Beduins plead to Supreme Court: Don't throw us out to build Jewish village

The legal battle is one of many in a great battle over the government trying to move Bedouins in the south to new locations.

DEMONSTRATORS AGAINST Prawer-Begin plan outside Knesset 370 (photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
DEMONSTRATORS AGAINST Prawer-Begin plan outside Knesset 370
(photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard an appeal by Beduin from the Umm el- Hieran village in the South on a lower court decision endorsing their evacuation in favor of building a Jewish village on the same spot.
The legal battle is one of many in a broader struggle over the government’s attempt to relocate Beduin in the South in order to build a series of contiguous Jewish villages in the area.
But Suhad Bishara – of The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), representing the Beduin – said that this case differs from the overall dispute.
Even though the Beduin lost in the Beersheba District Court on the final legal point, she argued, the court ruled in their favor on many factual points, points which few other Beduin villages have won on.
Bishara said that while in many similar cases the state has related to Beduin as trespassers with no right to be on the land, the lower court recognized that the Beduin are citizens and has already ruled that they were legally given the land by the state and have a right to be there.
The Adalah attorney noted that having won that factual argument, the Beduin could be viewed as closer to prevailing than others, as they can focus on the remaining legal argument that the state has no rationale purpose (such as security or environmental concerns) for removing them.
Still, the court on Wednesday leaned hard on the Beduin to accept various relocation compromises offered to them by the state, implying that if the Beduin do not accept a compromise, the court will have no choice but to uphold the lower court’s evacuation order.
The court implied that since the Beduin had not received the land for free but had paid for it and received limited rights in return, the state could abrogate the granting of the land, as long as the Beduin were justly compensated.
“For some things there is no compensation,” Bishara retorted to the court.
Adalah says that the village was established in 1956 by order of the military governor “after the Israeli army forcibly displaced its residents from their homes in the area of Wadi Zubaleh,” and that the villagers were given 700 hectares to live on and cultivate.
The court will hold another hearing on December 15, having asked both sides to provide updates on various issues.
Meanwhile, the Interior Committee held its third lively discussion on Wednesday with speakers for and against the proposed Prawer-Begin law, which seeks to regulate Beduin settlement throughout the Negev within five years.
Several Israeli Arab MKs and supporters from various human rights NGOs took part, claiming that the bill would result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land.
Labor MKs Omer Bar-Lev and Merav Michaeli expressed concerns, with Michaeli saying, “It is impossible not to recognize the historical injustice done to the Beduin.”
MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) argued that most Israelis do not want to exploit the Beduin, but that there was no legal way for them to register their land.
UAL-Ta’al MK Taleb Abu Arar criticized MK Miri Regev (Likud), who chairs the committee, accusing her of not managing the committee fairly.
The ultimate goal of the bill is to dispossess the Beduin and transfer them to another place, he asserted.
The representative from Regavim, an NGO that argues that the bill is too generous to the Beduin, was continually interrupted during his speech by Israeli Arab MKs and members of NGOs supporting the Beduin.
He said that 324 Beduin families are demanding 30,000 hectares. “This is unacceptable and we must not allow it.”
Prof. Gerald Steinberg of Bar- Ilan University and head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor was interrupted by Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg and MK Dov Henin (Hadash), who argued that the organization was not relevant to the discussion.
Steinberg argued that many NGOs active on the Negev Beduin issues present highly distorted claims and receive millions of shekels, mostly from European governments, erasing the Israeli democratic framework. They mix and confuse the complexities of the Negev with the settlements in the West Bank when presenting their arguments abroad, he said.
Former minister Bennie Begin, who is handling the Prawer-Begin bill for the government, concluded the meeting by stating that the new law would create “a change for the better” for the Beduin.
He added that NIS 500 million are budgeted for the plan.