Israel’s Knesset is pushing to pass legislation that would forcibly relocate tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens.
As Palestinian and Israeli leaders assemble in Washington for their first direct talks in three years, the Israeli Knesset is pushing to pass legislation that will displace tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens in the Negev region of southern Israel.
In late July, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said negotiations are currently intended to span nine months, adding that he believes “the leaders, the negotiators, and citizens invested in this effort can make peace for one simple reason: because they must.”
“A viable two-state solution is the only way this conflict can end—and there is not much time to achieve it,” Kerry said. But the overwhelmingly majority of Palestinians — including those who carry Israeli citizenship — do not share Kerry’s optimism.
Doubts of U.S. and Israeli sincerity are only exacerbated by Israel’s latest plan to forcibly relocate the Bedouin population in the Negev desert.
An oft-overlooked demographic within the already marginalized Palestinian minority, Bedouins make up around 30 percent of the region’s total population. Between 2008 and 2011, roughly 2,200 homes were demolished by the state, resulting in the displacement of some 14,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel, the Negev Coalition for Civil Equality recently told Al Jazeera.
The Prawer Plan
The Prawer-Begin Bill refers to those 200,000 Bedouins in the Negev as “citizens with equal rights in the State of Israel [who are] entitled an economic-social framework that will enable them to realize the opportunities for growth that are available to citizens of Israel.”
Its projected consequences are quite far from ensuring equal opportunities, however. Around 30,000 Bedouins from 35 “unrecognized” villages will be forcibly relocated to bantustan-like townships approved by the government.
While a great deal of those who are slated for dispossession live in villages that predate the 1948 establishment of Israel, many were also placed on their present lands by military decree following the state confiscation of their land following 1948.
The first reading of the bill was approved by the Knesset in late June. In order to become law, Israeli daily Haaretz reported, it “must pass two more Knesset readings. But it could also be modified in committee prior to subsequent votes by the full Knesset.”
Far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party has spearheaded efforts to pass the Begin-Prawer Bill. In addition to the angry response from Palestinians across the map, organizations and political parties close to the Israeli settler establishment also have offered stubborn opposition to the plan, but for vastly different reasons: They argue that there is no need to compensate the displaced because “there is no basis to recognize Bedouin ownership of land” in the first place.
The plan has been roundly denounced by human rights organizations and international legal bodies. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, slammed the bill. “As citizens of Israel, the Bedouin are entitled to the same rights to property, housing and public services as any other group in Israel.”
“The government must recognize and respect the specific rights of its Bedouin communities, including recognition of Bedouin land ownership claims,” Pillay added.
A unified pushback
In response, activists in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories have staged a number of coordinated demonstrations. Their message has been boosted by a handful of solidarity protests across the globe, particularly in the United States and Europe.
On July 15, a nationwide campaign brought out thousands in Beersheba, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza City and elsewhere. A general strike was declared by the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee — which represents Palestinian citizens of Israel — leaving businesses and municipalities in Arab parts of Israel closed.
At least 34 people were arrested, according to 972 Magazine. Israeli forces reportedly used excessive force by employing stun grenades and attacked unarmed protesters without provocation, with an Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights attorney claiming that “two of the [arrested] men were taken into a room and beaten badly while in custody.”
The resistance offered to the Prawer Plan, writes journalist and activist Linah al-Saafin at The Electronic Intifada, “asserts that despite political division, non-representative and collaborative leadership, Palestine remains from the river to the sea, with the Bedouins in the Naqab an integral component of the Palestinian population.”
Two weeks later on Aug. 1, demonstrators staged another ‘Day of Rage.’ Similar protests alighted across the country, accompanied by arrests and claims of indiscriminate and disproportionate force by police.
“Since the Second Intifada, I haven’t felt Palestinians as united as they were last month [at the anti-Prawer Plan demonstrations],” Maria Zahran, a Palestinian human rights activist, told Mint Press News. She also reported that there was close coordination between Palestinians inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank.
“There was a big push from the younger generations,” said Zahran, adding that youth activist networks were created to continue organizing after the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee announced it wouldn’t organize another protest after the July 15 strike. This coordination between young people birthed the Aug. 1 demonstration.
Palestinian citizens of two states?
Tzipi Livni, Israeli Justice Minister and chief negotiator, said history “is made by realists who are not afraid to dream.” But a quick survey of the discourse over negotiations shows that few see her dream of a two-state solution as realistic or desirable.
British journalist and activist Ben White recently wrote, “The bigger risk is not that these negotiations may fail, but that, on their current terms, they may succeed.”
“The two-state solution… is designed to preserve Israel as an ethnocratic Jewish state in the majority of historic Palestine,” he added. “Establish a hollow authority in Ramallah to save a pretend democracy in Haifa.”
Speaking in Jerusalem in March, President Obama pledged 3 billion dollars a year in aid to Israel for the next decade. In order to bring the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table, Kerry has sought to implement a four billion dollar investment plan to resurrect the lifeless Palestinian economy.
Yet despite the immense financial resources being poured into the current negotiations, there is a growing consensus that the two-state solution ignores the basic national rights of Palestinians in Israel and those exiled in refugee camps. The Prawer Plan offers a grim peak into the potential future of those Palestinians left as a minority in Israel if negotiations bring into being a Palestinian state around the 1967 borders.
“We all know that it can’t be a Jewish state and democratic at the same time,” Zahran concluded. “If there are Arab citizens and other minorities and it’s Jewish-only, it’s not a state for all its citizens.”