before 1948, but the argument fails the test of fairness and democracy. First, the properties are not being returned to the families who left after the partition of Jerusalem but rather into the hands of settlers with an ideological desire to Judaize the area and transfer Palestinians out. Second, there is, of course, no parallel law allowing Palestinians to reclaim ownership of homes that their families owned before 1948. Such a law would mean the end of many western Jerusalem neighborhoods that are now Jewish, and even of Israel as we know it.

Finally, the situation in Silwan has opened many of our eyes to the role of American Jewish money. It makes the news when mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson, Irving Moskowitz or Ira Rennert invest millions of dollars into building new settlements or financing Jewish enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods. But those of us who give money to “neutral” organizations, such as JNF, may believe that we are only helping to plant trees, contribute to economic development or even support Jewish-Arab cooperation projects. Our donations to JNF do support such praiseworthy activities. At the same time, these contributions support the uprooting of Palestinian families, the development of settlements, the forced displacement of Bedouin Israeli citizens and other activities that violate human rights.

In the world of Israel politics, very little is neutral. Adelson and other right-wing billionaires invest in projects that reflect their vision of Israel. Those of us who believe in building a country that reflects the best of Jewish and democratic values must similarly invest in work that reflects our vision of what Israel should be.

I hope that JNF will retain the trust of American Jews who support peace and justice. I therefore call on JNF to end policies that set up roadblocks to peace.

Read More - http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/03/01/3091925/op-ed-point-jnf-should-plant-trees-not-uproot-families