Government bill aims to regulate Bedouin settlement

Civil rights group says legislation ‘compounds concerns of ethnic discrimination’

An unrecognized Bedouin village in the northern Negev (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)
An unrecognized Bedouin village in the northern Negev (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

The Knesset Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Monday approved a bill that outlines the framework of government policies vis-à-vis the Bedouin population in the Negev, the evacuation of unrecognized villages and the ownership of land.

The “Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev” is based on the Begin Plan, drawn up by former minister Benny Begin (Likud) and approved by the Cabinet in January. That plan called for the country to officially recognize and register the vast majority of the Bedouin settlements throughout the south of Israel and to compensate those whom the state plans to move off state-owned land.

Approval of the bill was based on three key changes to the Begin Plan, negotiated over the weekend between members of the Yisrael Beytenu and Jewish Home parties and between Begin and National Security Council Chairman Yaakov Amidror.

A major clause inserted into the bill asserts that a map demarcating the area in question would accurately show the lands set to be allocated for the plan and clearly differentiate between parts allocated for the Bedouin and those that weren’t designated for their use. Ministers also reserve the right to look at the map before final approval.

The second change limits the period needed for implementation. The Begin Plan originally called for a time frame of five years, but the new bill will aim to implement the plan within three years, without the option to further extend the implementation. Thus, the current government can ensure that it will oversee full implementation of the plan while still in power.

Another critical issue was the supervision of the implementation of the plan. Jewish Home insisted that a ministerial committee be established to oversee implementation. MK Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) is set to chair that committee.

In January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Begin Plan was aimed at ending the 65-year-long reality wherein the state lost control of land settled by semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes. It would also “put an end to the spread of illegal building by Negev Bedouin and lead to better integration of the Bedouin into Israeli society,” he said.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) slammed the bill, warning that “if it becomes law, [it] will cause the displacement and forced eviction of dozens of villages and tens of thousands of Bedouin residents, dispossessing them of their property and historical rights to the lands, destroying the social fabric of their communities, and sealing the fate of thousands of families into poverty and unemployment.”

ACRI further claimed that the bill, like the Begin Plan, seeks to “restrict the Bedouin to a specific area and to forcibly apply this policy,” while implying that “no Bedouin settlements will be established beyond this predefined area — compounding concerns of ethnic discrimination.”

The organization also alleges that the plan harms the rule of law in Israel. “The attempt to create a special arrangement on land issues for a specific group severely undermines not just the principle of the rule of law but also the principle of equality under the law,” wrote ACRI in a statement on the issue.

It also accused the state of treating its Bedouin population like “squatters” and their ownership claims as illegitimate, while simultaneously promoting “the establishment of new Jewish communities, some of which are due to be built on the ruins of Bedouin villages.”

The organization called on the state to make an effort to take into account the community’s needs, the unique agricultural nature of the villages, and the Bedouins’ patterns for settlement, land ownership and family and social customs, while “recogniz[ing] the Bedouin’s historic rights to their lands.”

A demonstration against the bill organized by ACRI took place on Monday in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

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