Tensions run high during Knesset debate over Beduin resettlement

Speakers from both ends of political spectrum blast Bennie Begin's proposed law to regulate Beduin settlement in Negev.

Bennie Begin 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Bennie Begin 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Interruptions, yelling and expulsions took place in the Knesset Wednesday morning as former minister Bennie Begin listened to speakers from both ends of the political spectrum criticize his proposed law to regulate Beduin settlement in the Negev within five years.
MK Miri Regev (Likud), chairwoman of the Interior Committee, firmly controlled the discussion, constantly calling for quiet from those interrupting the proceedings. She also expelled or threatened to kick out several MKs from the session.
Several Israeli Arab MKs and supporters from various human rights NGOs railed against the bill, claiming it would result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land.
Begin is handling the Prawer-Begin bill for the government and is hoping to see it through the legislative process so that it becomes law.
This was the bill’s second discussion.
The first took place on November 6.
Balad MK Jamal Zahalka said that like the “nakba” (catastrophe) of the founding of the state in 1948, this was another plan meant to wipe Arabs from their lands – people who have lived in the Negev since before the establishment of the state.
Zahalka called the plan “real chutzpah” on the part of the state, adding that in any case “it will not work – the people will not agree to this.”
Furthermore, he complained, the state was approving the building of Jewish settlements in the Negev in places where Beduin currently live.
MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) told Begin he did not think he was racist, but “when the state treats me this way,” it is like getting a slap in the face. He said it was racist “to move Arabs and put Jews in their place.”
Hadash MK Dov Henin said he was very worried about this law. “It seeks to uproot citizens from their homes on a national basis” while it also calls for harsh punishment of up to two years in prison if someone remains on his land, he said.
“This law will bring us to a catastrophe!” Henin warned.
Instead, he said, the government should sit down with the Beduin and formulate an alternative plan.
Responding to criticism from the Arab parties and the Left, members of the Right also criticized the plan for being too generous.
Bayit Yehudi MK Zvulun Kalfa said he was a Negev resident and has known it for the past 50 years. He added that the Beduin had already asked the courts to recognize their land claims, but not one of the courts did.
“I see here all these human rights organizations, and I am surprised,” Kalfa said. “If human rights is so important to you, where were you when they expelled me from my home in Gush Katif? I do not recall your representatives arriving to protect my rights.”
During one of many interruptions by Arab MKs, Kalfa retorted: “In Syria and Saudi Arabia there is justice?” MK Orit Struck of Bayit Yehudi bluntly stated that the Negev did not belong to the Beduin but to the Jewish nation.
“All of these human rights organizations are not for human rights, but for human rights for Arabs,” she said.
Struck also said that the proposed legislation lacked details and numbers.
Fellow Bayit Yehudi MK Yoni Chetboun said that like Arab MKs he was against the law, but did not understand their opposition since its terms were generous to them.
Chetboun was heckled by Arab MKs after he called them “cowards,” saying their opposition was due to fear of the country’s Islamic movement.
Likud MK Moshe Feiglin said he found himself on the same side as the Arab MKs. He explained that his opposition to the legislation was a matter of national struggle for sovereignty.
“This is a bad law because it gives the Negev to the Arabs,” he said, adding that what was going on was a “war” over the Land of Israel.
A representative of Regavim, an NGO seeking to ensure responsible, legal and accountable use of Israel’s national lands, said the government was already spending large sums of money on the Beduin although they do not pay property taxes.
Regarding the government plan to build Jewish settlements in the Negev, the representative pointed out that plans for the Jewish town of Hiran had been on the table for 21 years, and in the meantime Beduin had come purposely and settled illegally in the area.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg of Bar- Ilan University and head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor group, said human rights organizations were carrying out a parallel mission in the European Parliament and other international institutions in an entirely one-sided fashion and were being financed by foreign – and largely European – governments.
After the hearing, Steinberg told The Jerusalem Post that these organizations “are characterized by all-too-familiar incitement which exploits the Beduin issue, including terms such as ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘racism.’ This language is central to the political warfare against Israel and Jewish sovereign equality.”
Haia Noach, CEO of the Negev Coexistence Forum, an NGO that supports the Beduin, told the Post she believed the government was trying to push the bill through as quickly as possible, wanting to show that a “democratic process” was involved.
“But this isn’t democracy,” she said, calling it instead a “tyranny of the majority.”
Noach said she believed the Beduin would remain steadfast, as “they did for many generations, since the government isn’t offering a fair and just solution.”