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Israeli ministers endorse controversial plan to relocate Bedouin

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation overcame serious disagreements to approve a legal framework for moving the Bedouin into recognized communities; vote had been postponed two weeks to allow Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi to study the issue.

By Jonathan Lis           Haaretz        7  May 2013

Bedouin children traversing a new building site in the Negev town of Rahat.                Photo by Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Israeli cabinet ministers agreed Monday after a heated debate to back a controversial plan for resettling the Bedouin who live in the Negev Desert.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved the Begin Law to resolve land-use issues related to the population, after Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel managed to reach a series of compromises with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former minister Benny Begin on that matter to win the support of the Habayit Hayehudi party.

The committee's vote had been postponed two weeks to allow Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi to study the issue.

As part of the draft legislation, some 20,000 to 30,000 Bedouin are to be relocated to officially recognized  towns in the Negev including Rahat, Khura and Ksayfe.

Those who are moved are to receive financial compensation as well as new plots of land. The plan is estimated to cost the state NIS 6.8 billion.

Among the concessions Habayit Hayehudi won were the inclusion in the plan of a detailed zoning map of the lands earmarked for the Bedouin and the creation of a ministerial committee headed by Netanyahu to supervise its implementation based on biannual reports.

Public Security Minister Yizhak Aharonovich of Yisrael Beiteinu nearly scuttled the plan by demanding the hiring of hundreds of additional police officers to enforce it.

It was ultimately decided that the bill would not be voted on its second and third readings in the Knesset until a deal is reached with the Finance Ministry on adding 250 officers to the police force, in addition to the 200 new positions already approved. If such a deal cannot be reached, the bill will be returned to the committee.

Bedouin leaders harshly criticized the plan, calling it immoral and impractical. "This is a step that harms the basic rights of the Bedouin. Instead of the state contributing to the Bedouin population, it is acting against it," said Rahat Mayor Sheikh Faiz Abu Seheban. "I call on all human rights organizations to oppose the decision, since it damages the social framework in the Negev."

"The plan will under no circumstances be carried out; the Bedouin population will not give up its land," said Hussein Al-Rafia, the former head of the regional council of unrecognized Bedouin communities. "I think the state needs to sit with the Bedouin population and solve the problem once and for all. They have not sat with us seriously."

Originally known as the Prawer Plan, because it was based on the proposal of a team headed by Ehud Prawer, the head of policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office – a version of the plan was approved by the cabinet in September 2012 along with a NIS 1.2 billion economic development program for recognized Bedouin communities in the Negev.

Benny Begin was charged with listening to Bedouin complaints regarding the plan and incorporating them into draft legislation.

The state has struggled with what to do with the Negev Bedouin for nearly 60 years. The previous cabinet approved the Law for the Regulation of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev after the national election in January 2012, but the move drew heavy criticism.

In 2008, the government formed the Goldberg Committee, led by former High Court judge Eliezer Goldberg, to organize Bedouin settlement in the Negev. Based on the committee's report, which marked the State of Israel’s first attempt to formally hear Bedouin grievances, the government drafted a legal memorandum on organizing Bedouin settlement.

At the heart of the Bedouin question is the ownership of land the Bedouins say they purchased before the establishment of the State of Israel. The agreements were verbal and never registered in the official Land Registry, and Israeli law does not recognize land claims without some form of written proof of purchase or ownership.

The Begin Law as approved by the cabinet calls for communities and employment centers for the Bedouin to be established along three main routes: the Rahat-Be'er Sheva road, the Shoket junction-Tel Arad road and the Be'er Sheva-Dimona road. The boundaries of the communities are to be drawn with regard to existing farming patterns and the government's allocation of land. Relocated Bedouin who can prove they owned land until 1979 are to be given alternative land, while others are to receive monetary compensation.

The plan also provides for recognition of some unrecognized communities in areas that the regional master plan for the greater Be'er Sheva area has already designated as residential. Some 70,000 Bedouin currently live in unrecognized villages in the Negev.


A primer on the proposed Bedouin resettlement in the Negev

The Prawer-Begin law offers a proposed solution for the many Bedouin living in southern Israel and claiming ownership of the land. But what is it?

By Zafrir Rinat and Jonathan Lis

7 May,2013 


Bedouins Photo by Eliyahu Hershowitz

The Prawer-Begin outline proposes granting compensation to Bedouin who have been resettled and claim ownership of their land, either in money or in land (up to half the extent of the area). It also proposes requiring that compensation be granted, for up to one quarter of the claim, to those who no longer own land because they were evicted from it by the state.

As for recognizing villages, the outline says recognition of unrecognized villages should be enabled, but with limits: Recognition should occur only within designated areas and in accordance with planning rules, which are designed to support future infrastructure.

The British and the Ottomans recognized Bedouin ownership of the land in the framework of land arrangements and in legal agreements. A committee of experts, established the government in the 1960s, confirmed this.

What is the purpose of Prawer-Begin?

The measure is intended to recognize the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev as well as to resolve the land-ownership dispute by means of a special law the government is currently advancing.

How did the Prawer-Begin outline come about?

The outline applies the recommendations of a committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg. The committee was appointed to look at the issue of the Bedouin settlements and suggest solutions.

Why was there a need for an outline in the first place?

For years, the state tried, and failed, to create a sort of infrastructure of the Bedouin of the Negev. Part of population moved to recognized towns like Rahat or Lakiya, but unrecognized and illegally-built settlements continued to spread through the area. The government tried demolishing illegal buildings, but the problem continued to fester.

The government realized that the only way to settle the issue of Bedouin settlement in the Negev was to resolve current disputes concerning Bedouin ownership of the land. Only then would they be able to release land and establish recognized towns and cities.

What is the historical background of Bedouin settlement in the Negev?

Bedouin tribes have been in the Negev for many generations, either as fully nomadic communities or as nomads in stages of transition to permanent dwellings and agricultural activity. Their legal ownership of the land has never been officially recognized under the Land Law.

After the War of Independence most of the Bedouin were transferred to an area east of Highway 20 called Saij. Throughout the years they have continued to claim ownership of Negev land and to push for recognition.

Why are the Bedouin opposed to the proposed outline?

Human rights organizations and some representatives of the Bedouin community in the Negev argue that the new arrangement will make recognition of certain villages impossible, and will also lead to the eviction of tens of thousands of Bedouin from their homes. The Bedouin also argue that the lands arrangement gives only partial compensation (in money or land) to the landowners, which is significantly less than Jewish petitioners have received in similar compensation agreements.

According to Benny Begin, only a small part of the Bedouin population will be moved a very short distance from where they currently live. He says the Bedouin will gain a significant improvement in their living conditions, and will at last have electricity and water infrastructure, as well as the use of public institutions.

Why are some politicians on the right, as well as some settler groups, opposed to the proposed outline?

Some right-wing leaders, as well as some associations like Regavim, which gives legal support to settlements and outposts in the West Bank, argue there is no basis for recognizing Bedouin ownership of the land in the Negev. The proposed outline, they say, only further propels the illegal takeover of land and illegal construction. Instead of combating this phenomenon, they charge, the new outline enables the Bedouin to perpetuate their takeover of broad swathes of the northern Negev. They also argue that the outline has no practical basis since there is not enough land available to provide what is needed for compensating the Bedouin.


A rushed decision on Bedouin communities will have dire results

Haaretz Editorial | Jan.27,2013 | 3:12 AM |  2

Israeli cabinet ministers agreed Monday after a heated debate to back a controversial plan for resettling the Bedouin who live in the Negev Desert.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved the Begin Law to resolve land-use issues related to the population, after Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel managed to reach a series of compromises with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former minister Benny Begin on that matter to win the support of the Habayit Hayehudi party.

The results of the recent Knesset election were finalized a mere five days ago. According to the new division of factions in the Knesset, it is almost certain that the soon-to-be-formed government will have a different political emphasis than that of the outgoing government. It is therefore puzzling that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in such a hurry to push through a controversial decision “to regulate the Bedouin settlement in the Negev” today when the transitional cabinet meets.

This cabinet decision, which seeks to resolve the situation of Bedouin communities that have been unrecognized for 60 years, deals mainly with ownership claims over land Bedouin purchased before the state was founded. According to tribal law, which was in force among the Bedouin at that time throughout the Negev, land deals were cinched by oral agreement. And although in the 1970s the Justice Ministry examined and approved as authentic most of these, Israeli law refused to recognize them due to lack of written proof.

The current cabinet decision, based on the Prawer Plan formulated in the Prime Minister’s Office, rejects some of the main Bedouin claims. Since the decision was passed in principle by the cabinet a year and a half ago, it has become clear that most of the Negev Bedouin are dead set against it. Not only does it reject their land claims, but it also threatens to demolish 20,000 huts and move the approximately 100,000 people living in them to communities that have not yet been built for them, and will probably not be able to take them in. While the cabinet decision to regulate Bedouin settlement does strive to assist the Bedouin population, it does not present specific steps to improve their economic situation, which is at the very bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

A hasty and irresponsible cabinet decision will assure unrest in the Negev and ongoing international condemnation. The prime minister would do well to forgo presenting the decision Sunday to the outgoing cabinet. The complexity of the issue and the expected grave ramifications require more serious consideration and discussion in the new cabinet. An effort to hastily push through this decision in an opportunistic way could lead to disaster.