Israeli security forces stand guard while the Bedouin village of Al Araqib is demolished (Photo: Getty Images)
Israel is moving ahead with a plan that will forcibly displace Bedouin citizens against their will. On May 6, Israeli cabinet ministers gave their seal of approval to the controversial plan, which entails leveling villages and then moving Bedouin-Arabs from a number of unrecognized villages in Israel into government-approved towns. Some of the demolished Bedouin villages are slated to be replaced with Jewish towns–exposing the system of ethnocracy that prevails in all the territories Israel controls, including within the Green Line.
The cabinet approval clears the way for a Knesset bill to be submitted to implement the scheme, Haaretz reports.
The Israeli government has presented the plan as a way to ensure Bedouin “prosperity” in the employment and education fields. It will “put an end to the spread of illegal building by Negev Bedouin and lead to better integration of the Bedouin into Israeli society,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in January. But the Bedouins themselves, who have inhabited the Negev area in southern Israel long before the establishment of the state, are rejecting the plan. If implemented, it will put an end to their rural way of life, and they will be forced into urban areas.
It “means Judaization of [the] Negev. The main goal of these plans is to seize Arab lands and exterminate Arab roots,” Atiyeh al-A’sam, a Bedouin community leader, told Ma’an News.
The initial framework for the plan was approved in September 2011. The Prawer Plan, as it is known, was okayed by Netanyahu back in March 2012. Consultations with the Bedouin public were undertaken after initial approval of the plan. But critics of the current version say that little has changed from the original framework, and that it will still lead to the displacement of up to 40,000 people (though the Israeli Palestinian group Adalah says it could displace 70,000 people). Organizations from Amnesty International to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination have decried the Prawer Plan.
“The government approved a plan that will cause the displacement and forced eviction of dozens of villages and tens of thousands of Bedouin residents, dispossessing them of their property and historical rights to their lands, destroying the social fabric of their communities, and sealing the fate of thousands of families into poverty and unemployment,” said ACRI Attorney Rawia Aburabia in a statement.
At the heart of the plan is the destruction of at least 25 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and the forcible relocation of residents into seven government-created areas and 10 recognized Bedouin villages. No Bedouin areas beyond the government-recognized areas and villages will be allowed to be established. New Jewish communities will be built on the ruins of some of the villages–all part of a scheme to develop the Negev for Jews, an Israeli government priority. Some compensation will be offered to Bedouin citizens, though the compensation offered has also been criticized. “Only those Arab Bedouin citizens who claimed land in the 1970s are able to receive any form of compensation (land or monetary) from the state,” states Adalah in an analysis of the Prawer Plan. “Compensation will amount to a maximum of 50% of the land claimed, though reasonable estimates reveal that the Bedouin will receive only about 16%. Further, all compensation is conditioned on the claimant giving up his/her ancestral land.”
And many Bedouins insist that their concerns have not been taken into account and that the way forward is for the government to recognize their villages, not demolish them.
There are 200,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel, a traditionally nomadic people who are now dispersed between overcrowded and underserved government-recognized areas and other unrecognized villages. 35 villages in total are unrecognized by the state, and are thus denied access to electricity, water and other basic services while living under the constant threat of demolition.
Many were expelled during the Nakba. After the establishment of the State of Israel, Bedouins were forced into the barren Siyag area, while the cleared out parts of the Negev were given over to the new Jewish citizens of the state, as author and academic Neve Gordon wrote in Al Jazeera English. The Bedouin, along with other Palestinians within Israel, were also forced to live under a brutal military regime until 1966.
Since the 1970s, Israeli authorities have repeatedly demolished thousands of what they term “illegal” Bedouin structures. The latest iteration of this policy has been seen in al-Araqib, an unrecognized Bedouin village that has been leveled 49 times. The Jewish National Fund plans to build a forest on the ruins of the village.
So the Prawer Plan is only the latest indignity to be forced upon the Bedouin population of Israel. The bulldozers are coming, and along with them images of forced displacement from a state founded on that process.