Bedouins Facing Expulsion From Villages

Israel Says Plan Will Give Ancient Negev Tribes Better Services

Barren Home: Bedouins are resisting relocation from ancient villages in the stark Negev Desert of southern Israel. The government insists it has their interests at heart.
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Barren Home: Bedouins are resisting relocation from ancient villages in the stark Negev Desert of southern Israel. The government insists it has their interests at heart.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published November 22, 2011, issue of December 02, 2011.
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The Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages and the advocacy organization Bimkom — Planners for Planning Rights have released a rival master plan in which they argue that the state could legalize the unrecognized villages without violating any of its planning principles. They put forward “a diverse and agreed planning solution based on the existing Bedouin settlements, which would be integrated in the overall planning of the Beersheba metropolitan area.”

Many critics of the government’s plan think that planning rules and Bedouin community development are not the government’s real priorities. Aburabia considers the plan to be intentional “ethnic displacement.” She told the Forward: “If there were a plan that said we should concentrate 100 rural Jewish communities into 30 towns, nobody would think it reasonable. But the objective with Bedouins is to have the maximum number of Bedouins on the minimum amount of land possible, concentrated [just] in the northern Negev.”

Aburabia believes that the new legislation constitutes a push to reduce the footprint of the Bedouins while increasing the Jewish footprint in the Negev. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is open about the fact that he is deeply concerned about the demographics of the desert, keen to boost the Jewish population there to ensure a Jewish majority. On October 30, his Cabinet advanced plans for 10 new Jewish communities in the Negev. But his office insists that the two policy areas are unrelated. “The Bedouin issue is completely disconnected,” Gendelman said. “The plan is for the benefit of the Bedouins, period.”

As the villages slated for evacuation are considered illegal by Israel, inhabitants do not receive services like sewage and country’s electricity grid. “You cannot say they don’t have the standard of living of other Israelis and criticize when we give that,” Gendelman argued.

Bilha Givon, executive director of the Sustainable Development for the Negev, a not-for-profit organization that works with Jewish and Bedouin residents of that area, shares Gendelman’s frustration about Bedouin resistance to the plan. “Israel is not an apartheid country. [Bedouins] have the rights, but every time you offer something, [community] groups won’t accept it, so you can’t achieve anything,” said Givon, a member of the Goldberg Commission, the 2008 panel that came up with the original principles that Praver’s committee was asked to implement.

But another member of the Goldberg Commission, Faisal el-Huzayel, former deputy mayor of the Bedouin city of Rahat, told the Forward that his community is right to reject the plan. In his view, the final Goldberg report was too harsh on Bedouins, and the Praver report even more so. He believes that the new policy will accentuate tensions between Israel and Bedouins, a traditionally loyal minority, some of whom serve in the army. “Not giving land rights can cause conflict, can lead to violence,” he said. “The Bedouins will not agree to leave, and will say, ‘Why should I give up my home?’”

This theme was common during the Bedouins’ visit to the United States. “Ultimately it will accentuate the Jewish-Arab conflict in Israel,” said Remba, the Jewish Bedouin advocate. The plan creates a “security risk,” he said, because in the long run, the evacuees “will fight back.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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