Recognize Beduin Villages

Article in Issue 20, January 19, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. The government-appointed committee charged with finding a solution to the unauthorized Beduin settlements in the Negev issued its long-anticipated report in December, recommending formal recognition of many of some 46 illegal villages "to prevent the perpetuation of the community's unbearable state." The independent committee, headed by former chief justice and state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, submitted its recommendations to Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim, who termed the 95-page document "an important moral decision," in its attempt to bridge the gap between the Negev Beduin and the government, whose relationship he described as full of mistrust and suspicion. While about half of the estimated 160,000 Negev Beduin have moved to government-built townships or recently recognized communities, tens of thousands live in dozens of villages and encampments scattered across the Negev that are considered illegal settlements by the state and subject to demolition. They have limited or no access to services usually provided on a municipal level, such as garbage collection, water and sewerage services and even education ("In Limbo," Jan. 7, 2008). Commission chairman Justice Goldberg said the report proposes that "to the extent possible, existing unauthorized villages be recognized and given legal sanction, subject to the village having a minimal number of residents... and where recognition does not contradict the district outline plan." 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 that in some cases, ownership would be registered in the name of the Beduin who claimed recognition, while in others, monetary compensation would be paid. A key provision of the report is the setting up of an "Authority for the Regularization of Beduin Settlement in the Negev," which would work with the Regional Planning Committee of the South. According to the report, there are currently some 50,000 illegal structures in the Negev, with an additional 1,500-2,000 built each year. The report recommends building permits be issued retroactively under certain conditions. The Goldberg report has been criticized by both right-wing politicians and Beduin organizations. Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) said that "the rights of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank do not differ from those of the Beduins in the Negev. If we're 'laundering' the Beduins' illegal settlements, we have to do the same for all the [West Bank] outposts." Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman urged the government to reject the report's recommendations on retroactive legalization, saying they "form a dangerous and illegal precedent." Although some Beduin rights organizations were initially encouraged by the report, "the more we realize what is actually written there, the more we are disappointed, "Dr. Yeela Raanan, public affairs representative for Leaders of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (RCUV), told The Report. In a press release, the RCUV stated that "The Commission does not recognize the right of the Arabs to their land in the Negev, and does not put forth a single just solution for this problem, and therefore we view these recommendations as the latest ploy to complete the policy of confiscation and seizure of Beduin land that began in 1948." "The report uses nice words about recognizing historical Bedouin rights to the land, but it leaves the decision of which lands will be accepted in the hands of the committee," Ya'acov Manor, a spokesman for the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, told The Report. "The Goldberg recommendations limit the land to be recognized to agricultural parcels, not land for grazing. The Beduin want to decide for themselves their own way of life, like the Jews do," he said. The cabinet is expected to consider the report for approval by the end of January, before the upcoming Knesset elections. Article in Issue 20, January 19, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.