Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Stop Prawer-Begin plan for Bedouin resettlement, by Devorah Brous, Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles

Women stand near a washing line in the Bedouin town of Rahat in southern Israel on Dec. 10. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters
Women stand near a washing line in the Bedouin town of Rahat
in southern Israel on Dec. 10.
Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters
By Devorah Brous, Founder and former Executive Director Bustan, former co-director of the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice
The Negev Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran is where I first learned about what it means to be rooted, to be devoted to something with steadfastness. It is here that I learned the true impact of Jewish National Fund (JNF) afforestation on the Bedouin, which is far from JNF’s whitewashed and spit-shined-glossy version. Rayid Abu Alkeean, an Israeli Bedouin, partnered with Bustan, an environmental justice organization that I founded, to host delegations on dozens of our Negev Unplugged Tours in his village, where we learned about Bedouin traditional life unplugged from the nation’s electricity grid, and from Israel’s democracy.

Imagine serving in the Israel Defense Forces and having your home demolished by the government in front of your children. Next, imagine being billed for the demolition. Imagine watching religious Jews building a barbed wire fence to stake a claim to the hilltop just above your home. Hiran and Kasif, two Jewish-only religious towns slated to be built on the lands of Rayid’s village, were just approved.

Fortunately, the Knesset vote on the controversial Prawer-Begin Plan to resettle the Negev Bedouin has been postponed for the next one to two months. We must urge Israeli officials to take this discriminatory plan off the table and encourage them to adopt the Alternative Master Plan (AMP) developed by Bedouin leadership and Jewish planners of the human rights non-governmental organization Bimkom. The AMP will delimit territorial boundaries on historical village lands. It will enable formal village planning and access to the full basket of rights and services afforded Jewish villages and towns — housing, clinics, roads, waste removal and schools. We must make every effort to advance this alternative plan and promote sustainable economic development for all residents of the Negev.

Here’s why it is in the best interest of every Jew in the Negev and the Diaspora to stop the Prawer Plan.

• Because it is morally unconscionable to uproot this Negev Arab minority from their homes and against their will.

• Because token symbolic gestures aimed at recognition, such as granting formal ownership over less than 2 percent of historic Bedouin lands to some while denying the rest to the vast majority of others, simply won’t work. The Prawer Plan will dispossess some 40,000 Bedouin, requiring entire villages to be demolished wholesale.
• Because squeezing the remaining lands that have not yet been confiscated from the Bedouin population and urging them to live as neighbors with Jewish homesteaders and families that replace them will deepen already existing social cleavages.

• Because it will lead to violence. Today the youth in Bedouin villages act on behalf of a civilian population of 200,000 Negev Arabs that has been marginalized, criminalized and pauperized for decades. “Days of Rage” protests and vigils are surging to increasingly high levels of tension in what is now front and center stage of Israel’s ongoing land conflict. By declaring a civilian population a national security threat, the government further alienates and even catalyzes an already enraged and disenfranchised minority into the streets. Many believe that despite the intentions of community elders to organize nonviolently, there is no further incentive to do so.

• Because living off the grid is hard, but the unrecognized Bedouin prefer that to losing their lands. Most “unrecognized villagers” have consistently resisted running water and electricity to power their computers and washing machines, preferring to stay on their lands rather than be holed up in cities with different and sometimes clashing familial clans, and pushed into wage labor —– when it is even available — at the expense of their traditional cultural pursuits. Unrecognized Bedouin have organized however haphazardly and have used nonviolent but futile tactics to have their land rights recognized by the Israeli courts. More than 100,000 Bedouin continue to resist being transferred into impoverished townships that are drug-riddled pits of crime. They fight to keep their lands because even in recognized towns, Bedouin are denied building permits, basic infrastructure and services.

• Because we’ve learned from villages like Al-Arakib and Umm el-Hiran, among others, that coercion is not sustainable. To try to rip Negev Arabs from their lands will only make them, and more of us, more resolute.

• Because the northern Negev is already a toxic tinderbox. Most Negev Arabs and Bedouin have been relocated into a triangle of territory in the northern Negev between Beer-Sheva, Arad and Dimona that has been zoned to encircle them  to prevent further construction.

The conflict between Bedouin and the State of Israel is about land, resources and control. Investment in developing Jewish towns and demolishing Arab villages happens most aggressively in Arab areas of the Negev and the Galilee, battlefields of Israel’s demographic war to create a Jewish majority in every region of Israel.  One tactic is to break apart contiguous Bedouin villages and to concentrate the maximum number of Bedouin onto the minimum amount of territory.

Like Rayid, head of the village council of al-Sira, Khalil el Amor resists the Prawer Plan. His entire village is slated for demolition. I spoke with Khalil yesterday. He said, “I am a teacher, and finishing school to become a lawyer. As a child, I would return home from school to tend our flock and help my mother milk the animals until dark. I would light a lantern and start my homework. I want my granddaughter Siraj (meaning “lantern”) to have the choice to tend a flock. If I stay on my village lands, I dream of inviting tourists to learn about our traditions and our changing Bedouin culture.” Rather than give up the land, and give up the lantern, Khalil holds steadfast.

The AMP is a viable way for Negev Arabs like Khalil and Rayid to showcase their village culture to tourists and to earn livable incomes rather than masquerading as traditional Bedouin for Jewish-owned tourist companies that romanticize their culture if they’ll pretend to be shepherds for a photo-op on a camel. If Prawer passes, that is all our children will know about Bedouin culture.

Published in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, December 14, 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Israel's Plan To Move Bedouins from Villages Sparks Large Protests, Forward/Reuters, Nov. 30, 2013

Published Saturday, November 30, 2013, The Forward
Israel's Plan To Move Bedouins from Villages Sparks Large Protests
Arabs Tie Bedouin Plight To Fight for Palestine

By Reuters

Protest Scenes: Bedouins flee from a protest after Israelis fire tear gas into the crowd.

Hundreds of Bedouin Arabs and their supporters clashed with Israeli forces on Saturday in protests against a government plan to force 40,000 Bedouins living in the southern Negev region to leave their villages.

The plan has not only angered the Bedouins but also spurred many other young Arab citizens of Israel to associate it with Israel’s occupation of Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and so identify themselves more closely with demands for a Palestinian state.

The historic heart of Haifa, Israel’s northern port city on the Mediterranean, was brought to a standstill as hundreds of Israeli Arabs scuffled with scores of security forces.

Police fired stun grenades and water cannon at the youths, who blocked a main thoroughfare and chanted: “With our souls and blood we will defend you, Palestine!”

Over 1,000 demonstrated in the largest gathering, in Hura, in Israel’s Negev Desert. Stone-throwers clashed with police, who used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon.

Eyewitnesses said several demonstrators had been injured. An Israeli police spokesman said at least 28 people had been arrested in Haifa and Hura and some 15 officers treated for injuries.

A bill set for a final vote in parliament before the end of the year provides for 40,000 Arab Bedouins from many villages that are “unrecognised” by the Israeli state to be forced to move into seven townships.

Bedouins, other Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank all say the plan is a land grab meant to benefit Jews at their expense, and point to the lack of progress in the latest, U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and Palestinians.


“We were here before Israel. What they’re doing in the Negev is what they’ve done to us all along,” Haneen Zoabi, an Arab member of parliament, told Reuters at the Haifa protest.

“It may pass a vote, but the youth here and in the Negev will resist democratically in any way possible, and stop them.”

Other demonstrations took place near the old city of Arab East Jerusalem, another Arab town in central Israel and an area adjoining a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, where tear gas was used to scatter protesters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the protests.

“The attempts of a boisterous and violent minority to deny a better future for a large population are grave. We will continue to promote this law for the better future that it will provide for all the Negev’s citizens,” Netanyahu said.

Israel says it will compensate many of the Bedouins with a combination of land and cash, and “bring them into the 21st century” by significantly improving their standard of living, according to a government-sponsored report on the draft.

The majority of Israel’s 1.6 million Arab citizens dwell in cities and small towns in the north and centre.

But 200,000 Bedouin live in the southern desert, half in government-built townships and half in 42 ramshackle “unrecognised” villages without running water, electricity or sanitation. Civil rights groups say it is these the government should be developing, rather than the soulless dormitory towns where the Bedouins are being forced to move.

The government agency in charge of the Prawer Plan, based in the prime minister’s office, condemned the protests.

“Extremists, many of whom are not Bedouin, chose to divert the open debate about a purely social and humanitarian cause into a confrontation, falsely linked to the Palestinian issue,” it said in a statement.

“The Bedouin of the Negev, being equal citizens, deserve adequate housing, public services and a better future for their children.”

But Medhat Diab, a young Arab activist from a town outside Haifa wearing the trademark Palestinian chequered scarf, said the Bedouin and Palestinian causes were linked.

“Our ID says we’re Israeli but our identity is Palestinian,” he said. “My generation sees that there’s no justice or equality for Arabs, just taking more and more of our land.”

Monday, September 30, 2013

Israel’s Other Land Grab, by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Moment, Sept-Oct, 2013


In August, despite the fragility of the newly resurrected peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli government announced plans to build 1,187 new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This came hard on the heels of the 1,096 new units promoted by the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] Civil Administration and the 91 settlements the government recently added to the “national priority list,” presumably rendering them non-negotiable.

With the eyes of the world focused on this defiant expansion of Israeli “facts on the ground,” few were paying attention to a simultaneous land grab taking place in the Negev: Israel’s systematic expropriation of areas that for generations have been inhabited by Bedouins.

On my first trip to Israel 37 years ago, I was hosted for dinner in a Bedouin tent in the desert. Our delegation of eight or ten American media types sat on beautiful hand-loomed rugs. We ate with our hands.  We heard about Bedouin culture and traditions.  The men who sat with us in that tent (the women were behind a curtain, though we saw one peeking out) were warm, welcoming and responsive to our questions. Only later did it occur to me that our travel agent or the Israel tourism authority was paying the Bedouins to exhibit their “native” ways to visiting foreigners. And while other stops on our itinerary—Masada, Mea Shearim, Rachel’s Tomb—were introduced with extensive background information, the Bedouins were presented as ethnic exotica, a people without a history. Only later did I wonder how they really felt about these encounters.

Since then, the Jewish state seems to have become markedly less appreciative of Bedouin culture and traditions. Hundreds of times over the last few years, Bedouin homes and villages have been summarily demolished by IDF and Jewish National Fund (JNF) bulldozers.

Media sources and advocacy groups such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel and the New Israel Fund report that Bedouins have been beaten, shot and forcibly evacuated from their ancestral lands so that this fertile area can be developed for Jewish agricultural development, JNF forests and Jewish habitation.

In 2007, the government appointed the Goldberg Commission to address the Bedouin “problem.” (Needless to say, there were no Bedouins on the commission.) Their findings led to the Prawer Plan, a proposed law that would relocate up to 40,000 semi-nomadic Bedouins, concentrating them in seven “officially recognized” urban townships that rank at the bottom of every Israeli socioeconomic measure, with an infant mortality rate four times worse than that of any Jewish Israeli community. Last June, the Prawer Plan passed its first Knesset reading by a slim majority. The final two readings needed in order for the Knesset bill to pass are expected in October.

Somehow, it’s unthinkable to evacuate thousands of Jews from their West Bank settlements in the interests of Israeli-Palestinian peace. But expelling 40,000 Arab Israeli citizens from their homes for the sake of Jewish development is considered a great idea. Moreover, Israel presents its transfer policy in a benevolent light, as if by trashing Bedouin dwellings, the IDF is expelling these noble savages from their “primitive” habitats for their own good.

Mind you, I’m not romanticizing the Bedouins. They don’t just keep their women behind a curtain, they keep them uneducated, isolated and cut off from modern health care. And though they are not responsible for their extreme impoverishment and rampant unemployment, these conditions have spawned alarming rates of criminal behavior and drug use.  Altogether, it’s not a pretty picture.

Likewise, I’m mindful of the legal complexities of the land use issue. The Bedouins don’t hold title; their system of land acquisition and ownership recognition is based on oral agreements that date back to the Ottoman Empire. Expecting them to produce airtight proof of ownership of territory they’ve inhabited for centuries would be like asking American Indians, who believe the earth cannot be owned, to produce a deed from Christopher Columbus, or asking the Australian Aborigines, who mark territorial borders by transmitting “songlines” known only to the indigenous tribes, to produce transmittal documents signed by the British.

The bottom line is that Bedouin Arabs are citizens of the state of Israel. Some of their elders fought with the Palmach. Many Bedouin men have volunteered for the IDF, serving as trackers and defending the country’s borders. Yet these peaceful, loyal citizens are being targeted for internal dislocation on the basis of their ethnicity, race, religion and normative social arrangements.  And Israel shows little respect for their historic ties to the land.

Rather than herd them into the seven ghetto-like “recognized” villages with inadequate services, pathetic infrastructure and few jobs, Israel should improve the conditions of everyday life for Bedouins in the 35 “unrecognized” villages. The government should invest in Bedouin roads, schools, job creation and health care and connect these villages to the Israeli water, sewage and electricity systems.

Likewise, rather than turn a blind eye to the ongoing injustice of forcible Bedouin dislocation, American Jews should think twice before buying a tree from the JNF in a forest that may have been created on the ruins of Bedouin homes.

And we should insist that our communal organizations address both the moral and political dimensions of this issue. Israel cannot claim to be “the only democracy in the Middle East” if it continues uprooting thousands of its citizens against their will.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s latest book is How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick. She is currently working on a novel.

Published here in Moment magazine, Sept-Oct 2013

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Every Jew should see the Bedouin issue as test of Israel's moral values, by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Ha’aretz

Why have the relocations and demolitions of Negev Bedouin homes, an issue not related to Israel’s security or vexed questions such as "Who is a Jew?", aroused such strong feelings amongst Diaspora Jews actively engaged with Israel?

Should the Begin-Prawer plan become law, it will have an enormous effect on Israel’s Bedouin, with tens of villages destroyed and tens of thousands of people removed from their homes into poverty-stricken townships. This will be extremely painful for Israel's supporters in the Diaspora to observe.

That is why the progress of the bill through the Knesset is making such an impact well beyond the Negev, in Israel and abroad. In Britain, sixty-five rabbis from across the denominations, supporting the courageous lead of Israel’s Rabbis for Human Rights, signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior ministers, asking them to re-consider their proposals. In the U.S., the Religious Action Centre of the Reform Movement, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and thousands of individual rabbis and Jews have written in a similar vein.

Why should this issue, which does not threaten Israel’s immediate security and has no influence over the vexed questions of ‘Who is a Jew?’ with its obvious Diaspora dimensions, have aroused such strong feelings amongst Jews actively engaged with Israel?

The matter goes to the heart of how we identify with Israel, and of the nature of Israel as a society. Living abroad, rightly or wrongly, we don’t experience Israel through the everyday realities of its traffic jams, cafes, and hamsins. We identify with Israel because we are family. We identify via those hyper-sensitive antennae which quadruple our anxiety the moment we hear Israel mentioned on the news. Primarily, we identify with Israel as Jews.

To some the slogan is ‘Israel, right or wrong’. To a few it is, sadly and unjustly, ‘Israel, usually wrong’. But for most of us, in spite of all the fears and frustrations, Israel remains the country where our Jewish values are, should and shall be realized. We still hope for and believe in the Israel whose founders, less than three years after the Holocaust, presented to the world the remarkable vision of a country which "will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race, or gender; will guarantee full freedom of worship, conscience, culture and education" and live and legislate according to "the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Prophets of Israel."

We know that, for all the daily difficulties the country encounters, this Israel is not just the stuff of dreams. Countless Israelis put into practice in their daily lives the values of justice and compassion. ‘That’s only a bubble’, someone recently told me. If so, it’s a big bubble or many bubbles. One has only to think of Israel’s extraordinary number of chesed organisations. To the outsider it can be hard to credit how many groups work across the painful divisions between Arab and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian and continue to affirm in spite of all the conflicts the core Jewish value of universal human dignity in the image of God.

That is why so many of us care when Israel threatens to pass a law so deeply at odds with its own principles. "So long as Israel claims to be a Jewish state, it must act according to Jewish moral values," commented Gidon Remba, Director of the U.S.-based Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice. "The way a country treats its most disadvantaged citizens defines its moral character, and so too its Jewish character as a bearer of the Jewish moral tradition."

It’s not just that Diaspora Jews are pained by the prospect of watching on their national television Israeli bulldozers flattening villages and forcing thousands of men, women and children from their homes, actions which the Begin-Prawer plan could indeed entail. The matter goes deeper than the damage that would be done to Israel’s international reputation.

It relates to a profound moral instinct that Israel’s safety depends not only on military superiority and the skill and courage of its armed forces, but is connected in some unquantifiable way to its faithfulness to the age-old Jewish values of justice and human dignity.

It connects to those historical experiences of exile and persecution which Jews carry subliminally in their souls. As Theodore Bikel, who played Tevye in countless productions of Fiddler on the Roof, said, "What hurts is the fact that the very people who are telling them [the Bedouin] to “Get out” are the descendents of the people of Anatevka. My people."

I’ve been to El Arakib, demolished fifty times, spoken with its leaders and seen footage of its destruction. It was a shocking experience. "You mustn’t believe everything the Bedouin claim", I was told. Yet Bedouin land ownership was honoured by the Ottomans and the British, and pre-State aerial photographs document extensive Bedouin agriculture. There is much misinformation. A recent poll conducted by Panelresearch showed that 70% of Israelis thought on average that the Bedouin wanted forty per cent of the Negev. In fact, they are asking for just 5.4% of the area. When told this fact most Israelis felt the Bedouin claims were reasonable.

It’s beyond dispute that the situation of Israel’s Bedouin requires legislation. Their villages can’t remain unrecognised, without the provision of electricity and hygiene services other Israelis take for granted. After all, the Bedouin are full citizens and many have traditionally served in the IDF. What the thousands of voices from abroad and within Israel are asking for is a proper partnership between Israel and the Bedouin leadership in agreeing a solution. As Rabbi Jill Jacobs of T’ruah writes, "Demolishing homes, forcing people off their land, and denying basic government services contradict the moral values…on which the State of Israel was founded."

Surely the Knesset, and the Jewish community around the world, will not allow that to happen.

Jonathan Wittenberg is a rabbi of the New North London Synagogue and has strong family, communal and charitable connections with Israel.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Press Release: Jewish Organizations Meet with White House National Security Council and State Department Officials on Israeli Government Plan to Displace 30-40,000 Bedouin


August 23, 2013
Contact: Doni Remba, Jewish Alliance for Change, dremba@comcast.net

Jewish Organizations Meet with White House National Security Council and State Department Officials on Israeli Government Plan to Displace 30-40,000 Bedouin

Mass Protests Against the Plan by Bedouin and Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as U.S.-Sponsored Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks Resume Heighten American Jewish Concerns
New York, NY, August 23, 2013 – A delegation of rabbis and leaders from American Jewish and Israeli organizations met on Tuesday at the White House with National Security Council and State Department officials regarding the Israeli-government sponsored “Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev.”   This legislation, which seeks to resolve longstanding land disputes between Bedouin Israelis and the state, will likely lead to the expulsion of 30,000 to 40,000 Bedouin Israelis from their homes, the demolition of as many as 25 villages and the loss of most Bedouin land.

The groups at the White House meeting have all urged the Government of Israel to suspend the plan currently under discussion and allow for greater exploration of its implications and impact.  It is their view that any plan to resettle members of the Bedouin community must be developed with leaders of that community rather than be forced upon them.  The groups have expressed concerns that the resulting sense of displacement raises the potential for increased poverty and unrest that is not only harmful to those communities but endangers Israel’s security and American strategic interests at a time of great instability and violence in the region.
The White House meeting took place against the backdrop of several major developments since the controversial bill was narrowly approved on June 24 by a vote of 43-40 on its first reading in the Knesset.
  • Mass protests against the bill have erupted during June, July and August with the participation of thousands of Bedouin, Palestinian, and Jewish Israelis in several cities in northern and southern Israel, and Palestinians in Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
  • Substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have resumed for the first time in five years, under the sponsorship of the United States and Secretary of State John Kerry.  With trust between Israelis and Palestinians at an all-time low, all parties are being urged to avoid provocative actions. 
  • Once the Knesset returns in October from recess after the Jewish Holidays, the bill will be taken up by the Committee for Interior Affairs and Environment and prepared for the second and final readings which could occur during the upcoming Knesset session – unless the Israeli government places a hold on it to allow for deeper consideration and more meaningful consultation with Israeli Bedouin communities.
American Jewish and Israeli participants in the meeting included:
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel, The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism
  • Rabbi Arik Ascherman, President and Senior Rabbi, Rabbis for Human Rights (Israel)
  • Rabbi David Shneyer, OHALAH: The Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal
  • Joshua Bloom, Director of Israel Programs, T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
  • Dina B. Charnin, Vice President, Partners for Progressive Israel
  • Dr. Morad El Sana, an Israeli Bedouin attorney and former New Israel Fund Civil Rights Leadership Fellow who just completed a doctorate in law at the American University Washington College of Law specializing in Bedouin land rights. 
  • Gidon D. Remba, Executive Director, Jewish Alliance for Change, and Director, Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice, who organized the meeting.
“Bedouin community leaders have been outspoken in rejecting the Israeli government’s plan as discriminatory, failing to recognize our historical land rights, and threatening the Bedouin way of life,” said Dr. Morad El Sana, an expert on Bedouin land rights in Israel who participated in the meeting.  

A petition to Prime Minister Netanyahu against the bill organized by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and Rabbis for Human Rights, has already garnered the signatures of over 400 rabbis and cantors, as well as rabbinical and cantorial students.  

Read more about Bedouin human rights here:

Friday, May 31, 2013

5 Bedouins injured as Israeli police demolish houses in Negev

5/31/2013  10:20 - BEERSHEBA, Israel (Ma’an) – Five Palestinians sustained injuries Thursday in clashes with Israeli police officers in the Bedouin village of Beer al-Mashash in the Negev.

A Ma’an reporter said the clashes erupted as Israeli forces demolished three houses in the village which is “unrecognized” by the Israeli authorities. The houses belong to the Abu Skeik family.

As the owners tried to prevent the demolitions, Israeli officers fired stun grenades, tear-gas canisters and plastic-coated bullets. As a result, five were injured including children and a pregnant woman.

“Israeli police officers behave like scoundrels rather than law enforcers,” said Arab member of the Knesset Talab Abu Arar.

Israeli police patrols escorted bulldozers affiliated with the so-called land department [the Israel Land Administration] which arrived at the village to finish demolishing three structures. A day earlier the owners had started demolishing the homes after receiving orders from Israeli authorities.

Israeli forces demolish Bedouin homes for 2nd time in fortnight
(updated) 5/30/2013 20:04

BEERSHEBA (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces on Thursday demolished 11 structures and tents belonging to Palestinian Bedouins in a Negev village for the second time in two weeks.

A heavily armed police force sealed Attir village near al-Hura to allow bulldozers of the Jewish National Fund and Park Authorities to level homes belonging to the Abu al-Qiean family, a Ma'an reporter said.

The structures had been rebuilt after Israeli forces demolished them on May 16.

One of the residents whose home was demolished, Shihdeh Abu al-Qiean, said an Israeli officer told him: "Beware there are no media outlets here."

Another resident, Ratib al-Qiean, told Ma'an: "We will never leave this land even if they demolish our houses 100 times. We will live in tents until God says the final word."

He said Israel demolished 11 tents and steel homes, uprooted several trees and confiscated a power generator and agricultural equipment. "All the wreckage was loaded in lorries in order to hide all evidence of the crime," he added.

Talal Abu Ara, a Palestinian member of Israel's Knesset, visited the village and said the demolition was a "crime against humanity."

Abu Arar and fellow Palestinian MKs Ibrahim Sarsour, Ahmad Tibi and Masood Ghanayim joined dozens of Negev Bedouins in a demonstration in front of Israel's Knesset on Monday to protest the forced displacement of nearly 40,000 Bedouins.

Abu Arar, who is leading a campaign to protect Negev Bedouins, appealed to "rational Israeli officials" to halt implementation of the Prawer-Begin plan, which he called a "racist, apartheid law."

Bedouins "are not immigrants from a foreign country, but indigenous owners of the land," he added.

Ramiz Jaraisy, the mayor of Nazareth, and MKs Hana Sweid and Afou Ighbariyya also attended the Jerusalem protest.

In early May, Israel's Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a bill which outlines a framework for implementing the Prawer-Begin plan.

The plan will forcibly evict nearly 40,000 Bedouins and destroy their communal and social fabric, condemning them to a future of poverty and unemployment, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel says.

Israel refuses to recognize 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev, which collectively house nearly 90,000 people.

The Israeli state denies them access to basic services and infrastructure, such as electricity and running water, and refuses to place them under municipal jurisdiction.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Background on Israeli government's plan to expel 40,000 Negev Bedouin

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. 
Click here to send a letter to Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid urging them not to send the Praver/Begin plan to the Knesset for enactment into law.   
This is an abridged version of a document provided by our friends at ACRI - The Association for Civil Rights in Israel. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Israeli govt to decide on plan to evict up to 40,000 Negev Bedouin from their homes

The Israel Government will soon vote on whether to proceed with a plan (the Prawer Plan) that could result in the forcible eviction of 30,000 - 40,000 Negev Bedouin from their homes and the demolition of their villages, a gross violation of the civil and human rights of Israel's Bedouin citizens.    If the Netanyahu government decides to move forward with this plan, they will submit a bill to the Knesset to enact it into law.   Our friends at ACRI (the Association for Civil Rights in Israel) provided this update.  

Negev Bedouin Land Ownership

Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs |
Sunday, 21.04.2013  | Deciding the government’s position.

ACRI’s position: ACRI, together with Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, have been dealing for many years with the issue of Bedouin rights in the Negev in all fields of life. The proposed bill below primarily deals with the issue of Bedouin land ownership in the Negev.

The bill suggests an arrangement whereby the registration of land claims takes place within a specified time; recognition will be given for only a percentage of the claims and financial compensation will be provided for land recognized by the arrangement.

Our main reservations regarding this proposed law are:
  • The one sided nature of this arrangement is unacceptable to the Bedouin population who wish to participate in the planning process. This arrangement entails the dispossession of 90% of the Bedouin’s lands.
  • The law does not recognize the historical rights of the Bedouin over their land in the Negev, and completely ignores the fact that the Bedouins from have continuously settled most of the Bedouin villages since before 1948.
  • The law provides a mechanism for implementing the law in a manner leading to the destruction of entire villages and the eviction of between 30,000 and 40,000 people from their homes.
  • The proposed arrangement is unequal and discriminatory since it deals with arrangement of Bedouin property rights only. It replaces arbitration and negotiation with a legal settlement that will apply to an entire population.
  • The proposed arrangement is filled with harmful and problematic sanctions which may harm the fundamental individual rights of those subject to the law. Among other things, the arrangements states that those who do not subscribe to the agreement within a limited timeframe prescribed by the law will see their claims and compensation gradually diminish until they have completely lost all of their proprietary rights. The law prescribes a period of five years, after which the land will be registered in the name of the state.
According to our position, an equitable and just solution requires firstly recognizing that the residents of the unrecognized villages are citizens with equal rights. The government must recognize the 35 currently unrecognized villages, and institute a fair mechanism for investigating and determining land ownership claims, in which the historical affiliations of the Bedouin citizens to their land are considered.

Related Material
  • Press Release: NGOs warn - Government plan will displace thousands of Bedouin
  • ACRI’s position paper on the principles for arranging recognition of Bedouin villages in the Negev. 
  • Interactive page on the difference between illegal outposts, Area C villages and unrecognized Bedouin villages.