The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and several other rights groups
petitioned the High Court Tuesday to stop the government’s plan to build seven
new Jewish towns in the northern Negev, destroying five existing Beduin villages
in the process.
The plan is “discriminatory, wasteful and unnecessary,”
said ACRI, which filed the petition along with Bimkom – Planners for Planning
Rights, the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality and residents of the five
Beduin villages plus several residents of Arad.
The petition refers to a
government decision to establish seven agricultural settlements in the area of
Mevo’ot Arad in October 2011.
The plan was approved on the basis that it
was a continuation of “the Zionist vision to make the desert blossom” and
includes among its goals “strengthening organized Jewish settlement.”
total area of the planned development, approximately 45,000 acres, is described
in the notes of the decision as an area almost “empty of population,” containing
two Jewish villages, four isolated ranches, and “sparse Bedouin
But ACRI says these “scatterings” are actually five
unrecognized villages, home to approximately 8,000 citizens. Three of these
villages – Hamra, Sawa and El-Baat – have existed since before the establishment
of the State of Israel.
Two others, Atir-Um El-Hiran and Tel Arad – were
established in the 1950s, when their inhabitants were moved by security
authorities to other locations in the Negev, ACRI said in a press
“This is a racist plan. It’s a plan to uproot people from this
area, which is simply absurd,” Salim Abu Qi’an, a Beduin activist and resident
of Atir-Um El-Hiran, told The Jerusalem Post.
“We don’t have any power.
Anyone who wants to force us out can. But we just want to live here in peace,
and bring up our kids here.”
Qi’an was glad that the petition had been
filed, but he and others in the community do not see it as an issue that can be
solved solely on legal grounds. “It will go through a legal process, but this is
actually all a political process, not a legal one. This is not really about
justice, because what created this plan and what can stop it is a political
decision more than anything else.”
The petition notes that according to a
2009 study by the Environmental Protection Ministry, the cost of building a
housing unit in a new town is three times that of building one in an existing
Rejecting the plan would save NIS 1.4 billion that could then
be invested in strengthening existing communities in the area, such as Mitzpe
Ramon, Yeruham, Dimona, Arad, Ofakim and Netivot, the petition
Indeed, the plan is uniting opponents with very different agendas.
Some oppose it on the grounds of discrimination, seeing it as an unacceptable
example of the state pushing Beduin off their land, as it has many times before.
Others think it is a mistake from an environmental perspective – it will eat up
more open space and attract people looking for a suburban lifestyle, adding more
cars to the road.
In another argument, critics wonder why the money that
would be spent on five new communities is not invested in existing communities
that need improvement, or in bringing desperately needed employment to the
“This plan doesn’t take into consideration the needs of people in
our area. It may be a Zionist plan but is doesn’t aid the development of the
Negev overall,” says Batya Roded, a resident of Arad and a geographic researcher
at Ben-Gurion University.
“Take this budget and invest it in Arad,
Dimona, Yeroham. Instead, they’re trying to privatize open space. It would
include destroying houses – which is a environmental injustice and also unfair
to the Beduin,” she explained.
“The moment that one sector gets a budget
for development and one gets nothing, there’s no chance that the Negev as a
whole will enjoy development,” Roded said.
“For that, the government
doesn’t need new communities, it needs to bring jobs and industry.”
leading lawyer for ACRI on the petition, Rawia Aburabia, said that if Israel
wants to show it is committed to equality among its citizens, it cannot carry
out such a program.
“A country that is committed to equality among its
citizens cannot decide to remove Beduin communities in order to establish new
communities for Jewish residents,” said Aburabia. “Behind the words ‘vision’ and
‘making a wasteland blossom’ hides a simple truth, which is the continuation of
blatant discrimination between Beduin and Jews.”
Bimkom, an organization
set up by planning professionals seeking to enhance the link between civil
rights, social justice and the planning process in Israel, was also part of the
“In past decades, many resources were invested in the
establishment of more and more settlements for Jews only, at the expense of
veteran residents of the Negev – Beduin in unrecognized villages who suffer from
criminal neglect, and residents of cities and Jewish villages who also suffer
from neglect and are desperate for new residents,” said Nili Bruch, city planner
at Bimkom. “This plan has no justice and no logic – financially, civilly or
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