Israel's Contentious Bedouin Relocation Plan Passes PM's Office Panel

'Prawer Plan' calls for relocation of up to 30,000 Bedouin from areas not recognized by the government as residential locations.

A five-year economic development plan for Israeli Bedouin has been approved by a steering committee in the Prime Minister's Office, as part of operational plans for relocating tens of thousands of Bedouin to officially recognized communities.

The proposal calls for the relocation of up to 30,000 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 the head of policy planning in the PMO, Ehud Prawer. At that time, the cabinet also approved a NIS 1.2 billion economic development program for Bedouin Negev.

Alberto Denkberg

Moving the plans on a stage, the steering committee, which gave its nod of approval on Monday, said the development plan includes increased support for officially recognized Bedouin local authorities and improvement of living conditions, community life and economic standards in the recognized communities. The plan calls for the involvement of 16 different ministries and agencies, including the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, and the Education, Transportation, Energy and Water Resources, and Housing and Construction ministries. Among the many officials who attended Monday's meeting was Prawer himself.

The announcement of the committee decision this week falls the same week as Land Day, being marked on Friday to commemorate the anniversary of protests over government land policy in Israeli-Arab communities. This year the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee in the Israeli-Arab community has called for the main Land Day protest march in Israel to be held at the site of an unrecognized Bedouin community in the Negev that is due to be evacuated.

In September, the cabinet's approval of the Prawer committee's recommendations was slammed by protesters, who claimed the Bedouin were not consulted. The cabinet decision called for communities and employment centers for the Bedouin to be established along three main routes - the Rahat-Be'er Sheva road, the Shoket junction-Tel Arad road, and the Be'er Sheva-Dimona road. The communities' boundaries are to be drawn based on existing farming patterns and the inclusion of land allocated by the government.

The plan also includes giving alternate land to relocated Bedouin who can prove they owned land until 1979. Others will receive monetary compensation. The plan also provides for recognition of some unrecognized communities in areas that the regional master plan for the greater Be'er Sheva area has already designated as residential.

A total of some 70,000 Bedouin currently live in unrecognized villages in the Negev.

Carrot and stick

The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee and the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages are waging a campaign against the Prawer plan. One of the campaign organizers, Said Harumi, said he viewed the plan to provide assistance to the recognized Bedouin communities as part of an effort to convince Bedouin in unrecognized communities to relocate there.

"It's clear that it's part of a carrot and stick policy," he said. Harumi called on the government to also provide financial assistance to unrecognized Bedouin communities, rather than, as he described it, "causing the uprooting of tens of thousands of people and trying to satisfy them by economic support and development someplace else."

The PMO steering committee has underlined the fact that the relocation plan will be carried out in coordination with the heads of local authorities. In the next several months, the southern district directors of the government ministries involved are also expected to meet with local Bedouin leaders to discuss the details of how the plan will be carried out in each individual Bedouin community.

Maj. Gen. (res. ) Doron Almog, the chief of the staff in charge of implementing the relocation, said: "The plan will be carried out in full cooperation with the council and authority heads and planning agencies, and through the regional steering committee that will be convening within the next several months. The plan for development and economic growth seeks to bring about a substantial improvement in quality of life... of the Negev Bedouin."

For his part, Sheikh Faiz Abu Sahiban, the mayor of Rahat - the largest of the recognized Bedouin Negev communities - welcomed the allocation of government funding but said that should not be interpreted as favoring the Prawer plan to relocate Bedouin from unrecognized villages.