A new law meant to relocate nearly 30,000 Bedouin to recognized communities in the Negev was approved in its first Knesset reading on Monday by a slim majority.
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The vote on the Begin-Prawer plan was held following a tense Knesset session, in which the Arab Knesset members ripped up copies of the bill on the Knesset floor during the debate and then walked out.
The bill passed by a vote of 43-40. To become law, it must pass two more Knesset readings. But it could also be modified in committee prior to subsequent votes by the full Knesset.
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation last month approved the law to resolve land-use issues related to the population, after Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel managed to reach a series of compromises with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former minister Benny Begin on that matter to win the support of the Habayit Hayehudi party.
As part of the draft legislation, some 20,000 to 30,000 Bedouin are to be relocated to officially recognized towns in the Negev including Rahat, Khura and Ksayfe. Those who are moved are to receive financial compensation as well as new plots of land. The plan is estimated to cost the state NIS 6.8 billion.
The plan has sparked fury in the Bedouin community, who call it immoral and impractical.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch had voiced earlier concern that additional police would need to be hired to enforce the plan, which calls for relocating the Bedouin to recognized communities. But he received a commitment that the bill would be returned to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which initially approved it, if funding for the necessary extra staff is not forthcoming.
Former Knesset speaker MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) urged his colleagues to demonstrate leadership and press ahead with the legislation. "True, this solution involves a change in the Bedouin's way of life, but we are trying to bring about a historic solution," he said. "If there are comments on specific provisions, they can be considered as the final version of the bill takes shape."
Members of the Likud party, which initiated the draft, had refused to present it to Knesset prior to Monday's vote.The coalition had enlisted support for the plan from Welfare Minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid), former mayor of the city of Dimona, who urged Arab MKs: "Instead of spitting and shouting, come and listen."
"Look at the 200,000 [Bedouin], who are citizens just like me," Cohen beseeched the Arab MKs. "They are not the bad guys in this story. It's a sad human story that has to be put in order. Believe me, it's possible to do."
But all the Arab MKs present, including Balad MKs Jamal Zahalka and MK Haneen Zoabi, were outraged. MK Mohammed Barakeh of the Hadash party stated, "This bill is an obscenity and it belongs in the garbage can" as he tore up a copy of the Prawer bill.
When Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat called Barakeh insolent, he shot back: "Shut your mouth." Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said he would file a complaint with the Knesset Ethics Committee over Barakeh's conduct.
For his part, United Arab List-Ta'al MK Ahmed Tibi said the bill would disinherit and expel people from their lands and homes a second or third time, a reference at least in part to the dislocation of Bedouin during the 1948 War of Independence. He then poured water on a copy of the bill and tore it up.