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Israel’s Bedouin and the Prawer Plan

Israel's Bedouin and the Prawer Plan

Credit: Jewish Telegraphic Agency

On Monday, June 24, a new law that would regulate Bedouin settlement in Israel’s Negev region passed its first reading in the Knesset with a slim 43-40 margin. The bill, commonly referred to as the Prawer plan, provides a comprehensive solution to the issue of Bedouin villages in the Negev by proposing that some 20 of the 46 currently unrecognized villages be recognized and connected to Israel’s infrastructure. It calls for the 30,000 Bedouin who live in the other unrecognized villages in Israel’s south to be relocated to preexisting towns. Predictably, the bill has garnered much controversy. During debate over the bill in the Knesset, some Arab ministers tore up copies of the proposed legislation to show their displeasure (seen above), which spurred Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to submit an ethics complaint against them. Bedouin and their supporters are expected to demonstrate against the bill in significant numbers in the coming weeks.

Opponents and proponents of the bill have in a savvy manner put forth various factoids supporting their claims that the Prawer plan is either a generous proposal which would help the Bedouin population or an anti-democratic bill that would harshly discriminate against them. Symptomatic of other issues revolving around Israel, there are convincing arguments – at least on the surface – on both sides.

Against the bill, there are points that would make just about anyone uncomfortable:

  • During the 1948 War, most of the Bedouin in the Negev were already forcibly relocated to an area called the Siyag region (where they are now), which makes up just under 10 percent of the land of the Negev. Now many of these Bedouin would be forcibly relocated for a second time.
  • Some of the Bedouin who will be forcibly moved have probably lived in their villages since before the state of Israel came into being.
  • Bedouin who will be forcibly moved will be compensated for only half of the land they lose.
  • Individual land claims will not be systematically reviewed by the courts as part of the implementation of the bill.

In support of the bill there are some gripping arguments as well:

  • Around 63 percent of aggregate Bedouin land claims will be granted.
  • The bill ensures that upon its full implementation, all the Negev’s Bedouin will live in towns connected to the country’s infrastructure (electricity grid, water, schools, roads, etc.).
  • Hassan Ka’biyya, a well-known member of Israel’s Bedouin community who is currently working in the Foreign Ministry, has expressed support for the Prawer plan.

Proponents of the plan have done a good job of explaining the positive aspects of the bill, yet they have failed to address some crucial issues. Even if all of the arguments of the Prawer plan’s supporters are correct, they still must answer to the fact that the bill calls for the forcible transfer of some people who have lived in their villages since 1948 or earlier. Furthermore, a reliable report that a Jewish town is slated to be built (with governmental approval) on the ruins of an unrecognized Bedouin village scheduled to be demolished raises serious questions.

While all planning and zoning should certainly be regulated by the state, it seems there could be a better way of handling the issue of the Negev’s Bedouin community. The narrow margin in the 43-40 vote (and the fact that these numbers only represent a little over two-thirds of the 120 eligible voters in the Knesset) may be a sign that many in the Knesset do suspect that there are other ways to handle this. With two more rounds of voting to go through, the bill may in fact see some significant amendments before it passes — assuming that it does.  




Justin Scott Finkelstein

Justin Finkelstein recently received a Master's degree from New York University in Near Eastern Studies. He has spent most of his academic career and thereafter studying the Arab-Israeli conflict. His Master's thesis explored and analyzed the competing histories of the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem (1947-1949) and the potential for its solution.

He is currently a Research Associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia. He has traveled to both Israel and Morocco and has attended the Middlebury Arabic School program.