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The Real Intention Behind Israel's Five-year Plan for the Bedouin

The government is gearing up to approve its Prawer Plan with the concealed aim of depopulating the unrecognized villages.
by Sanaa Ibn Bari        19 Jan 2017       Haaretz
A Bedouin woman sit on demolished structure of a house in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, near the southern city of Beersheba, Israel Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Tsafrir Abayov/AP
The new five-year plan for the socioeconomic development of the Negev Bedouin, the brainchild of Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, has been marketed for months as wonderful news for the region. It’s marked by an investment of 3 billion shekels ($787 million) to advance the country’s most neglected people, even within Arab society. It could have been really impressive news if the huge sums didn’t conceal other intentions.
After all, “the biggest ever plan of its kind,” as it has been dubbed in the media, stirs a lot of suspicion among many people. Their main suspicion concerns the target population: 100,000 people living in 35 unrecognized locales – 40 percent of the Negev Bedouin. They’re suspicious because the five-year plan will apply only to the recognized locales and doesn’t refer to the tens of thousands of people living in unrecognized villages. Why invest billions of shekels in half the community and ignore the other half?
In general, the decision to dedicate a plan to the Negev Bedouin is peculiar because they could have been included in Plan 992, which allocates budgets to Arab local councils as a whole. Equally peculiar is the decision to make the agriculture minister the intermediary between the ministries responsible for the budgets and the local councils in the Negev.
Putting all authority into the minister’s hands makes him all-powerful in his relationship with the Arab councils in the Negev and worsens the suspicion that he’ll exploit his authority against the people of both the recognized and unrecognized locales. Moreover, the current five-year plan makes the investment in the Bedouin community contingent on its relocating to recognized towns. The direction is clear: forcing planning solutions on the Arab community as a whole and on the Bedouin in particular.
To better understand the government’s intentions, we must examine the five-year plan in the context of other statements by the Agriculture Ministry. For example, the ministry has announced a plan to build 25,000 housing units in recognized locales, funded by the five-year plan. It has also declared it would push new legislation based on the 2013 Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, known as the Prawer Plan.
Have they forgotten that the Prawer Plan ignited one of the biggest protest waves in Bedouin society in recent years? Have they forgotten that the government shelved that proposal because of the huge opposition? Now once again there’s the threat that the bill will pass in the Knesset. Do they believe that this time it will happen quietly?
Still, there are some welcome elements; for example, the expected investment in education, employment and infrastructure. (Though it’s doubtful these sums will narrow the huge gaps between the Bedouin and other Israelis that the government created and deepened over decades.)
All the same, it’s impossible to ignore that this large investment is being made amid tremendous efforts to empty the Negev of Bedouin. As the government boasts about the passage of the five-year plan, it fights the residents of the unrecognized villages in the courts and every other possible arena. The state is still denying their right to the land, their planning needs, their economic and social woes, their way of life and the need to find a just and agreed-on solution to their problems.
Any initiative that will make development of the locales contingent on depopulating and razing the unrecognized villages will produce a failed solution and further worsen the Arab community’s feelings toward the state. The policy of “imposed solutions” worsens the oppression felt by the women and men living in the Negev who have already seen a number of committees determine their fate and draw conclusions divorced from suitable solutions. Amid these failures, the state might have been expected to draw conclusions that would lead to cooperation with Arab society and agreed-on, implementable plans.
Just last week tens of thousands of Arabs protested the massive demolition of homes in Kalansua near Netanya, and now the government is gearing up to approve a plan with the concealed aim of depopulating the unrecognized villages. It’s clear that this program will lead to the destruction of entire villages in the Negev.
There will be no socioeconomic development for the Bedouin as long as the state imposes solutions on which there is no agreement and, more importantly, as long as it sees the Bedouin as trespassers. Any measure that ignores the existence of the Negev’s unrecognized inhabitants is doomed to failure.
Sanaa Ibn Bari is an attorney at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

 Demolition of Bedouin Town Destroyed Israeli Arabs' Faith in State

The situation really worries the 1.5 million citizens determined to remain on their lands and in their homeland. But it should be of no less concern to anyone who seeks to live a normal life in the State of Israel.

by Jack Khoury   19 Jan 2017    Haaretz

Arab Israeli lawmaker from the Joint Arab List, Ayman Odeh (front row C), wounded during clashes, stands with other Arab Israeli politicians in Umm Al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in Israel's southern Negev Desert January 18, 2017. Arab Israeli lawmaker from the Joint Arab List, Ayman Odeh (front row C), wounded during clashes, stands with other Arab Israeli politicians in Umm Al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in Israel's southern Neg  AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

Editorial Find a solution for unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran

The announcement by Israel’s Higher Arab Monitoring Committee of actions it is planning in response to the demolitions in Umm al-Hiran Wednesday and the killing of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan was expected, the intended measure familiar from previous incidents — general strikes in Arab communities, a march in Wadi Ara and a convoy from Kalansua to the Knesset. It is the announcement’s last two, additional items that point to the depth of the crisis between Israel’s Arab community and state institutions.

The first is a call for schools to devote the first two hours of classes today to a discussion about the incident in Umm al-Hiran, the demolition of homes in Kalansua last week and the housing crisis in the country’s Arab communities. The second calls on the international community to provide protection to Israel’s Arab minority in the face of what the committee calls “the increased aggression of state institutions against Arab citizens at the clear instruction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with the support of his government.”

 Residents prevented from entering the village of Umm al Hiran, January 18, 2017.Residents prevented from entering the village of Umm al Hiran, January 18, 2017. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

It’s hard to estimate how many principals and teachers who are governed by the Education Ministry, which is headed by Naftali Bennett, will respond to the committee’s initiative and how many will dare allow themselves and their students to conduct a deep and serious discussion of these burning issues.

Deadly clash with police could set off explosion in Israel's Arab community 

Violent clashes between police forces and residents in Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017 N/A

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee was responsive to the criticism in Arab society of the decision to suspend classes following the demolitions in Kalansua. This time, rather than send the students to the streets and perhaps endanger them in superfluous clashes, the committee changed its approach. This time they will teach how the government of Israel and its prime minister, under pressure from the education minister, worked tirelessly to find a solution, in the name of the law, for the land thieves in Amona, but in Umm al-Hiran and Kalansua chose to demolish and destroy, in the name of the same law. This is food for thought for Arab society’s next generation, a lesson in the state’s attitude to one-fifth of its citizens, who are shoved to the margins just because they are Arabs.

Nor does anyone believe that the call to the world will be effective, certainly not in the near term. The United Nations, the European Union, Russian President Vladmir Putin or even the symbol of the new era, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, are not going to bring salvation. But this call expresses the clear lack of confidence the Arabs have in those meant to be responsible for protecting them as citizens — the government, the Knesset, the Supreme Court and the media. Even the hope that some had pinned on peace groups and nonprofits that advocate for coexistence has been dashed under the bulldozers’ treads.

This situation really worries the 1.5 million citizens determined to remain on their lands and in their homeland, both the parents who don’t want their children to take to the streets, and young people who aspire to integrate. But it should be of no less concern to anyone who calls himself a democrat and a liberal, and who seeks to live a normal life in the State of Israel.

This week there was a lot of talk of the campaign by former generals trying to scare people with the threat of an Arab majority by calling for separation from the Palestinians to preserve the character of the state. Given the events of the past several days, it seems that in the Netanyahu era, the battle is not for the state’s character, but for its sanity.


Jack Khoury

Haaretz Correspondent