Interruptions, yelling and expulsions took place in the Knesset Wednesday
morning as former minister Bennie Begin listened to speakers from both ends of
the political spectrum criticize his proposed law to regulate Beduin settlement
in the Negev within five years.
MK Miri Regev (Likud), chairwoman of the
Interior Committee, firmly controlled the discussion, constantly calling for
quiet from those interrupting the proceedings. She also expelled or threatened
to kick out several MKs from the session.
Several Israeli Arab MKs and
supporters from various human rights NGOs railed against the bill, claiming it
would result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land.
Begin is handling
the Prawer-Begin bill for the government and is hoping to see it through the
legislative process so that it becomes law.
This was the bill’s second
The first took place on November 6.
Balad MK Jamal
Zahalka said that like the “nakba” (catastrophe) of the founding of the state in
1948, this was another plan meant to wipe Arabs from their lands – people who
have lived in the Negev since before the establishment of the
Zahalka called the plan “real chutzpah” on the part of the state,
adding that in any case “it will not work – the people will not agree to
Furthermore, he complained, the state was approving the building
of Jewish settlements in the Negev in places where Beduin currently
MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) told Begin he did not think he was racist,
but “when the state treats me this way,” it is like getting a slap in the face.
He said it was racist “to move Arabs and put Jews in their place.”
MK Dov Henin said he was very worried about this law. “It seeks to uproot
citizens from their homes on a national basis” while it also calls for harsh
punishment of up to two years in prison if someone remains on his land, he
“This law will bring us to a catastrophe!” Henin
Instead, he said, the government should sit down with the Beduin
and formulate an alternative plan.
Responding to criticism from the Arab
parties and the Left, members of the Right also criticized the plan for being
Bayit Yehudi MK Zvulun Kalfa said he was a Negev resident
and has known it for the past 50 years. He added that the Beduin had already
asked the courts to recognize their land claims, but not one of the courts
“I see here all these human rights organizations, and I am
surprised,” Kalfa said. “If human rights is so important to you, where were you
when they expelled me from my home in Gush Katif? I do not recall your
representatives arriving to protect my rights.”
During one of many
interruptions by Arab MKs, Kalfa retorted: “In Syria and Saudi Arabia there is
justice?” MK Orit Struck of Bayit Yehudi bluntly stated that the Negev did not
belong to the Beduin but to the Jewish nation.
“All of these human rights
organizations are not for human rights, but for human rights for Arabs,” she
Struck also said that the proposed legislation lacked details and
Fellow Bayit Yehudi MK Yoni Chetboun said that like Arab MKs he
was against the law, but did not understand their opposition since its terms
were generous to them.
Chetboun was heckled by Arab MKs after he called
them “cowards,” saying their opposition was due to fear of the country’s Islamic
Likud MK Moshe Feiglin said he found himself on the same side
as the Arab MKs. He explained that his opposition to the legislation was a
matter of national struggle for sovereignty.
“This is a bad law because
it gives the Negev to the Arabs,” he said, adding that what was going on was a
“war” over the Land of Israel.
A representative of Regavim, an NGO
seeking to ensure responsible, legal and accountable use of Israel’s national
lands, said the government was already spending large sums of money on the
Beduin although they do not pay property taxes.
Regarding the government
plan to build Jewish settlements in the Negev, the representative pointed out
that plans for the Jewish town of Hiran had been on the table for 21 years, and
in the meantime Beduin had come purposely and settled illegally in the
Prof. Gerald Steinberg of Bar- Ilan University and head of the
Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor group, said human rights organizations were carrying
out a parallel mission in the European Parliament and other international
institutions in an entirely one-sided fashion and were being financed by foreign
– and largely European – governments.
After the hearing, Steinberg told
The Jerusalem Post
that these organizations “are characterized by
all-too-familiar incitement which exploits the Beduin issue, including terms
such as ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘racism.’ This language is central
to the political warfare against Israel and Jewish sovereign
Haia Noach, CEO of the Negev Coexistence Forum, an NGO that
supports the Beduin, told the Post she believed the government was trying to
push the bill through as quickly as possible, wanting to show that a “democratic
process” was involved.
“But this isn’t democracy,” she said, calling it
instead a “tyranny of the majority.”
Noach said she believed the Beduin
would remain steadfast, as “they did for many generations, since the government
isn’t offering a fair and just solution.”