C'tee Says: Legalize Unrecognized Bedouin Villages

A government committee on the status of the Negev Bedouin is recommending legalizing as many unrecognized villages as possible, and transferring residents of the remainder to agreed-upon locations.

"The Bedouin in the Negev are not illegal aliens, are not transparent and are not without rights," said retired justice Eliezer Goldberg, a former state comptroller.

The Goldberg Committee also recommends normalizing the status of thousands of illegal structures and offering the Bedouin monetary and land compensation.

Housing Minister Zeev Boim appointed the committee last December. In appointing this committee, where government representatives are not a majority, the government essentially waived its right to determine the nature of the land arrangement with the Bedouin.

The report submitted yesterday has three main recommendations:

b There are currently 46 unrecognized villages representing the Bedouin diaspora, with 62,500 residents. These villages should be recognized to the extent possible, by declaring them communities or annexing them to nearby communities.

In places where this cannot be done, because the village is too small or because creating a community there contradicts the regional master plan, the residents may ask to be relocated as a group.

In order to enable this, the law will be revised to obviate the need for a commission of inquiry, a lengthy process.

b The Negev has 50,000 illegal structures, and each year another 1,500 to 2,000 are built. The committee recommends establishing a special, accelerated process to grant retroactive building permits for these structures, provided that they were built within an existing community or in an unrecognized village set to be recognized.

In order to legalize the structures, a special planning committee will be set up. Along with resolving past violations, the committee states that strict enforcement is needed to prevent building violations in the future.

b The Bedouin have filed 3,200 land suits against the state, regarding 777,000 dunams of land in the northern Negev. Of these, only 380 suits have been settled to date. As a result, the committee recommends reaching arrangements with the Bedouin who have proven claims, giving them some of the land and monetary compensation for the remainder.

However, the arrangement will be offered only to those who can prove their family used the land for agriculture and not just for grazing.

Boim (Kadima) said he plans to recommend the government adopt the report as early as December 28.

"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert deems it extremely important to promote this issue," Boim noted.

However, not everyone was pleased by the plan.

National Union Knesset faction chair Uri Ariel appealed to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, requesting he instruct the cabinet not to discuss the report. MK Ariel argued that approving the report at this time would be a form of "election campaign bribery."

Faisal al-Huzeil, one of the Bedouin public representatives on the committee, attached a minority opinion to the report that sharply attacks the committee's conclusions.

"The recommendations are worse than the status quo. I am more than disappointed by the result, and my heart cringes over the loss of another opportunity to reach a historic arrangement with the Bedouin due to stagnant thinking," wrote al-Huzeil.

The report reflects an attempt to reach a forced, non-consensus land arrangement, "while ignoring an entire segment of the public that is waiting for change and a new message," he said.