Government Bedouin land plan deemed impossible

Scheme to recognize tribal ownership of large Negev tracts includes sites that are home to army bases and security facilities

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Bedouin woman herds sheep in her village in the Negev, February 2012. (photo credit: Alana Perino/FLASH90)
Bedouin woman herds sheep in her village in the Negev, February 2012. (photo credit: Alana Perino/FLASH90)

A recently approved plan to transfer ownership of large tracts of land in the Negev to Bedouin ownership includes areas that are being used for army bases, national infrastructure installations and roads.

Of the 222,000 dunams (54,000 acres) of land included in the plan, half is unavailable, Maariv reported on Thursday.

The scheme, proposed by outgoing minister Benny Begin, was hastily approved at a cabinet meeting less than two weeks ago.

“It’s simply crazy,” a source working with the Bedouin settlement authorities told Maariv. “We are missing 100,000 dunams needed to carry out the government decision.”

The source added that even if all the army bases were handed over to the Bedouin there still wouldn’t be enough land to parcel out for all those who have a claim.

“Somebody has done negligent work and dragged down the whole government of Israel with it,” the source said.

However, the Prime Minister’s Office insisted in a statement that the plan was still workable.

“The details were checked before the government decision and they show that all of the land area requirements are covered, as decided by the government,” the statement read.

The blueprint calls for the country to officially recognize and register the vast majority of the Bedouin settlements throughout the south of Israel and compensate those the state plans to move off of state-owned land.

Ministers received the recommendations of the plan just two days before the meeting, the Israel Land Administration barely half a day before that, and neither the army nor the Defense Ministry approved the plan before the cabinet gave it the thumbs up. Authorities tasked with resettling the Negev Bedouin also received the plan just two days before the meeting.

The ILA told Maariv that it had passed on its recommendations to Begin before the government meeting. The ILA pointed out that it was not required to review the suggestions that led to the government decision.

Authorities tasked with solving the Bedouin problem who checked the lie of the land struck off 30 percent of the area included in the plan. These are areas that include rocky territory unsuitable for residential use and herding, or include Bezeq, water authority and electric company installations, roads, or land that has been designated for future railway lines. Another 60,000-80,000 dunams are taken up by IDF bases or other strategic installations. All in all, only 85,000 dunams (20,000 acres) are left to accommodate the Bedouin currently living in the Negev and to set up new Bedouin settlements.

Immediately after its approval at the end of January the plan drew criticism from both the Jewish and Bedouin communities in the Negev.

Jewish residents complained that the plan rewarded the semi-nomadic Bedouin after they have for many years illegally seized land that they refer to as ancestral. The Bedouin argued that the scheme would still require relocating thousands of people from their homes.

A year and a half ago the government first proposed that 120,000 dunams (30,000 acres) of land in the Negev be given to the Bedouin. However, after Begin met with hundreds of local Bedouin and aid groups to get their take on the plan he suggested expanding the scheme to 220,000 dunams.

The IDF maintains bases and training grounds across the Negev. In September 2012 work began in the area on constructing the army’s largest ever training base as part of a plan to relocate many facilities from lucrative real estate elsewhere in the country.

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