The illegal outpost of Khan al Ahmar; Route 1 can be seen in the background

The Regavim Movement reacted with concern to the state’s response in the Khan al Ahmar case, which was submitted to the High Court this evening.

The government requested an additional six month delay of the deadline to submit its official position to the court in the matter of the illegal outpost on Route 1 slated for demolition over a decade ago. During this additional half-year period, the state intends to submit a confidential document to the court detailing all the considerations that impact the enforcement of demolition orders at the site.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, sharply criticized the state’s response, and the conduct of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

“From the first day of the current government’s term, we have stressed that deeds, not words, are what count,” Deutsch said. “Today it has become clear that contrary to its oft-repeated declarations, this government is continuing along the dangerous trajectory set by its predecessor, conducting its law enforcement system according to the whims of foreign governments.”

“The root of anarchy is selective, preferential law enforcement. No sector or segment of the population should enjoy immunity from law enforcement because of international pressure while the law is enforced against other sectors.”

Regavim noted that in earlier responses to the High Court, the state explained that law enforcement at Khan al Ahmar would be postponed for fear that this would trigger proceedings in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

“This conduct broadcasts a very problematic message to the world, intimating that the State of Israel is a guest in this territory when in fact Judea and Samaria have been under internationally-recognized Israeli jurisdiction for a longer period of time than the British Mandate and the Jordanian occupation combined,” noted Deutsch.

“The time has come for the State of Israel to exercise its rights to this territory, and to behave in a manner befitting the sovereign body responsible for law enforcement in the area according to international law and in accordance with the historic right of the State of Israel to the territories of Judea and Samaria.”

Yesterday marked the International Day of Indigenous Peoples. During the Knesset’s Finance Committee meeting, MK Mossi Raz of Meretz claimed that the Bedouin minority in the Negev are “indigenous”. We’d like to enlighten MK Raz and explain why his claim is patently false.

What constitutes an indigenous people is a complicated question that is yet to be solved. The International Labor Organization, an affiliate of the United Nations, tried to advance two covenants on the matter – but without success.

However, despite the absence of a universally accepted definition, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that was adopted in 2007 states that an indigenous people is a separate political entity with unique characteristics within the framework of the state.

The main, recurring parameters of indigenousness are listed in a research paper published by Professor Ruth Kark, Dr Havetzelet Yahel and Dr Seth Frantzman.

  • Descendants of the people who were first in a particular territory.
  • People that have lived on the land “from time immemorial”, for thousands of years.
  • Presence on the land and exercising of sovereignty before newcomers arrived.
  • Experience of oppression by a foreign culture and legal regime.
  • A unique, common relationship of a spiritual nature with the land on which they live or have lived.
  • Self-identification and recognition by others as indigenous.

Addressing the question of whether Bedouin in the Negev can be considered an indigenous people, the research paper answered with an “an unequivocal No”.

Here’s a summary of the findings.

“Original inhabitants: Many groups preceded the Bedouin in Palestine in general and in the Negev in particular, including the Jewish people, which has maintained uninterrupted presence in the land since biblical times. Hence, the Bedouin can hardly claim to be the country’s original inhabitants.”

Time dimension —the so-called “time immemorial” parameter: The Negev Bedouin have been there for only 200 years. They can’t claim presence in the land before the arrival of the foreign power as the imperial Ottoman presence predated that of the Bedouin by centuries. By contrast, Jewish presence in Palestine fully corresponds to the “from time immemorial” parameter.

Sovereignty: The Negev Bedouin were never sovereign in the area. When they arrived, the Negev was already under Ottoman rule, before coming under British, then Israeli sovereign authority.

“Oppression by a foreign culture and legal regime: It was, in fact, the Bedouin who imposed themselves on established settlers in the Negev, displacing them and destroying their villages. The Ottoman Muslim order, which they confronted upon arrival, was similar to what they had experienced in the other parts of the empire from which they migrated to Palestine.”

Unique spiritual relationship to the territory: Nomadic life, by definition, precludes permanent attachment to specific territory. There is no evidence of long-standing Bedouin traditions relating to the Negev. This makes sense considering their fairly short presence there and nomadic lifestyle, and they look to the Arabian Peninsula as their historical homeland.

“Moreover, the Bedouin are not currently asking for collective land rights, rather all their claims are formulated on an individual basis (overwhelmingly by males with almost total exclusion of women), demanding the right of individuals to sell land and transfer it to a third party.

“These private demands are not congruent with the spiritual dimension parameter and even contradict it, which leads to the conclusion that the main Bedouin aspirations are for private gain and have no real collective element relevant to a campaign for recognition as indigenes.”

Self-identification and recognition by others as indigenous: the Bedouin claim to indigenousness is very new, having been raised for the first time only a few years ago. “Earlier studies did not report that the Negev Bedouin consider themselves as such, nor did the researchers make the claim that they were an indigenous people. Since Bedouin tribes in other Middle Eastern countries have never claimed indigenousness, the validity of this claim by the Negev Bedouin is doubtful”.

*****

We hope that MK Raz will stop spreading fake news.

Read the full research paper here.

Illegal Bedouin encampment in the Negev

The Regavim Movement reacted to the findings of the State Comptroller, released today (Wednesday) in a report focusing on governance in the Negev: “The government can turn the situation in the Negev around – by enacting five practical recommendations that arise from this in-depth and comprehensive report.”

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim: “This is a comprehensive and thorough report that touches upon the core problems at the heart of the dire situation in the Negev, the critical issues that impact the future of the region. Many of the issues raised by the State Comptroller have been at the top of Regavim’s agenda for years, and the report’s findings bear out all of our claims: ‘Whitewashing’ or ‘legalizing’ illegal construction in the absence of prior planning perpetuates and exacerbates the loss of state land in the Negev. The State Comptroller’s report must not be allowed to languish on a shelf and collect dust; the government must distill operational decisions from this important study and take action without delay.”

Regavim has recommended five practical steps that the government must extrapolate from the report’s findings.

1. Geographic registration: Presently, the majority of the residents of illegal Bedouin squatters’ camps in the Negev live “off the grid;” they have no registered address. Some 80,000 Israeli Bedouin citizens of the Negev hold identity cards that record only their tribal affiliation – even when the tribe to which they belong is spread across dozens of square kilometers. This is one of the central causes of the loss of governance in the Negev. It results in mass-scale tax evasion and other major losses to the state’s economy, false and duplicate reporting for benefits and services, and more.

The solution: Registration of a physical address for all residents of the Bedouin encampments based on a precise location that can be visited and confirmed by an inspector, based on 12-digit GPS coordinates. The moment a geographical place of residence is confirmed, all service provision and interaction with the government and its various authorities will be based on this address, until such time as these residents relocate to recognized, legal communities where there are standard street addresses.

2. Failure of the “legalization” method – The State Comptroller’s findings support what Regavim has been explaining for years: The rural communities of the Neveh Midbar and Al Kasum Regional Councils are nothing more than a fiction, and both the state and the residents are paying a very high price to support this fiction.

These communities were created by simply drawing “blue lines” (jurisdictional boundaries) around clusters of illegal structures, redefining them as legal communities and creating a jurisdictional umbrella, without any prior urban planning or infrastructure, in an attempt to take retroactive action against the facts on the ground created by rampant illegal construction. This ‘legalization’ method has been an abject failure, as these local authorities and the Bedouin Regulation Authority are forced to deal with the near-impossibility of providing infrastructure for unplanned “communities” – including paved roads, electricity, water and sewage infrastructure.

The non-solution: This “legalization” method entrenches and exacerbates the problems of illegal construction, massive loss of state land and inadequate solutions for the Bedouin citizens living in these communities. Yet the extortionist demands by the Raam Party in the current government coalition seek to continue this destructive practice, through the “recognition” of new settlements and expansion of “communities” in these municipalities to include additional squatters’ camps and “whitewash” them. The State Comptroller’s report leaves no room for doubt: This will make an already bad situation even worse, and will replicate the failed model of Neveh Midbar and Al Kasum.

3. Removing obstacles to development and construction processes: The “rural Bedouin communities” (with the exception of Tarabin and Bir Hadaj) were built on land for which there are outstanding ownership claims – land on which no Bedouin is willing to build or settle, and which cannot be utilized for the creation of infrastructure or other public installations. The state and local authorities’ responses to the long list of lawsuits and petitions filed by Regavim, is now joined by the State Comptroller’s report; all are in agreement that the main obstacle to development of infrastructure as well as to the building permit process is, first and foremost, the fact that towns were built on land covered by ownership claims.

The solution: The government must stop expanding municipal “blue lines” and abandon the practice of creating new communities based on pre-existing illegal squatters’ camps. The only logical path forward is to create new communities exclusively on state land, in strict adherence to all relevant professional standards for planning and infrastructure development.

Tarabin, part of the Al Kasum Regional Council

4. Creation of a Municipal Authority under the auspices of the Bedouin Authority – The fact that Bedouin municipalities provide services to the squatters’ camps that lie beyond their own jurisdictional borders, places even greater stress on local governments that are already among the nation’s weakest. Aside from the more basic question of the legality of this “arrangement” – in which municipalities are active beyond their jurisdictional lines – it invites large-scale corruption and waste.

The solution: Creation of a separate authority responsible for providing municipal services to the squatters’ camps, under the jurisdiction of the Bedouin Regulation Authority, will relieve the existing local authorities of the burden they are currently shouldering. As in all other areas of the country, the Bedouin municipalities of the Negev will maintain responsibility for provision of services only for the citizens living within their jurisdiction. This will clarify where each resident of the unrecognized settlements is to receive services, and significantly reduce double-reporting, corruption and waste. The new Municipal Authority will be a less localized body, making it much stronger and less easily manipulated than local authorities, and subject to far fewer local pressures.

Aerial photo of an illegal Bedouin encampment

5. Creation of a specialized police unit to protect infrastructure – One of the harshest findings of the State Comptroller’s report is the unfathomable destruction of national water, electricity and energy infrastructure throughout the Negev, and the staggering costs for the national economy and the Israeli taxpayer. The report indicates that national utility corporations contend with hundreds of incidents of sabotage and theft in the Negev each year: Break-ins at electricity substations, theft and damage to generators, transformers and electric lines, water siphoning resulting in tens of millions of Shekels of losses each year, and hundreds of cases of “improvised” illegal electricity hookups. Apart from the direct damages amounting to hundreds of millions of Shekels in stolen water and electricity, and the loss of tax income had these commodities been consumed by law-abiding customers, the utility companies are forced to invest heavily in security.

The solution: Establish a specialized police unit tasked exclusively with protection of infrastructure. This unit will reduce the damage to physical infrastructure components and the economic damage caused to the national economy, and cut off the massive “protection” network that has sprung up around national infrastructure installations in the Negev. The government’s investment in this specialized unit will cover itself very quickly.

Today, the General Security Service (Shabak) released details of the arrest of the Bedouin millionaire Yakub Abu-Alkiyan on suspicion of treason.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim responded: “The fact that Abu-Alkiyan, a millionaire with extensive property and business holdings who maintains close ties with leaders of Israel’s economy, passed sensitive security information to Iranian operatives proves that the rising tide of nationalism in Israel’s Bedouin sector is not connected to often-heard complaints of poverty or discrimination. This very real and very serious developing trend is an expression of radical currents that are re-shaping the Bedouin community in the Negev. Israel is now paying the price for years of denial and wishful thinking. The government must face up to reality – and there’s not a moment to waste.”

A resident of Kuseife, a legal Bedouin town in the Negev founded in 1982, decided to expand his assets, and illegally took over land part of the unrecognized Al-Fura squatters’ camp.

A few months ago, the resident, who already owns a big villa in Kuseife, began to build a huge compound containing two living spaces. The construction started without permission or supervision during the Passover holiday, seeking to take advantage of the enforcement officials being on vacation.

Regavim immediately identified the threat posed to the entire area by the massive compound, and we demanded that the enforcement authorities remove the structure and restore the land to its original state.

At the beginning of June, the construction criminal tore down the structure he built following warnings he received from the National Enforcement Unit (NEU). The swift action taken by the NEU in this case is significant. It’s ridiculous that a resident of a legal town, established by the State of Israel, can build without permits and ‘join’ an illegal Bedouin squatters’ camp. Such cases must not be repeated!

We welcome the NEU’s quick and efficient steps. We call on the authorities to hold the construction criminal fully accountable; he should clean up all the mess he left behind!

Turn on English subtitles for an explanation by Regavim’s CEO about the new “communities” discussed

What are the “new settlements” in the Negev that Raam Party leader Mansour Abbas is demanding?

When you imagine the establishment of new settlements, you probably think of architects and engineers who sit down together and plan framework and infrastructure of any new settlement down to the smallest detail.

But things in the Negev work differently. Hundreds of thousands of illegal homes and structures throughout the Negev are scattered across enormous swaths of land. The policy that Abbas is pushing for is to simply draw an imaginary blue line around each cluster of illegal structures and call it a community. Does that solve water, electricity, and construction problems? Is this a sensible, environmentally or socially sustainable utilization of the land? Of course not! Will it restore the land the state has lost to the huge expansion of illegal construction? No; quite the opposite.

The new agreement means that the State of Israel (and the Jewish residents of the Negev) will cede more and more land in the Negev for Bedouin “settlements,” and equitable, sustainable long-term planning be damned!

The bottom line is that Ra’am’s “nice ideas” are a disaster for the Negev, for Israeli sovereignty over what amounts to two thirds of the country’s total area, and for future national development.

Don’t be fooled: If Ra’am get their way, the country will essentially be split in half, with the northern and southern parts divided by a midriff section controlled by Bedouin clans – devoid of modern planning, beyond the reach of Israeli governance, a breeding ground for stunted communities with no sources of legal employment or industry and no prospects for development. The Zionist vision for the Negev and for the country will be nothing more than a distant memory.

Regavim: Protecting Israel’s Resources, Preserving Israeli Sovereignty

Regavim launches a hard-hitting campaign, calling upon the Israeli government to stop the downward spiral and save the Negev – before it’s too late.

For years, the Israeli government has attempted to counter the loss of governance and the spread of illegal squatters’ camps in southern Israel by offering “compensation” payments and free land to the Bedouin of the Negev – who continue to reject any and all of the government’s increasingly generous offers, because they know that their hardball tactics will be rewarded with more attractive offers as time goes by.

The Regavim Movement has launched a new campaign to address this massive – and growing – problem. The first video clip of the campaign illustrates where the Negev is headed, and what Israel will look like when the Bedouin “country-within-a-country” is established. Regavim’s campaign is a response to a string of recent incidents that have highlighted the anarchy that continues to plague the Negev. The campaign calls upon the Israeli government to put a stop to the downward spiral, and to prevent the creation of a state-within-the-state in the Negev.

In recent years, the State of Israel seems to have lost its grip: Sovereignty in the southern region of Israel has been relinquished to the state that is slowly being built in the Negev. More and more illegal enclaves continue to spring up throughout the territory – and all the while, the Israeli government continues to turn a blind eye.

The takeover of the territory through the construction of tens of thousands of illegal structures has been accompanied by a complete breakdown of governance and the loss of personal security for all the residents of the area – Jews and Bedouin alike. Gangs of criminals continue to invade IDF bases and steal weapons and other equipment; they assault soldiers in broad daylight on main roads and snatch their weapons without fear. Adding insult to injury, the bandits record themselves in real time – marauding on IDF bases, smuggling drugs, shooting up residential neighborhoods with automatic weapons – and upload the videos to social media.

The constant stream of shocking news from the Negev led to the Regavim Movement’s decision to address the issues head on – before the loss of control reaches the point of no return.

Regavim CEO Meir Deutsch: “Ben-Gurion, who famously declared that the resolve of the People of Israel will be tested and proved in the Negev, must be turning over in his grave at the sight of the abandonment of the Negev and the devolution of southern Israel into an ex-territorial no man’s land. Instead of increasing enforcement and governance, instead of iron-fisted rule of law and the dissolution of the illegal squatters’ camps, the Israeli government is whitewashing and ‘legalizing’ them, perpetuating and enabling the Bedouin takeover.”

Farmers from Moshav Nevatim return to work their lands

Earlier this year, a Bedouin man invaded into agricultural lands that belong to the Moshav Nevatim, appropriated a piece of land for himself, and put up an illegal hut. The hut was small, but its impact was huge: the intruder decided to stay there and prevent the Moshav’s workers from entering their fields to work the land. He also threatened whoever made such attempts.

Moshav Nevatim in the central Negev, near Be’er Sheva, is surrounded by clusters of illegal Bedouin squatters’ camps, and has suffered for many years from crime, vandalism, burglary and agricultural theft. Nevatim was recently in the headlines following the shocking desecration of Jewish graves in the Moshav cemetery.

The frustrated farmers of Nevatim asked Regavim for help. We went to the National Enforcement Unit, the Israel Police, and the Israel Land Authority to demand a stop to this illegal land seizure. We explained that threats on farmers are not acceptable, and urged that the invader be kicked out and held accountable.

The lack of effective governance in the Negev is what led to this episode in the first place. For years, the State hasn’t exercised its authority and responsibilities in the Negev properly, rendering it Israel’s Wild South. This has allowed people to take the law into their own hands, which causes major distress and damage for regular, law-abiding residents of the Negev.

Thanks to Regavim’s pressure in this case, the invader was kicked out, the hut was dismantled, and the threats on the farmers were lifted. In March, finally, the farmers returned to work their lands.

We don’t always see the fruits of our efforts immediately, but in cases like these it’s clear how important and significant our work is. We’re hopeful that the Moshav’s workers will never again find themselves under threat; never again will their lands be seized illegally in broad daylight. If they seek our assistance, we will do whatever we can to help.

Before: illegal hut and takeover of land belonging to Moshav Nevatim
After: hut is dismantled by law enforcement authorities after Regavim’s intervention
Bir Hadaj

Israel’s High Court of Justice denies appeal of landowners whose property has been overtaken by thousands of Bedouin squatters: “This case does not justify judicial interference.”

After a decade of legal proceedings, yesterday (Monday) Israel’s High Court of Justice denied an appeal by owners of private property who sought a court-mandated deadline for the removal of squatters from their land – land located on the outskirts of Bir Hadaj, the crime capital of the Negev. “An outrageous miscarriage of justice.”

Yestrday (Monday), Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a petition filed by individual land owners whose property has been overrun by Bedouin squatters. Over the past number of years, more than 1,000 Bedouin families invaded state land and private properties on the outskirts of Kibbutz Revivim, while rejecting a series of increasingly generous relocation-compensation packages offered by the Israeli government. The owners of the property took their case to court ten years ago, and in their most recent appeal, they sought a court-mandated timetable for the restoration of their property.

In stark contrast to a well-established record of High Court judgements that required the state to remove Jewish homes built on privately-owned Arab property according to non-negotiable deadlines, in the case of the Jewish landowners of Bir Hadaj, Justices Groskopf, Mazuz and Wilner decided that “the rights of ownership of the appellants regarding their private property are not absolute, and do not exist in a vacuum,” and that this “is not among those exceptional and extreme cases that justify judicial intervention in the policy of the authorities responsible for enforcing planning and construction laws.”

The squatters’ camps near Bir Hadaj began to take shape in the early 2000s, after the Israeli government temporarily relocated 15 families from the Ramat Beka area to state land near Kibbutz Revivim. This set off a massive movement of families from the Al Azazmeh tribe, who quickly covered thousands of dunams of state land in the vicinity, as well as some 2000 dunams of land owned privately by Jews, with hundreds of illegal structures.

This sprawling squatters’ camp has grown into the crime capital of southern Israel, an exterritorial no man’s land where Israeli law enforcement is virtually nonexistent. Residents of the squatters’ camp have been in the news recently: The suspects in the rape of a 10-year old girl in the course of a home invasion, the massive drug production plantations on the nearby Tzeelim firing zone, large-scale plunder of IDF ammunition and harassment of IDF trainees and reservists are all “credited” to residents of the Bir Hadaj hinterland.

In 2003, the Israeli government decided to create a new, legal alternative for the squatters: an all-Bedouin town, built on state land. Each of the squatter families was offered a “compensation” package of hundreds of thousands of shekels as well as a 5 dunam plot of land (!) – but this wasn’t enough to convince the squatters to relocate.

The owners of the stolen land, together with the Regavim Movement, petitioned the Beer Sheva District Court, asking that the state be required to provide a timetable for the evacuation of the squatters, but the government responded that it was carrying out negotiations with the squatters with the aim of achieving a mutually-acceptable evacuation – and the petition was dismissed. When the much-awaited agreement didn’t materialize, a second petition was filed in 2015 – which the court denied without explanation.

A third petition was filed after the Director of the Bedouin Authority, Yair Maayan, released an official announcement that all attempts to achieve a mutually-accepted evacuation agreement had failed.

The owners of the purloined property returned to court, proving that from the time they had first petitioned, the squatters had built hundreds of additional illegal structures on their property. To make matters worse, what meager law enforcement activity had taken place in the interim (6 relocation agreements were signed with squatters, out of over 1000) had focused on clearing state-owned land, and the private owners were left ‘high and dry.’

This third petition was also denied, despite the government’s response to the court that it could not predict when enforcement activity would be completed in the squatters camp as a whole, and in the privately-owned sections in particular. The property owners turned to the High Court of Justice to appeal the District Court decision.

Yesterday (Monday), the High Court of Justice denied their appeal. “The situation in Bir Hadaj as a whole, and in the privately-owned section in particular, is unacceptable,” wrote Justice Groskopf in the opening words of the judgement. “The state must not accept a situation in which there are areas under its jurisdiction that are beyond the law,” and even after a decade has passed, “it is unclear when the owners of the property will be able to exercise their rights to it.”

Nonetheless, the judges refused to require the state to adhere to a deadline for evacuation of the property. “The appellants’ ownership rights to the privately-owned land, which undoubtedly and undeniably been harmed, are not absolute and do not exist in a vacuum. They are to be weighed against the state’s policy of creating appropriate regulation solutions for the illegal compound at Bir Hadaj, in the larger context of efforts to regulate Bedouin settlement in the Negev.”

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, reacted to the judgement: “This is a miscarriage of justice that cries out to the very heavens. In inverse cases, the High Court ordered the wholesale evacuation of Jewish communities and the destruction of Jewish homes according to draconian, non-negotiable timetables. In this case, it has become clear that the government itself is creating the cesspool of lawlessness that is exploding on us all. The squatters’ camps have become an exterritorial incubator for the horrors that continue to befall Israeli citizens of the Negev and beyond. The unthinkable has become the norm; the rape of a child in her own home, the invasion and looting of IDF bases, and the terrorizing of law abiding Israelis speak for themselves.”

Chaim Goloventsis, one of the owners of the land, added: “We must not accept a reality in which the High Court of Justice once again denies us the right to our property. I am convinced that if our land had been located in the 03 area code (i.e., greater Tel Aviv), the judgement would have been totally different. This is just one more pathetic, embarrassing instance of the breakdown of the state’s institutions in southern Israel.”

Ignoring a small problem allows it to turn into a big problem.

Last night’s case in point:
Bedouin bandits infiltrated the Israel Air Force base at Nevatim; IAF helicopters engaged in an hours-long chase.

The State of Israel has been ignoring the cracks in law and order in the Negev for so long, they’ve become a “grand canyon” – and tonight’s events in the Negev prove the point.

In the last two weeks alone the Negev has seen horrific and varied forms of criminal behavior: The shocking sexual assault of a little girl in her home, the break-in at the Israel Air Force base at Sde Teiman that included a stun grenade attack on our soldiers, a string of robberies in Be’er Sheva that were caught on film and uploaded to social media, the desecration of a Jewish cemetery, a massive ammunition heist, and now, a break-in at the Nevatim base, where Israel’s top-secret aeronautical technology is housed.

It’s time for the State of Israel to draw a line in the sand. For the sake of each and every citizen of Israel, we demand that the government formulate a comprehensive, non-negotiable solution to the problem of Bedouin crime in the Negev.