Israel's plan to relocate up to 40,000 Bedouin from their homes in the southern Negev desert could wipe out their legitimate claims to the land, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Thursday.
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Israel says that relocation is necessary to provide basic services that many nomadic Bedouins lack. Their scattered, unrecognized villages do not have electric, water or sewers, roads are bad and many Bedouin are illiterate.
"As citizens of Israel, the Bedouin are entitled to the same rights to property, housing and public services as any other group in Israel," Pillay said. "The government must recognize and respect the specific rights of its Bedouin communities, including recognition of Bedouin land ownership claims."
The bill, which is currently before the Knesset, offers limited compensation to the Bedouin, on condition they move to one of seven officially-recognized urban townships.
"If this bill becomes law, it will accelerate the demolition of entire Bedouin communities, forcing them to give up their homes, denying them their rights to land ownership and decimating their traditional cultural and social life in the name of development," Pillay said.
About half the estimated 170,000 Negev Beduin moved into the seven townships between 1968 to 1989, but the other half still live in unrecognized villages and claim land rights to an area of about 60,000 hectares (230 square miles).