Around 100 people protested peacefully under heavy security on Monday evening in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem because of continuing demolitions of Beduin houses in the Negev.
Thabet Abu Rass, head of the Negev branch of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that demolitions of houses in unrecognized villages are continuing and called on the government “to stop immediately and engage in meaningful dialogue with the Beduin.”
Furthermore, he said that the government is continuing to implement the Prawer-Begin Bill even though it still has not become law.
The bill, set to be revised, is a five-year economic development initiative seeking to regulate Beduin settlement in the Negev. It aims for a compromise solution for tens of thousands of Beduin currently scattered in unrecognized villages – legalizing 63 percent of land claims.
Beduin supporters oppose the bill because they say it would result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land.
Meanwhile, opponents on the Right criticize the bill as being too generous, saying that the state is giving away land for free, land that the Beduin could not prove to be theirs in court.
“We are supporting the development of the Negev, but are against uneven development,” said Abu Raas, adding that there is lots of pressure on the people “to evacuate their land and destroy their own houses.”
He said that statistics from 2013 show that there are over 1,000 cases of demolitions, half of which involved people destroying their own homes due to “pressure and threats.”
“It is immoral to ask people to demolish their houses,” he said.
On Land Day (March 30), the entire Arab community is going to go on strike partly to protest the government treatment of the Beduin, said Abu Raas.
Ari Briggs, international relations director of Regavim, told the Post, “It is unbelievable that you have criminals who have built illegally against the law who then, without any shame, would come out in the streets in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence to protest against the government implementing the law.”
“The government does not need to write any new laws to ensure the rule of law is obeyed,” said Briggs, pointing out that “all the necessary laws are on the books to stop this heinous crime of rash building throughout the Negev.”
“The government should continue to apply the law equally and enforce the law, so we do not lose the Negev once and for all,” he added.
Doron Almog, director of the Directorate for Economic and Community Development of the Negev Beduin in the Prime Minister’s Office told the Post that it is not true that the government is implementing the Prawer-Begin plan.
“We have a budget for development, employment, and education, but we are not implementing the law, it is on hold.”
Yonatan Covrigaro, the head of the coordination directorate of land law enforcement in the Negev, told the Post that in 2013, the statistics show that 700 illegal “structures, not homes,” were destroyed.
These structures, he said, which can include homes, also include tents and other structures made of steel for example.
Cobrivaro added that while it is true that half of the structures were destroyed by their owners, this was “not because of pressure or threats, but because of legal processes and their personal preferences.”
He insisted that any destruction came only after dialogue and a legal process that sometimes involved the courts.
The reason that the owner sometimes wants to destroy his own structures is to prevent security and equipment to enter the area and sometimes so the owner can destroy the structures in a way that preserves the material for reuse.
Almost every week we are destroying illegal structures, but they are building faster than we destroy, he said.
Marc Israel Sellem contributed to this report.