Recently a “day of rage” in Israel was initiated to protest the Begin Plan, the
government’s proposal to accommodate Beduin settlement in the Negev.
understand why the position of the government and the position of some Beduin
seem so irreconcilable, all we have to do is stand in the shoes of these
To do that effectively, some background information is needed:
There are approximately 220,000 Beduin in the Negev, making up 2.8 percent of
Israel’s citizens. About 140,000 of the Beduin live in the seven towns and
cities that were expanded and funded by massive government grants in the 1970s
and 1980s including Rahat, Laqia, Segev Shalom, Arara, Kissufim and others.
Although only 7,600 Beduin are registered as living in the newly-approved 11 Abu
Basma towns, which include towns like Al Sayyid and Bir Hadaj, our research
indicates that approximately 40,000 Beduin live there.
approximately 40,000 Beduin living in illegal villages, hamlets and outposts, on
state-owned land. These Beduin (20% of the Beduin population) occupy
approximately 600,000 dunams (150,000 acres) in an area between Beersheva, Arad
and Dimona in the Northern Negev.
For the sake of comparison: There are
205,000 residents in the city of Beersheva living on only 34,600 dunams (8,650
acres) of land. Instead of taking these law-breakers to court and then enforcing
the resulting court orders to remove them from these illegally occupied
locations, the government has proposed the Begin Plan to finally arrange Beduin
settlement in the Negev specifically geared to finding a more than equitable
solution for these 40,000 people.
The law is made up of two sections. The
first intends to resolve Beduin land claims and the second aims to resolve the
illegal Beduin settlement.
Of the 2,700 Beduin land claims registered in
the 1970s, 300 families have claims to over 300,000 dunams (75,000 acres). Those
300 families comprise approximately 15,000 people today (6% of the Beduin
population), most of whom are among the 40,000 Beduin living in the illegal
villages, hamlets and outposts.
The Begin Plan offers to settle 100% of
these land claims with a combination of land and monetary compensation. The
ratio of land to monetary compensation depends on various factors, such as
whether that particular Beduin is currently domiciled on the land he claims, and
whether the claimed land is in the western or eastern part of the Northern
On average, 50%-60% of the claim would be paid out as land and the
rest as cash (read billions of shekels). In a country where 93% of land is owned
by the state and not by Israeli citizens (among which are Israeli Beduin), such
an offer to register these lands in the names of the families is unprecedented
and extremely generous.
It also immediately establishes very rare private
property rights for a newly privileged sub-class of less than 1% of Israeli
citizens, whose acreage would be similar to the total of all other private land
holdings in Israel.
The second part of the Begin Plan proposes
recognizing most illegal villages where possible. Where not possible, due to
their proximity to highly polluting industries, such as the hazardous waste
disposal facilities at Ramat Hovav (Wadi al-Naem area) or the inability of the
state to provide the necessary services, the Begin Plan proposes compensation,
gratis, one dunam (¼ acre) plots, in a new, nearby, purpose-built neighborhood,
plus at least NIS 100,000 ($28,000) in compensation for previous residence,
whether tent, shack or villa.
On paper it looks like a once-in-a-lifetime
deal – especially in the eyes of the majority of Israelis who will never receive
anything like these benefits and rights and are suffering under ever increasing
But let us now try to see such an offer through the eyes
of a Beduin male, head of a family unit that includes three wives and 20
children. As one of those 40,000 Beduin living in an illegal village, hamlet, or
outpost, he must surely be asking himself, “Why would I accept such compensation
when today I already have whatever land I need, I can build where I like, when I
like, and when my children grow up they can occupy the next hilltop and set up
their own families?” In his eyes, the offer of a “small” privately owned plot in
a legal town where he is restricted by zoning rules and building codes and on
which he must pay property taxes and other levies (that he does not today pay on
illegally occupied land) leaves him no choice but to oppose this
But aren’t modern-day conveniences of running water,
electricity and sanitation enough to convince him to “get legal” and connect to
the municipal grid? Wouldn’t he want to have his children attend a nearby school
instead of having his children travel by bus for hours each day to and from
school? Wouldn’t he want local health clinics to care for the sick nearby,
instead of having to travel hours for health care? Surely these considerations
must weigh on those Beduin living in these illegal villages, but despite all
that, a small, vocal minority of this particular group of Israeli citizens have
spoken with their feet and choose to stay where they are and avoid their civic
responsibilities to the rule of law and payment of taxes.
So how did we
get to a situation where anarchy seems to rule the Negev and a $2.2 billion
government plan to reenergize the Negev and specifically help the poorest of its
residents seemingly has some of the Beduin and some other larger Arab segments
of Israel’s population up in arms? Maybe it’s because some of the 20% of Beduin
who live in the sprawl of illegal villages, hamlets and outposts prefer the
current situation over proposed solutions and compromises. Maybe it is because
they have seen the successful implementation of a well-orchestrated and
well-funded campaign supplied by the “usual suspects” – the New Israel Fund and
the EU – to delegitimize Israel, again.
Maybe they also understand that
this is the last battle they will have to win, using international public
opinion as leverage, before the government finally backs down. The Beduin will
then go back to their sprawl of illegal structures and illegally occupied acres
of state land and their disdain for the obligations of citizenship, so as to
maintain a seemingly “contented” life. Where does that leave us, the Israeli
public? We need to recognize that some Beduin are unwilling to cooperate with
the plan and thus ensure that within the law itself the necessary means are
added to deal with a non-cooperative party to the process.
As long as
there is no determined law enforcement and a small number of Beduin can take
what they want, no plan will work. When there are no sticks, all the carrots in
the world only aggravate the problem, broadcast weakness and further postpone a
solution. Only when the government of Israel is determined to restore the rule
of law to the Negev will this small minority of Beduin understand they have
something to lose, and only then will it be possible to speak of a historic
compromise and successful settlement.
The author works for Regavim, an
independent, professional research institute and policy planning think tank.