(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Construction Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday sharply criticized an alleged Beduin “takeover” of swaths of the Negev and called for increased settlement of Jews in its eastern part to stem perceived Beduin encroachment there.
The remarks, which raised the specter of intensified home demolitions against the Beduin, were condemned as racist and a false depiction of the situation in the Negev by Balad MK Goumha Azbarga.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday morning government bulldozers leveled the unrecognized village of al-Arakib, near Beersheba, for the 112th time, on grounds that its tents were illegally erected on state land, in the latest twist in an ongoing battle with residents who claim ties to the area dating back more than a century.
Speaking on a tour of the South, Gallant said: “The takeover by Beduin of large areas of the Negev creates chaos in the South of the country. I am worried about it, and it is our obligation to take care of the problem.
“The State of Israel has to guide the settlement in the Negev from the vantage point of preventing Beduin takeover of the Negev and infiltration of Palestinians from the south Hebron hills into the area,” he added.
Gallant called for “fashioning settlement contiguity from east to west,” beginning in Arad and following the route of Highway 31 until it meets Highway 40, at Lehavim. “The area of the Arad Valley and the south Hebron hills has to be under complete control of the State of Israel to ensure its sovereignty. The key to this is settlement.”
Arad would have to be developed, the planned haredi city of Kasif would need to be built close to it and the areas of Meitar and Carmit would need to be “joined” to another new city that should be built, Gallant said. “We need to strengthen the area.
“There is room in the State of Israel for everyone including the Beduin,” he continued. “Everyone has equal rights but they must also face obligations, one of which is not to take over lands in the Negev – land that was conquered with the blood of our soldiers in the War of Independence.”
Gallant made similar comments in January, when he said, “What is needed is to concentrate the Beduin into permitted areas where there will be building for height and quality of life.”
Azbarga slammed Gallant’s remarks. “In 2017, the racist policy still has not passed. He [Gallant] wants to imprison the Beduin in ghettos,” Azbarga said, referring to the state’s avowed policy, backed by demolitions, to relocate Beduin from unrecognized villages to townships, such as Rahat, Lakiya and Hura.
“They plan things in the Negev as if there weren’t a population of 230,000 Beduin who make up 32% of the Negev population, and as if we came down from the moon or another planet,” Azbarga said.
Nili Baruch, Director for the Negev at the planning rights NGO Bimkom, also took issue with Gallant’s comments, saying they “not only border on racism, they also show ignorance. The Beduin are not invaders, and various government reports, including that of the Goldberg Commission, attest to this. The vast majority of the Beduin in the Negev are on their historic lands that make up 3-5% of the entire Negev.
“The minister views the Beduin as a foreign body who represent a security threat and this is grave,” she added. “The approach according to which an area is ‘safeguarded’ through new Jewish settlement has proven ineffective, harmful to the environment and has resulted in a critical weakening of the existing settlements.”
In al-Arakib, security forces armed with rifles accompanied the bulldozers, according to local leader Sayah al-Touri. Twenty tents that housed families were destroyed in what he termed “a crime.”
“We call on all the Jews who oppose such actions to come help us rebuild, and if they don’t come, we will remain without housing,” al-Touri said.
Past court appeals on behalf of the Beduin have been decided in favor of the state, though a key case on ownership is still being heard in a Beersheba court.
Israel views the territory as state land that the Beduin began invading in 1998, after never having a permanent settlement there.
Al-Touri says Beduin have lived at the site since 1905, when his clan purchased the land from the Okbi family.