Bedouin Leaders Mobilize Against Israeli Bill Meant to Relocate Communities

Community leaders say they'll go to UN to foil plan approved by ministerial committee which would uproot them from their Negev homes and resettle them in recognized villages.

Bedouin leaders of unrecognized communities in the Negev held an emergency meeting Wednesday night in order to fight a bill that they say would compel them to leave their current homes. The meeting follows the decision of a ministerial committee to approve a bill to regulate Bedouin settlement in the Negev.

The Council of Unrecognized Villages and the Council for Equality and Justice for the Bedouins said the proposed law would forcibly uproot Bedouin communities.

The community’s leaders, who are trying to unify their ranks in the face of the bill, which they called discriminatory and said it would compel the Bedouin to move to centralized locations.

The proposal calls for the relocation of up to 30,000 Negev Bedouin from areas not recognized by the government as residential locations. Known as the Prawer plan, it was approved by the cabinet in September, based on a proposal developed by a team headed by Ehud Prawer, policy planning chief in the PMO.

At that time, the cabinet also approved a NIS 1.2 billion economic development program for Bedouin Negev.

The speakers called on the government to cooperate with the Bedouin in building agricultural villages in keeping with their needs and to ensure equality in services to unrecognized villages. They also demanded that Housing Minister Uri Ariel not be allowed to be involved in the plan.

“The plan leaves us only 17 percent of the land under our ownership. I hope there won’t be violence although I see how the state is pressuring and pressuring the Bedouin and in the end [the community] will erupt,” Atiah al-Assasm, head of the Council of Unrecognized Villages, said.

A large number of Bedouin women were prominent at Wednesday’s meeting. Attorney Rawiya Aburabia, from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, spoke at the meeting, calling the plan racist. “The state and its authorities have declared war on the Bedouin. This meeting is to convey a clear message: We will not accept this quietly. The state must recognize all the unrecognized villages immediately and not forcibly enact plans.”

The Bedouin leadership intends to launch a media campaign against the plan in Israel and abroad, including approaches to local and foreign human rights groups with the goal of pressuring the government not to implement it. “We also intend to go to the United Nations against this plan, and to turn to lawyers from the European Union, to demand [action] from Israel with regard to the 65 Bedouin communities that have no infrastructure, transportation or water, ” al-Assad said.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz