Pro-Beduin supporters fight Prawer-Begin plan

Activists to protest in Beersheba against proposed law regulating communities, claim human rights violations.

June 13, 2013 01:40
3 minute read.
Beduin structures being evacuated, Ramat Hasharon, June 10, 2013

Beduin evacuation, Rmat Hasharon370. (photo credit: Courtesy, Ramat Hasharon Municipality)

Ahead of the Knesset debate on the proposed Prawer-Begin plan to regulate Beduin settlement in the Negev, a press conference was held by a delegation described as an independent fact finding mission, along with Beduin community representatives at the Knesset on Wednesday.

Representative to the United Nations for the International Federation for Human Rights Michelle Kissenkoetter, one of three delegates on the factfinding mission for the Beduin issue, told The Jerusalem Post, “The conference today was just a chance to share some preliminary conclusions and recommendations.”

The mission’s report is yet to be written, but Kissenkoetter said that on a tour of the Negev, they observed “ongoing human rights violations.”

The main two issues were a lack of basic services and an unequal application of the law when compared to Jewish communities.

She added that members also spoke to the drafters of the Prawer-Begin plan – which is to be presented as a bill to the Knesset within 10 days – and drafters asserted that the claimed goal was to improve the situation for all of the communities. Yet the delegation’s impression, she said, was that the plan would not achieve this goal, that it would not improve the situation and that it could actually make it worse.

The Post spoke to Balad MK Basel Ghattas, a co-founder of Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights, which is also a key NGO fighting for Beduin land claims in the Negev.

“I and other MKs explained the consequences of the law and that we think it is very harmful to the community and will lead to the displacement of tens of thousands of people and the demolition of many villages,” said Ghattas.

The MK told the Post that he has studied and been involved in this issue for some time. He said that all efforts are being made to get Knesset members to vote down the bill when it is presented and that they are disseminating information to help their cause.

In following Balad’s strategy of internationalizing the conflict, Ghattas said that global pressure on the Israeli government is extremely important in order to force it to stop the law.

“Our basic claim is that the government can withdraw the law and engage in serious negotiations with the Beduin,” he said.

In terms of the law proposal itself, Ghattas said that it does not reflect a compromise solution, but calls on the Beduin to give up all of their claims and apply for compensation to a government formed committee, without knowing what the results will be beforehand.

Ghattas said the right-wing are claiming that “the Beduin are invaders and settled illegally,” but in fact they have “lived there for hundreds of years.” He went on to argue that the British Mandate and the Ottoman Empire recognized Beduin communities.

Joumha Azbarga, a Balad activist working in the Negev headquarters of the party, said that there will be a demonstration in Beersheba on Thursday to protest against the law proposal. He said that a group has been formed, coordinating its activities amongst all of the Arab political parties. He hopes the turnout will be in the thousands.

“We will continue to fight against the law in democratic ways until the law is cancelled – we will not be silent,” said Azbarga.

Ari Briggs, the international relations director of Regavim, an NGO that says it seeks to ensure responsible, legal and accountable use of Israel’s national land, explained to the Post why these arguments in favor of the Beduin are false.

Briggs said Regavim understands that there needs to be a compromise to reach a lasting solution to the problem, but that this solution should not threaten the future existence of the state. In regard to the plan on the table, which Regavim opposes, Briggs said he might support it if it is implemented – and stops future illegal Beduin settlement expansion.

“The NGOs always talk about legalizing 35 settlements with 400 or more residents, but what about the other 2,000?” Briggs added that according to the Interior Ministry, every year there are an additional 2,000 new, illegal structures built. He blamed the pro- Beduin NGOs for the difficulty of reaching a solution, stating they are pushing the people not to compromise.

The current Prawer-Begin plan calls for legalizing 63 percent of Beduin claimed land, and Regavim is willing to accept a lower figure – as long as all additional illegal settlement expansion is halted.

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