Fundamentally Freund: A farewell to the Negev?
Under no circumstances should tens of thousands of dunams of publicly-owned land be turned over to private individuals simply because they assert it is theirs without proof to substantiate their claims.
BEDUIN TAKE part in a protest in Beersheba Photo: Reuters
This past Sunday, the largest act of organized theft in the Jewish state’s
history took place.
And the perpetrator was none other than the
government of Israel.
At its first session since last week’s elections,
the outgoing cabinet convened to approve a plan ostensibly aimed at settling the
long-standing issue of illegal Beduin settlements in the Negev.
who has driven through the desert east or south of Beersheba can attest, the
landscape is overrun with illicit Beduin dwellings, many of which have
mushroomed into full-fledged unlawful communities. Some even sit adjacent to the
Nevatim Air Base, a strategically vital military site, hugging its outer
perimeter on all four sides. Just take a quick tour of the area on Google Earth,
and you will see the extent to which unauthorized Beduin housing dots the
Indeed, for decades, the Negev has been under assault, as Beduin
have been plunking themselves down along the length and breadth of the area with
no regard for such mundane matters as property rights or building permits.
Nonetheless, rather than enforcing the rule of law and preventing encroachment
on state-owned lands, the government shamefully capitulated to
IN ITS decision, the cabinet approved a proposal put
together by Minister Bennie Begin which would legalize the majority of the
Beduin communities that have been set up over the years, in effect rewarding
land-grabbers with most of the land they sought to grab.
As a result,
over 100,000 precious dunams (10,000 hectares) of our collective patrimony will
now be handed over to squatters. Vast expanses of the land of Israel are being
stolen in broad daylight, and the government has now elected to become a willing
accomplice to this act of land larceny.
Adding insult to injury, Begin’s
proposal also grants compensation to those Beduin who will be forced to move out
of the illegal homes they built on state-owned land. Yes, you read that
The treasury will be reimbursing trespassers for having to
vacate land they tried to steal from the state.
In an interview on Israel
Radio, former MK Pini Badash, who heads the Omer Regional Council in the
northern Negev, denounced the government’s decision, saying, “Now people know
that you can pressure the government and triumph, even if you broke the
Sadly, he is right on the mark.
And as investigative
journalist Kalman Liebeskind of Ma’ariv, who broke the story last Friday,
pointed out, the government decision “is not a small technical decision devoid
of meaning. It is a decision that changes the face of the Negev. It establishes
that the state’s offer in the past to grant the Beduin hundreds of thousands of
dunams is not enough for them, and therefore starting tomorrow we will offer
them even more.”
“The State of Israel,” Liebeskind says, “is establishing
dozens of new communities for the Beduin in dozens of locations in which they
had settled illegally.”
IF YOU are scratching your head and wondering why
the government would do this, you are not alone. In fact, the entire manner in
which the decision was brought to a vote raises serious questions about its
According to Ma’ariv, government ministers received Begin’s
15-page proposal only on Thursday evening of last week, leaving them with little
time to review it in advance of Sunday’s vote, let alone delve into its
long-term ramifications and consequences.
And the fact that a caretaker
government in its final days in office would move expeditiously to pass such a
far-reaching package also raised many eyebrows.
Regavim, an independent
research institute which has been among the few to raise the alarm over the
future of the Negev, appealed to the Supreme Court in an effort to block the
government vote, but the court rejected their petition.
To be sure, the
question of Beduin land claims is a complex subject which has gone unresolved
for more than four decades. As a result, the government established the Goldberg
Commission in 2007, followed later on by the Prawer Committee, with the aim of
bringing some order to the chaos.
That is certainly an important and
noble goal, and solutions must be found for the Beduin population of the Negev
that will allow them to live in dignity.
But the decision approved by the
cabinet is simply scandalous, and the devious manner in which it was passed is
no less dubious.
TO RESPOND to lawlessness with impunity is bad enough.
But to grant it a prize, and a valuable one at that, is simply an invitation to
further coercion and extortion.
Not surprisingly, various Beduin
spokesmen reacted angrily to the government decision, saying it was still not
enough to satisfy their demands.
In any event, according to
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, the plan will require additional legislation
to be approved by the Knesset and the next government in order to take effect,
so there is still a chance to stop this folly before it is too
Under no circumstances should tens of thousands of dunams of
publicly-owned land be turned over to private individuals simply because they
assert it is theirs without proof to substantiate their claims. No
self-respecting law-abiding society can function in such a manner, and Israel
should not yield to threats in this regard.
Political pressure must be
brought to bear on the next government as soon as it is formed to block the
implementation of this foolhardy scheme.
For if it is allowed to move
forward, we might as well just raise a white flag and declare: Farewell to the