Following former minister Benny Begin’s dramatic announcement that the Prawer Plan was to be shelved, there has been some uncertainty regarding its future. Despite Begin saying that he was acting in coordination with the Prime Minister, other figures such as Maj-General (res) Doron Almog, responsible for implementing the plan and MK Miri Regev (Likud) chairperson of the Internal Affairs Committee that was discussing the proposed law, claimed that it was ‘business as usual’ for the Plan.
This week (07/01/14) it was announced that the issue of ‘regulating’ Bedouin settlement in the Negev has been handed over to Minister of Agriculture Yair Shamir (Israel is our Home) to rework the Plan and implement it via his Ministry. Shamir, son of hard line prime minister Itzhak Shamir (1983-4 and 1986-92), is a former colonel in the air-force and was a business man before becoming a politician in 2013. On a visit to the Negev on Tuesday, January 7, Shamir declared that he is formulating a new program, one that will focus on economic development rather with land issues and will ensure that ‘every Bedouin child has a plot of land and a future.’ He spoke of the necessity to ‘renew the Negev’ – a euphemism for judaization. Shamir said quite bluntly that although his first objective would be to gain the Bedouin’s trust and negotiate with them, if no agreement was reached, the government would implement a future plan “by force.”
Every year, NCF organizes a photography workshop for the children of the Bedouin unrecognized villages, in cooperation with volunteer photographers. This year, the workshop take place in two villages – Sawain and Khashem Zane, during the winter holiday of the Arab schools in the Negev. The workshop started with a distribution of digital cameras that the children will be allowed keep for themselves at the end of the workshop. During the last couple of days, the children started learning how to use the camera, and volunteer photographers like Miki Kretzman- head of the photography department in Bezalel, Esti Nuibach and Achikam Seri came and work with the children in order to give them photography skills. The photographs taken during the workshop will be presented in the future at photo-exhibitions, in order to raise awareness of the situation in the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev.
On January 9, 2014 some 300 people participated in a demonstration against what is still known as the ‘Prawer Plan’. Demonstrators flew flags and held placards bearing the slogan ‘NO to Prawer’ and a cheerleader called rhythmic chants in Arabic and Hebrew. As well as MK’s Dr Ahmed Tibi and Muhammed Barakeh, regional council heads and other Bedouin dignitaries took part and there was good representation of Bedouin women. NCF staff were there together with members of the organization’s secretariat and other volunteers.
Ex-Minister Benny Begin who was charged by the Government with amending the Prawer Plan (the Plan for Regulating Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, 2011) (PBP) slated to become law during this Knesset session. The Law passed its first reading in the Knesset and has been debated in the Standing Committee for Internal Affairs and the Environment. The Government Coalition assessed it did not have a majority to pass it into law.
Not only that, but contrary to the claims of Major General (Res) Doron Almog who is the official responsible for implementing the plan, if and when it becomes law, Begin stated publicly that not only does he not have the acceptance of the Bedouin community but he has not consulted with them or presented his plan to the community. One may wonder at this statement, considering that the proposed law targets a very specific public and will have far-reaching and often devastating effects not only on the lives of some 40,000 Bedouin, citizens of Israel, for the Bedouin community as a whole but also for all residents of the Negev, Bedouin and Jewish alike.
On Thursday, 12 December Begin called a special press conference and declared that although he felt the Plan to be fair and far reaching, it did not stand the test of reality and he had recommended to Prime Minister Netanyahu that it be withdrawn. At the press conference he claimed, contrary to his previous assertions, that in preparing the Plan as a law he had conducted hearings with the Bedouin community and over 1,000 Bedouin had participated in those hearings. Begin said that he himself had met with 600 individuals.
The tabling of the law on the one hand it gives more time to organize against it by lobbying and protesting. We at NCF are hopeful that the lesson will be learnt and that the Government will open a real dialogue with the Negev Bedouin and consider the alternative plans that show that recognition of all the Bedouin villages is a realistic planning possibility. On the other hand, putting Prawer aside may mean a very much harsher plan in the future that will find support among the Right wing of the Government coalition which can easily round up a majority. NCF will continue to monitor the situation very closely over the coming months.
While the discussion of the Prawer Plan bill continues at the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, which prepares the bill for the second and third round of voting, the protest against Prawer Plan intensifies, in Israel and worldwide. November 30 was declared as a day of rage against the plan, and demonstrations took place all around the world. In Israel, demonstrations were held in Hura, Jerusalem, Haifa and Taibe.
Hura Demonstration Escalates, 28 Protesters Arrested
The main demonstration, outside of the Bedouin town of Hura in the Negev, started at 3:30 pm, and ended only around 11 pm at night. It was a peaceful demonstration with approximately 1000 participants, who chanted and held signs against the plan. Yet, after about an hour, when police decided to reinforce the already huge forces in the scene, including water cannons that were placed in front of the protesters, the demonstration heated up. Protesters that were standing at the front of the demonstration said that it was the Mista’arvim, policemen disguised as Arab protesters, who caused the escalation and started throwing stones at the police. From that point, the demonstration turned into a battle field. Police horsemen stormed into the crowd while protesters were running away into the field, stun grenades and tear gas were thrown into the crowd, and rubber coated metal bullets were shot by the police. A police helicopter flew overhead and two water cannons, one with blue dye, sprayed the crowd. Protesters responded by throwing stones at the police and lighting tires on the road. During that time, 28 protesters were arrested and were taken to the nearby police station. While a couple of the detainees were released on bail during the night and five more were released on Sunday morning, approximately 20 are still detained and will be brought to court today, for an extension of their arrest.
A discussion of the “Prawer-Begin Bill”, for the regulation of Bedouin settlement in the Negev, is held every Wednesday at the Internal Affairs Committee of the Knesset. The committee, headed by MK Miri Regev of the Likud – Israel Beytenu party, has been discussing the general outlines of the bill for the last three weeks. Next week the committee will start discussing the specific articles and details of the bill.
During the discussions vigils take place outside the Knesset.
On Sunday, November 24th, the committee is supposed to visit the Naqab, but according to the plan the committee published it will visit Rahat, Laquie and the newly recognized villages Al-Sayyed and Wadi Rowien (Molada). The Naqab Arabs steering committee declared a general strike on the same day, since the committee will not meet any of the Arab Bedouin leaders from the Naqab and some of the Knesset members from the left will not participate in the visit.
During a commemorative government meeting at the Negev, held last week in Sdeh Boker, the government approved the establishment of two new settlements in the Negev, Hiran and Kasif. Hiran, which is planned to be built on the lands of the Bedouin unrecognized village of Umm Al-hiran, was approved despite an appeal to the Supreme Court which has not been discussed yet.
For Further reading in Haaretz: Cabinet OKs demolishing Bedouin village, replacing with Jewish town
For a video about Umm Al-hiran and the group that intends to establish Hiran click here
During the government meeting, tens of residents, NCF activists and others protested against the approval of Hiran and Kasif, 3 protesters were arrested, and one was detained.
Next Wednesday, November 6th the Internal Affairs Committee of the Knesset, headed by MK Miri Regev (Likud-Israel Beiteinu) will review the Prawer Begin Bill, officially known as the Law for Regulating Bedouin Settlement in the Negev. The name conceals a massive programme of dispossession and displacement, as we have frequently reported.
Dr. Benny Begin, one of the later architects of the plan will open the proceedings with an exposition of the Bill and the current situation in the Negev. Mr. Atiya Al-Assam, chair of the Region Council of Unreconized Villages has requested to present the alternative plan of the Bedouin community during the hearings.
The Committee is to meet weekly in order to speed up final legislation by the end of this year or by early 2014. The Likud party (3 members) supports the Bill, the position of Yesh Atid (2) Avoda, (1) Hatnuah (1) Ra’am Ta’al (1) Shas (1) Hadash (1) Meretz (1) Yehadut HaTorah (1) remains to be seen. NGO’s, including the NCF, are lobbying against the Bill among these parties.
These are bad times for Israel in which the parliamentary process is being used to further a law that, if passed, represents the tyranny of the majority. Most of the Bedouin community opposes the law which is discriminatory and even anti-democratic since it proposes forced relocation of Israeli citizens from their homes in order to eventually replace them with other Israeli (Jewish) citizens. If passed, the law will intensify the discrimination between Jews and Arabs. It will disrupt the delicate fabric of Jewish-Arab relations in the Negev, and indeed, throughout Israel.
Simultaneously to the Bill, the Government has announced a new initiative of five new villages along the Be’er-Sheva Dimona road (Route 25) on the site of several Bedouin villages. This in addition to 10 new (Jewish) villages announced in November 2011, some of which are also sited on Bedouin lands.
On Wednesday, November 6th and Thursday, November 7th NCF will hold two days of documentary films and discussions about the Naqab at the Tel Aviv.
Cinematheque. “Recognized” the exhibition of photographs taken by children from the village of A-Sir who participated in a NCF project that took place in the village in January 2013. The exhibition will be presented at the Cinematheque between October 31 and November 15th. “Recognized” can also be seen at the Sourasky Central Library of Tel-Aviv University and is open daily to the public until November 14th.
Sheikh Sayyah A-Turi, the Sheikh of the village of Al-Arakib, was detained by police on Wednesday (October 9) in the village of Al-Arakib that was demolished again by the authorities on Tuesday (October 8). He was taken to Rahat police station and then moved to the district police headquarters in Be’er-Sheva. After long hours in custody, he was released. Despite an attempt by police to release him with a 30 days restraining order from the village, he was released with no terms and immediately went back to his village.
The arrest of the Sheikh was just another attempt by the police to hinder the struggle of Al-Arakib, as during the last months, a couple of residents were arrested and the village was demolished a dozen of times. On August 26, the village of Al-Arakib was demolished for the third time in two weeks and more than 50 times all in all. After the demolition, 4 of its residents were arrested, including the Sheikh of the village. They were accused of trespassing and disobeying a legal order. On August 27, their court hearing started at the Be’er-Sheva Court, but the judge decided that his ruling will be presented only on Friday, August 30.
On Friday, the judge ruled that the residents will be released with no restraining orders (that the state demanded). Then, state appealed to the district court against the release terms. During a hearing held at the district court of Be’er-Sheva, the judge asked both sides to discuss and find an accepted solution. As the sides did not agree on a solution, the judge ruled that the residents of the village will be allowed to enter the area of the village but any construction will be forbidden, and that all the structures, build since August 26, will be demolished. In order to enforce the ruling, a high bail was set for every violation of the release terms, which can be replaced by imprisonment.