Al-Zarnog and Beit El: A tale of two settlements

The State of Israel is a country with one justice system and set of laws for Jews and Arabs alike. Or is it?

Al-Zarnog 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Meir Deutsch, Regavim)
Al-Zarnog 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Meir Deutsch, Regavim)
In the beginning of the twentieth century, a group of Zionist Jews acquired a parcel of land measuring around 65 hectare (26 acres) in the Negev, in the area of Moshav Nabatim, between Beersheba and Dimona. It was registered in the names of the purchasers in the Land Registry of the British Mandate, and after the establishment of the state, in the Israel Land Registry (Tabu). Over time, their successors' names were also registered.
However, even though the land was fully registered in the names of the legal owners in the land registry, the Beduin of the Abu Kwider tribe took control of the land and established an illegal settlement called Al-Zarnog. At various times the many landowners wrote to local authorities yet their pleas for help were ignored. Today this illegal settlement contains more than 350 solid structures, mostly homes, all of which were built illegally, on land privately owned by Jews.
There is no need to mention that throughout the years the authorities did not act to prevent the establishment of the settlement and definitely did not move to destroy its illegal buildings.
This week, Regavim, an Israeli not for profit organization dedicated to the protection of national land, turned to the minister of the interior and other relevant enforcement authorities, in the names of the landowners, to demand the evacuation of the illegal Beduin settlement and the return of the land to its true owners.
In stark contrast to the hundreds of Beduin settlements that were established in recent years on state land in the Negev, Al- Zarnog is built on private land. As such, in accordance with rulings made by the Supreme Court, a settlement or neighborhood established on private land must be demolished. Furthermore the court in similar cases ruled that the state must enforce the law post haste, and take measures to evacuate and destroy the hundreds of homes and other buildings as soon as possible.
In view of the failure today in the Knesset to pass the settlement arrangement bill there is no further legal recourse left but for the government to destroy the Al-Zarnog settlement.
Regavim’s communications this week to the enforcement authorities regarding Al-Zarnog relied clearly on the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Ulpana neighborhood.
It is important to note, whereas in the Ulpana neighborhood there is a real land dispute with the current residents believing that they purchased the land legally, no such hindrance exists in Al-Zarnog.
Could it be possible that the state prosecutor, the attorney general and even the prime minister will adopt a position regarding Al- Zarnog that is different from the one they took and continue to take regarding the Ulpana neighborhood? That would be shocking, wouldn’t it? The State of Israel is a country with one justice system and set of laws for Jews and Arabs alike as stated clearly in our Declaration of Independence. Or is it?
The writer works for Regavim.
Regavim is an independent professional research institute & policy planning think tank, incorporated as a private not for profit organization. The mission of the institute is to ensure the responsible, legal and environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands and the return of the rule of law to all areas and aspects of the land and its preservation.