The Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs is set to discuss the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev on Monday 6 May. The Bedouin community and human rights organisations strongly object to the bill and want it removed from the Knesset’s and government’s agenda. The bill is based on the Begin Plan, approved by the government on January 27, 2013, which effectively constitutes a modified version of the Prawer Plan for Bedouin settlement in the Negev, approved by the government on September 11, 2011.
Today the Bedouin number 210,000. About 120,000 live in seven Bedouin towns established by the State. Most of the towns suffer heavily from poverty and unemployment resulting from discrimination and their residents’ severance from traditional livelihood and sources of income. The rest of the community - around 90,000, live in 11 villages currently undergoing recognition, plus 35 more villages with more than 500 inhabitants each. The State of Israel does not recognise these 35 villages. These 46 villages together constitute around 5% of the entire land of the Negev.
These Israeli citizens in unrecognised villages are denied their most basic rights: their villages are not connected to the state’s water and sewer systems nor to its electrical grid; education and health services are only partially provided to them, and are inadequate; and the state refuses to recognise villagers’ historical claims of ancestral ownership of the land.
Until 1948 the Negev served as home to 65,000-100,000 Bedouin who inhabited and worked somewhere between 2 and 3 million dunams of land. After the war only about 10% of the population remained, under a military regime. In the 1970’s the State of Israel allowed the Bedouin to submit claims of land ownership. The Bedouin asserted they owned about 1.5 million dunams of land. Of those, about 500,000 dunams of pastureland were not granted recognition; different sources disagree over the exact total and the number of dunams formalized through court rulings. The estimates range from 200,000 to 350,000 dunam. In some cases they received compensation, but in the vast majority of cases they were not given the right to remain on the lands they had claimed to own, and many of the resolutions were forced on the Bedouin. About 650,000 dunams of land remain unresolved.
The desire to develop the Northern Negev prompted the government of Israel to recognize the need to resolve the ownership of the lands.
In 2008 a committee under a retired judge, Eliezer Goldberg, determined that historical Bedouin rights to the land must be recognised. A series of recommendations were made but the government did not ratify these and instead established the Praver Committee in 2009, which was to oversee implementation of the Goldberg Committee report. The Praver committee altered both its approach to the issue and its recommendations. According to the Praver proposal the Bedouin would only receive 180,000-200,000 dunams, whereas their claims cover approximately 600,000. About 40,000 Bedouin will be removed from their villages if the proposal is adopted.
A reading of the Praver Committee report indicates that the committee did not involve the Bedouin community in determining its fate; it did not even hear its claims.
As a result of vehement public criticism of the Praver report, former Minister Benny Begin embarked on a “listening mission” aimed at fixing the Praver report. The Begin Outline was approved by the government on 27 January 2013, but despite its softer rhetoric, the latest report does not contain any redress for the government’s unwillingness to recognize the 36 unrecognized Bedouin villages and to fairly resolve the land ownership claims of Bedouin citizens whose property was appropriated by the State.
The bill outlines a framework for the implementation of government policies toward the Bedouin population on two separate issues: (1) the evacuation of unrecognized villages in the Negev, and (2) the settlement of ownership of lands in the Negev. The bill is based on the absolute negation of the Bedouin population’s rights to property and historical ties to the land, in violation of the residents of the unrecognized villages’ basic rights.
Like Prawer, the Begin Plan is also based on the notion that Bedouin are “squatters,” ignoring the fact that most of the villages have been in existence in their current location since before the establishment of the State of Israel. Other villages were established by government transfer during the period of martial law.
What will happen if the plan is implemented?
The plan will lead to the uprooting and forcible eviction of dozens of villages and 30-40,000 Bedouin residents, who will be stripped of their property and their historical land rights. Thousands of families will be condemned to poverty and unemployment. The communal life and social fabric of these villages will be destroyed. Like its precursor, the current plan also seeks to restrict the Bedouin to a specific area and to forcibly apply this policy.
A fair arrangement is needed to benefit all the Negev residents
A significant choice now confronts the State of Israel. At stake is not only the fate of about 40,000 Bedouin threatened with expulsion from their homes, but the future of all the Negev inhabitants. The decision before us is whether to perpetuate and exacerbate the tension and sense of deprivation already worsening the situation in the Negev, or to arrive at a just resolution that will allow closer relations and promote growth and development of the area.
A just and feasible solution means, first and foremost, recognizing the fact that the Bedouin in the unrecognized villages are citizens with equal rights.
- It will be arrived at only with real involvement from the Bedouin community institutions.
- Ownership claims to land made in the 1970's must be considered fully with recognition for all existing villages.
- Unique agricultural nature of the villages must be taken into account, along with the Bedouin’s patterns for settlement, land ownership and family and social customs.
- The Negev must be developed equally for all its citizens.