Various Bedouin tribes are waging a full-scale rebellion against Israel. Negev Bedouin tribes are refusing to settle in designated areas developed by Israel’s government, and stealing Jeeps and other equipment from nearby IDF bases. They use the Jeeps to smuggle drugs and other contraband into Israel, from the Sinai. In central Israel and the Galilee, Bedouin tribes are engaging in agricultural theft, from Moshavs and Kibbutzim, extortion and vandalism against Jewish farmers, and crime sprees in the streets and shopping malls. The Israeli police don’t respond to many of these incidents.
The Bedouin rebellion would be unwelcome by itself, however, their refusal to recognize Israeli government authority is part and parcel of a leftist campaign against the right of Jews to lease, own, and work Israel’s land; and against the sovereignty of Israel’s government. This campaign is conducted by groups such as Peace Now, B’tselem, and Rabbis for Human Rights, and aided and abetted by Israel’s Supreme Court, the U.N., and the European Union. Slowly but surely, this campaign is gaining the upper hand.
Israel’s Bedouins have traditionally lived a semi-nomadic existence, making a bare living as farmers and sheep herders. As of 2004, there were 130,000 Negev Bedouins, and 60,000 in the rest of Israel. Although some have migrated to Israel’s cities, at least half still live the way their grandfathers lived, in tin shack and tent encampments, lacking paved roads, indoor plumbing, electricity, and sewers, without paying taxes to Israel. As of 2007, about 70,000 Bedouin lived in unrecognized Negev settlements, without basic services. With a fertility rate of 5.5%, one of the world’s highest, Bedouin population is increasing rapidly, with attendant high levels of unemployment, poverty, and crime. While a fair number of Bedouin serve in the IDF, there is mounting concern about their increasing Islamic fanaticism.
In 1986, the government established a Negev directorate, as a central authority over unrecognized Bedouin settlements, and to negotiate on land issues. However, by 2007, Israel’s government realized it could no longer ignore burgeoning illegal Bedouin settlement, and asked retired Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg to study the problem, and make recommendations. Ehud Prawer, head of the Prime Minister’s planning division, turned Goldberg’s ideas into a plan. As implemented, the Prawer Plan calls for a massive initial investment of 1.2 billion NIS(roughly $324,000,000), to legalize most of the illegal Negev settlements. For those 20,000 to 30,000 Bedouin whose settlements couldn’t be made legal, the Prawer Plan offers generous gifts of land, up to five dunams(about 1.25 acres) per family. The government then gave Minister at Large Bennie Begin(son of former PM Menachem Begin) the task of converting the Prawer Plan into law.
Begin initiated a review process, which included extensive meetings with the Bedouins, where comments and counter-proposals were welcomed. However, subsequent Bedouin behavior indicated that the review process has been subverted, by leftist NGO’s, such as the New Israel Fund(NIF), and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel(ACRI). These organizations have coached Bedouin representatives to reject government offers, to “just say no,” as “Israel will always come back with a better offer,” resulting in a severe erosion of the Prawer Plan’s original recommendations. Begin’s most recent offer was 63% of the land the Bedouin have illegally expropriated. This includes land registration under Bedouin clan member names. The Bedouins build 1500 to 2000 illegal structures in the Negev, annually. They now claim an area of greater than 200,000 acres--at least 16 times the size of Tel Aviv. Israel is making a supreme sacrifice to satisfy Bedouin demands.(1)
Equally important, there is little, if any discrimination against the Bedouins (or any Arabs) owning, leasing, or purchasing land, despite leftist claims. 80.4% of Israel’s land is government-owned, while 13.1% is owned by the Jewish National Fund(JNF), a private charitable organization. 6.5% is about evenly divided between private Jewish and Arab owners. Thus 93.5% of Israel’s land is unavailable for private ownership. In 1960, the Knesset passed a number of land laws by which state-owned and JNF lands were both defined as “Israel lands.” These laws reinforced the principle that Israel’s lands could only be leased, not sold, and gave oversight of them to a new government agency, the Israel Land Authority.(ILA) Israeli Jews and Arabs enjoy equal access to state-owned land, however, regarding residential land, the ILA many times offers Israel’s Arabs better terms than it offers to Jews. A prominent example was Avitan v. Israel Land Administration(HC 528/88), in which the plaintiff(Eliezar Avitan) sued the ILA, because they charged a Bedouin family $150 for a long-term lease on a quarter acre plot in Rahat; while charging Avitan $24,000 for a similar plot nearby. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled against Avitan, favoring the ILA’s “affirmative action” policy for Bedouins. There are a number of similar examples of ILA favoritism towards the Bedouins.
The purpose of JNF’s original 1901 charter, and their 1953 charter, was to purchase land for Jewish settlement. This has occasionally been interpreted to mean that JNF shouldn’t make long-term leases to non-Jews. However, in practice, this official restriction isn’t recognized, and JNF land is not only leased to Israel’s Arabs; they’re given long-term residential leases via land swaps, whereby JNF land is traded to the government to lease, while JNF receives other land in return. Nevertheless, there are no restrictions on purchasing Israel’s private lands, and the Palestinian Authority has encouraged wealthy Palestinians to buy private land. Various Palestinian real estate magnates have made a number of such purchases. Thus in practice, there aren’t any restrictions on Israel’s Arabs leasing state-owned land, JNF land, or purchasing private land, and the Bedouins have been treated very well by Israel.(2)
However, the Israeli left wasn’t satisfied. In September 2011, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch ruled that any area in Judea and Samaria that hasn’t been declared state land, isn’t unowned land, but is considered private Palestinian Arab land, by default. No proof of Palestinian ownership was(is) necessary. Before Beinisch’s ruling, unowned land could be awarded to Jews, or to anyone that worked the land for 10 years without prior proven ownership. Her ruling resulted in the demolishing of Jewish homes in Givat HaYovel, north of Jerusalem; in Haresha, which was targeted by Peace Now, which claimed Haresha’s Jewish homes were on land claimed by Palestinian Arabs; and in Migron, where families with young children were evicted in the middle of the night. The home of a fallen IDF soldier in Givat HaYovel, Major Eliraz Peretz, was spared only because Defense Minister Ehud Barak petitioned the Supreme Court on his behalf. Also according to Israeli law, land ownership questions are decided by the civil administration and the state prosecutor’s office, not the Supreme Court.
Beinisch’s ruling simply accepts at face value unsupported Arab land claims, and ignores illegal expropriation, often practiced by Bedouin tribes. Beinisch also understood that Arab land claims are often poorly supported, with many relying on inaccurate British Mandate era fiscal maps, that in no way provide proof of ownership. As a result, leftist NGO’s have many times been forced to withdraw their claims. However, her ruling will likely stand, unless legislation is passed that overrides it.
Which brings readers to the situation at Bir Hadaj, a Negev Bedouin village of 5,000 residents, where Israel has developed state-owned land, pursuant to recognizing Bedouin ownership. Between September and November, 2012, police made several raids on Bir Hadaj. An article in Haaretz, dated 11/16/2012, describes the November 12th raid. The article offers graphic descriptions of how police roughed up some residents, then fired tear gas grenades towards the elementary school, resulting in 29 children being hospitalized, for tear gas inhalation. They were released later that day. However, the article also mentions that the raid was “the second of its kind within a month,” and that there were security personnel “disguised as Arabs” in the village. Were the residents of Bir Hadaj innocent victims of Israeli police brutality, as the article portrays?
Not likely. As a result of leftist NGO encouragement to refuse Minister Begin’s offers, and undoubtedly influenced by Judge Beinisch’s ruling, the Bedouins have illegally squatted on JNF land, outside the developed area of Bir Hadaj. They throw rocks, burn tires, and riot every time police try to enforce the law. Bedouin spokesmen have claimed the unrest is because, “The Housing Ministry unit revoked the master plan, and the Interior Ministry is demolishing houses…to pressure us into accepting new proposals….They do not want to divide the plots as planned, but want us to become a municipal community….”
The Housing Ministry has refuted this claim, “The allegation of decreasing the size of the plots in Bir Hadaj is groundless….” One might reasonably conclude that the Bedouins don’t want to pay taxes to Israel, and don’t want to recognize the government’s authority.(3)
In addition, the article doesn’t mention that another raid at Bir Hadaj, in September 2012, was conducted to recover stolen IDF Jeeps, used to smuggle drugs and weapons into Israel, from Egypt. The police uncovered a warren of hidden compounds, containing dozens of stolen vehicles, including Jeeps and water tankers. Dozens of Jeeps have been stolen in the past few years, from the IDF’s Ketziot and Tze’elim bases in southern Israel. Several were recovered in this raid.
On January 27, 2013, PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, by a vote of 16 to 3, with 1 abstention, approved Minister Begin’s recommendations on formalizing the status of Negev Bedouin settlements. Will Begin’s plan of compensation(to those Bedouins moved off state land) and vast land giveaway work?
The Prime Minister’s Office supports the plan. However, the plan was approved hastily, without proper consideration. Ministers first read the plan’s recommendations only 2 days before the cabinet vote. The ILA received the recommendations only 2 ½ days before the vote, while neither the Defense Ministry nor the IDF had approved it. Why did the cabinet approve it so quickly? 30% of the land included was quickly withdrawn, because it was unsuitable for residential use and herding; IDF bases, roads, and electric company and water authority structures. Immediately after the cabinet vote, the Negev’s Jewish residents complained that the plan rewards years of illegal Bedouin squatting, while the Bedouins objected that thousands will be uprooted from their homes.(4)
Recognition of the Bedouins would help stabilize Israel, one reason it’s a desirable goal. However, recognition can’t be accomplished without Bedouin cooperation—they must live in designated areas, and the smuggling and theft must stop. This is why Minister Begin’s plan is unworkable—the Bedouins aren’t given any motivation to cooperate. It’s also impractical, and shouldn’t be implemented. In February 2012, Dorit Beinisch retired as President of Israel’s Supreme Court, and was replaced by Judge Asher D. Grunis, a conservative.
Thus far, Judge Grunis has approved a March 2012 decision that evicted 50 Migron families from their homes. It’s therefore unlikely that Grunis would rule to repeal Beinisch’s September 2011 ruling, that made non-state West Bank land Palestinian Arab land, by default. Such a repeal, or similar Knesset legislation, would help stop the runaway appeasement of those whose criminal behavior and appetite for Israel’s land know no boundaries.
1-“Stop the silent surrender of the Negev,” by Ari Briggs, reprinted in Israpundit, 9/20/2012; report in Israel News 11/08/2012; “Arabs illegally settling the Negev in land grab race,” by Atara Beck, reprinted in Israpundit 8/23/2012.
2-“Edward Said’s Documented Deceptions,” at www.camera.org, 8/20/1996.
3-“For Bedouin father, Israel is his children’s No. 1 enemy,” by Or Kashti, Haaret, 11/16/2012.
4-“Government Bedouin land plan deemed impossible,” by Stuart Winer, Maariv, 02/07/2013.
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