Right, Left infuriated by plans to resettle Negev Beduin

Cabinet approves series of plans to support socioeconomic development, resolve land disputes, integrate Beduin into Israeli society.

Police, Beduin Iftar in Negev_311 (photo credit: Israel Police)
Police, Beduin Iftar in Negev_311
(photo credit: Israel Police)
After the cabinet approved a plan that would resettle about 30,000 Negev Beduin and provide for economic development in these communities, nonprofit groups and politicians from both the Left and Right strongly disagreed about the decision.
“The issue of Beduin communities in the Negev has accompanied the State of Israel since its establishment, with no tangible progress to date regarding a solution,” a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
“Against the background of increasing gaps between Israeli Beduin and Israeli society as a whole, and on the basis of the Goldberg Committee recommendations, the government formulated a comprehensive and balanced plan to resolve the issue.”
The cabinet adopted a series of plans based on the recommendations of a committee chaired by retired Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg, which aims to provide official status to Negev Beduin communities, push forward socioeconomic development, resolve disputed land-ownership claims and establish a mechanism to implement and enforce the new plans, according to the statement.
As part of the government’s goal of “bringing about a better integration of the Beduin in Israeli society,” the plan aims to reduce social and economic gaps between the Beduin and the rest of the Israeli populations, and integral to this process will be the expansion of already established and recognized communities, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
“Given the situation that has been created in the Negev, the time has come to act,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in the statement. “This started with the previous government and is being decided upon by us. A decision must be made for the country and for the development of the Negev and its residents, Jews and Beduin alike.”
Approximately two-thirds of rural Beduin will be provided with residences near their current locations, and many will be absorbed into the Abu Basma Regional Council while others will form communities within the Beersheba District, all “in cooperation with” the Beduin, the statement explained.
Meanwhile, the state will allocate NIS 1.2 billion toward economic growth, particularly focusing on the employment of women and youth, and establishing employment and professional training centers, as well as public infrastructures such as transportation, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Regarding land ownership claims, the cabinet stipulated that every person proving rightful ownership will receive significant land and monetary compensation – including up to 50 percent of the land claim, as opposed to the 20% currently being offered by the government, the statement said.
At the cabinet meeting, Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin (Likud) received an appointment to work with the Beduin population on the issue during the drafting of legislation for the Knesset, the Prime Minister’s Office added.
Liberal NGOs were infuriated by the decision, with one group, Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, saying the plan demonstrates a “perpetuation of discriminatory treatment and continued neglect of this population.”
The organization called the decision “puzzling,” particularly due to the fact that Prof. James Anaya, the UN’s Special Rapporteur Rights of Indigenous People, last week condemned Israel’s treatment of its Beduin population.
“The Israeli government today declared war against the Negev Beduin,” agreed Thabet Abu Ras, director of the Negev Project at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
“Approval of the report demonstrates that this government views the Beduin as a security issue and not as citizens with equal rights. This unfortunate decision damages relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel and only deepens the land dispute in the Negev, turning it into to something impossible to solve. The report was written without a Beduin representative and without consultation of the residents whose lives will be destroyed by its conclusions.”
Amnesty International Israel likewise condemned the plan, which the organization said was based on an earlier report on settlements generated by the Prime Minister’s Office director of planning policy, Ehud Prawer, and his team, adding that it contradicts Israel’s international commitments and is a “significant blow in the Beduin rights to adequate housing.”
Meanwhile, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights jointly slammed the government decision to “displace” 30,000 Beduin “contrary to their will and in blatant violation of their human rights.”
The two organizations said the decision is “completely contrary to the recommendations of the Goldberg Committee,” which called for a repair in Beduin social injustice.
MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) warned that violence may break out in reaction to the decision.
“This is a war on Arab life in the Negev,” she said. “This is the biggest land expropriation since the establishment of the state, which is based on ethno-geographic cleansing.”
Calling the state “an invader that gets involved in our lives,” Zoabi said the leadership “should expect a reaction of great rage, which is currently bubbling and will eventually explode in the government’s face.”
“The government has full responsibility for the results of its plans,” she added. “This is a policy of non-stop trampling of our rights, and using political-democratic tools to completely uproot relations between Arabs and the state.”
While censorious for quite different reasons, conservative-leaning factions also expressed extreme disapproval with the cabinet’s decision to adopt the new plans.
Regavim, a Zionist NGO concerned with the land and environmental agenda that was involved in the creation of the Goldberg Report, called the plan “serious and dangerous” and felt that “Ben-Gurion is turning in his grave.”
“While discussing the lack of land reserves in the state, the government is transferring hundreds of thousands of dunams to private Beduin hands that only will raise the price of housing,” a statement from Regavim said.
“Specifically while talking about the plight of the middle class, the prime minister is promoting a proposal that will transfer NIS 1.2 billion to the Beduin population, laundering tens of thousands of illegal homes, and distributing land plots and money for free, when in the periphery, the middle class and veterans have no place to live.