Israeli Plan Against 'Illegal and Hostile Bedouin Construction' Falsifies Data

Housing minister declares the Negev desert is under attack from 'agricultural terrorism' and calls to strengthen the Jewish hold on the region

Bedouin homes in Israel's Negev
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A plan presented to the Knesset Monday to rein in illegal construction by Negev Bedouin is based on incorrect data and out-of-date policies.

Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant, who presented the plan to the Interior and Environment Committee, declared that southern Israel faces “agricultural terrorism” on the part of the Bedouin and as a result the Jewish hold over the land must be strengthened. But when Galant was asked to back up his plan with numbers, he presented information that contradicts official government data and plans.

Screenshot from a Regavim video

“The south is under attack not just from Gaza – the illegal and hostile construction in the Bedouin [community] in the Negev and in the area near Be’er Sheva in recent years is out of control. The Islamist Palestinian expansion from the Hebron area and its surroundings toward the Negev, agricultural terrorism is becoming more severe and illegal construction are just part of the harsh phenomena the Negev has been suffering from recently,” Galant told the committee, comments that are similar to what he has said a number of times in the past.

“The plan to strengthen Jewish settlement in the Negev is a long-term and stable solution for maintaining the Jewish hold on the area,” he added.

Some 230,000 Bedouin live in the region south of Be’er Sheva, Galant told the committee. But the Central Bureau of Statistics says they number under 200,000. At a later stage, he showed figures from the right-wing Regavim NGO, which monitors Bedouin settlement in the Negev, showing 2,300 complexes of illegal construction in the Negev – hundreds more than the numbers used by government authorities that keep track of such information.

A slide from Galant's presentation

Galant also expressed support for a long list of plans for establishing new Jewish communities, which is the exact opposite of the opinion of local governments in the region, planners and environmental groups, who feel that a better plan would be to reinforce and support existing communities in the region instead of building new ones. What Galant presented to the committee is really a collection of existing plans that have not yet been implemented, including the development of the town of Hiran, which is in its early stages; the establishment of the Haredi city of Kasif; and the Mevo’ot Arad plan to establish five Jewish communities and a Bedouin one near the city of Arad.

A summary of the presentation to the committee shows that part of it is based on data from Regavim, which promotes stricter enforcement of the law against illegal Bedouin construction in the Negev. Regavim said they passed on information to the ministry a year ago, but Galant never agreed to their request to meet with the group.

A senior official involved in the matter said that “Galant’s data are not up-to-date. It seems as if someone [in his office] prepared the presentation from old documents.” For example, he said Kasif is no longer intended for Haredi residents because they are no longer interested in such a city, and the new idea is to turn it into a city for Bedouin. The change is waiting for a decision from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The only one of the plans still being advanced is Mevo’ot Arad, he said.

Galant’s office and the Housing Ministry declined to comment.