A Guide for the Perplexed: Israel's Bedouin Resettlement Bill

The Prawer-Begin bill, approved in its first reading at the Knesset on June 25, offers a proposed solution for the many Bedouin living in southern Israel and claiming ownership of the land.

A new law meant to relocate nearly 30,000 Bedouin to recognized communities in the Negev was approved in its first Knesset reading on June 25 by a slim majority.

The Prawer-Begin outline proposes granting compensation to Bedouin who have been resettled and claim ownership of their land, either in money or in land (up to half the extent of the area). It also proposes requiring that compensation be granted, for up to one quarter of the claim, to those who no longer own land because they were evicted from it by the state.

As for recognizing villages, the outline says recognition of unrecognized villages should be enabled, but with limits: Recognition should occur only within designated areas and in accordance with planning rules, which are designed to support future infrastructure.

The British and the Ottomans recognized Bedouin ownership of the land in the framework of land arrangements and in legal agreements. A committee of experts, established the government in the 1960s, confirmed this.

What is the purpose of Prawer-Begin?

The measure is intended to recognize the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev as well as to resolve the land-ownership dispute by means of a special law the government is currently advancing.

How did the Prawer-Begin outline come about?

The outline applies the recommendations of a committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg. The committee was appointed to look at the issue of the Bedouin settlements and suggest solutions.

Why was there a need for an outline in the first place?

For years, the state tried, and failed, to create a sort of infrastructure of the Bedouin of the Negev. Part of population moved to recognized towns like Rahat or Lakiya, but unrecognized and illegally-built settlements continued to spread through the area. The government tried demolishing illegal buildings, but the problem continued to fester.

The government realized that the only way to settle the issue of Bedouin settlement in the Negev was to resolve current disputes concerning Bedouin ownership of the land. Only then would they be able to release land and establish recognized towns and cities.

What is the historical background of Bedouin settlement in the Negev?

Bedouin tribes have been in the Negev for many generations, either as fully nomadic communities or as nomads in stages of transition to permanent dwellings and agricultural activity. Their legal ownership of the land has never been officially recognized under the Land Law.

After the War of Independence most of the Bedouin were transferred to an area east of Highway 20 called Saij. Throughout the years they have continued to claim ownership of Negev land and to push for recognition.

Why are the Bedouin opposed to the proposed outline?

Human rights organizations and some representatives of the Bedouin community in the Negev argue that the new arrangement will make recognition of certain villages impossible, and will also lead to the eviction of tens of thousands of Bedouin from their homes. The Bedouin also argue that the lands arrangement gives only partial compensation (in money or land) to the landowners, which is significantly less than Jewish petitioners have received in similar compensation agreements.

According to Benny Begin, only a small part of the Bedouin population will be moved a very short distance from where they currently live. He says the Bedouin will gain a significant improvement in their living conditions, and will at last have electricity and water infrastructure, as well as the use of public institutions.

Why are some politicians on the right, as well as some settler groups, opposed to the proposed outline?

Some right-wing leaders, as well as some associations like Regavim, which gives legal support to settlements and outposts in the West Bank, argue there is no basis for recognizing Bedouin ownership of the land in the Negev. The proposed outline, they say, only further propels the illegal takeover of land and illegal construction. Instead of combating this phenomenon, they charge, the new outline enables the Bedouin to perpetuate their takeover of broad swathes of the northern Negev. They also argue that the outline has no practical basis since there is not enough land available to provide what is needed for compensating the Bedouin.

Eliyahu Hershowitz
Dudi Vaknin