A Double Standard on Disputed Land for Settlers and Bedouin

When settlers defy orders from the Supreme Court, there is a public outcry. When Bedouin do the same, silence.

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Israel Harel
Israel Harel

Consider the following scenario: Several courts ruled over the years that settlers illegally annexed thousands of dunams of land. These lands must be restored to their owners, the courts ruled, and the structures on them must be demolished. The trespassers appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming that “state land” was the property of the Jewish people from time immemorial. The appeals were rejected. Squatting on state land is also illegal, the justices ruled.

Yet the settlers, who always see themselves as above the law, continued to seize control of more and more land. The army? The police? They wouldn’t dare start up with a population, some of it criminal, which has such political power and is backed by a biased and populist media.

And the government? As is often the case with weak governments that fear confronting powerful forces, it set up a committee to regulate the mass and years-long takeover of state lands. The committee, headed by a retired Supreme Court justice, confirmed that most of the lands had been seized illegally. Amazingly, the committee nonetheless decided that the looters could keep their booty. A small percentage of the land will be evacuated, but the government will pay the squatters there compensation. It will even build towns and villages for them at state expense.

Enlightened Israel objected furiously to the authorization of the settlers’ theft and contempt of court, especially of the Supreme Court. But the government, apathetic to the public’s anger, decided to submit a bill that would set the committee’s scandalous conclusions in law.

Immediately after the bill (barely) passed its first reading, it seemed as if the whole country was on fire. Tens of thousands of people filled the streets, reminding one of Tahrir and Taksim squares. Only in totalitarian countries do they dare enact laws that contravene court decisions, railed the opposition leaders to the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated in Rabin Square. “This doesn’t just breach the rule of law,” a Haaretz editorial stated, “This abolishes the rule of law.” And for the first time in the history of the state, the president of the Supreme Court declared a strike of the courts.

Now, change just one word in the hypothetical story: Replace “settlers” with “Bedouin.” All the other things written above about the theft of land, including contempt for the rulings of the Supreme Court, are truer than true.

On Monday, the Knesset passed a first reading of the Prawer-Beginbill, which would relocate nearly 30,000 Bedouin to recognized communities in the Negev. The bill abolishes, in theory and practice, numerous court judgments – but the response has been nothing like the one I imagined above. The legal establishment has not uttered a word. In fact, there are leading jurists who see the bill as doing harm to the Bedouin. Nothing in a bill that tramples on the judgments of Israeli courts seems to strike the attorney general as unconstitutional, or even “disproportionate.” Such expressions are reserved for bills that would grant preferential rights to those who serve in the Israel Defense Forces and do national service, or bills aimed at defending the good name of our fighters against those who slander them.

One can get an idea of how crazy the system is if you compare this outrageous legislation to the “Regulation Act,” which, it will be recalled, was meant to retroactively authorize the Migron outpost, part of which sat, in total, on a few dozen disputed dunams. A huge ruckus was raised against the bill, and the government, as usual, capitulated and did not even submit it to the Knesset.

Leading the opponents of the regulation act was Minister Benny Begin. Yet he was the main proponent of the bill that benefits the Bedouin, which involves hundreds of thousands of dunams and annuls dozens of judgments handed down by the courts. The public outcome is this: The State of Israel is promoting a law that will state that the Bedouin are above the law.

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