Bedouin houses in the Negev.
Bedouin houses in the Negev. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkowitz
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Representatives of Negev Bedouin will turn to the international community in an effort to keep the Israeli cabinet from approving a plan that would involve demolishing or moving some of their communities.

The cabinet was scheduled to vote on the plan Sunday in its regular weekly meeting but the vote was postponed for further deliberations.

The plan calls for relocating between 20,000 and 30,000 Bedouin residents of unrecognized villages in the Negev to existing Bedouin communities such as Rahat, Kseifa and Hura. These communities would be expanded to accommodate the new inhabitants.

At a press conference in Be'er Sheva Sunday, representatives of human rights organizations and Bedouin rights activists announced their opposition to the plan and to the changes introduced by National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror on the instructions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The representatives are to meet again Monday to discuss their campaign against the plan.

Awad Abu Farih, a leading activist on behalf of the unrecognized Bedouin villages, said Sunday that a demonstration is planned for September 18 across from the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. In addition, the representatives plan to ask UN institutions, including the United Nations Human Rights Council, to recognize the rights of the Bedouin as an indigenous people.

"As far as we're concerned there's nothing to discuss with the cabinet as long as they keep us out of the decision making process and try to impose the plan and the solutions, which deprives the Bedouin of their lands," Abu Farih said.

The activists base their claims on a recent report issued by the UN's Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Prof. James Anaya. Anaya's report criticized the Israeli government's refusal to recognize the Bedouin living within its borders as an indigenous people. The report makes specific recommendations to the government, including carrying out "a comprehensive review of its land and development policies that affect Bedouin people living in the Negev, giving due attention to the recommendations in relevant reports of the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination," in order to "ensure that all laws and administrative practices related to lands and development align with international standards concerning rights of indigenous people to lands, territories and resources."

Speaking at the press conference Sunday, MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al ) was harsh in his criticism of the government.

"We are gathered together at a defining moment in the history of the Bedouin of the Negev and in the relationship between that population and the state," Sana said. "For years the Bedouin citizens of the state have suffered from policies and discrimination and deprivation ... We waited for a change in policy, when [retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer] Goldberg was appointed [to head a committee tasked to find solutions for problems facing Negev Bedouin] we thought the state finally got smart, but we soon realized it was more of the same," Sana said.

"We are dealt with from the security perspective, as a hostile element, Amidror's appointment brought us no hope," Sana said.

The Goldberg committee had drawn up broad recommendations, which were translated into a master plan by a panel headed by Ehud Prawer, head of the Policy Planning Department in the PMO.

Representatives of the Bedouin intend to submit to the cabinet an alternative master plan, drafted together with the Regional Council of Unrecognized Bedouin Villages, the official representative body for the inhabitants of these communities, and with Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights. The alternative plan calls for recognizing the 35 unrecognized villages and providing the necessary infrastructure lacking in these communities.