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.

Read More - http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/israel-police-establishes-unit-to-enforce-demolition-of-bedouin-homes-1.424805

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.

Read More - http://972mag.com/algorithm-of-expropriation-the-plan-to-uproot-30000-bedouin/40202

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.

Read More - http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/is-a-college-really-what-the-bedouin-need-right-now-1.422042

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.”

Read More - http://www.acri.org.il/en/2012/04/01/prawer-plan-reservations-submitted