Police Unit Being Formed to Resettle Bedouin in Israel's South

New unit to number some 100 law-enforcers in the first stage; another 100 or so are expected to be enlisted later on.

A new police unit is being set up to enforce eviction and destruction orders served by the Israel Lands Administration to Bedouin in the Negev, and to deal with Bedouin incursions onto state lands.

Israel Police's Southern District has been recruiting dozens of police officers in the past few weeks, to join the new unit, which will number some 100 law-enforcers in the first stage. Another 100 or so officers are expected to be enlisted at a later stage. Most of the officers are new recruits, but others will be transferred from existing units.

The demolition of illegal construction in the Negev village of El Aragib.Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The unit will be part of the coordinating authority in the Prime Minister's Office, whose duty it is to apply land laws in the Negev on the basis of recommendations from the Goldberg Committee that looked into the matter of Bedouin settlements in 2008. Following a government decision on the matter last September, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch began setting up the unit, which, he said, will start operating in August 2012. The unit, which does not yet have an organized operational plan, will operate in coordination with government offices including the Interior Ministry, the ILA, the Environmental Protection Ministry's Green Police unit, and the PMO.

Residents of the south have criticized the plan to set up the unit, saying that it is a mistake to use the police to solve land disputes. "We do not need the police in order to reach an agreement. We must sit down and solve the issue through negotiations," said Ibrahim al-Wakili, who heads the regional council of unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev. "We are not interested in a confrontation with the police officers who ... in the past, used violent force in front of young children."

Minister Benny Begin (Likud ) has visited the Bedouin settlements in the Negev several times since September. He has held talks with the residents in what he says was an attempt to understand their needs and their positions on the resettlement matter.

Three weeks ago, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on the Israeli government to withdraw a draft law for regulating the settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev, known as the Prawer Plan, saying that it was discriminatory and would legalize racist practices. The plan envisages the transfer of some 30,000 Bedouin residents from unrecognized villages to new neighborhoods in existing Bedouin towns and villages, including Rahat, Kseifa and Hura. Under the proposal, the Bedouin would receive alternate lands in these communities as well as monetary compensations.

The plan is expected to cost some NIS 6.8 billion, of which NIS 1.2 billion would go toward development in existing Bedouin communities.