Rights groups from in and outside Israel have slammed plans by the government to relocate more than 10,000 Beduin citizens who live on or near land in the Negev that is slated to become a phosphate mine.
The planning rights group Bimkom warned that if implemented, the plans will lead to increased home demolitions and “war” with Beduin who, it said, will refuse to move to a new town. Human Rights Watch also condemned the plans, saying they reflect discrimination toward the Beduin and are among practices that violate international treaties to which Israel is a signatory.
The plans were outlined by Yair Maayan, the head of the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Beduin of the Negev, to The Jerusalem Post
and described in an article published on Wednesday.
“If it was a Jewish community, they wouldn’t be thinking about moving around the people,” said Sana Ibn Bari, a staffer at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. “A forced solution is illegal, according to international law.”
If implemented, the relocations would be one of the largest in the country’s recent history, exceeding the Gaza Strip withdrawal of 2005, when some 8,000 citizens were forced to move.
Maayan was undaunted by the criticism. He said the plan for the phosphate mine, which he termed a “strategic reserve,” was approved years ago and that it is long past the time for objections. This is despite the plan being endorsed by an interministerial committee just two weeks ago and is being vehemently opposed by Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who said air contamination from the facility would harm or kill people in the vicinity.
According to the government’s plan, some 8,000 Beduin in the vicinity of al-Poraa – a village near Arad that was earmarked for recognition more than a decade ago – are to be moved into a new town that will be constructed on one-tenth the area they currently inhabit. In addition, 2,000 to 3,000 Beduin will be relocated to the nearby town of Kuseifa and elsewhere, according to Maayan.
Although Maayan refrains from using the names of unrecognized villages, in practice, implementation of the plan would mean residents would be forced to leave the unrecognized Beduin community of al-Zarura to be concentrated in the new town. Residents of the unrecognized communities of al-Azeh and Qatamat would also be impacted.
“It is necessary to move the residents to the location where the settlement will be established,” Maayan wrote in an email to the Post Wednesday. The precise location of the new town has yet to be decided. In interviews, residents said they would refuse to move, even if it was only a few kilometers. They say they are living on property that has belonged to their families since Ottoman times.
The Beduin Authority takes a different view. “Where they are living now is unrecognized. They will have to move to a place that is legal,” said spokesman Yehoshua Mor-Yosef.
Nili Baruch, a planner at Bimkom, said: “It is regrettable that the head of the authority that is supposed to be concerned for the Beduin is giving priority to a polluting phosphate site over citizens living on their land, and is advancing their transfer.”
“The gravest aspect is that he treats them – 10,000 people – like peons who can be moved from place to place,” she added.
In Baruch’s view, Beduin from different villages will simply not agree to be concentrated together in one new place. “The policy of concentrating populations from several villages together has failed. The concentrated Beduin towns are ranked the lowest in Israel in planning terms, socially and economically. It’s an unrealistic solution.”
She predicts that since Beduin will refuse to move to the new al-Poraa, authorities will coerce them to relocate. “It’s a recipe for struggle against the Beduin, for making a war against the Beduin. It’s a recipe for home demolitions and a great deal of pressure against a population that is already vulnerable,” Baruch said.
Maayan said there is no basis for fears of a conflict with the Beduin over moving them to the new town. “We are talking about establishing four neighborhoods, each for a different family, and we are doing it in coordination with families and in agreement with them,” he said.
Suhad Bishara, a lawyer at Adalah, a legal advocacy group for the Arab minority, said: “Displacement is a traumatic issue, and a state should not seek to displace its citizens under any circumstances, unless we are talking about temporary circumstances like an earthquake or something to protect the people themselves. Under these circumstances, there is no justification. This harms the right to equality, dignity and property.”
Sari Bashi, the local representative of Human Rights Watch, said the Beduin Authority’s plan “appears consistent with Israeli government practices to displace Beduin citizens and discriminate against them. The discrimination underlying those policies, as well as their effect on other rights such as education, health and the rights of the child, violate the commitments that Israel has assumed as part of its ratification of a number of human-rights treaties, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”
In a related development, several thousand Beduin and Arad residents on Thursday afternoon held a joint protest at the entrance to Arad, against plans for the mine. Demonstrators held up signs saying “We want to live without mines” and “We demand clean air.”