UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Thursday that she regrets that Israel “continues to actively pursue a discriminatory policy of forced displacement against Arab citizens.” In a statement issued by her office, Pillay urged the Israeli government to reconsider the proposed “Law for Regularising Bedouin Habitation in the Negev”, known as the Prawer-Begin Bill.
If adopted, the statement said, this Bill is likely to result in the demolition of up to 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev Desert and lead to the dispossession, eviction and forcible displacement of as many as 30,000-40,000 Arab Bedouins from their ancestral land and homes.
“As citizens of Israel, the Arab Bedouins are entitled to the same rights to property, housing and public services as any other group in Israel,” Pillay said. “The Government must recognise and respect the specific rights of its Bedouin communities, including recognition of Bedouin land ownership claims.”
The UN official added, “I am alarmed that this bill, which seeks to legitimise forcible displacement and dispossession of indigenous Bedouin communities in the Negev, is being pushed through the Knesset.” She noted that the proposed Bill does not recognise any traditionally-owned Bedouin land titles in the Negev Desert.
“It [Israel] offers limited and inadequate compensation on the condition that claimants move to one of the seven officially recognised urban Bedouin townships it has created,” Pillay pointed out. “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.”
The 2008 Goldberg Commission set up by the Israeli Government recognised that the Negev Bedouins must be viewed as equal citizens with historic ties to the land, and that they were legitimate residents of the Negev. Goldberg also recommended that, as far as possible, the state should recognise each one of the “unrecognised” villages, depending on the number of residents and its eligibility for municipal status.
The first reading of the proposed Prawer-Begin Bill passed by a narrow margin in the Knesset on 24 June and is expected to go through the second and third readings before the end of July.