Israeli Ex-minister Overseeing Bedouin Relocation: Community Never Agreed to Plan

Benny Begin, who helped draft relocation plan, says amended bill was never presented to the people it will affect, despite claims to the contrary.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Former cabinet minister Benny Begin, who in the previous government was in charge of gathering and implementing public responses to proposals to resettle Negev Bedouin, said on Monday that he never presented the resulting bill to representatives of the Bedouin community and did not ask for their positions on the matter. The draft law is commonly known as the Prawer plan or the Begin-Prawer plan.

“I wish to again make clear that contrary to what has been claimed in recent weeks, I didn’t tell anyone that the Bedouin agreed to my plan,” Begin said. “I couldn’t say that because I didn’t present the plan to them. I didn’t present the bill that I revised to any segment of the public, including the Bedouin. The revised bill is not being presented again to the public to hear whether the amendments are to its liking or not. As a result, I would not be able to know to what extent they support the law.”

Begin made the comments to the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee and read a letter that he sent to coalition chairman Yariv Levin on the matter. Begin said it was about two years ago, in talks with the Bedouin while he was working on the bill and before it was presented in its current form, that he said “the public in the Negev does not oppose the law and did not take part in the provocations that the Balad party organized a week [earlier].”

At Monday’s committee session, meant to tweak the bill ahead of its second and third Knesset readings, a memorandum of understanding between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Housing and Construction Ministry and map detailing options for expanding the Bedouin settlement in the Negev was presented to Knesset members for the first time.

“The document declares that the goal is to return about 100,000 dunams [about 25,000 acres] of the land held [by Bedouin] to which they do not lay claim, 150,000 dunams that are in dispute and an additional 200,000 dunams,” Begin said.

The map details the establishment of two new Bedouin communities, one on 15,000 dunams and the other at Ramat Hatziporim, near Kibbutz Sde Boker, south of Be’er Sheva.

Committee chairwoman Miri Regev claimed at Monday's session that the detailed documents had been purposely kept from the committee. But Begin quoted an article in Haaretz from about six months ago that referred to the map and said that none of the committee members had asked him to examine it. Begin also noted that he had included various maps in a presentation he had previously given to committee members.

”You're a genuine racist who hates Arabs and Bedouin. This is a racist law that puts people in camps,” MK Hadash chairman Mohammed Barakeh said, addressing Begin.

Doron Almog, who is in charge of implementing the plan, said in an interview to Haaretz last week that about 80 percent of the people who will be affected by the plan support it and will agree to leave their current unrecognized villages for a recognized, regulated community. “There is a major ongoing crisis of confidence between the Bedouin and the government that needs to be rectified,” Almog said. “There are tribes located near Yeruham and Dimona that are interested in moving to a community with a good educational system, infrastructure and roads. People need to understand that 85 percent of the Bedouin don’t have ownership claims to land. They have become the victims of the situation, victims of Arab manipulation.”

Hura rally against Bedouin relocation.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Benny Begin

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