Gov’t approves plan for disputed Beduin lands

Negative reactions meet decision to establish 38% of Beduin land in Negev under state control, demolish some structures.

Beduin man in al-Arakib tent 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Beduin man in al-Arakib tent 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
The government on Sunday approved a plan for dealing with the issue of disputed Beduin communities in the Negev as well as for opening certain areas to new settlements by a vote of 16-3-1, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
In what the Prime Minister’s Office characterized as “a compromise” which was “vital,” 62 percent of land claimed by Beduin will remain under their control, while 38% will be recognized as state land and any Beduin structures which remain on it will be demolished if necessary, Israel Radio reported.
The government decision both stipulates that those Beduin being relocated will receive compensation, and lays the groundwork for new Jewish settlements in the Negev.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, “The goal of this historic decision is to put an end to the spread of illegal building by Negev Beduin and lead to the better integration of the Beduin into Israeli society. All governments have avoided dealing with this issue, but this brave decision will facilitate the continued development and prosperity of the Negev, for the benefit of all its residents.”
The press release said that the Beduin have five years to accept the plan before their claims to land become null and void.
Negative reactions to the decision were swift from both sides of the debate.
On one side, critics say that Israel’s modern way of life should not be imposed on the Beduin more than they wish and that it is unjust to take away their historic lands regardless of how poorly some of their land claims may be documented.
On the other side, the plan is viewed as too generous, rewarding the Beduin for building “illegally” without permits and for being unwilling to agree to any boundaries.
An Israel Radio report said that a Beduin representative opposed any arrangement other than full government recognition of all of their communities, with no forced relocation.
In expectation of the decision, Adalah representative Dr. Tavat Abu Ras said that the details on the ground were tricky and that in the end the Beduins would “still lose most of their land in return for symbolic recognition of a few villages.”
The head of the Omer council said that it showed “that when you press, you receive,” suggesting the Beduin had protested loudly enough that the government had caved in to most of their demands, said the report.
Ironically, the government decision came a day after the announcement that the High Court of Justice had rejected a petition by Regavim to scrap that very decision for giving up too much land which could be used for future Jewish settlement.
The High Court rejected Regavim’s petition largely based on the fact that at the time of both the filing and the hearing, there had been no official government decision that could be opposed.
Nevertheless, the High Court’s reasoning left wide open the possibility of filing a new petition.
There is also a possibility that the Beduin communities and some of the human rights groups fighting on their side will also petition the High Court against the government decision.
The decision also said NIS 1.2 billion would be invested in revitalizing Beduin communities.
The Jerusalem Report contributed to this story.