UPDATE: On December 12 2013, the Israeli government announced it would scrap the Prawer Bill. (For RHR’s response, please click here). However, the struggle for the rights of the Negev Bedouin is far from over. Despite the frozen legislation, plans to dispossess them of their lands are nevertheless being implemented.
BACKGROUND: What is the Prawer Plan?
The Begin-Prawer plan, first approved by the Knesset in September 2011, is a five year economic plan that could potentially cause the demolition of 35 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Negev and the forced expulsion to urban areas of 40,000 Israeli Bedouin. These villages either existed before Israel was founded or were created in locations to which the Israeli army moved Bedouins to in the early years of the state. Early Zionist documents even prove that 2.6 million dunam of land was recognized as belonging to the Bedouin prior to the establishment of the state. As “unrecognized villages,” they receive no services, their homes are automatically considered “illegal” and are subject to demolition, and their crops are sprayed and killed.
Why is it a Problem?
Proponents of the plan claim relocating the Bedouin into cities will “help” them by providing water, electricity, jobs and other opportunities. Yet, government statistics show that poverty is four times higher in the townships (cities) than in the recognized villages.
Certainly, the Bedouin already suffer from a milieu of social problems, but this “solution” will only exacerbate their problems. To really help this population, the state needs to recognize their villages.
Meanwhile, as the state plans to uproot the Bedouins and crowd them into urban areas, it continues to approve the creation or expansion of Jewish settlements and farms. These populations are often smaller and more far-flung than the Bedouin villages, yet they receive services from the state and enjoy full recognition. Why not the Bedouin as well? They are also citizens.
Additionally, the government did not consult the Bedouin on this plan in a genuine way. Any plan involving an entire population needs to be approved by the people themselves, no matter how much it may or may not benefit them.
Our Obligation as Jews
As Jews, we are all too familiar with the concept of “displacement.” Indeed, many of our ancestors were relocated to the Jewish Pale of a Settlement in what are now areas of Russian, Lithunia, Poland and others in Eastern Europe. The Pale and shtetls that populated it were overcrowded and often ridden with poverty and unemployment. We did not like having our destinies decided by the rulers and governments that we lived under, yet we want to do the same to the Bedouin.
One of our major goals at RHR is “to create a society which acts according to our belief that all human beings are created in God’s Image.” We must see the God in all of mankind and act accordingly. Rabbi Arik Ascherman, President and Senior Rabbi of RHR, writes that, “We must be aware of of how unequal power relations lead to human rights violations. Ibn Ezra warns us that when we wrong the widow, the orphan or the resident alien, they are all too voiceless and powerless to protest.” Additionally, the Torah tells us, “Do not oppress the non-Jew living among you, for you know the heart of the stranger” (Exodus 23:9). We must stand by the sides of “the strangers” among us when they are not able to protest themselves, but we must also do so as partners, empowering them to find their own voices.
MK Issawi Freij summed up the real intentions of Prawer best when he said, “We will give you water if you give us your lands.” Ya’akov once said to Esau, “I will give you food if you give me your birthright.” He thought he was being clever, but the price was anger, enmity, and twenty years of exile and estrangement from his brother. Proverbs writes that “Righteousness exalts a nation” (Proverbs 14:34) so surely it is our moral obligation as a people to behave justly and morally as a nation. By stopping Prawer and recognizing the Bedouin villages, we have the chance to be exalted.
What can be Done?
The time has come for an equitable resolution of Bedouin rights in the Negev. Any worthy resolution must preserve the following principles:
- It will be arrived at only with real involvement from the Bedouin community institutions.
- Full recognition for all existing villages, even if that means altering the national zoning plan.
- Acceptance of the ownership claims made in the 1970’s.
- Diversity of settlement types, not just towns or large villages.
- Integration of the community in planning and finding solutions.
- Developing the Negev equally – for all its residents.
After three years of research, drafting, mapping and measuring, Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights and RCUV- The Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, released a plan (Hebrew) that included all of the above and more. Unfortunately, it has gone ignored by the government.