HRW: Israel discriminating against Beduins

Homes threatened with demolition; housing, land, infrastructure unequally distributed.

negev 224.88 (photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs [file])
negev 224.88
(photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs [file])
A delegation of Human Rights Watch (HRW) officials is due to appear before the Goldberg Committee on Tuesday and ask for an immediate moratorium on all house demolitions in unrecognized Beduin villages in the Negev, said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North African Division, while speaking at a press conference on Monday. The Goldberg Committee is tasked with investigating Beduin land claims and submitting recommendations to the government to regulate Beduin settlement in the Negev. The press conference was held to present a 112-page report on the plight of the Beduin population, almost half of whom live in unrecognized villages that do not receive electricity and water supplies from the authorities and who cannot legally build new homes. Stork said that HRW had decided to investigate the situation of the Beduin because the "phenomenon of house demolitions" had escalated and unlike in the past, entire neighborhoods and villages were being demolished. In 2005, the government razed 143 structures, compared with 367 in 2006, according to the report, entitled "Off the Map." Of the 45,000 buildings in the Beduin sector, 2,000 are involved in legal proceedings and demolition orders have been issued against 700. According to Lucy Mair, former chief Middle East researcher for HRW, Israel was guilty of "systematic discrimination" against the Beduin in land allocation and access to land, in planning and in house demolitions. For example, she said that when HRW asked officials why the government was not prepared to create or recognize rural villages for the Beduin, they were told there was no room for them. But she noted the government was currently planning rural villages for some of the settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2005. And while claiming that there was not enough land to establish new Beduin communities, it had established 59 individual farms in the Negev containing huge tracts of land. Even though only half the farms had initially received permits, authorities connected the illegal farms to the electricity and water system and later approved some of them retroactively, she said. In addition to the call for an immediate moratorium on house demolitions, HRW also calls for a fully independent commission "to make comprehensive recommendations as to how the government can provide secure tenure, adequate housing and protection against forced evictions for residents of unrecognized villages." The Goldberg Committee was appointed by the minister of housing and construction on December 23, 2007. It is headed by former Supreme Court justice and state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg and includes seven members, of whom five are Jewish and two Beduin. However, Beduin activists charge that the two Beduin members are not authentic representatives of the community. HRW also called on the Interior Ministry and the planning authorities to conduct a comprehensive examination of the Beduin residential needs in consultation with their communities and create plans to address their housing and community requirements.