There are approximately 170,000 Bedouin in the Negev (southern part of Israel), and 70,000 who reside in unrecognized villages. Many of the current Bedouin villages were created in the 1950s when the Israeli army resettled Bedouin from the Sinai desert, and lack basic services like running water, electricity and schools. While the Bedouin claim this land as their own, many do not have legal documentation proving ownership.
The current Israeli Knesset legislation on the Bedouin issue - "The Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev" - is based on the Prawer-Begin Plan. The Plan is the implementation of a report submitted in December 2008 by the Goldberg Committee, led by former Supreme Court Judge Eliezer Goldberg, which was established by the Israeli government to address the issue of Bedouin settlement in the Negev. The Plan was prepared by a team led by Ehud Prawer, head of the Policy Planning Department in the Prime Minister's Office, and was modified by then-Minister Ze'ev "Benny" Begin following a "listening period" of dialogue with the Bedouin community.
The Prawer-Begin Plan is part of a larger Israeli government initiative aimed at fostering development across the Negev region for all its residents. The proposed legislation aims to settle the long-running land ownership disputes between the Negev Bedouin and the State of Israel, and bring significant quality-of-life assistance, including educational and economic opportunities, to the Bedouin community.
The main principles of the legislation call for:
- Resolving Bedouin land disputes by recognizing the majority of Bedouin settlements (62%), and providing significant financial support for building houses and connecting the settlements to the national water and electricity networks
- Relocating between 30,000 and 40,000 Bedouin to existing or new towns in the Negev region, while providing relocated Bedouin with financial and land compensation
- Creating educational and employment opportunities for Negev Bedouin to help bolster economic growth
In June 2013, the legislation passed a first reading in the Knesset. A final vote on the legislation is expected in early 2014.
The legislation has encountered opposition from Israeli politicians and organizations on both the right (who feel the plan capitulates to illegal building by the Bedouin) and the left (who feel the plan violates Bedouin human rights), and popular protests against the plan have taken place across Israel. Some within Israel and internationally have seized upon the legislation as an opportunity to level extreme and unfounded criticisms against the State of Israel, as well as purposely conflate the Bedouin issue with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For more on the legislation, please see the legislative update prepared by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab issues. The Task-Force, which counts ADL as a member of its executive committee, is a coalition of North American Jewish entities whose mission is to generate awareness about and advance civic equality among Israel’s Arab citizens.