On Saturday, protests were held worldwide in global defiance of a bill currently going through Israel’s Knesset. The bill, known as the Prawer Plan, aims to forcibly relocate up to 70,000 Bedouin into Israeli government regulated towns and cities.
In an act of solidarity with the Bedouin communities, thousands of people from at least 14 different countries around the world protested in more than 30 cities in a declared international “Day of Rage“.
In Palestine and Israel, Israeli soldiers and police attempted to suppress the demonstrations. In Jerusalem, protest chants led by a blind female activist were dispersed and police on horses chased journalists covering the event. In the Naqab, or Negev as it is called in Israel, many arrests took place, including a 13-year-old Bedouin child who still remains in detention. In Haifa, the story unfolded similarly, as it did across all of the eight cities in the West Bank and Israel where protests were organised.
If the bill passes the final reading in Israel’s parliament before the end of the year, as predicted, the Bedouin who have been living for years across 35 “unrecognised” villages in the Negev will be relocated to seven government planned towns.
Whilst some of the villages pre-date the formation of the State of Israel, the government chooses not to accept their legitimacy. In the 1950’s, the Bedouin were declared as citizens of Israel; however, they continue to be denied their basic humanitarian needs.
Although Israel’s Bedouin communities are often cited by the government as an example of a multi-cultural Israel that stands for equal rights and democracy, the “unrecognised” villages are not under municipal jurisdiction, thus do not receive essential social services, and the Bedouin cannot run for office or vote in local elections.
Cut off from electricity and clean water for years, denied the right to build their own homes, schools and health clinics, Israel’s PR team is now presenting the Prawer Plan as a sudden awakening of the Israeli public’s moral conscience.
But under this pretext of humanitarian concerns, the Bedouin will be severed from their historic land and agricultural livelihoods and herded into an urban area that occupies only one per cent of the Negev. The towns they will be relocated to reportedly suffer from a lack of employment opportunities, poverty and high crime rates.
As the Bedouin face forcible removal, Israel is busy advertising for Jews living outside the country to relocate to the Negev, while also advancing plans to develop towns for an exclusively Jewish population on the rubble of the Bedouin’s former livelihoods.
The Jewish National Fund, a quasi-official arm of the Israeli government, is currently engaged in a $4 billion project called Blueprint Negev to ensure that the area has a majority Jewish population. Meanwhile, the IDF is reportedly building a whole new city in the Negev named Bahadim that will house 11,000 military personnel, and in 2010 the government announced land subsidies for career soldiers moving to the area.
Indeed IDF Chief Logistics Officer Brigadier General Mufid Ganam, who is in charge of the Bahadim City building project, reportedly said, “11,000 soldiers, officers and career soldiers will be moving to the Negev when Bahadim City is finished being built. This is how we are realizing Ben Gurion’s vision.”
The Prawer Plan has been met with international condemnation. The UN committee on the elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Israel to withdraw the proposal in 2012, and the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on Israel to stop the Prawer Plan and its policies of forced displacement and dispossession.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has also spoken out against the Prawer Plan: “If this bill becomes law, it will accelerate the demolition of entire Bedouin communities, forcing them to give up their homes, denying them their rights to land ownership, and decimating their traditional cultural and social life in the name of development.”
But despite the international outcry, the Israeli leadership is steadfastly advancing the bill. Following the Day of Rage, Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu condemned anti-Prawer protests, reportedly saying: “We will try the offenders to the full extent of the law. We will not tolerate such riots. We shall continue to advance the Prawer Bill.”
“Attempts by a loud and violent minority to deny a better future to a large and broad population are grave,” a statement from Netanyahu read. “We will continue to advance the law for a better future for all residents of the Negev.”
The Dark Side of the Prawer Plan
Some politicians, however, admit that they are backing the Prawer Plan for other reasons. In response to the demonstrations, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman pointed out that, “We are fighting over the national land of the Jewish people and there are those that intentionally try to steal that land and control it by force. It is impossible to close our eyes and run from this reality.”
Lieberman’s comments reveal that much darker motivations may be guiding the Israeli government, leading many to refer to the Prawer Plan as the next Nakba.
Some critics argue that the forced expulsion of Palestinians from historical Palestine in 1948 when the State of Israel was formed, known as the Nakba, is directly linked to the forced displacement of the Bedouin under the Prawer Plan. Others claim the Prawer Plan is yet another part of the continuous and “everyday Nabka” faced by Palestinians from 1948 until today. The forced displacement, mass expulsion and massacres that took place during the Nakba are widely recognised as ethnic cleansing.
Strategic policies aimed at displacing people are routinely exercised in the West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem, where Israel’s guiding principle appears to be securing large swathes of land for its Jewish citizens, while minimising the number of Arabs.
200,000 Bedouin live in the Negev, which comprises around 60 per cent of Israel’s territory. The plan to relocate the Bedouin communities to urban towns that comprise just one per cent of the land is similar to what happened in Apartheid South Africa’s Bantustans, where under the façade of morality, Dr. Hendrick Voerwood herded the majority black population into reserves that made up only 13 per cent of the land.
Attempting to secure the “national homeland for the Jewish people” while destroying Arab villages and homes, Israel is ploughing large sums of money and resources into further Judaising lands across historic Palestine.
The World Zionist Organisation’s Settlement Division is currently formulating a plan to settle more Jews in the Galilee to achieve a demographic balance with the Arab population there. In Nazareth, the District court confirmed the legality of making military service a basic requirement for access to housing—the Palestinian residents of Nazareth are not required to serve in the military. Attempts to Judaise Occupied East Jerusalem seek to ensure that Jerusalem becomes the undivided capital of Israel.
The constant discrimination faced by the Bedouin demonstrates that rather than being Israeli citizens of the Negev, Israel views them as Palestinians of the Naqab. The destruction of their villages is part of destroying their traces of belonging to the land and is part of the everyday war waged to extinguish traces of Palestinian-ness.
The removal of all physical and cultural evidence for the existence of a group is an inherent part of ethnic cleansing.
“This is not like leaving a tent in the desert for a nice apartment in the city. The townships they have built for us are terrible. There is crime and no jobs and it is overcrowded,” Jamil Hussein, a 27-year-old Bedouin activist told Buzzfeed.
“Our ancestral homes are in the Negev and just because Israel doesn’t recognize it doesn’t mean they get to move us like cattle.”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.