‘The worst day in a Beduin’s life’

Negev community says government decision to resettle villages is "discriminatory, shows we are second-class citizens."

Khalil Alamour 311 (photo credit: Courtest of Khalil Alamour)
Khalil Alamour 311
(photo credit: Courtest of Khalil Alamour)
For Khalil Alamour and many of his Beduin brethren, the cabinet’s approval on Sunday of a plan to resettle and provide economic development assistance to tens of thousands of villagers was nothing less than “the worst day in a Beduin’s life.”
“I hope that the government won’t carry out this bad plan,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “The people here feel really bad that the government is eliminating their existence, their culture, their way of living. This is the worst day in a Beduin’s life.”
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Alamour, whose family has lived in the unrecognized village of al-Sira for seven generations, is a teacher in a nearby recognized town and has the original land deed to his property from the British Mandatory authorities and local sheikhs signed in 1921, which he showed to the Post. Like many others, he is fighting the government for land ownershiprights and is highly disappointed with the newly approved plan.
“It didn’t offer any solution for our people,” Alamour said. “They just want to uproot some of the unrecognized villages, and mine would be one of them.”
The cabinet plan stipulates that approximately two-thirds of the rural Beduin population will be moved to new homes near their current villages, with many absorbed into the Abu Basma Regional Council and others forming communities within the Beersheba District, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday.
In addition, the state is to direct NIS 1.2 billion toward economic growth in the Beduin community, focusing on the employment of women and youth, as well as public infrastructure such as transportation, according to the statement.
Stemming from the initial recommendations of a public committee chaired by retired Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg, the plan was drafted into an implementable form during the past two years by a panel led by Ehud Prawer, director of planning policy in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“The plan is part of the government’s overall activities in developing the Negev; its goal is to bring about a better integration of Beduin in Israeli society,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “The plan is also designed to significantly reduce the economic and social gaps between the Beduin population in the Negev and Israeli society as a whole.”
The biggest problems with the plan is that it was created without any kind of participation of the local community and that it dispossesses people of their land, according to Salem al-Wakili, a spokesman for the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages (RCUV) from the unrecognized village of Bir Mashash.
“The whole concept of moving the people instead of finding solutions for how to recognize the villages where they are – that’s something that the council opposes,” Wakili said.
Also problematic was the terminology used in the plan, as it uses terms such as “tribes” and “families,” said RCUV spokeswoman Michal Zak.
“They are trying to show that the people are nomadic, that there aren’t villages that have been there for hundreds of years,” Zak said.
Rawia Abu Rabia, an attorney for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), called the plan discriminatory, as it concentrates the Beduin population “into a specifically defined geographic area within the north part of the Negev,” west of Road 40, while Jewish settlements can sprout up all over the Negev, she said. While the population in each Beduin village is about 1,500, the population in each Jewish settlement is around 300, she said.
“This document was supposed to implement the Goldberg Report – it goes far from Goldberg,” said Rabia, whose family is from the Beduin village of Abu Rabia, but who herself was born in Beersheba.
“Goldberg talked about recognizing as much as possible, and recognizing the need to have a dialogue with the Beduin community and to incorporate them in a solution. Praver didn’t talk to the Beduin at all.
“While the Jewish citizens are talking about and demonstrating about social justice, the government basically confirmed by this decision that Beduin are not equal citizens – they are second-class citizens,” Rabia continued. “They are invisible. It’s so discriminatory and it’s so unacceptable within the Beduin community.”
A joint commission composed of representatives from RCUV, ACRI and Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights drafted an alternative plan to the government’s choice, which they say was not incorporated at all in the Prawer Committee’s proposal.
“Prawer saw us after he submitted his plan to the government, which is a terrible decision-making process, since we are the only professional group around to know the area through and through,” Prof. Oren Yiftachel, a plan drafter from RCUV and a professor at Ben- Gurion University, told the Post. “It was also highly humiliating for the Beduin. The government is making a major plan for them, but doesn’t speak to the village residents.”
Yiftachel called the process “undemocratic” and an “outrage.”
“We’ll continue to push our plan, which is better, cheaper and much more humane for both Jews and Arabs of the Negev,” he said.
The “alternative master plan,” based on surveys and studies conducted within the communities, proposes official village recognition as well as integration in the Beersheba area’s transportation system, and asks that the Beduin community be treated like any “distinct type of settlement” in the planning system – like a moshav, kibbutz or northern Arab village, according to a statement from Bimkom. The plan provides an outline for development within a typical Beduin village for the next 20 years, focusing on agriculture and homes, with ways to increase the density of already inhabited areas and to preserve open space, the statement said.
Disconnecting the issue of planning from land ownership, the alternative plan would first recognize villages and provide basic infrastructure, and later deal with the land ownership issues, ACRI’s Abu Rabia said.
But in a conference call with journalists on Sunday, Praver and Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Eyal Gabbay had emphasized that their plan would help bring economic development, infrastructure and educational systems to the Beduin community, which they said is highly lacking right now.
Meanwhile, during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Minister-without- Portfolio Bennie Begin (Likud) was tasked with working directly with the Beduin population on the plan as it is drafted into Knesset legislation, the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.
On Monday night, however, the Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel was meeting in Nazareth to discuss, among other things, a solidarity strike that could occur in Beduin and other Arab village municipalities, schools and public works, in response to the cabinet decision, according to Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, director of the Negev Project at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
The group is considering different types of protest activities for the coming two to three weeks, and will probably decide by Thursday whether a strike will occur, Thabet told the Post.
“We’re planning a number of demonstrations and different means of resistance in the coming months,” added Wakili, from the RCUV, who noted that the first rally took place on Sunday outside the cabinet meeting, where the plan was being discussed.
Alamour has plans to continue his fight for land ownership for his own family and for other villages nearby, by taking the case to Geneva in November, to the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
“I think the government should respect the Beduin rights and the conventions and international agreements that they are committed to, [as well as] the indigenous people’s rights,” Alamour told the Post. “They are entitled to a bit more respect and to rights to ownership of their land.”
Alamour, who was not surprised by the cabinet decision, encouraged the government to instead work in partnership with the Beduin community so that the people will not be “forced to leave their traditions, their culture and values, and move to the towns and the cities.”
“We always hope for a better future, for more reasonable leadership who can understand and evaluate the legality of the situation for the Beduin – and treat them fairly,” he said.