Knesset panel debates Beduin resettlement bill

United Arab List-Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi tells panel “We demand that we be treated as equal citizens.”

Southern District police head with Beduin leaders 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Southern District police head with Beduin leaders 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Former minister Bennie Begin presented the Knesset Interior Committee on Wednesday with his proposed law to regulate Arab settlement in the Negev within five years.
Begin said the Prawer-Begin plan – which passed its first reading in the Knesset but returned to the committee for debate – would improve the quality of life for all residents of the Negev.
“For 30 years, only 200 Beduin land ownership claims were handled by the courts, out of a total of 3,200,” he said. “Without a law, no building plan can be promoted, and not having a law to deal with the issue is not healthy for anyone.”
The bill is facing opposition from both ends of the political spectrum: The Left and the Arab parties claim the plan is not generous enough, while the Right argues that it is too generous.
Attending the initial committee debate were numerous NGOs that support the Beduin, and many of the Arab MKs.
“We demand that we be treated as equal citizens,” stated MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al). “You will not find one area in which we are equal.”
Tibi called for an equal allocation of land and pointed out that many defense officials were behind the plan, demonstrating that the state saw Arabs as an enemy and not as citizens.
Amichai Yogev – the southern regional director of the NGO Regavim, which describes itself as aiming to ensure responsible, legal and accountable use of the country’s land – told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that it seemed that everyone there wanted to change the plan.
“Regavim is working now on two levels. First, it is trying to stop the law. Second, we are seeking to make changes to the law just in the case the law passes, in order to improve the bill so that it will not be as bad as it is now,” said Yogev.
UAL-Ta’al MK Taleb Abu Arar said the government was scared of what he called the right-wing-extremist Regavim, and that it was carrying out the organization’s wishes.
Suhad Bishara, director of the Land and Planning Rights Unit at the NGO Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, told the Post that the hearings were likely to go on for a few weeks so as to give everyone a chance to speak.
“We are trying to do the maximum to prevent [the plan] from passing. It is a very bad law for everyone, legally and politically,” she said.
Pro-Beduin NGOs such as Adalah are trying to recruit as many Knesset members as possible to vote against the plan, said Bishara.
However, in the event that the bill passes, she continued, Adalah has already begun planning for how to challenge the bill in court.
She added that there had been positive international responses from the EU, UN, and human rights NGOs, criticizing the plan.