C'tee calls to legalize Beduin villages

Goldberg Commission's report recommends state recognize illegal structures, compensate residents.

GOLDBERG 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
The government should officially recognize many of the unacknowledged Beduin villages in the Negev in order to improve their "unbearable situation" and better integrate them with other communities, a government-appointed committee said Thursday. The Goldberg Commission, charged with examining and arriving at a possible solution for the permanent settlement of Beduin citizens in the Negev, delivered its long-anticipated report on Thursday to Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim. Boim said it was "the most significant and important report" in delineating a policy of Beduin settlement in the Negev, calling the 95-page document "an important breakthrough" and "an important moral decision." More than 62,000 Beduin live in around 45 unrecognized villages in the Negev. Residents in such villages have limited access to services usually provided on a municipal level, such as garbage collection, water and sewer services and even education. The government, in turn, complains that the villages are usually illegally located on the 85 percent of the Negev that is state land. "The existing unauthorized villages should be recognized to the extent possible and given legal sanction, subject to the village having a minimal number of residents... and where recognition does not contradict the district outline plan" or regional plan, Justice A. Goldberg, the commission's chairman, said in a press conference at the Housing Ministry in Jerusalem on Thursday. The report also deals with the thorny issue of land ownership, "taking into account the historic ties of the Beduin to the land," Goldberg said. In some cases, ownership would be registered in the name of the Beduin who claimed recognition, while in others, monetary compensation would be paid. In addition, residents of unauthorized villages - including those who cannot remain where they are - can request that their villages be moved to another location in the Northern Negev. The cabinet is expected to consider the report for approval by the end of the month. The commission also recommended that the suggestions, if approved, be legislated. The report, if carried out, would be "a huge step" forward for the Beduin, commission member Yoram Barsela told The Jerusalem Post. Not only because it would allow many of the Beduin to stay where they were but also because it would allow them to determine the character of their villages, whether agricultural, urban, or pastoral. Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit also expressed his strong support for the recommendations in the commission's report. With regard to unlawful structures, the report recommended building permits be retroactively issued under certain conditions. There are currently some 50,000 illegal structures in the Negev, with an additional 1,500 to 2,000 being built each year, Goldberg said. But some Beduin and their advocates had some strong reservations about the report. "We're very disappointed," said Yeela Raanan, public affairs officer for the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages. "What they are doing is not much different from the situation there is today, giving them land in return for land claims." First, the report only allowed Beduin to claim about 50 percent of their land, she said. Second, the commission had put difficult conditions on claimants pursuing land claims, and, third, the government had "all the authority" to decide where the land would be. In addition, an unrecognized village would only be acknowledged as long as it doesn't contradict the regional plan, but Raanan argued that the plan itself had been created to minimize the ability of the Beduin to have their own villages. "In the end, they could recognize [only] two villages, for all we know," she said. Sheikh Aql al-Atrash, who attended the press conference and is from the unrecognized village of al-Atrash near Hura, had yet to read the entire document Thursday afternoon. But he said he was pleased to hear Goldberg speak about the need to recognize unrecognized villages in Israel. "If there is recognition, we can turn to the state of Israel and all her institutions and ask for budgets for education, for health, for infrastructure, so that we are granted respect and rights as human beings should be," he said. Mussa Abu Krenat, a Beduin from the recognized village of Abu Krenat, said that after a first glance at the document, he believed that at least some of the requests of Beduin had been met, such as the ability to integrate agriculture and to expand their communities. But he argued that every one of the unrecognized Beduin villages should be recognized since their communities existed, he said, before the establishment of the state. "We are in a period in which the percentage of crime is rising among Beduin youth, and I think it is the consequence of a policy of neglect over the years by a series of governments," said Abu Krenat, an educator. "I think through establishing an infrastructure [and] correct education, I think we can reduce the issue of crime among Beduin youth." Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.