Bedouin Mayor Says Israeli Lawmakers Painting False Picture for Public

Shirly Seidler
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Shirly Seidler

Members of the Knesset's Interior Affairs Committee toured Bedouin towns in Israel's south on Sunday as dozens of residents and supporters, including Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi, rallied against a government decision to destroy local villages. 

Only five of the 14-member panel joined the tour: chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud), Zvulun Kalfa (Habayit Hayehudi), Nahman Shai (Labor), Moshe Feiglin (Likud) and David Tzur (Hatnuah).

The tour stopped in the Bedouin towns of Rahat, Lakiya and al-Sayid.

In response to the protesters’ anger over the fact that no representative of the Bedouin community had been asked to join the tour, Regev said another tour was planned that would be led by Arab lawmakers.

During the tour, Regev said in Rahat that the city was a model to be emulated by all Bedouin towns, calling it “one of the great successes, in infrastructure and multi-story construction.”

Rahat Mayor Talal Al-Krenawi, however, said Regev had painted far too rosy a picture.

"Regev has yet to visit Rahat in an orderly manner, and has yet to see the adversities faced by the city, even though we have made achievements," he said. "The gaps between Rahat and Jewish cities are great."

He noted that the lawmakers' visit wasn't coordinated with the municipality.

"They shouldn't have entered the city through the window, secretly," he said. "They could have talked to me and I would have hosted them at city hall."

Regev said the matter of Bedouin settlement had not been properly dealt with since the establishment of the state because of “fear over what would happen,” but that a state governed by the rule of law “must care for its citizens.”

The Prawer-Begin plan, against which the Bedouin rallied, would require tens of thousands living in tent camps and shantytowns unrecognized by the state to move to recognized communities. It would also grant recognition to some, but not all, of these traditional settlements.

The law also grants compensation to Bedouin who have been resettled and claim ownership of land, with the compensation coming either in money or land (up to half the extent of the area claimed). The law further requires that compensation be granted, for up to one quarter of the claim, to those who no longer own land because the state evicted them from it.

The demonstrators, among them a large number of children affected by a general strike held as part of the protest, encountered numerous police who were there to prevent an altercation with the MKs. Protesters held up signs against the expulsion of Bedouin from their lands.

While voices on the left protest the law because they say it will involve the uprooting of Bedouin, right-wingers protest what they call “free gifts” they say the Bedouin will receive. Feiglin said: “The state feels an obligation to give private developed land to anybody who asks for it and yet they [the Bedouins] are against it. Why don’t my children get a lot to build a house on for free like they are giving the inhabitants of [the unrecognized villages]?” he demanded.

Feiglin added that what the government gives the Bedouin “they’ll take and what they are supposed to give they won’t. Their demands will only grow.” Feiglin said the solution is “to recognize that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Knesset Member Miri Regev visits Rahat alongside members of the Knesset's Interior Affairs Committee. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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