The Critical Case of the Palestinian Arab Community in the Negev

While the Palestinian Arab community in Israel faces collective discrimination in land, planning and housing, the sub-community of Palestinian Arabs in the Negev (or Israel’s southern desert region) is facing a unique crisis.  The community is comprised of approximately 170,000 people, the majority of which are “Bedouin” based on their family heritage.  Two-thirds of the Bedouin community lives in government-created townships that were built in the 1960s and 70s under the government slogan that they would improve the “development” of their community.   Unfortunately, this move was against the wishes of the Bedouin community, who preferred to continue to live according to their traditional agricultural lifestyle.   Thus, relocation to the townships ultimately resulted in forced urbanization.  Furthermore, these townships currently rank as some of the poorest towns in Israel.[25]   The remaining third of the Bedouin community lives in dozens of unrecognized villages as well as a few villages recently recognized by the government.  The vast majority of Bedouin citizens of Israel have been forcibly ejected from their ancestral homes, sometimes repeatedly.
The majority of home demolitions in the Negev are inflicted upon the Bedouin citizens living in 40 unrecognized villages, referred to by the state as “illegal clusters.”[26]  The Israeli government views the inhabitants of these villages as “trespassers on State land,”[27] although most have been living on the lands prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.  Hundreds of homes and other structures are demolished each year, including over 400 in 2008 alone, which left 2,700 people homeless.[28]  Unrecognized villages are excluded from state planning and government maps; they have no local councils and receive almost no basic services, including electricity, water, telephone lines, education, or health facilities.  Infant mortality rates are at least four times that of the Jewish population in the Negev, access to education is difficult given lack of adequate facilities and transportation, and the drop-out rates are the highest in the country.[29]  The residents of these villages are Israeli citizens, as are all Bedouin in the Negev, yet they are consistently denied basic rights.
The Israeli government denies the Bedouin citizens in unrecognized villages basic services and carries out home demolitions in order to encourage them to move to the planned townships in the Siyag (GoT) region.  However, most Bedouin citizens are reluctant to renounce their ancestral land claims, a precondition for residency in the townships.  Until a 2007 Supreme Court decision, herbicides were also sprayed on Bedouin crops to encourage their forced migration. Since the court ruling, authorities have resorted to uprooting crops and cutting down olive groves.[30]
One common question is why the government is so intent on moving the Bedouin from the unrecognized villages into the planned townships if their community “development” or quality of life is clearly not improved as a result.  The answer lies in the way the government views Jewish settlement of the Negev region.  There are around 70 individual Jewish farms in the Negev, accounting for 80,000 dunams. Most Jewish farms were established unlawfully without permits, but they were all retroactively legalized by an amendment to the Negev Development Authority Law, passed by the Knesset in July 2010. This law also gives the Development Authority the power to allocate land for individual Jewish settlements in the future.[31]  Whereas a plot of land given to a Bedouin family in a planned township is allocated for a single house, Jewish residents of the Negev can choose whether they want to live on a farm, a moshav (cooperative settlement consisting of separate farms), or in a town.[32]  As mentioned before, the government also exchanged State land in the Negev to the JNF for exclusively Jewish settlement.  These policies all contribute to the “Blueprint Negev” plan of the JNF, which seeks to increase Jewish settlement in the Negev by planting forests to attract Jewish residents[33] (forests which subversively create 'facts-on-the ground' because they confiscate land from the Bedouin community).  For example, the unrecognized village of Al-Araqib, which has been demolished over 38 times since July 2010, is being cleared for a JNF forest which is funded by an American evangelical TV channel called “God TV.”  The channel hopes that by planting forests in the Negev, they will prepare the ground for the Messiah’s second coming,[34] which is dependent on the return of all Jews to “Zion” or present-day Israel.    

The Goldberg Commission and Prawer Plan

In late 2007, the Israeli government established a commission to make recommendations to “solve the problem of the Bedouin in the Negev.”[35]  Retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg presided over the commission, which consisted of 8 people - 6 Jews and 2 Arabs - none of whom were residents of the unrecognized villages. The commission recommended that the State recognize villages that have a "critical mass"[36] of permanent residents and that do not interfere with other state plans. In practice this would be limited to the recognition of only a few of the unrecognized villages. The Commission also called for the establishment of several claims committees to deal with Bedouin ownership claims and provide financial compensation for expropriated land. In May 2009, the government established the Prawer Committee to outline a plan to implement the Goldberg Commission's recommendations.
The Prawer Plan is intended to put to an end, within five years, “all of the activity surrounding the issue of the lands and to most of the efforts involved in the planning of settlement solutions, and even to a significant part of their implementation.”[37] The proposals and tone of the report reject government decision no. 4411, which reads: “The government regards the outline proposed by the Goldberg Committee as a basis for regulating Bedouin settlement in the Negev.”[38] While the Goldberg Committee’s solutions were arguably well intentioned, but ultimately inadequate, the regressive nature of the Prawer Report represents a clear policy of continued marginalization for some of the most vulnerable citizens in Israel.
There are a number of specific problems with the Prawer plan:
·         No Bedouin residents were consulted in the planning process.
·         The plan is intentionally vague and complex, and does not include maps, names of villages, or actual amounts or locations of land.
·         The enacted plan would result in the demolition of most of the unrecognized villages and the expulsion of 40,000 citizens.
·         The plan only applies to approximately 40% of the Bedouin population in the Negev.
·         The Prawer Committee adopted the Goldberg Committee’s criteria for the establishment of Arab Bedouin towns (continuity, population density, size, and economic capacity), but this criterion does not apply to Jewish towns in the Negev.
·         The plan makes no effort to address historical land claims, does not grant land outside the Siyag and does not offer land for agriculture, which results in a second forced urbanization of these citizens.
·         The Committee grants sweeping, unprecedented powers to the Prime Minister to arbitrarily declare lands off-limits for residential development.
·         The plan does not take population growth into account and suggests restrictive planning.

The State knows that it is dealing with a small community with very limited resources.  The Bedouin population currently occupies less than 3% of the land of the Negev, though they make up 14% of the population. The unrecognized villages are less than 2% of the land.[39] As a clear example of the discriminatory nature of the report, it simultaneously legalizes single-family Jewish settlements while leaving unclear the minimum size that a Bedouin community must attain in order to gain recognition.
The Prawer plan reverses many of the significant admissions of the Goldberg Commission. Goldberg stated that the Bedouin residents are not “squatters” but rather citizens entitled to equal rights, and that the unrecognized villages should be recognized “to the extent possible.” Instead of recognizing the Bedouin community’s historic connection to the land and legalizing existing unrecognized villages, it asserts that the government should “establish new communities.”[40] If the Prawer plan’s recommendations come into effect, the Bedouin community will be forced to face the imminent prospect of mass displacement.

[25] Israel, Central Bureau of Statistics, “Local Authorities” 2006 <>: Table 1: Local Councils and Municipalities.
[26] Adalah, 10.
[27]Adalah, 35.
[28] Anthony Coon, et al., “The Goldberg Opportunity: A Chance for Human Rights-based Statecraft in Israel” 2010 < > 36.
[29] US Department of State, “Israel and the occupied territories” 2007 <>.
[30] Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, “The Arab-Bedouin in the Negev-Naqab desert in Israel: Shadow Report Submitted by the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality in Response to Report of the State of Israel on Implementing the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)” 2010 < > 22.
[31]Adalah, “New Discriminatory Laws and Bills in Israel”  2010 <>: 2.
[32]Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, 20.
[33]Jewish National Fund, “JNF Blueprint Negev: 2009 Campaign Update” <>: 1-5.
[34]God TV, “Tree-Planting in the Negev,” 2012 <>.
[35]RCUV: Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages, “The Goldberg Commission” November 22, 2008 <>.
[36] Human Rights Watch, “Israel: Halt Demolitions of Bedouin Homes in the Negev” 2010 <>
[37]Adalah, “The Prawer Plan and Analysis” 2011, <>: 2.
[38]Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, “The Arab Bedouin in the Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab (Negev): Between the Hammer        of Prawer and the Anvil of Goldberg”, Adalah Newsletter April 2011              <>: 5.
[39]Adalah, 35.
[40]Abu Ras, 6.