Our most recent report, currently being translated into English, is an in-depth, up-to-date study of land use policy in the Negev, offering a comprehensive survey of the history and land ownership claims of the Negev Bedouin community, settlement and regulation efforts and the current realities created by illegal construction and more.

This report offers multi-disciplinary analysis – and presents Regavim’s proposed solutions for the Negev Challenge. To read the full version in Hebrew, click here.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

Regulation of illegal settlements and land ownership
The Vanishing Negev report is a study of mass-scale illegal construction in the Negev, focusing in particular on the development of this phenomenon in the years 2005 – 2021, and on the means by which settlement in the region can be regulated and organized.

The question of regulation of the illegal settlements of the Negev is integrally related to the issue of land status regulation in this region. As of this writing, there are approximately 470,000 dunams of land in the Negev for which Bedouin maintain unresolved  ownership claims. These claimants hold no official title or deed, and the land is not registered to their ownership; nonetheless, within the Bedouin community, their ownership is considered inviolable: According to Bedouin law, no one may settle on land that another Bedouin claims as his own, whether or not it is officially registered as the property of the State of Israel or another individual.
 
These issues impact many other areas, from  the Bedouin community’s standard of living, through the regulation of settlement and the development of the Negev for the benefit of all residents of the region, to the erosion of governance in the Negev.
 
As of January 2021, the Bedouin population of the Negev is 278,616. Of this number, 82,084 reside in illegal settlements and 174,420 in the seven townships; the remaining 22,112 live in the rural regional municipalities (the Abu Bassma settlements).
 
The fertility rate of the Bedouin population of the Negev is the highest in Israel, and among the highest in the world. As a result, the population of the illegal encampments and the number of new illegal structures that comprise these sprawling clusters of settlement increase at a rapidly accelerating pace each year. At the same time, the number of ownership claimants – the descendants of the original claimants – continues to grow exponentially, making efficient, timely resolution of ownership claims and regulation of illegal settlements increasingly urgent.
 
From the establishment of the state until 1966, the Bedouin, who maintained a nomadic lifestyle, lived under military rule in an area known as “sayig, spanning some 1.1 million dunams in the triangle between Dimona, Arad and Beer Sheva. In 1966, military rule was lifted, and between 1966 and 1990 the state established 7 all-Bedouin towns (each with the status of a local municipality):  Rahat, Tel Sheva, Segev Shalom, Hura, Ar’ara, Kseifeh and Lakiya (“the 7 townships“).
 
The westernized character of these townships did not necessarily reflect or respond to the social and cultural characteristics or the needs of the Bedouin population. These townships suffered from chronic deficiencies of municipal services and employment opportunities, and to this day they continue to languish at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. As a result, many of the residents of the illegal encampments refused to relocate to these failed communities.
 
Additionally, nearly 45% of the area of the seven townships is comprised of land for which individual Bedouin claim ownership, and a considerable portion of the residential plots developed or zoned by the government are on this land, resulting in the Bedouins’ refusal to relocate to these plots, and ongoing obstruction of  development and infrastructure projects. For these reasons,  the seven townships continue to suffer from inferior infrastructure systems and desolate neighborhoods that coexists alongside populated, developed ones. After years of stagnation, most of the plots for which there are ownership claims were designated for “natural growth,” – for descendants of the claimants – rather than for resettlement of families that remained in the illegal squatters’ camps outside the township boundaries, creating a shortage of plots for relocation of Bedouin who are not descendants of land claimants.

The Abu Bassma Settlements
The government sought a solution for the Bedouin residents of the illegal encampments, but rather than creating organized communities through a careful process of detailed planning that would provide electricity and sewage infrastructure, the government took the path of whitewashing or legalizing existing clusters of illegal structures, cobbling them together to form municipalities. From 2003-2006, these illegal clusters were given official recognition and post-facto permits as new rural municipal entities. One exception was Tarabin a-Sanaa, which was planned and built in an organized fashion, “from scratch,” on registered state land. In 2003, the Abu Bassma Regional Council was established, bringing together 11 of these “legalized” villages.
 
In 2012, the Abu Bassma Regional Council was divided into The Al Qassum Regional Council, which includes Umm Batin, El Sayyed, Darijat, Kohlah, Sa’wa (formerly Molada) Makchul and Tarabin a-Sanaa, and the Naveh Midbar Regional Council, comprised of Abu Qrenat, Bir Hadaj, Kasr a-Sir, and Abu Tlul.
 
Very quickly, the land reserves designated for these villages was filled with illegal structures, including massive villas, agricultural structures, commercial structures, fenced-off areas and more – in order to stake claims to the land that would soon be within the boundaries of the soon-to-be-established villages. The new structures joined hundreds of others that pre-dated the “legalization” plan, all of which interfered with -and eventually overwhelmed the planning process. The result was large settlements spread over vast swaths of land, with no viable infrastructure systems and no possibility of creating them. Some of these settlements developed characteristics of rural communities, while others  resemble massive illegal squatters’ camps rather than new legal settlements.
 
Other than the Bir Hadaj and Tarabin a-Sanaa villages, which were established for the most part on state land, the legalized settlements include sections for which there are outstanding ownership claims. This, too, has made it difficult for the government to develop these communities, to connect them to water and electricity, or to complete the process of physical regulation; efforts to do so have been blocked by ownership claimants. Additionally, because the land cannot be officially registered due to these ownership disputes, the Israel Lands Authority does not grant the approval necessary for building permits.
 
In order to encourage Bedouin from the illegal encampments to relocate to these legalized settlements, the government offered economic incentives. Since the 1970s, every young Bedouin is entitled to a parcel of land between 800 – 1000 square meters – gratis – as well as subsidies to cover the costs of development. Over the years, the state has increased these incentives, which currently include a cash grant of NIS 250,000 in addition to the free plot of land.
 
In practice, the incentives have achieved the opposite of their intended goal. Because the incentives are a one-time offer per family, and these families are well aware that the value of the plots of land continues to rise and the incentive payments continue to be more and more generous, they choose to wait until their children come of age, at which time they will be eligible individually. When these children come of age, they, too, consider the next generation – and remain in the illegal squatters’ camps. This is exacerbated by the fact that the legal communities are not an attractive alternative to the squatters’ camps: The standard of living is no different, and the basic services provided to residents are virtually identical – but residents of the illegal encampments pay no taxes. In fact, there is considerable reverse emigration, from the legal communities to the illegal encampments.
 
Rather than shrinking, the illegal encampments continue to grow, both in size and population – not despite the relocation-compensation package offered by the Israeli government, but because of it. 

Illegal construction
From the end of the military rule in 1966 through 1994, every year another 200-300 new illegal structures were built in the Negev. From 1994 through 2003, an average of 3,000 new illegal structures were built annually. In 2005, there were 33,783 illegal structures in the Negev; between 2005 and 2010 another 14,700 were added to that number. By 2015, there were 65,911 illegal structures in the Negev, and in the following two year period, by 2017, an additional 11,529 were added – an annual average of more than 5,750 . By 2018, there were 80,282 illegal structures in the Negev, of them 18,661 in the Abu Bassma settlements and 61,621 in the illegal encampments. In the 2018-2021 period, another 5,774 illegal structures were built, so that by 2021 the total number of illegal structures in the Negev stood at 86,056.

Illegal Structures in the Negev 2005-2021

The structures of the illegal encampments, home to 82,000 Bedouin (comprising less than 1% of the total population of the State of Israel), are spread across some 2,00 cluster that cover nearly 600,000 dunams (600 square kilometers). By way of comparison, the remaining 99% of Israel’s population populates an area of some 940 square kilometers (the total built-up area, including residential, commercial, industrial, trade and office structures). The area of the illegal squatters’ camps is 11.5 times greater than the area of Tel Aviv, where some 460,000 people live. 

The consequences of the rampant illegal construction in the Negev are far-reaching and long term, and include very serious harm to the State of Israel’s governance in the Negev, where the rule of law has broken down. It also has a detrimental impact on planning and development of the Bedouin communities and on the Negev as a whole, both in the short term and for future generations. It has a very negative impact on the quality of life, and leads to rising levels of violence and crime, as well as an extraordinarily high rate of road accidents, and harms the environment and the ecosystem.

Government attempts to resolve ownership claims

Until 1979, some 3,200 ownership claims were submitted by Bedouin citizens in the Negev, covering an area of 776,856 dunams. The Israeli government’s policy regarding these claims has zigzagged: At times, the state attempted to resolve ownership claims through the judicial process, including submission of counter-claims as a means of precipitating a judicial decision; in every case the counter-claims process resulted in registration of the disputed land to state ownership. Other times, the state suspended the process of judicial counter-claims and incentivized Bedouin squatters to settle ownership claims through arbitration and compromise, relying on cash and land-swap compensation packages that become more and more lucrative over the years. Either way, the process of resolving ownership claims has been a slow, painstaking one. As of 2017, a full 50 years after the ownership claims were first filed with the special registrar’s office in Beer Sheva, the State of Israel had managed to reach agreements and resolve claims for only 160,000 dunams (with the largest number of agreements recorded in 1980, in the context of the peace treaty with Egypt, when Israel Airforce bases had to be relocated from the Sinai Peninsula to the Nevatim Airforce Base and some 5000 Israeli Bedouin who had been squatting on the land had to be relocated quickly). There were also legal proceedings conducted regarding 140,000 dunams, at the end of which the land was registered to the State of Israel. Some 470,000 dunams of land remain in dispute. As time goes by and claimants’ heirs come of age, the number of claimants continues to grow, as we have noted, making compromise and resolution of ownership claims less and less attractive and lucrative to those who now hold an interest in only a fraction of the original claim. 

In an attempt to establish a comprehensive policy for dealing with the Bedouin sector in the Negev, including the issues of land that we have described, over the years a number of committees and other frameworks have been established; each presented its own proposals, plans and documents. In practice, the core challenges were passed from one committee to the next, and from one government to its successor, without formulation of a comprehensive policy and without formulating a multi-year, budgeted program. The breakthrough came with the Goldberg Commission, which the government established in order to formulate policy for the regulation of Bedouin settlement in the Negev, including legislative amendments. The conclusion of the Goldberg Commission’s report, presented to the government in December 2008, was that the problem of settlement and the issue of resolving ownership claims were intertwined, and that it would be impossible to resolve one without the other.

In regard to settlement, the committee recommended “recognizing” clusters that were large enough to subsist as municipalities, and relocating those clusters that could not be regulated or legalized, subsuming them within legal townships or rural settlements. Addition recommendations included establishing an enforcement framework that would act vigorously and decisively against new illegal construction, streamlining and concentrating enforcement authority, and fast-tracking legislation to carry out the processes of legalization and relocation.

In light of the Goldberg Commission’s recommendations, a team, headed by Ehud Prawer, Director of the Planning and Policy Division in the Office of the Prime Minister, was tasked with implementing the Goldberg Commission’s recommendations, and the Prawer Committee submitted draft legislation for regulation of Bedouin settlement in the Negev. When the government passed the bill, it appointed Minister Binyamin Zeev Begin to lead the implementation process, and passed a government decision to launch a five-year plan with a budget of NIS 1.2 billion for the social and economic development of the recognized Bedouin settlements in the Negev and to provide support for the population of those settlements. Minister Begin launched a “listening process,” sitting down with hundreds of representatives of the Bedouin community, which he summarized in a report that included a series of amendments to the legislation submitted by the Prawer team – for the most part mandating increased incentives and compensation packages. Begin, like Goldberg, stressed that the questions of Bedouin settlement and land ownership claims were inextricably related, and he warned against any further delay in regulating and registering the ownership of the land in the Negev.

In 2013 the government submitted the legislation, “Law Concerning the Regulation of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev 5773 – 2013.” In December 2013, against the backdrop of fierce opposition to the legislation by representatives of the Bedouin community and Members of Knesset who spoke for them, and in light of changes made to the original wording of the legislation  that were not to his liking (based on recommendations of the Regavim Movement), Minister Begin decided to withdraw the bill.

The resulting legislative vacuum, exacerbated by the government’s failure to formulate and communicate coherent, cohesive policy, continues to be filled by a variety of organizations; operative issues, such as land offers, compensation ceilings, relocation incentives and formulas for compensation of claimants were determined by unilateral decisions of the Israel Lands Authority.

In 2015, Uri Ariel was appointed Minister of Agriculture, and was given ministerial responsibility for the Government Authority for Regulation of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev (“the Bedouin Authority”). In 2017, Minister Ariel decided to change the approach and to separate the settlement issue from the resolution of ownership claims. He developed a large-scale plan, and the government adopted it as its Five-Year Plan for Socioeconomic Development of Bedouin Society in the Negev 2017-2021, with a budget of NIS 3 billion. The plan’s objectives included improving the socioeconomic status of the Bedouin population, development and stabilization of the settlements from an economic, social and communal perspective, closing education and other gaps and mainstreaming the Bedouin population in Israel’s society and economy. 

Regarding development of the settlements, Minister Ariel’s goal was to complete planning, regulation, development and marketing of 25,000 residential units in the local municipalities. To meet this goal, tens of thousands of plots of land were prepared and marketed, while at the same time enforcement against new illegal construction was significantly increased.

But there was a catch: The plots that were planned and marketed went mainly to “natural growth,” meeting the needs of the second generation of the families that were already living in the legal communities. Thousands of other plots were essentially “whitewash” projects within the Abu Bassma villages or post-facto legalization of “internal squatters’ camps” (in other words, structures that had been built illegally within the municipality borders, either violating or disregarding the municipal plans that had been approved for the settlement). Once again, the government stuck to the path of legalization, with the myriad deficiencies detailed in the pages above, rather than leading a methodical process of planning.

While these decisions were taking shape, enforcement was lagging far behind the pace of new illegal construction throughout the Negev – very far behind. Even worse, due to the lack of comprehensive policy and clear enforcement guidelines, whatever enforcement was carried out served the goal of legalizing internal squatters’ clusters, rather than serving the original purpose of resettlement of squatters from the outlying encampments into the legal communities and returning poached land to state hands.  

In short, the relocation of squatters out of the sprawling illegal encampments into legal communities was neglected; the failure to make the necessary preparations for absorbing the squatters into legal communities was coupled with failure to enforce the law against new illegal construction in the illegal encampments. 

The attempts made by Prawer, Begin and Ariel each had deficiencies and difficulties; the most critical of these lacunae were:

1. Inconsistent, zigzagging policy regarding resolution of ownership claims;

2. Failure to consider Bedouin traditional law, which was not taken into account in the planning of the seven original townships, was given no consideration in the process of legalizing the Abu Bassma villages, and is not a consideration in proposed solutions for absorption of relocated squatters;

3. Lack of comprehensive policy and clear, detailed law enforcement plans against illegal construction and for the evacuation of squatters’ camps. The “carrots” offered by each of the plans were hungrily consumed, but the “sticks” were left propped in a forgotten corner of the room.

These lacunae have had direct and immediate consequences:

1. The State of Israel has not yet succeeded in resolving ownership claims, and no resolution of this problem is in sight.

2. Infrastructure in the legal settlements – and particularly in the Abu Bassma communities –  is severely lacking. Some of these legal towns and villages contain large sections of desolate, phantom neighborhoods and roads that lead nowhere; other sections bear far more resemblance to squatters’ camps than to normal, modern settlements. 

3. Illegal construction is out of control, and the population of the illegal hinterland is growing by leaps and bounds.

A broader consequence of the massive scale of illegal construction in this region is that the State of Israel is losing its governance in the Negev. For all intents and purposes, the situation has devolved into a free-for-all, reflected in skyrocketing crime rates, high rates of truancy and attrition from the education system, a very high incidence of polygamy, and more. Disenfranchisement among Bedouin teens and young adults and the widening chasm between Bedouin society and Israeli society at large are expressed in shrinking rates of conscription to the IDF,  a highly disproportionate rate of involvement in serious road  accidents, and a general atmosphere of lawlessness that is victimizing the residents of the Negev and beyond – Bedouins and Jews alike.  

The State of Israel must take courageous, swift action in four specific areas:

1. Policy: 

The government must establish and promote clear policy, and create a an independent policy body within the Office of the Prime Minister tasked with formulating and enunciating comprehensive policy parameters to be implemented consistently over the coming years.

2. Development of settlements:

‎‎a. Planning and preparation of settlements to absorb residents of all of the illegal encampments;

b. Expansion of existing settlements exclusively on state land for which there are no unresolved ownership claims, based on the availability of land in each of the settlements.

3. Regulation of the illegal encampments and enforcement against illegal construction:

a. Create a methodical multi-year plan for the resettlement of residents of the illegal encampments in permanent, legal communities, according to a detailed, predetermined map (either to single-tribe settlements, or to an urban, pan-tribal settlement) and according to a non-negotiable timetable upon which compensation will be contingent.
b. A clear, detailed program for regulation of the illegal construction in the Abu Bassma villages and demolition of structures that cannot be given permits or whose owners are not interested in legalizaing.

c. Increasing manpower in enforcement bodies, improving for regulation-related enforcement and enforcement against illegal construction.

4. Resolution of ownership claims:

a. A final, non-negotiable timetable must be established for resolution of ownership claims with a scale of compensation that is lowered as time goes by. When the time allotted for negotiation expires, the government must resume the process of judicial counter-claims and the registration of land to state ownership.​

***

Time is running out. It’s time to shake off the indifference. We need courageous, dedicated, strong and responsible leaders who are not afraid to carry the weight of this process and who have the necessary strategic vision to act. It’s time to return the State of Israel’s governance to the Negev.

**

Regavim has been studying, documenting and recommending solutions for the Negev for over 16 years. Our Director General, Meir Deutsch, recently published a book that offers an insider’s view of the situation on the ground. Order your copy today.

One of at least six illegal mosques identified

It all started a few months ago. Our field coordinator in the South discovered at least six new, identical, and illegal mosques constructed in the Negev, one after the other.

Not long afterward, we got our hands on a video clip that documented a group of Palestinian infiltrators hiding in one of these mosques until it was “safe” to leave.

An investigation by Hakol HaYehudi exposed that Sheikh Ali Sulieman Abu-Sebith is the man behind the project. The Sheikh is part of the Islamic Movement and funded the minarets.

During Operation “Guardian of the Walls” last year he wrote: “Rockets from Gaza are showering down on the State we are fighting against”.

In another post he expressed his wish that “From the mountain, the plan and the valley will arise a generation of the heroic and the free. A generation of Al-Aqsa protectors. From the Triangle region, the Galil and Palestine. All our Palestinian. Not divdied by geographical borders, weapons or army, united around the Nakba which inshallah will soon pass”.

In the last few years, Bedouistan has changed: from nomadic Bedouin tribes unaffiliated with any religion or nationality, we’re now seeing Islamization and Palestinian nationalism. These mosques are only the tip of the iceberg.

Aerial image of plots in south Rahat intended for the Abu Quider clan

Today (Wednesday, 8 June) the Supreme Court denied a petition filed by the Rahat Municipality – neutralizing one more attempt to sabotage the relocation of thousands of Bedouin squatters and the regulation of Bedouin settlement in the Negev. Regavim: “The Bedouin leadership itself is throwing the monkey-wrench into the works and obstructing the regulation process.”

Earlier today (Wednesday), the High Court of Justice (HCJ) rejected a petition submitted by the Rahat Municipality against the State’s decision to allocate plots of land in a new neighborhood for resettlement of members of the Abu Quider clan who have been squatting illegally on privately-owned land. The government decision to develop a new neighborhood in Rahat for this clan was taken many years ago, but has languished, unimplemented, ever since.

More than three decades have passed since an agreement between the Bedouin Authority and representatives of the Abu Quider tribe was signed. The plan was to resettle squatters in permanent housing in Rahat, but it was opposed by the municipality, which claimed that the land in question was needed for “natural growth” of the existing population of Rahat who would be at an unfair disadvantage if the Abu Quider agreement is upheld. Over the years, in the context of attempts to reach a compromise through mediation, Rahat’s municipal lines were expanded – at the expense of the neighboring Bnei Shimon Regional Council – in order to set aside plots for “natural growth;” the cost to the Israeli taxpayer was hundreds of millions of shekels.

Today’s HCJ decision refuted the Rahat Municipality’s claims that the resettlement agreement with the Abu Quider clan would result in discriminate against the residents of Rahat or create inequality. The Court determined that the steps taken by the Bedouin Authority were all fully within its purview; the Bedouin Authority has both the authority and the responsibility to develop new neighborhoods for the resettlement of squatters. The judicial panel, headed by Judge Khaled Kabub, was “unconvinced” that the authorities’ behavior was disproportionate to the extent that judicial intervention was required. At the same time, the Court upheld the State’s argument that Rahat’s land reserves are sufficient to meet the needs of natural growth for decades to come.

The decision clears the last remaining obstacle to the relocation of the squatters into the city and the return of the land commandeered by the Abu Quider clan to its rightful owners. It should be noted that Regavim and the legal owners of the land upon which the Abu Quider squatters continue to live petitioned the HCJ a decade ago. The legal process for that petition, which dragged on for years, resulted in a High Court decision that required the evacuation of the squatters and the return of the stolen land to its legal owners – but did not make specific demands upon the State to take action, due to the Rahat Municipality’s objections.

“Abu-Sahiban, the mayor of Rahat, is doing everything in his power to sabotage resettlement and regulation efforts,” says Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim. “During the long years of legal procrastination, the Rahat Municipality has extorted more and more land and ever-expanding development budgets with one hand, while with the other hand it has obstructed the state’s regulation efforts. Today, the High Court finally put an end to this. We hope to soon see the land in al-Zarnug returned to its rightful owners.”

It’s been a long, strange journey – but Bedouistan (meanwhile, only the book…) is finally a reality.

We are pleased and proud to announce that years of research, analysis, writing and editing, and an overwhelmingly successful crowdfunding campaign, have come together in the publication of the Hebrew-language version of “Bedouistan: How the State of Israel is Losing the Negev.”

The new volume – the first of its kind – offers a factual, up-to-date, multifaceted look at the reality on the ground in the Negev.

“Bedouistan” is rapidly disappearing from the shelves of Israel’s book stores (online orders for the Hebrew version can be placed here), and has become the go-to resource for policy-makers, journalists, and citizens of Israel who want to understand the Negev. But that’s not enough. We want readers around the world – foreign parliamentarians and journalists, academics and interested citizens – to have equal access to this important material, so we’re launching a new crowdfunding campaign to enable us to translate and publish Bedouistan in English.

Want to help? Join the campaign, and pre-order your copy today here.

A view from above: Town of Lehavim in the Negev

Today (Sunday) the Israeli government approved the establishment of 5 new settlements in the Mevo’ot Arad region, including a new Bedouin settlement. Regavim called the decision a “positive and proactive Zionist settlement policy decision.”

The Regavim Movement welcomed this morning government’s decision to establish five new settlements in the Mevo’ot Arad region. Among the slated new communities is a new all-Bedouin settlement.

Regavim’s statement pointed out that today’s decision affirms decisions taken by the previous government in 2011 and 2014.

“The Mevo’ot Arad region is a strategic area for the State of Israel, and strengthening this region through the establishment of new settlements is an expression of basic Zionist ideals, using planning and regulation of land resources for settlement in a manner that will make the Negev desert bloom. We congratulate Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked for her leadership in this matter.”

Regavim also welcomed the establishment of a new Bedouin community in the region, provided that it is established in accordance with the planning criteria set for the establishment of the other new settlements in Mevo’ot Arad, and subject to the ‘convergence model’ for relocation of Bedouin squatters formulated by the current government:

“Several months ago, the government approved the establishment of three new settlements and a new supra-tribal city for the Bedouin sector, subject to the ‘convergence model’, which includes detailed identification of the encampment clusters slated for relocation, signed consent and relocation commitments by 70% of those slated for relocation to the new community, and clear deadlines for relocation. These same criteria must be applied to the new community approved in today’s decision.”

Regavim: The radicalization of the Bedouin community in the Negev is unaddressed – and has resulted in bloodshed

Following the murderous attack in Beer Sheva this afternoon in which four people lost their lives, Regavim released an anguished statement: “Once again, the loss of governance in the Negev has taken an intolerable toll in human life. For years, Regavim has been sounding the alarm and calling out the loss of governance in the Negev. We have warned, again and again, that the void of governance in the Negev is an open invitation to extremism and radicalization of the Bedouin sector that will result in bloodshed. Today, our worst fears were realized, and blood has been spilled on the streets of Beer Sheva.”

Regavim added that “the government of Israel is afraid to raise the entire issue of law enforcement in the Negev, while it approves billions for the Bedouin sector’s five-year development plan. And who pays the price for this breakdown of common sense and loss of governance? The residents of the Negev, who are faced with a nightmare reality that continues to devolve with each passing day. The problem is not insufficient funding. The problem is the lack of law enforcement. There is a state within our state in the Negev; it is called Bedouistan. The time has come for the State of Israel to take back the Negev.”

The illegal Bedouin outpost of Khan al Ahmar near Kfar Adumim

High Court issues conditional order: We are forced to move toward a conclusion in the matter of Khan al Ahmar

This evening (Sunday) the High Court of Justice issued a conditional order in the most recent round of the Khan al Ahmar case. Tonight’s order, giving the government 120 days to explain its failure to fulfill the three-year old commitment to enforce the law “in the near future,” follows the government’s most recent request for an additional postponement:

“In light of the frequent requests for extensions and postponements, some of which were justified but most of which were less so; and in light of the amount of time that this petition has been pending, nearly three years; and in light of the fact that this ‘saga’ has been unfolding since 2009 when demolition orders were issued … we are forced at this juncture to take a further step toward a conclusion, by issuing a conditional order.”

The Regavim Movement, petitioner in the ongoing battle over the illegal encampment in the Adumim region, reacted to the new order: “The fact that we have been forced to petition the High Court of Justice again and again in order to compel the government to enforce the law is bad enough. Even worse is the government repeatedly giving a commitment to the High Court that it will enforce the law – and then failing to do so. It is not the job of the judicial branch to bail the executive branch out of the mess it’s made.”

Bir Hadaj in the Negev

Regavim: Removing the enforcement chapter from the new Five Year Plan for the Bedouin sector means surrender, and the establishment of Bedouistan in the Negev

Enforcement statistics for the past several years are unequivocal: New illegal construction in the Bedouin squatters’ camps is down, and law enforcement is up – significantly, reaching its peak in 2021 – as a result of the previous government’s policies and actions: The Kaminitz Law of 2018 and the enforcement chapter of the Five Year Plan for the Bedouin Sector, launched in 2017.

By removing the enforcement chapter from the new Five Year Plan for the Bedouin Sector, the government has turned its back on the Negev and bartered away the south of Israel to the Islamic Movement.

The decrease in illegal construction in the squatters’ camps of the Negev that has been documented over the past several years is attributable to two factors: The Kaminitz Law, and the enforcement chapter of the Five Year Plan – which has just expired.

Removal of the enforcement chapter from the Five Year Plan that is now being launched will undermine enforcement bodies and their ability to stop the sprawl of illegal settlement, and will put wind in the sails of illegal construction, resulting in the loss of more and more state land in the Negev.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, responded to the government’s decision, announced this evening (Thursday), to launch the new masterplan for the Negev – without the inclusion of an enforcement chapter: “Regavim has been working for years to encourage the government to prevent the rise of “Bedouistan,” the state-within-the-state in the Negev. In the past few years we began to see encouraging signs of progress in enforcement against illegal construction, due to the Kaminitz Law and the previous Five Year Plan. Removing the enforcement chapter from the new Five Year Plan will reverse these gains. Bennet and Shaked, Elkin and Lieberman all campaigned on their commitment to restore governance to the Negev, but it now appears that it’s not only business owners in the Negev who been abandoned to extortionist protection rackets. The Israeli government has met the same fate.”

The illegal outpost of Khan al Ahmar near Kfar Adumim

Israeli government asks High Court for an additional 30 days in the Khan al Ahmar case “due to the Prime Minister’s intensive involvement in the military crisis in Europe.” Regavim: “We may petition for a summary judgement.”

This evening (Tuesday) the state’s attorney requested an additional 30-day extension, in order to enable “the most senior levels of government, particularly the Prime Minister, to weigh in on this matter.”

The government had been required to respond to Regavim’s most recent High Court of Justice petition no later than this past Sunday (6 March 2022), but as the deadline approached the state requested a 48-hour extension. As this extension runs out, the state has requested an additional postponement, this time for 30 days. The request, submitted in a deposition signed by the Director of the National Security Council Eyal Hulata, claimed that the reason for the latest request was “circumstances that have arisen in the sphere of international diplomacy, including the Prime Minister’s involvement in the European military crisis.”

The Regavim Movement reacted to this latest request for postponement: “To the best of our knowledge, Prime Minister Bennett has returned from his trip to Europe, and as far as excuses go, this one is exceptionally flimsy. We are considering requesting a summary judgement.”

This morning, Bedouin lawbreakers herding flocks of thousands of sheep invaded the IDF Tzeelim Base, leading to a confrontation with the Israel Police and the Green Patrol who were called out to remove the intruders from the IDF’s live-ammunition training area. The intruders called in backup of their own – Bedouin residents of the Bir Hadaj squatters’ camp – who stoned the police officers, faced off with the enforcement patrol, and attempted to run over one of the inspectors.

As this scene was unfolding, a different face-off was taking place in the Knesset, where ministers were embroiled in a tug-of-war over the government’s new five-year plan for the Negev. Over the past several weeks, the previous five-year plan (2397) – a ₪3 billion package that included 200 million shekels for forestation, land protection and law enforcement – ran its course. The new plan, which the government is scheduled to debate and approve this week, does not include one single shekel for these crucial projects; the chapter on enforcement was simply cut out of the draft legislation.

The plan in its present form includes funding for Bedouin municipalities but is completely devoid of any allocation of resources for enforcement authorities. It will cause long-term damage to the state of governance in the Negev.

Increased enforcement activity in the Negev over the past year is the result of government decisions and budgetary allocations legislated in 2017. As it now reads, the new Negev Five-Year Plan will cut the oxygen supply for enforcement, and the results will be felt over the coming years. Under no condition should this plan be approved; all ‘carrots’ and no ‘sticks’ is not a plan, it’s a recipe for disaster.