Knesset approves bill to 'keep Arab shepherds from squatting'

Arab MKs accuse legislation of being racist, say grazing land is unequally distributed between Jews, Arabs.

July 2, 2013 02:17
1 minute read.
Sheep in E1 outside of Jerusalem

Sheep in E1 outside of Jerusalem 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

The Knesset pushed forward a new bill preventing shepherds from illegally using public land for grazing Monday.

“[The purpose of the bill is to] regulate grazing on public land and protecting the ground of our homeland, open areas and forests, so they can be used for national reasons,” Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir explained.

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Or, as a coalition source put it, “the bill is meant to prevent Arab shepherds from squatting on public land.”

The Knesset voted to apply continuity to a bill that passed in its first reading in the previous Knesset, allowing lawmakers to prepare it for its second and third votes rather than start the legislative process over.

The new bill will, for the first time, give law enforcement the tools to deal with shepherds illegally using public land. In addition, it will allow the Agriculture Ministry to allocate grazing lands more efficiently and transparently.

Arab MKs spoke out against the legislation, saying that grazing land is unequally distributed between Jewish and Arab shepherds.

“Israeli citizens are treated differently, depending on their background. Jews are treated like the masters of the land, and Arabs are treated like enemies,” MK Basel Ghattas (Balad) said. “The purpose of this bill is to ‘protect the land.’ Protect from who? From those illegally using public land. As if we [Arabs] aren’t part of the public.”

The bill requires shepherds to apply for a permit. A committee will decide who gets permits, in proportion to the amount of land available for grazing and according to the shepherd’s experience, the type and size of his herd, the land’s grazing capacity and how close the shepherd lives to available land, among other conditions.

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