When Israel realized that it could no longer ignore the massive spread of
illegal Beduin settlement in the Negev, it developed generous programs to
regularize the situation. In 2007, it established the Goldberg
Commission, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer
Goldberg. Following the publication of its recommendations, the chairman
of the Policy Planning Division of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ehud Prawer, was
appointed to lead a committee to convert those recommendations into a viable
government program. In 2011 the committee’s report was published, and approved
by the government.
The Prawer plan calls for a massive initial investment
of NIS 1.2 billion and the legalizing of many of the illegal Beduin settlements
established in the Negev. For those 20,000-30,000 Beduin whose settlements
cannot be legalized, it offers generous gifts of land of up to five dunams per
family, thus rewarding the Beduin’s illegal behavior with private land in the
The next step was to propose legislation based on the
Prawer plan, and so, a few months later, the government published, for public
comment, a memorandum of law prepared for the Justice Ministry. The government
charged Minister Bennie Begin with the important task of completing the process
and converting the proposals into law. He initiated a review process that
included opening his door to any and all comments on the program, and extensive
meetings with Beduin in the field. He heard the many reservations of the
“trained” Beduin representatives – “trained” by the likes of NIF’s Shatil, NCF
and ACRI – with regards to the program and the law. Boiled down to two words,
the “training” is to “just say no”; Israel will always come back with a better
Obviously the procedure of “listening” brought the government
bureaucracy to the conclusion that the Beduin do not intend to cooperate with
the program. An amended memorandum of the law has not yet been published, but
reports from behind the scenes tell of severe erosion of the original positions
of the program, as predicted by the “trainers.”
bureaucracy has apparently despaired, and is unwilling to apply red lines and
confront, if necessary, the Beduin population. They are now attempting to remove
every barrier and eliminate any conditions prescribed in the past, in order to
appease the Beduin population.
PUT SIMPLY, Regavim reports the
bureaucracy within the Israeli government dealing with the proposed law is
prepared for a full surrender. Unfortunately, this is not a slippery
slope; it could be the bottom of the slide. If this shocking appeasement is not
stopped now, there is no knowing how far the program leaders will buckle and how
much more land they will give away. We should note that at this stage the
Beduin, with their many false claims, are totally unwilling to compromise – not
a big surprise.
To understand the problematic nature of the principles
that presently guide the government bureaucracy which deals with the Beduin
challenge, examining the state’s handling of the illegal activity around the
Beduin settlement of Bir Hadaj will give us a good idea of their
ineffectiveness. Bir Hadaj also happens to be the town the Israel Police raided
this week to recover stolen IDF jeeps used by Beduin gangs to smuggle drugs and
Bir Hadaj is a town established by the state in the past decade
in order to regulate the homes of residents scattered in the surrounding area.
Each family was offered five dunams in the newly established town with all
services provided, such as water, electricity, sewerage, schooling and health
One of the incentives of the government to ease the Beduin from
their illegal residences in the surrounding area was the fact that they sit on
1,900 dunams (approx. 470 acres) of privately owned Jewish land. Lo and
behold – instead of going to the newly established regulated community, which
the government spent millions to establish and build legally, the Beduin
continue to settle outside the regulated community, and on private Jewish land.
Amazingly enough, looking at aerial photos from over the past 10 years, one can
see that they are building and at an increasing rate everywhere but in the area
given to them.
AND WHAT of the rule of law? If there were ever a case
where no illegal construction should be justified, this is it. Here is a
clear-cut case of the government not only wanting to help the Beduin settle
legally but also providing them with everything they need to live in a legal,
organized fashion. To no avail.
The Beduin continue to do as they please
and the law enforcement authorities continue to do nothing. The town of Bir
Hadaj, with the many millions invested in it, is nearly deserted, and illegal
construction around it continues unabated.
The reason is simple. Within
the new town, the Beduin would be required to build in accordance with the law,
as in any other town in Israel. They would have to build to the legally allowed
size and location, submit plans, pay fees, taxes and surcharges, again like in
any town in Israel. Outside the town, they are used to building whatever they
want, where they want and without paying a dime. And when there is no
enforcement and they have nothing to lose, why would anyone volunteer to build
So, at the root of the problem, as long as there is no determined law
enforcement, not only in planning and construction, but also in all spheres of
society in the “no-go” zones of the Northern Negev, no plan will work. When
there is no stick, all the carrots in the world only worsen the problem,
broadcast weakness and further postpone the solution.
Only when the
government of Israel is determined to restore the rule of law to the Negev
(recovering stolen IDF equipment is a good first step) will the Beduin
understand they have something to lose, and only thus will it be possible to
speak of a historic compromise and successful settlement. In Regavim’s
professional opinion the program being offered today is very far from that
starting point and will only invite endless trouble.
sponsoring a major public forum at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem and
site tour during Hol Hamoed Succot to better understand the significance of the
crisis in the Negev and discuss its ramifications on the whole of
Israel.The writer works for Regavim, an independent professional
research institute & policy planning think tank.
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