Israel’s Bedouin Face Displacement Despite Apparent Gov’t Concessions

While seemingly abandoning plan to forcefully urbanize Bedouin of Negev Desert, Israeli gov’t continues to push forward the multi-billion dollar Prawer plan

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Story Transcript

LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN PRODUCER: On November 30, the Bedouin Arabs of Israel’s Negev Desert launched a coordinated day of protest that saw solidarity around the world. They were protesting the so-called Prawer law that would forcefully urbanize them and on the lands from which their villages would be demolished construct Jewish ones.

The next Thursday, the member of parliament in charge of the plan–of which the law is but one part–surprised many when in a press conference held at the defense department he announced his resignation and that he has recommended the prime minister drop the law.

BENNY BEGIN, FMR. ISRAELI MINISTER, COARCHITECT OF PRAWER PLAN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Since the Internal Affairs Committee began debating the law proposal, the right and the left, Jews and Arabs, united to take advantage of the suffering of many Bedouin and stir up the situation until it nearly spills over, to capitalize politically on that struggling.

TARACHANSKY: Ehud Prawer, after which the plan is named, is the deputy head of the National Security Council for domestic policy, and he was handpicked by the prime minister when the direction the government decided to go was away from negotiations.

Major General Doron Almog, the man chosen to implement the plan in the field, was also plucked out of the security echelon and handed a multibillion-dollar budget.

It was therefore even more surprising that two days later, in his weekly cabinet meeting, the prime minister did not mention a word about the plan’s sudden abandonment. Instead, the prime minister talked about the handling of the snowstorm that hit Jerusalem.

Atiaa al Asam is the head of the Bedouins Coalition of Unrecognized Villages.

ATIAA AL ASAM, COALITION OF UNRECOGNIZED BEDOUIN VILLAGES: The Prawer Plan, from what we understand and from what we’re seeing, is built on four stages. The first step is to destroy the unrecognized villages, and they’re already working on that. Secondly, to remove the people from their destroyed villages. Thirdly, concentrate them in the recognized towns. And the fourth is to establish in their place villages for Jewish residents. And they’ve already declared that in the area they’re clearing they want to build 20 Jewish towns.

TARACHANSKY: While its official title is the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlements in the Negev, the plan details what to do with their lands but does not actually address the settlements of the Bedouin or their 35 villages that the government refuses to recognize. Many of these villages are slated for destruction and already experience weekly home demolitions.

To address the plan, students and activists at Tel Aviv University held a panel on November 8.

Shahda Ibn Bari is a Bedouin lawyer representing the unrecognized villages.

SHAHDA IBN BARI, LAWYER REPRESENTING UNRECOGNIZED VILLAGES (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The Bill for the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlements in the Negev, it turns out its actual purpose is to register the land to the state. People are sitting in their houses, and as I found out yesterday from one of the residents, workers already came to measure the plots where to settle the Jewish village. The Bedouin village isn’t even destroyed yet. The people live there. Their trees are standing.

TARACHANSKY: In places such as Um al-Hiran, the Bedouin village will be replaced with a Jewish one populated by settlers deployed from the southern West Bank settlement of Susya. As The Real News previously reported, the targeting of Um al-Hiran is likely linked to its location immediately south of the West Bank border. And as the former mayor of the nearby Jewish town of Arad wrote, it sits on strategic ground for potential future land exchanges with the Palestinian Authority as part of a negotiated peace agreement. Creating a band of Jewish villages around the West Bank would make it far more difficult to relinquish the land, therefore changing the facts on the ground.

Meanwhile, Um al-Hiran sits as a collection of shacks without a connection to electricity or water. Its residents, all of whom serve in the Israeli army, are forbidden to build homes on their land despite being settled there by the Israeli government itself in the 1950s.

AL ASAM: This country doesn’t treat the Bedouin as equal citizens. The state deals with the Bedouin as intruders, and its strategy is not to leave the Bedouin lands and register it as state land, because, as the government always says, this is a state for Jews.

TARACHANSKY: But the Bedouin, who are citizens of Israel and who serve in its army, are no longer protected by many of its laws.

IBN BARI: This law overrides the other laws that apply to all the citizens of the state. For example, the Lands Law that is applied on all citizens, with this law they excluded it. The same was done with the inheritance law. They simply decided that since the Lands Law says that they need a demolition order to destroy a house, now they don’t. This law doesn’t even apply to the state, not to the Jewish citizens, not to the institutions, not on the JNF or the lone farms that sit on the same lands, but only on the Bedouin.

PROF. ALEXANDER KEDAR, FACULTY OF LAW, HAIFA UNIV. (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): On the [Bedouin] issue, the legal system has completely failed. The Bedouin were brought to a situation where they’ve got nothing to lose. And since they have nothing to lose, it’ll be very hard to implement. The price Israel would have to pay to implement this plan will be a lot of bloodshed.

TARACHANSKY: Despite Begin’s stepping down, it appears no aspect of the Prawer Plan or law has actually been scrapped. Instead, four days after the general’s dramatic resignation, the Internal Affairs Committee, headed by extreme right-wing parliamentarian Miri Regev, continue to discuss the law as if nothing had happened.

Seeing that Begin’s stepping down stopped the rising protest movement that began making links between the struggles of the Bedouin and that of the Palestinians, as well as activists all over Israel, the occupied territories, and around the world, last Sunday the Israeli prime minister quietly replaced Begin with Colonel Yair Shamir, a member of parliament from the right-wing party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The same day, the government released a short statement only in Hebrew confirming that the Prawer Plan is indeed still going forward, only not under the prime minister’s direct supervision. In a single sentence, the statement announced that the Prawer Plan will now be headed by the Ministry of Agriculture, which Shamir heads.

On Tuesday, Minister Shamir toured the Negev to familiarize himself with the landscape, followed by dozens of Israeli diplomats bused there by the foreign ministry. After the tour, Shamir told The Jerusalem Post that his first objective would be to gain the Bedouins’ trust and negotiate with them, but if no agreement was reached, the government would implement the plan by force.

For The Real News, I’m Lia Tarachansky in the Negev Desert, southern Israel.

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