[News] Israeli parliament approves plans to transfer 30, 000 Palestinian Bedouin

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sun Oct 2 11:04:06 EDT 2011

Israeli parliament approves plans to transfer 30,000 Palestinian Bedouin

1 October 2011

While attention is focused on the 
Authority's UN recognition initiative, Israel is quietly taking 
hugely significant steps to transfer 30,000 Palestinian 
in the 
(Negev) desert from their ancestral lands.

Recently, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, approved plans for 
another large-scale cleansing of the Bedouin community in the Naqab. 
The plan would "relocate" 30,000 of those who managed to remain on 
their land after more than two thirds of all Bedouin were uprooted 
during the establishment of Israel.

The Bedouin once were a flourishing community of some 90,000 persons 
who lived around the city of 
al-Saba (Beersheva). Yet the expulsions that took place in 1948 were 
the prelude to their ongoing expulsion since then.

After the establishment of Israel, military rule was imposed on the 
Beersheva Bedouin for more than 18 years. Despite the end of the 
military rule in 1967, the Bedouin story of dispossession continues 
until today. Almost all their land was seized by the state using a 
set of legal maneuvers such as the absentee property law and the land 
acquisition laws of 1953.

Despite the expulsions that took place during the establishment of 
the State of Israel on their land, today the Arab Bedouin population 
is estimated to number more than 200,000 persons and constitutes 
one-third of the Naqab's population. Today, half of Bedouin citizens 
of Israel live in 46 
villages. These are Bedouin villages in the Naqab which Israel does 
not recognize as legal; the villages are deprived of basic services 
like housing, water, electricity, education and health care. The rest 
live in townships that the state established for them in the 1970s in 
an aggressive policy of forced sedentarization.

Israel refuses to respect the rights of its own citizens; in this 
case 100,000 persons (the population of the 46 unrecognized villages) 
who are part of the 1.5 million Palestinian national minority treated 
as second-class citizens in Israel. Despite continuous policies since 
1948 to Judaize the Naqab, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, is 
currently considering the possibility of a final push to modify the 
demography of the region once and for all and hence tighten Israel's 
control over it. The recent Goldberg and Prawer Commission 
recommendations of "relocating" 30,000 Bedouin from their native land 
was approved in September by the Israeli government (Eliezer Goldberg 
is a former Israeli high court judge; Ehud Prawer a senior Israeli 
civil servant; both men have headed panels set up to study the status 
of Bedouins in the Naqab).

Since 1948, successive Israeli governments have not dealt seriously 
with the Bedouin land ownership question, or "problem" in the Israeli 
state's lexicon, in the Naqab. Successive new governments formulated 
new plans for dealing with the unrecognized villages and land claims. 
To this day, no government has applied universal principles of human 
rights to resolve the dispute between the Bedouin community and the 
state over land ownership.

It appears that 
Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is in the process of adopting 
extreme measures toward this segment of the Arab minority in Israel 
that remained within its historical homeland to achieve a final 
solution to this "problem." The plan approved by the Israeli cabinet 
involves the expulsion and "relocation" of 30,000 Bedouins from their 
land out of a total of 100,000 residents of the unrecognized 
villages. It is no coincidence that such drastic measures are close 
to implementation.

With the regional shift in politics amid the Arab uprisings and the 
move towards recognition of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu's 
coalition feels an urgent need to take the strategic decision of 
protecting space for Jewish settlers in the Naqab by dispossessing 
more indigenous Bedouin from their own historical land.

Land grab

The struggle between Israel and its Naqab Bedouin citizens is about a 
state bent on Judaizing the land by dispossessing its indigenous 
inhabitants, on the one hand, and indigenous land ownership rights, 
on the other. The land grab from the indigenous Bedouins started as 
early as 1949. By the 1950s, the majority of the remaining Bedouin 
(11,000) was expelled from the western part of the Naqab into a small 
enclosed military reservation north east of Beersheva (and became 
"internally displaced" citizens).

Since then, these remaining members of the community have 
consistently chosen to achieve land recognition through legal means 
in the Israeli court system. These cases are ongoing. The most recent 
case was that of the Bedouin village of 
After years of legal discussions in the Beersheva district court, the 
land claims of the village were not recognized despite the fact that 
the residents of the village hold land deeds dating back to the times 
of Ottoman rule in Palestine. The response came in July 2010, when 
the Israeli authorities, accompanied by the 
Lands Authority (ILA) and more than 1,300 police, demolished the village.

Since the initial razing of the village, and in an amazing display of 
steadfastness, the people of al-Araqib rebuilt their village with 
their own hands. In response, the state razed the village yet again, 
and as of the last destruction, the village has now been rebuilt on 
29 separate occasions.

Such steadfastness has posed a fundamental challenge to an Israeli 
government seemingly unable to understand the nature of the people 
power unleashed in the region over the past nine months. The 
village's plight has suddenly become the symbol of the land struggle 
between the indigenous peoples of the Naqab and the state.

Far-right sets the agenda

According to Turkish and British archival reports, previous 
governments in Palestine recognized Bedouin land claims. When Winston 
Churchill, the British prime minister, and Herbert Samuel, the first 
British High Commissioner for Palestine, met Bedouin sheikhs in 1921, 
they recognized Bedouin land ownership, according to specific customs 
and tribal laws. Yet since 1948, the Israeli court system has not 
recognized even one land claim, despite the fact that the Bedouin 
have made thousands of claims on their historical land.

In December 2007, Ehud Olmert's administration established the 
Goldberg Commission, which was tasked with finalizing the status of 
Bedouin land claims in the Naqab. Nowadays, the Bedouin seek that 
600,000 dunams (150,000 acres) of land is recognized and registered 
in the state registry as a small portion of their historical land. 
Today, the Bedouin populate approximately 5 percent of the Naqab's 
land, a fraction of the area of southern Palestine they inhabited 
prior to 1948.

A report submitted in 2008 recommended that some of the Bedouin land 
be recognized. According to the Goldberg proposal, half of Bedouin 
claims on agricultural lands they currently occupy should be granted: 
around 200,000 dunams (50,000 acres) to be listed as Bedouin 
territory in the land registry bureau. In fact, this is less than 
half of the Bedouin land claims made since the 1970s. In addition, 
the Goldberg Commission recommended the recognition of a limited 
number of the unrecognized villages.

In January 2009, the government formed a team tasked with the 
implementation of these recommendations headed by 
Prawer, chief of the Policy Planning Department within the Prime 
Minister's Office. The Prawer panel worked to implement Goldberg's 
recommendations by offering 27 percent of the Bedouin claim. The 
Bedouin who are represented by the regional council of the 
unrecognized villages, and by other local and grassroots 
organizations, refused the offer.

The Bedouin argued that the Goldberg and Prawer recommendations would 
mean another catastrophe 
for them, with the loss of their land and demolition of most of their 
villages. The Bedouin campaigned against the Goldberg recommendations 
and asked for full recognition of their 46 villages and the all the 
land claimed by them.

In response to the possible implementation of the Goldberg 
recommendations, Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing party headed by 
foreign minister 
Lieberman, urged the government to cancel the "offer" and reduce the 
amount of land to be recognized altogether. Right-wing members of the 
Knesset, and local Israeli council leaders in the Naqab, came out 
against a plan of dividing the Naqab.

Shmulik Rifman, head of Ramat Negev Council, stated that Netanyahu's 
government was taking a major risk, explaining that if "they don't 
finalize the Bedouin settlement it will be very hard to enhance 
Jewish settlement in the Negev. This must be addressed if one wants 
700,000 Jews in the Negev." From Rifman's viewpoint, the Naqab and 
Bir al-Saba/Beersheva region is still central to the state's ideology 
of colonizing more of the indigenous Bedouin land.

This pressure from Israeli right-wing politicians paid off. 
Modifications to the official recommendations of the Goldberg report 
were made, including the reduction of the amount of land available to 
Bedouin communities, as well as reducing the compensation offered to 
them in order to leave their land. The stance of the Israeli 
right-wing parties reflects the growing anxiety of the Israeli 
authorities to secure the Naqab for Jewish settlers. David Rotem, a 
Yisrael Beiteinu member of the Knesset, argued that "The occupation 
of state land has come to an end. We are returning the Negev to the 
state of Israel's hands." He also recommended employing 300 civil 
police to enforce what amounts to the state's dispossession of 
Bedouin communities so as to stop their "encroachment" on "state" 
land and building "illegally."

The struggle continues

Bedouins' peaceful actions in the face of these policies of 
dispossession and expulsion are ongoing. The Bedouin campaign against 
the implementation of the Goldberg and Prawer recommendations 
includes organizing protests in Arab villages across the country and 
boycotting the government plans at different levels. Bedouin 
demonstration included organizing central demonstrations in Jerusalem.

But the local indigenous population are not willing to give up the 
claim to their land despite the continued weekly house demolition. 
The Bedouin continue to raise the banner, demanding their villages 
and land claims be recognized. The continually shifting policies of 
the state and its agencies towards the local indigenous Bedouin is a 
clear sign of their fear of losing more land for Jewish settlements 
in the Naqab, and it is a natural reaction to Bedouin steadfastness. 
The facts clearly indicate that indigenous peoples of the Naqab do 
not meekly submit to state oppression, and that they are not going away.

Dr. Mansour Nsasra teaches Middle East politics and international 
relations at the University of Exeter.

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