Protesters in Tel Aviv two years ago called on the Israeli government to recognize Bedouin villages (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)
Peter Beinart’s pro-settlement boycott article in the New York Times has rightly been critiqued from the left for ignoring the fact that “Israel is only a ‘genuine democracy’ for its Jewish citizens,” as Adam Horowitz put it. A close look at the Israeli government’s Prawer Plan, which calls for the forced relocation of tens of thousands of citizens of Israel, further shows why the notion of a “democratic Israel” is a farce.
Beinart’s NYT Op-Ed constantly mentions “democratic Israel,” or variations on the phrase, to distinguish between the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and “Israel proper.” But how do the Bedouin citizens of Israel targeted for forced relocation fit into this “democratic Israel”? The answer is they don’t.
The Prawer Plan, recently okayed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, calls for the uprooting of 30,000 Bedouin citizens living in the Negev. The Israeli government wants to move these citizens to “recognized” communities set up by the state. Part of the plan is to build new, Jewish-only settlements on the formerly Bedouin land, where generations of Bedouins have been living, longer than the State of Israel has existed. The Bedouin communities are not happy with the plan, but the Israeli government is offering them money and support for infrastructure to convince them to move.
It sounds like a typical story in the occupied West Bank (minus the incentives to move), but this is happening on the Israeli side of the ever-fading Green Line. And the people Israel wants to uproot are citizens.
With respect to the unrecognized villages: the organizations stress that the proposed legislation ignores the fact that most of these villages have existed on their lands since before the establishment of the State, while others were established when the Israeli military government forcibly relocated Bedouin residents from their lands in the 1950′s. Underlying the proposed law is the sweeping misconception that the 70,000 people residing in 36 unrecognized villages are squatters without rights to the land.
With respect to the issue of land ownership in the Negev: the organizations argue that the facts, supported by ample legal precedents, formal reports and research, prove Bedouin ties and ownership to the lands in question. The government, however, ignores these facts, while purporting that the “arrangement” it intends to impose on the residents is actually for the benefit of Bedouin citizens.
The organizations warn that the central tenant of the proposed law is the “concentration” of Bedouin in limited predefined areas which will force them to abandon their traditional agricultural livelihood, while industrial areas, a military base, and new Jewish settlements are expected to be established on the lands of the unrecognized Bedouin villages. The proposal includes the use of administrative authority, similar to the emergency powers of legislation reserved for wartime, in a manner which would grossly violate the residents’ rights to due process. Accordingly, this proposal would enshrine wholesale discrimination against the residents of unrecognized villages into law.
"It is not every day that a government decides to relocate almost half a per cent of its population in a programme of forced urbanisation," Rawia Aburabia asserted, adding that "this is precisely what Prawer wants to do".
The meeting, which was attempting to coordinate various actions against the Prawer Plan, had just ended, and Rawia, an outspoken Bedouin leader who works for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, was clearly upset. She realised that the possibility of changing the course of events was extremely unlikely and that, at the end of the day, the government would uproot 30,000 Negev Bedouin and put them in townships. This would result in an end to their rural way of life and would ultimately deprive them of their livelihood and land rights.
Rawia's wrath was directed at Ehud Prawer, the Director of the Planning Policy Division in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office. Prawer took on this role after serving as the deputy director of Israel's National Security Council. His mandate is to implement the decisions of the Goldberg Committee for the Arrangement of Arab Settlement in the Negev, by offering a "concrete solution" to the problem of the 45 unrecognised Bedouin villages in the region.
The wholly undemocratic Prawer Plan is only the latest indignity to target Bedouin citizens of Israel. Their homes, and even full villages like Al Araqib, are frequently demolished.
Gordon provides more history in his piece, further showing that non-Jews living within Israel have always been inferior in the eyes of the state:
Under the directives of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, many of the remaining Bedouin were uprooted from the lands they had inhabited for generations and were concentrated in the mostly barren area in the north-eastern part of the Negev known as the Siyag (enclosure) zone...
After their relocation and up until 1966, the Bedouin citizens of Israel were subjected to a harsh military rule; their movement was restricted and they were denied basic political, social and economic rights. But even in the post-military rule of the late 1960s, many Israeli decision makers still considered the Bedouin living within the Siyag threatening and occupying too much land.
These are not the actions of a democracy.
It's important to acknowledge that there are differences in how Israel rules over its own citizens versus those in the West Bank and Gaza. But the difference is more a matter of the degree of repression than a stark contrast between a "democratic" state and a "non-democratic" occupied area.
How Israel functions stays the same on both sides of the Green Line: ethnic privilege for Jews, and inferior status for non-Jews in every area of life. The Prawer Plan is a glaring example of that. As Rawia Aburabia, an attorney for ACRI, says:
The attempt to enshrine the Prawer Plan into law is a farce. A democratic state cannot pass a law of discrimination, one that violates human rights and continues to harm a minority that has suffered from neglect and discrimination dating back to the founding of the State. Demolishing an Arab Bedouin village in order to establish a Jewish settlement on its ruins is not the action of a democracy – it is a step that takes us back to the military regime.