News / Middle East

Bill to Resettle Israeli Bedouins Faces Wide Opposition

Bedouins hold signs as they take part in a protest against a plan to formally recognise Bedouin communities in the Negev desert, outside the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem May 27, 2013.
Bedouins hold signs as they take part in a protest against a plan to formally recognise Bedouin communities in the Negev desert, outside the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem May 27, 2013.
Cecily Hilleary

As Israelis and Palestinians return to peace talks this week, most of the world will be focused on whether the Palestinians will finally realize a state of their own. But inside Israel, emotions are running high over another land rights issue, which may have a less happy outcome:  What to do with the Bedouin population of Israel’s southern Negev desert. 

The debate revolves around the controversial Prawer-Begin bill, which calls for evicting tens of thousands of Bedouins from haphazard settlements taking up some 200,000 acres to state-established townships. 

Proponents of the bill, which passed the first of three required Knesset readings in late June, say it is a practical blueprint for developing the Negev and advancing educational and job opportunities for Jews and Bedouins alike.  But opponents say if the bill becomes law, the Bedouin way of life will be lost forever. 

Background

The nomadic Bedouin migrated from the Arabian Peninsula to the Negev desert centuries ago and settled in compounds and villages organized under a traditional system of collective land ownership and rights to water and grazing areas that they say the earlier Ottomans and the British governments recognized

When Israel declared itself a state in 1948, as many as 90,000 Bedouins were working as farmers and herders in the Negev.  During the 1948 war, the great majority were driven out or became refugees.  In the decades since, many of those who remained have been dispossessed of their land and relocated to seven towns built by Israel to house them. But still others refused to move from their settlements, claiming ownership to the land. Israel regards them as squatters and does not provide them with water, sewage, electricity, roads, schools or other municipal services.
 

Binyamin Zeev Binyamin Zeev "Benny" Begin, son of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, listens to questions during a press conference in Jerusalem, Sunday May 16, 1999
x
Binyamin Zeev
Binyamin Zeev "Benny" Begin, son of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, listens to questions during a press conference in Jerusalem, Sunday May 16, 1999

The Plan

"The Prawer-Begin Plan for the Arrangement of Bedouin-Palestinian Settlement in the Negev" grew out of a 2008 inquiry into disputed Bedouin land claims in the Negev.  The final legislation, submitted to the Knesset by former member Binyamin Zeev “Benny” Begin, calls for relocating about 30 percent of Bedouins to Israeli-approved towns and offering them either financial or land compensation.  Those who do not comply before a set deadline will be forced to move without compensation.


In a July 8 conference call to the U.S.-based Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, Begin said Israel has allocated $2.75 billion over the next decade to develop the Negev desert for the benefit of Jews and Bedouins alike. 

“I think it is also agreed that what is needed in order to include the Bedouin in the Negev prosperity is the development of their communities -- villages, towns, etc.,” he said.  “It is also agreed that the present reality, in which Bedouin live in the Negev, actually, the poorest group in Israel, is intolerable.”

Begin acknowledges the controversy, but says he knows of few Bedouin who actually oppose the bill and he accuses NGOs and rights groups of politicizing the issue. 


View Unrecognized Bedouin-Arab Villages , Newly Recognized Villages and Planed Towns in the Negev-Naqab, Israel. By Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality in a larger map

Wide opposition

Critics say the bill is discriminatory. Amir Abo Kweder is the Projects Coordinator for the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality.  He says the Bedouin had no say in drafting the bill.

“The indigenous Arab Bedouins in the Negev demand the recognition of their villages and that they be consulted in shaping a future that takes into account the need to preserve their social fabric and their agricultural way of life,” he said.

Kweder also says that if approved, the plan will cause nothing but misery for an already marginalized community. 

“The displacement of over than 40,000 people, the eviction of tens of villages and confiscation of 200,000 acres [80,937 hectares] wouldn't bring anything but more misery, injustice and avoidable tensions in a country desperate for peace and calm,” he said.

While plan proponents say the Bedouin would live far more comfortably in towns, Abo Kweder cites figures from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics that demonstrate that even the recognized Bedouin towns such as Rahat, Tel Sheva and Segev Shalom rank lowest on Israel’s socio-economic ladder.

“Israeli policy is tending toward what might be described as ‘forced impoverishment,’” Abo Kweder said. “By…concentrating the Bedouin community in ghettos, they hope that this might bring people to rethink having children -- a false assumption that keeps the status quo.”

Rabbi Alissa WiseRabbi Alissa Wise
x
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Debate on the bill became so heated in the Knesset that Arab members tore up their copies, and they are urging the Bedouin to disobey the law if it passes. Amnesty International has called the bill “discriminatory,” and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Israel to reconsider.

​The debate has now spread to U.S. Jewish groups, the bulk of which oppose the bill. 

Rabbi Alissa Wise, Director of Campaigns at the US-based advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace, says the Prawer plan is an effort to “Judaize” the Negev Desert and erase the Bedouins’ traditional way of life.

“It may not be how Mr. Begin wants to live.  It may not be the way you or I might want to live.  But it’s the way that these folks choose to live,” Wise said of the Bedouin. 

In the end, she says, it’s a moral crisis that begs the question of how Israel can straddle being both a Jewish state and a democracy.


PHOTOGALLERY: The Negev Bedouins

As many 200,000 Bedouins live in Israel's Negev Desert, all of them citizens and most of them concentrated in an area around the city of Beersheva. Granted Israeli citizenship in the 1950's, they lived under military rule until the 1960's and have since resisted government attempts to move them into seven Israeli-built towns. VOA offers this glimpse of the Bedouin presence in the Negev through the years.


  • A protester holds a placard as another holds an Islamic movement flag during a demonstration to show their solidarity with Bedouin citizens, near the Bedouin townof Rahat in southern Israel August 1, 2013.
  • Palestinian protesters run as Israeli border policemen fire a stun grenade duringa demonstration to show solidarity with Bedouin citizens, near the West Bank village of Hizma, south-east of Ramallah August 1, 2013.
  • Israeli riot police fire tear gas at Israeli Arab and Palestinians activists during a protest against the Prawer Plan plan to resettle Israel’s Bedouin minority from their villages in the Negev Desert, in the village of Arara.
  • In this Wednesday, July 31, 2013 photo, a Bedouin walks through the Negev desert near the village of al-Sira, Israel. 
  • A general view of an unauthorized Bedouin village in the northern Negev Desert March 23, 2006.
  • Rahat, one of seven Israeli-built Bedouin cities in the Negev Desert.
  • Supermarket in the Bedouin city of Rahat
  • Unrecognized Bedouin Settlement in Israel's Negev Desert.
  • Unrecognized Bedouin Settlement in Israel's Negev Desert
  • In this Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011 photo an Israeli Bedouin man drinks coffee in his village near the southern city of Beersheva,Israel.
  • Bedouin school girls ride a bus back home from Wadi El Naam regional school in the Negev Desert, southern Israel, Feb. 13, 2007. Wadi al Naam is one of dozens of Bedouin communities not recognized by Israel.
  • A Bedouin girl plays on a field near an unrecognized village in the northern Negev Desert March 23, 2006.
  • Bedouin men sit in a village known by Bedouin Arabs as al-Arakib, one of many ramshackle desert communities whose names have never appeared on any official map, November 2, 2011.
  • Bedouin tent near Israeli-built city of Rahat, ca. 1955
  • Market Day in the Negev city of Beersheva, 1954
  • Beersheva Market Place, January 18, 1940
  • Bedouin shiekhs at horse/camel race meet, Beersheva, May 4, 1940.
  • Unidentified Bedouin sheikh of Beersheva, June, 1938.
  • Well at Beersheva in the northern Negev Desert, 1930
  • Young Bedouin woman spinning wool, 1932.
  • Bedouins and British officers celebrating the end of the 1930 locust campaign at Beersheva. The first in a succession of swarms appeared in the Jordan valley at the end of October 1929. The extensive use of poison baits in the Beersheba area led to concerns that arsenic was being washed out by winter rains and contaminating cisterns used to collect rain water.
  • Bedouins watching camel races at celebrating marking end of locust campaign, June 30, 1930
  • Beersheva Bedouins, ca. 1930
  • Sheikh Hamed Al-Sane at Beersheva, ca. 1920 - 1933. The Bedouin were often exoticized, romanticized and sentimentalized by Europeans, as this portrait would suggest
  • Bedouin woman and children in tent near Beersheba, ca. 1920-1930. At the time--and up until the mid 20th Century, the Bedouin were known as the "Arabs of Beersheba (‘arab as-saba’). The Bedouins called themselves 'Arab'
  • Bedouins in marketplace, ca. 1905
  • Bedouin man, ca. 1905
  • Bedouin Sheikh M'salam ibn Said with the Turkish governor (Mutasarrif) of Jerusalem, Ali Akram (Ekram) Bey, at opening of Beersheba
  • Photo shows the official opening of Beersheba by the Ottoman Turkish government before World War I. By 1906, the town consisted of 50 buildings, including a mosque and a police station
  • Beersheva, c. 1900. The town was founded in 1900 by the Ottomans as an administrative center from which they could keep the Bedouin in check. The town quickly grew to be the 'capital' of the Negev. The Bedouin Sheiks of the region settled there--and began building with stone for the first time

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 09, 2013 6:41 AM
Maybe this is what is required for Israel to truly pave the way for the Palestinians in the so-called occupied areas. While the world may consider it necessary for Israel to compact into a small unit of land, there is a negligence of the fact that Israel is heterogeneous and needs to both accommodate and respect their rights and choices of localization. If Israel must move these people out of their homes to make way for Palestine, what just has been done in denying one group to pay another. And they are both Arabs – Palestine and Bedouins. This should close the crave for the pre-1867 border demanded by the Palestinians as untenable, hence it steals from one Arab group to pay another.

by: Anonymous
August 08, 2013 5:54 PM
This is just another form of apartheid , a deliberate degradation of a indigenous human population, it is morally wrong and very distasteful to the rest of the people on this planet.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs