‘Prawer Plan’ to uproot Bedouins shows folly of the phrase ‘democratic Israel’

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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.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah have more on the Prawer Plan:

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.

And today, Neve Gordon, the author of Israel’s Occupation, takes us deep inside the Bedouin Negev to explore the Prawer Plan. Here are some excerpts from his Al Jazeera English piece:

“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.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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29 Responses

  1. Fredblogs
    April 3, 2012, 4:21 pm

    So does it say anywhere in this plan that the new towns are to be Jews only, or are you just assuming? Even in the U.S. we have eminent domain laws which lets various governments (Federal, State, local) take land that people actually own, not just are squatting on. I guess we’re not democratic either.

    The new housing for the Bedouins will undoubtedly have amenities like running water, electricity and sewer systems which these villages lack.

    • justicewillprevail
      April 3, 2012, 4:54 pm

      Yes, that is a fair assumption given Israel’s deplorable track record. It is a shame you are apparently unable to comprehend the many articulate arguments in this piece, avoiding as you do the entire thrust of the piece. I don’t think the Bedouins need patronising from you either.

    • rensanceman
      April 3, 2012, 5:05 pm

      Imagine a Bedouin family living in an apartment?! Where would they park their camels? This action would deal a strong blow to a Bedouin’s spirit who would not be used to living a life so foreign to them–even though they will wve running water.

    • Bumblebye
      April 3, 2012, 5:05 pm

      I admit I was shocked when I read about those laws a few years ago, but here’s the thing Fredfrog, they don’t single out particular people on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion. The poor sods just have to be in the way of someone with more political/financial clout who’s convinced others that his/her project is better for them than letting people enjoy their own property.

    • Shmuel
      April 3, 2012, 5:27 pm

      Contextualise away, Fred. The Prawer plan bears no resemblance to eminent domain laws. State expropriation in Israel has always been overwhelmingly unidirectional – from Arabs for the benefit of Jews.

      From Thabet Abu Rass and Oren Yiftachel, “Four Reasons to Reject the ‘Prawer Plan’ (Adalah’s Newsletter, Volume 89, January 2012):

      [T]he Prawer Plan constitutes unlawful racial discrimination. Only one year ago, the State of Israel retroactively recognized scores of Jewish farms – individual settlements – that were established illegally in the Naqab. This decision followed a Supreme Court decision upholding the state’s “land grab” in the Naqab, despite a challenge by Adalah and other civil society groups and Arab Bedouin citizens. At the same time, the state seeks to evacuate Bedouin ancestral villages in the Naqab which pre-date the establishment of the state and are home to hundreds and thousands of people. Moreover, last October 2011 the government authorized the establishment of ten new Jewish communities in the area of Arad, the same district from which it seeks to evict existing Bedouin villages. This policy cannot be defined as anything other than racial discrimination.

      Source: http://www.adalah.org/newsletter/eng/jan12/docs/Thabet%20and%20Oren%20Four%20Reasons%20to%20Reject%20Prawer%20English.pdf

      The new housing for the Bedouins will undoubtedly have amenities like running water, electricity and sewer systems which these villages lack.

      That’s the “unrecognised” part of the term “unrecognised villages”. Although most of the villages in question predate the State of Israel, they have been denied access to all public services. Illegal Jewish settlements (including those in the Negev itself) have no such problems. Your insinuation that the lack of “amenities” is somehow the fault of the Bedouin themselves, and that they should be grateful to the state for providing them with the benefits of “civilisation”, is racist, colonialist tripe.

    • Daniel Rich
      April 3, 2012, 6:19 pm

      @ Fredblogs,

      Given the fact that you read the constitution as if you’re ‘reading’ tealeaves, it doesn’t come as a big surprise to see your impromptu and sordid interpretation of it. Study Yoshihiro Hattori’s life and learn how ill informed your rants really are http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/23/us/student-s-trust-in-people-proved-fatal.html?src=pm

      • Fredblogs
        April 3, 2012, 9:25 pm

        What’s the connection between anything said here and Yoshihiro Hattori? He was an exchange student shot by a homeowner who mistook him for a threat, was acquitted at trial, and lost a subsequent civil suit. Which has what to do with what we’re talking about? For that matter, what does the constitution have to do with it? I mean, there is an eminent domain clause in the US Constitution, but its not my interpretation that lets them take one person’s land to give to another person, it’s the U.S. Supreme Court (Kelo case IIRC).

      • ErsatzYisrael
        April 3, 2012, 11:45 pm

        Fredblogs says:

        “I mean, there is an eminent domain clause in the US Constitution, but its not my interpretation that lets them take one person’s land to give to another person, it’s the U.S. Supreme Court (Kelo case IIRC).”

        You must be a primitive older model, or a comedy droid, or just plain ridiculous. Anyway, how do I program you to give me a wake-up call the next time the US Supreme Court uses the eminent domain clause in the US constitution to evict people from their homes in Taiwan, say, or Ramallah? I need you to be doubly sure that you’ll wake me the next time the US Supreme Court uses the eminent domain clause in the US constitution to terrorize and evict a bunch of pissy, whiny, obscenely self-entitled and self-important, formerly from the Tri-State area, American-Settler-Jews, from any of the stolen Palestinian homes they’re squatting in. You may now enter and remain in mute mode, until my required wake-up call. Thank you.

    • ToivoS
      April 3, 2012, 6:52 pm

      Fredblogs says: So does it say anywhere in this plan that the new towns are to be Jews only

      Probably not, but come back in 10 years and see the Jews only village. Gee how did that happen? There will be a new generation hasbarists who will patiently explain why and at the same time deny the JNF lands carry Jews only ownership convenants.

      • Fredblogs
        April 3, 2012, 8:49 pm

        Pretty sure that’s not legal anymore:


      • eljay
        April 3, 2012, 9:13 pm

        >> Pretty sure that’s not legal anymore …

        According to this Wiki article:
        >> The solution to the problem was eventually found in late 2007, when it was proposed to swap land between the state and the JNF. The deal was designed to render redundant the Ariel Bill, deemed by some to be racist, while allowing the JNF to continue leasing its lands only to Jews. After the initial land swap, urban JNF land sold in future to non-Jews would include an automatic swap mechanism: the fund would transfer the land to the ILA, and in exchange would receive the purchase price plus a similar-sized plot in the Negev.

        The Jewish state puts on a nice little song and dance, but the racism remains.

    • ritzl
      April 3, 2012, 7:18 pm

      If the new housing projects were open to all its citizens, Israel wouldn’t have to permanently relocate the Bedouin, would they.

      • Fredblogs
        April 3, 2012, 8:56 pm

        Depends. In America, when a neighborhood gets taken by eminent domain for a new construction project, the new construction unfortunately usually costs more than the old owners can afford. Something similar may go on here.

        Still, if the problem is discriminatory housing policies rather than eminent domain, I’m happy to agree with you that any citizen of Israel should be allowed equal opportunity to bid on the houses in the new neighborhood.

      • Annie Robbins
        April 3, 2012, 9:00 pm

        they have neighborhood commissions where there’s a representative from the jnf on the committees. it was a little switchero after the supreme court or some body outlawed the discrimination. it still happens fred.

      • Fredblogs
        April 3, 2012, 9:18 pm

        @Annie Robbins
        Sounds like the basis for a terrific lawsuit, with the precedent already set by the case you are talking about. Racial or ethnic covenants shouldn’t be allowed.

  2. Daniel Rich
    April 3, 2012, 6:12 pm

    Israel will kick Palestinians, Arabs, Bedouins and anyone else it doesn’t like outside its borders or even kill them if they have to, but settlers… hey… http://edition.cnn.com/2012/04/03/world/meast/hebron-settlers/index.html?section=cnn_latest

  3. Eva Smagacz
    April 4, 2012, 3:33 am

    Since Israel’s birth over 600 new housing communities were established and build for Jewish Israelis and NOT A SINGLE ONE has been build for non-Jewish (read Arab) Israelis.

    And, as I recall reading here, it was only in 2010 that for a FIRST TIME since 1948 one solitary non-Jewish (read Arab) community was connected to public transport network.

    • Fredblogs
      April 4, 2012, 1:21 pm

      So there are 900,000 homeless Arabs in Israel? Because, since Israel’s founding, the Arab population has gone from 150,000 or so to over 1 million. No new homes for any of them?

      • Annie Robbins
        April 4, 2012, 1:24 pm

        no new housing communities, no.

      • Annie Robbins
        April 4, 2012, 1:30 pm

        fred, perhaps you are not familiar with the agenda:


        Population growth in the Arab towns and expanded building needs were and are seen as an Arab threat to take over land. In response, mainstream Jewish planners promoted programs to establish rural Jewish settlements and to set up and expand urban settlements. The idea was “to drive a wedge” of Jewish-held land between the areas of the expanding Arab towns. Notable among Jewish urban settlements in Galilee were Upper Nazareth, established in 1957, and Karmiel in 1964. Upper Nazareth was established right alongside and above Nazareth, the largest Arab urban center in the north; Karmiel in the center of a valley in which six Arab towns were located. Both of these Jewish towns were established on land expropriated from Arab owners. Now, the Planning and Building Law allows for expropriation of privately-owned land for public purposes. “Public purpose” may be to run a roadway or a rail line, to build a hospital or a school – but in this case, “public purpose” was used as the rationale for taking land from one population group for the purpose of settling another group in its midst. The idea was that the new Jewish towns would prevent the Arab towns from coalescing geographically and would provide a population counterweight – in both ways to prevent the emergence of a true Arab urban center – as the Jewish planners put it: to counter the threat of the emergence of an Arab conurbation and, as one writer put it, to dominate the Arab towns. Such development was perceived by the Jewish planners in almost military terms. “To drive a wedge” is itself a military term. And planners referred to their programs as “geostrategic” policy. The plan for Zipporit, the large industrial park Upper Nazareth was building at the time, was described by one of the people involved in the planning as “militant Jewish development acting against militant Islam” – he referred explicitly to the great Islamic conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries.

        Although this national plan prided itself on promoting what it called the integration of the Arab population in Galilee, it did this not to make that population true partners in the development of the region but rather to defuse and ameliorate the friction that would otherwise arise from unmet needs and diminish the attractiveness of the urban centers to new Jewish settlers: it was a plan for the exclusion of the Arab towns from the major thrust of development in Galilee, while appropriating the needs of the Arab residents to the development of the Jewish centers.

        Nearly twenty years down the line, in 1995, there were some fourteen large regional industrial areas in Galilee with a total area of some 2,750 acres of land for industrial construction associated with Jewish cities and regional councils. There were another fourteen local industrial areas in the Arab towns with a grand total of 190 acres (190 compared with 2,750). This gave the Arab towns 6% of the industrial area, when at the same time, a full 48% of the Galilee population lived in the Arab towns. The ability of those towns to provide services and infrastructure for their residents is dependent upon the nearly non-existent sources of the municipal tax revenue in their jurisdiction. The absence of industrial development is a major element in the dearth of such tax revenue. Even more important, the exclusion of these towns from development impinges directly on the ability of the individuals who live in them to enjoy an equal share in progress, prosperity, and well-being.

        Zipporit, the large industrial park that was being put up in the jurisdiction of Upper Nazareth, was one of the nodes of interaction I studied. It was being built on land just then transferred, for that purpose, by the Minister of the Interior to the jurisdiction of that city. It was one of the large regional industrial parks in the government’s program. Less than 1000 meters away the Ministry of Industry was also putting up one of the small local industrial areas – in the jurisdiction of the Arab town of Kafar Kanna.

        For land for industry in Kafar Kanna, the ILA was charging nearly three-and-one-half times as much as it was charging in Zipporit. This same Jewish-Arab price differential held in other places throughout Galilee. The Ministry and Treasury officials with whom I spoke had what sounded to them like perfectly rational explanations for how this could be “not discrimination.” I don’t want to dwell on this here. My own explanation has to do with what I would call normalization.

        there’s a lot more at the link.

      • Fredblogs
        April 4, 2012, 1:52 pm

        My God, integrating populations, preventing large monolithic blocks of a single ethnicity. Why, that would be like busing students from Black Neighborhoods ™ to White Neighborhoods ™, the monsters.

        For the sarcasm impaired, that was all sarcastic.

        Taking land for the purposes of integration and your spin on it is that they are just integrating for the evuls. Wow, just wow. I love how anything that would be seen as a positive development in the U.S. by the supposed liberals here is seen as negative in Israel.

      • Annie Robbins
        April 4, 2012, 1:55 pm

        Taking land for the purposes of integration….your spin on it is that they are just integrating for the evuls

        excuse me? could you site this alleged spin, you have lost me completely. i would never characterize this as ‘integration’, ever.

      • tree
        April 4, 2012, 3:42 pm

        Taking land for the purposes of integration and your spin on it is that they are just integrating for the evuls. Wow, just wow. I love how anything that would be seen as a positive development in the U.S. by the supposed liberals here is seen as negative in Israel.

        Wow, talk about spinning! You take the cake. Here, spin this:

        The Koenig Memorandum (also known as The Koenig Report) was a confidential and internal Israeli government document authored in April 1976 by Yisrael Koenig, a member of the Alignment (then the ruling party), who served as the Northern District Commissioner of the Ministry of the Interior for 26 years.[1][2]

        The document put forward a number of strategic goals and tactical steps aimed at reducing the number and influence of Arab citizens of Israel in the Galilee region. Outlining what he viewed as “objective thought that ensures the long-term Jewish national interests,” Koenig stressed the need to “examine the possibility of diluting existing Arab population concentrations”.[3]

        The leaking of the report by the Israeli newspaper Al-Hamishmar is frequently referred to as “a major turning point in the relationship between the Israeli State and the Palestinian minority.”[4]


        On September 9, Haaretz newspaper reported that Amos Eiran, Director General of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, deplored the “leaking” of the Koenig Report by Al-Hamishmar, but no governmental figures repudiated its recommendations.[7]

        The first section of Koenig’s report is entitled, “The Demographic Problem and the Manifestations of Arab Nationalism.”[2] In this section, Koenig claims that the Arab population of the Galilee region would constitute a majority (51%) of the population there by 1978 and that this, along with rising “nationalistic” sentiments “will endanger our control of that area.”[2] He then proceeds to review the organizational capabilities of the Rakah party, foreshadowing and reflecting the important role they played in Land Day demonstrations that took place on March 30, 1976, in which six Arab citizens of Israel were killed by the IDF and Israel Police.

        In her book, “The Fate of the Jews: A People Torn Between Israeli Power and Jewish Ethics”, Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht summarizes some of the major strategic objectives and tactical steps endorsed by The Koenig Memorandum, as follows:

        To preclude any possibility of an (independent, Arab) political union, Koenig recommended building more Jewish settlements in areas that are predominantly Arab.

        Hostile Arab leaders should be replaced by compliant ones, whom Israel was to ‘create.’ Koenig wanted the number of Arab intellectuals reduced, because their frustration is potentially dangerous. He would encourage “the channeling of [Arab] students into technical professions, the physical and natural sciences. These studies leave less time for dabbling in nationalism and the dropout rate is higher.” Koenig wanted to make it easier for Arabs to study abroad and harder for them to return and find jobs. Graduates who did remain in Israel were to be coopted.

        Koenig also proposed mounting a smear campaign against Arab activists, reducing liquid savings to limit funds available in the Arab community to support political causes, and reducing the effectiveness of Arab student organizations.[10]

        Further elements in the memorandum included Koenig’s reflection that, “Social and economic security free[s] the individual and the family from economic worries … and give[s] him, consciously and subconsciously, leisure time for social and nationalistic thoughts that are exploited by hostile elements to generate ferment and bitterness.” As one practical measure to help obviate this end, Koenig proposed “neutralizing grants to large families.”[1]


        Go ahead, Fred. Substitute black and white for Arab and Jew in that memorandum and try to spin that into “promoting integration”. You’ve certainly got the hack-titude to do it.

        Israel has a long track record of expropriating privately owned Palestinian land and handing it over to Jewish settlements, whether its within the green line or in the occupied territories. Its not “integration”that Israel is after. Its a slow and methodical ethnic cleansing. That’s why Israel refers to “Judaizing the Galilee” and “Judaizing the Negev” and “Judaizing East Jerusalem”, and never talks about “Arabizing” any parts of Israel that have a small or non-existent Palestinian demographic.

  4. Mayhem
    April 4, 2012, 10:14 am

    Bedouins have been a nomadic people. With the creation of multiple states and borders, including Israel, the Bedouins can no longer travel wherever they like. They are no longer a few wandering nomadic communities practising the ways of their ancestors; they have settled in fixed locations and established ‘permanent’ communities. The vast and rapidly expanding Bedouin communities of the Negev cannot be left unregulated. Now for the last few decades they dot the landscape in tents which a developed state finds unacceptable in the 21st century. Furthermore it is completely impractible to build a complex infrastructure of sewage, pipes and roads across the Negev just to reach a few tents scattered here and there. That is why cities for the Bedouin population have been conceived.

    With the relocation of the Bedouins a city can grant them basic services such as sewage, electricity, water, welfare, road access and education. In return the state gets to tax them for these services and in the future receive an educated workforce to drive its economy. For a state to prosper its citizens must move from tents to cities and join civilization, this is basic logic. It is unfortunate that the Bedouins themselves have not been involved as much as they could have been in this whole process, but as one might expect they are obviously resistant to changing their traditional way of living.

    Another issue is the vast amount of land being clogged by those scattered tents. Building new infrastructure, mining, and other public projects becomes difficult and many legal issues can arise as more land is being illegally clogged by new tents. The urbanization of the Bedouins is a necessary step to provide them and the state with progress and a better way of life.

    While Egypt neglected its Bedouin population in the Sinai, Israel must develop and invest in her own Bedouin population, not only for the reasons mentioned above, but to serve as an example to neighboring states, who treat their Bedouin populations with far less dignity.

    Israel already has a problem trying to establish 2 states – it cannot support a 3rd state within Israel which is what is happening.  The Bedouin must accept to be regulated like everyone else. To pay taxes, receive a proper 12 year education for their children and health care. They must be part of either Israel or Palestine; they cannot become a new state of Bedouinstine. To suggest that this is all about colonialism is pure, unmitigated crap.

    • eljay
      April 4, 2012, 11:10 am

      >> They must be part of either Israel or Palestine; they cannot become a new state of Bedouinstine.

      The hypocrisy of that statement is both breath-taking and just too freakin’ funny. Well done!

    • Woody Tanaka
      April 4, 2012, 1:46 pm

      You forgot the part about Great White Father giving them treaties and missionaries if they give up their land… Maybe, after the Zios park them on marginally habitable desert, they’ll let them build casinos one day.

      Ah, the light unto the nations will join the city on the hill.

      • Matt Giwer
        April 10, 2012, 12:31 pm

        A few years ago the israeli Great White Father poisoned their wheat crop a few weeks before harvest. Israeli editorialists compared it to gas chambers. But at least they don’t send blankets.

  5. Matt Giwer
    April 10, 2012, 12:25 pm

    Israel claims to be a jewish democracy. That is clearly different from a democracy. It looks more like a white democracy.

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