The government continues its efforts to resettle Beduin from unrecognized villages in the Negev into legal ones, but there appears to be no official policy or strategy in place.
Negotiations with individual Beduin families to get them to relocate to legal areas and receive financial aid packages are ongoing, but do house demolitions and the closing of a health clinic signal that the government is implementing a relocation plan under the radar? Balad MK Haneen Zoabi criticized the Health Ministry this week for closing a well-baby (tipat halav) clinic in an unrecognized Beduin village, saying it “constitutes a serious infringement of the fundamental rights of vulnerable populations.”
She said the closing of the clinic might reflect a “plot” by the Health Ministry and “another step in the execution of the Prawer-Begin bill,” referring to the “Bill on the Arrangement of Beduin Settlement in the Negev.”
The initiative, which was formulated back in 2011, was intended to settle land claims and the status of the Beduin communities, provide for the Beduin’s economic development, and establish a mechanism for binding implementation and enforcement, as well as timetables.
Zoabi told The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday that there are more such examples of such steps, such as not agreeing to discuss zoning plans that have been submitted.
The Prawer-Begin plan aimed for a compromise solution for tens of thousands of Beduin scattered in unrecognized villages throughout the Negev, legalizing 63 percent of claimed land.
Beduin supporters opposed the bill, saying the legislation would result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land.
Opponents on the Right criticized it as too generous, saying the state would be giving away land for free, land that Beduin could not prove to be theirs.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told the Post in May, when he took up the post, that he would first study the issue and then try to reach an agreement with the Beduin. However, anyone who has followed the issue over the past few years knows that a compromise may not be possible.
His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Attorney Sana Ibn Bari, responsible for issues concerning the Rights of the Negev Beduin in the Arab Minority Rights Unit at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, told the Post in an interview on Thursday that negotiations between the government and families have been ongoing for many years, but the government’s current agenda is unclear.
The ACRI has tried to find out from the government what its Beduin policy is, but with no success, Ibn Bari said. The Agriculture Ministry is avoiding publishing new information regarding its plans for the Beduin community, she added.
“The government is interested in a quick solution such as the Prawer-Begin bill, but after such a long neglect over the decades, a just solution could be in the form of recognizing the unrecognized villages, providing the basic services of water, electricity, schools and healthcare,” she said.
Ibn Bari speculates that perhaps the government now understands that it cannot push forward the Prawer Plan since it would again encounter strong domestic and international objections.
Perhaps the government “learned that it needs to work in collaboration with the Beduin,” she said.
“The Beduin community is very stressed,” Ibn Bari said, adding that they see that a clinic closed and that there are continuing demolitions of houses built without approval.
Ari Briggs, international relations director of Regavim – an NGO whose mission statement says it seeks to ensure responsible, legal and accountable use of state land – told the Post that first of all, it is necessary to use the correct terminology regarding the “unrecognized Beduin villages, they are illegal villages which were established without any authorizations on state-owned land.”
Responding to Zoabi’s criticism of the government’s decision to close the clinic, Briggs said, “How could anyone expect for a country that is based on the rule of law to establish government services in illegal villages for illegal squatters.”
“It is unheard of in law abiding countries for incentives or any form of encouragement to citizens to break the law. This would include, establishing government services in illegal encampments,” he said.
“Modern schools, up to date clinics and other government services are all readily available in legal towns and cities. The government offers Beduin free land in these towns and cities to encourage law abiding, responsible behavior.”
The government needs to reduce the incentives for illegal behavior by “fully enforcing the law, and ensuring topnotch services in the legal villages, towns and cities,” Briggs said.
“The generous offers by the government to the illegal squatters, enabling them to return to be law abiding citizens, is unprecedented in dealing with continued law breakers,” he said.