Readers of this paper might know what its like to be part of a
minority. Even if it’s just the strange feeling you get every December morning
as you walk by a giant Christmas tree in your town’s main square, you know that
there are times when the dominant culture can feel, well, dominating. Sometimes
you might even feel like a second-class citizen. But while it’s one thing to
feel like a second-class citizen, it’s quite another to be told so
There’s been much ado lately about a piece of legislation
being pushed through the Knesset called The Bill for the Arrangement of Beduin
Settlement in the Negev.
The bill, also known as the Prawer Plan or the
Begin Plan, is being touted as a much-needed resolution to the “problem” of
Beduin habituation in the Negev.
The legislation is complicated and
far-reaching, so before diving into the details, let’s just make sure we’re all
on the same page vis-à-vis the “problem” the bill sets out to
90,000 Beduin citizens live in 35 Negev villages that are not
recognized by the State of Israel. The oldest of these villages predate the
establishment of the state; the newest were created in the 1950s when Beduin,
who at the time were subject to martial law, were forcibly removed from their
lands elsewhere in Israel.
More than half a century later, these 35
villages still do not appear on maps. They are not connected to water,
electricity, or basic infrastructure like roadways, let alone basic government
services like health clinics and schools. Their residents are among the poorest
and least-educated people in this country.
If the state’s failure to
bring these citizens along with it into the 21st century was the problem that
prompted the Begin Plan, we would expect certain things of the solution. First
and foremost, we would expect a solution that addresses this failure and seeks
to correct it.
But the Begin Plan does not do this. Instead it conflates
the issue of the unrecognized villages – essentially a land-use and urban
planning matter – with the separate issue of outstanding land ownership claims
dating back to the state’s establishment.
Rather than bring the Beduin
community forward, the Begin Plan will uproot almost 30,000 people, destroy
dozens of villages, and continue a failed policy of forced urbanization for
Why would their solution be so different from the one we
expected? Because of how they frame the problem.
The problem, according
to the government, is that Beduin are squatting on state land. The problem is
that the Beduin are “taking over” the region, and interfering with a vision for
a Jewish-controlled Negev. The problem is that we Beduin fail to recognize that
our basic rights as citizens of this country are trumped by the fact that “the
land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.”
Viewed through that lens,
the solution proffered by the Begin Plan makes perfect sense. Concentrate the
Beduin into as few townships and villages, and on as little land as possible.
Never mind that it means imposing patently unequal planning criteria. Never mind
that tens of thousands of people will be dispossessed of their lands and their
livelihoods, their fates sealed into poverty. Never mind that centuries of
history will be erased along with the cultural fabric of dozens of
The problem of non-Jewish Beduin living on far too much of
the Negev’s inherently Jewish land will be solved.
The notion that Beduin
are “squatting” is such blatant doublespeak that I can barely bring myself to
address it. Beduin build without permits because permits cannot be issued for
nonexistent villages that don’t appear on a regional urban plan. The Beduin
constitute 33 percent of the Negev’s population and control just three percent
of its land. But apparently this is far too much for the government to
Alongside the promulgation of the Begin Plan, the government is
promoting various initiatives to encourage Jewish development in the Negev. In
other words, whereas Beduin habitation is a problem to solve, Jewish habitation
is a goal to achieve – so vital a goal, apparently, that the government is
willing to waive the same planning standards for recognition being applied to
the Beduin villages under the Begin Plan. While Jews are being encouraged to
engage in agriculture, Beduin are being stripped of that privilege, forced to
move into townships and abandon their agrarian way of life.
ostensible justification for all of this injustice is the settling of
outstanding ownership claims for lands in the Negev. But the two issues are
The Alternative Master Plan for Beduin Villages in the Negev,
prepared by the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages, Sidreh (a Beduin
women’s organization) and Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, is a detailed
regional plan for the area that demonstrates how villages can be recognized in
their present locations irrespective of outstanding land claims.
land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.” Perhaps this statement resonates
with conscientious members of Israel’s majority as a biblical promise, a
religious tenet, or a cultural ideal. But as official government policy? It’s
exclusionary, racist and unforgivable.
The author, an attorney, heads the
Rights of the Negev Beduin project at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama walks to a press conference. (Reuters)