Israel to Triple Demolition Rate for Illegal Bedouin Construction

2010 should see 700 illegal structures destroyed and the plowing of 9,000 dunams of land to prevent new construction.

The Interior Ministry, the Israel Lands Administration and the southern district of the Israel Police have jointly resolved to triple the demolition rate of illegal construction in the scattered Bedouin communities in the Negev. The decision came at a meeting about a month ago.

According to data obtained by Haaretz, 2009 saw an increase over the previous year in the demolition of illegal Bedouin homes and efforts to prevent illegal Bedouin construction. Last year, 254 structures were destroyed.

In 2008, the figure was 225 illegal structures. Sources at the joint agency meeting said illegal Bedouin construction in the Negev is not only continuing despite these enforcement efforts but is even increasing. This year should see 700 illegal structures destroyed and the deep plowing of 9,000 dunams of land to prevent new construction.

Ibrahim Al-Wakili, who heads the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, warned of an explosive situation if demolition even doubles.

"The Bedouin in unrecognized villages don't constitute any kind of obstacle to the development of the Negev, and the state must involve us just as [it does] other residents of the Negev," Al-Wakili said. "Even if they triple the demolitions," he added, "it won't help, if the state has no solution for people who for the past 60 years have suffered neglect. At least they shouldn't begin an intensified demolition campaign. The village residents cannot be put in a situation in which there is just demolition. It won't help. From the moment you press on the balloon too much, ultimately something happens. We call on the prime minister and all of those responsible for the demolitions not to bring people to the brink of despair. This is not healthy for any of the parties [involved]."

At the beginning of last year, the southern district police commander of the Israel Police, Yohanan Danino, met with Bedouin representatives and told them definitively that illegal Bedouin construction in the Negev would not be permitted.

He suggested that those present at the meeting not tolerate illegal construction and arrange on their own to have illegal structures demolished. Over the past year, there was a 30 percent rise in the number of demolitions carried out by the Bedouin themselves, but this was still greatly surpassed by the number of requests to stop demolitions.

Bedouin 'destroy ancient sites'

The police are responsible for accompanying Israel Lands Administration and Interior Ministry inspectors and to deal with the Bedouin reaction to the demolitions, which has included damage to archaeological sites and nature reserves.

A police source said the Bedouin have destroyed ancient sites and forests in a show of force. At another meeting about a month ago with Bedouin and other regional leadership, Danino warned that any retaliatory action following the demolitions, such as uprooting trees in Jewish National Fund forests and destruction such as occurred at the Ein Avdat National Park archaeological site, will be forcefully dealt with.

The regional council head in Omer, just outside of Be'er Sheva, Pini Badash, welcomed the police policy, but warned: "It's a drop in the ocean and appears as if they are trying to put a finger in the giant dike to stop the flow of water. Enforcement must be stepped up completely."

A former head of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Communities, Hussein Al-Rafia, said he intends to petition the High Court of Justice if the increased enforcement decision is carried out.

"The police and also the Interior Ministry have to understand that there is a problem of 100,000 residents without [municipal] planning or recognition and they cannot build their homes in a legal manner."