Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Israeli Bedouin: What to expect?

Minister Yair Shamir has received the Prawer Law - What can we expect?

Early in December it seemed that justice had prevailed, as Minister Beni Begin announced that he has recommended to the Prime Minister to stop the Prawer Law, and the Prime Minister agreed. However, only four days later the Knesset continued to deliberate the law, as if nothing had happened. Now we know that the Law is still on the table, and that the Minister that has been assigned to forward it is Yair Shamir, a member in Liberman's party, the right-winged partners of our right-winged government.

The Prawer law, officially named "The Law for the Settlement of the Bedouin", in fact does not have any settlement component in it. Of this long and convoluted law, the first 2/3rds are about how to bring to an end the process of land claims the government started in the early 1970s and had never continued: the law in effect will erase most of the land claims presented by the Bedouin, while allowing some meager compensation for few of the Bedouin land owners. The last part of the Prawer law is a mechanism for village evacuation and destruction that bypasses the regular legal system and the judicial system. All in all - a horrific law.

It is no wonder that such a law has brought about massive and intense resistance - and that the police is being used to crush this resistance. The violence of the police in the demonstration of November 30 has brought the conflicts in the Negev to a new level of aggression. After the demonstration the police continued to arrest youngsters, trying to instill fear in the community, hoping this will stop the demonstrations.

Moreover, even though the law has not yet completed the process of legislation, the government has already created the manpower to implement the law. New police forces - commando trained, new police cars - that can easily traverse the desert terrain and are armored, a bureaucracy of over 60 managers and employees (all Jewish), along with scores of freelance lawyers and "mediators", have been employed in the two offices created to implement the law: "The Authority for the Settlement of the Bedouin", and "The Implementation Unit for the Prawer Law". Both headed by ex-security high ranking officers - as the Bedouin are not seen as civil issue, but rather as a security issue.

The law is being implemented even before it has been legislated: weekly home demolitions all around the Negev. The village of Im-El-Hiran, which is one of the first slotted for erasure, is being "measured" in preparation of the building of the Jewish settlement to replace the existing Bedouin village. The new and combat trained police forces are itching for action, and this can be seen in every opportunity that they receive. Even if the Prawer law is halted in the Knesset, this massive apparatus already has a life of its own...

The government map for the Bedouin settlement was presented in the Knesset. It completely ignores the existence of several Bedouin villages - not surprisingly  it ignores Im el Hiran. It also ignores the Wadi Naam - with its 10,000 residents. Then it goes on to claim that the lands of another 10-15 villages will be "returned to the government". These lands have never been owned by the government, as they are the lands claimed by the Bedouin in the 1970's and that the government never processed. These 15 villages are to be erased, and their inhabitants are to be settled in urban neighborhoods of other villages and towns. The remaining villages (about 15) are to be concentrated on a fraction of the land available to them today - in effect - to become neighborhoods of the close by towns. The Bedouin villages now are sitting on less than 3% of the Negev lands, and this is very minimal land for an agrarian community. After the implementation of this map - they will be allowed to live on only 1% of the Negev lands - with no access to the land so necessary for the income and wellbeing of the community. The "cleared out" 2% of Negev (desert) lands are to remain clear - clean of Bedouins.

The RCUV together with Bimkom (planners for human rights) and Sidreh (Bedouin women's empowerment organization) and headed by Prof. Oren Yiftahel are at the final stages of creating a Bedouin settlement master plan. This plan was created in the manner the government should have created its plans for the Bedouin: basing it on the community needs as well as the principals of planning accepted in Israel. Furthermore, if follows the principles of equality. This master plan shows that there is no need to remove, erase or concentrate any of the Bedouin villages. We call upon Minister Shamir and the Government of Israel to adopt this master plan and to implement policies that are based on equality and human dignity, and that will begin the process of healing from the 60 years of harmful policies towards its Bedouin citizens.

Yeela Raanan