The Beduin settlements in the Negev are a national disgrace.
We need to
do much better much faster.
The Beduin numbered about 13,000 in 1951, and
today they are more than 220,000. The latest analysis by the National Security
Council reports that the Beduin population grows at a rate of approximately five
percent annually; it will double in population within 13 years. Part of this
explosive expansion is rooted in the practice of bigamy, which is widespread in
the Beduin community and which is clearly illegal (in fact, criminal), but is
ignored by the police and other relevant authorities, which cannot seem to
muster the necessary fortitude to enforce our national laws.
are mostly poor, beset with illiteracy, and have a culture based on a nomadic
past with strong contemporary pull. Many do not have access to orderly social
services and are increasingly embittered and antagonistic toward the state. They
suffer injustice from above at the hands of the government, and from within
their own communities, which have strong proclivities for lawlessness and
They build inadequate and unsafe housing wherever they want,
and claim more than 900,000 dunams in the Northern Negev as their private
property. Our national police are afraid to enforce any rule of law, and enter
Beduin settlements only for specific and carefully restricted objectives, and
then only after organizing ad hoc SWAT teams.
The Goldberg commission set
up in 2007 to solve this problem described the area inhabited by the Beduin
tribes as “without God and without any law and order.” It is worse than the
notorious American Wild West where there were at least sheriffs – some of them
fast on the draw.
The Beduin community in crude terms is both a victim
and culprit of this national disgrace, and the solution cannot come solely from
within but must be fashioned, advanced and enforced from above. It is not as
though the government of Israel has not gone through the motions of solving this
national blight. We have had three national commissions, numerous government
decisions, a host of statutory proposals, and a rich history of passing the buck
and burying our faces in the sand. The solutions have generally proposed rewards
for orderly settlement and punishments for lawless patterns of conduct and
illegal construction. Each commission and each government resolution launders
the bulk of the illegal construction, thus sending a searing message that the
more one builds illegally, the better the starting point for the next
The Beduin are not villains: they are citizens with a
particular culture and bitter experience. Promises of benefits have frequently
been aborted and declarations of future law enforcement (“from now on”) have
been abandoned by the time the last copy of the report is distributed. No one
benefits from this miserable circumstance; only the problems flourish from this
paralysis of neglect.
What we need now is to implement the Goldberg
Commission report as modified by the government decision of September 2011 (the
Prawer Plan) and as part of a comprehensive, determined, effective and lasting
regime of implementation and enforcement. To quote the Commission itself, “From
now on, there must be determined and vigorous enforcement of the law, for in its
absence there is no purpose for our recommendations.”
proposal is presently being deliberated before the Knesset Committee for
Internal Affairs. A lasting solution will require more than the funds dedicated
to “compromise” Beduin claims for land and to implement bootstrap economic
Great sums of money are needed for creating housing, police and
other government units for providing services and for enforcing our laws,
including a determined and funded program of destroying all illegal housing as
soon as erected.
The Goldberg-Prawer recommendations, like its
predecessors, established a system for buying off Beduin claims with land and
money, and it estimated the costs for accomplishing this. But, also like its
predecessors, it gave only lip service to the need for strict law enforcement
“from now on,” because there was no articulation and provision of the large sums
of money needed to do this.
Each successive commission increased the size
of the carrot while totally avoiding the unpopular measures of enforcement.
Thus, the Goldberg commission recommends that each Beduin pursuing a legal claim
shall have the right to either continue on this track, or, at his discretion, to
compromise his claim according to a unitary scheme. The compromise set forth is
a sliding scale of remuneration in land and/or money based on a percentage of
the claim. The percentage ranges between 20% and 100%.
Some of the
recommended “compromises” have been increased from 20% of the claim to 50% of
the claim. The base figure represents the previous “compromise.”
years, each successive recommendation is more generous, and each launders much
of the illegal housing erected since the last laundering.
Today, much of
the housing already held by the courts to be illegal remains standing, and every
year between 1,500-2,000 illegal structures are added to the massive inventory
of illegally constructed buildings in the Negev. The TV image of authorities
fighting screaming and stick-wielding citizens while destroying their pitiful,
shabby housing illegally erected, is too painful for the authorities to
Outside preaching by biased EU moralizers has also had an impact.
In fact, alternate and far better quality housing is being offered, but the TV
images of course do not show this.
The solution of generous – even
grandly beneficent – compensation, together with rigorous enforcement of our
laws is time-honored and supported by a broad consensus.
What is needed
is the leadership necessary to make sure that both sides of the equation – the
carrot and the stick – are implemented.
The public has not heard straight
talk on this disaster. Such problems as Beduin bigamy and the accompanying
endemic cheating of the National Insurance Institute are studiously avoided. Nor
does one read about the police failure, out of pure fear, to enforce the law
because of the efforts, costs and political damage foreseen. The cost of
providing the necessary and proper state and local services to this
disadvantaged community is also not mentioned.
And yet, the public
intuitively understands the problem and the required solution.
ready for straight talk and for real action. The challenge of Beduin settlements
in the Negev is a self-contained problem which can be solved. It’s about time we
The author, an attorney in Israel and the US, is the founding
president of the Institute for Zionist Strategies.