Beduin to seek US support against relocation plan

Four-member team to meet in US with congressmen, Jewish leaders, community members to rally against Israeli cabinet's decision.

Beduin protest 311 R (photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters))
Beduin protest 311 R
(photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters))
A delegation from the Beduin community will visit the United States next week to rally government officials, religious congregations and members of the public against the Israeli government’s cabinet-approved plan to relocate about 30,000 residents to recognized villages.
The visiting team of four will visit Chicago, Washington and New York, and includes Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, director of the Negev Project at Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; Rawia Abu Rabia, an attorney for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Hanan Al-Sana from the Sidreh women’s weaving organization in Lakiya; and Michal Rotem, from the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality.
Their two-week trip is sponsored entirely by the US nonprofit Telos Group and its Project Engage, which seeks to educate Americans about the Middle East and bring about a realistic peace in the region, Ras told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“We will meet congressmen and also people from different fait communities – churches, synagogues – and different media outlets,” Ras said. “We are trying to influence the general public in the United States, mainly the Jewish community, [in hopes that they will] influence the Israeli government to stop the Prawer Plan and open a dialogue with the Beduin community.”
The cabinet’s plan, which is based on two years of preparation by Ehud Prawer, director of planning and policy in the Prime Minister’s Office, would transfer approximately twothirds of the current rural Negev Beduin population to new homes within the recognized Abu Basma Regional Council and to areas within the Beersheba District.
Prawer became responsible for proposing an executable plan based on previous recommendations concerning Beduin development made by retired Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg.
In addition to relocating much of the population to new homes, the government would also be committed to funding NIS 1.2 billion worth of economic growth in the Beduin community.
While the government has argued that the plans will bring about a much smoother integration of the Beduin population into Israeli society, many from the community itself have expressed extreme dissatisfaction, particularly because they felt they were not involved in the process.
“We want to raise the awareness toward the status of the Beduin in the Negev and we want Americans to know more about the way they are living and the discrimination that they are facing by the government,” Rabia told the Post. “I would expect that beyond raising awareness, we will also try and influence governmental officials and others to know more about the Prawer Plan and the crucial issues that Beduins face.”
Rabia said that while the four team members will be targeting Jewish community leaders for support, they will also be visiting with Arab-Americans and law school students, as well as members of Congress.
Rotem, who joined the Negev Coexistence Forum just over a year ago, added that her organization has been a “key actor” in what she called an ongoing “joint struggle.”
“My main motivation to participate in this delegation is to further expose Americans to the Arab-Jewish joint struggle for equality and justice that is currently happening in the Negev and across Israel,” Rotem said. “It is important to me to emphasize the fact that it is not only the Beduin who object to the Prawer Plan."
“A considerable number of Jewish people stand in solidarity with the Beduin and are vehemently opposed to the discriminatory and racist policies of this present government. As a young Jewish activist fighting for equality in the Negev, I believe we should do everything we can to prevent the Prawer Plan from being implemented.”
The American-Jewish community will play a particularly important role in swaying the Knesset against the cabinet’s decision, according to Ras.
“I think the Jewish community can help us,” he said.
“Being a minority in the US has made this community very sensitive, and the Jewish community is very involved in politics. If they care about Israel they should stand for democratic Israel more than anything else.”
To that effect, in addition to meeting with Jewish religious leaders, the team will also be speaking with representatives from J-Street, Ras explained.