Heated debate in Knesset over Bedouin resettlement

Balad MK calls proposed legislation a ‘transfer plan’; Jewish Home MKs say Bedouin communities have been uncooperative

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of a Bedouin village in the Negev, February 2013 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a Bedouin village in the Negev, February 2013 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Jewish and Arab MKs exchanged fiery words during a special Knesset hearing on Wednesday to discuss the resettling of Bedouin communities, accusing each other of deliberately thwarting plans to solve the ongoing land ownership crises in Israel’s south.

The hearing, led by Likud MK Miri Regev, was interrupted several times by MKs on both sides of the debate, leading to the removal of some participants from the Knesset hall.

The “Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev,” on which debate was held during the hearing, is based on a plan drawn up by former Likud minister Benny Begin. It was approved by the Cabinet in January and passed by a thin majority in the Knesset in June.

The plan called for the government to officially recognize and register the vast majority of Bedouin settlements in Israel’s south, and to compensate those whom the government planned to move off state-owned land.

Balad MK Jamal Zahalke, a fierce opponent of the bill, called the legislation “disturbing” and said it would not be accepted by the Negev’s Bedouin inhabitants.

“This is a transfer plan, it is a colonial scheme that does not respect the country’s citizens,” Zahalke said. “The plan is destructive for Arabs and is only beneficial for Jews,” he added.

Arab-Israeli MKs Jamal Zahalka (L) and Basel Ghattas (R) seen at an Internal Affairs and Enviornment committee meeting in the Knesset, during a discussion regarding a bill regulating the Bedouin settlements. November 13, 2013. (photo credit: Flash 90)
Arab-Israeli MKs Jamal Zahalke, left, and Basel Ghattas are seen during a debate regarding a bill regulating Bedouin settlements, in the Knesset, November 13, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

MK Dov Khenin of Hadash also expressed his concern about the law and said that it sets the stage for the evictions of entire communities on a nationalist basis. Khenin went on to say that the law includes unprecedented sanctions such as the evacuation of civilians from their homes within 30 days.

Jewish Home party representatives who were active in pushing the bill forward responded to the accusations and said that the Bedouin community had been uncooperative and had not been receptive to dialogue.

“The Negev belongs to the people of Israel and we are allowing you to be there,” MK Orit Strock charged at the Arab representatives present Wednesday.

Jewish Home’s Zvulun Kalfa stated, “I see here all these human rights organizations and am surprised, if human rights are so important to you, where were you when they expelled me from my home in Gush Katif?”

On Sunday, the Israeli government authorized construction plans for two new settlements in the southern Negev region, one of which is slated to be established on territory currently inhabited by a number of unrecognized Bedouin communities.

The plans for Hiran and Kassif were announced during a special cabinet meeting that took place at the Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute in Sde Boker, marking the fortieth anniversary of the death of Israel’s first prime minister.

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