Beer Sheva District Court instructs the government to remove the squatters of Al Zarnog: “The State cannot condone the violation of individual proprietary rights.”
A decisively-worded verdict was recently handed down by Judge Chani Slotki of the Be’er Sheva District Court, in a petition demanding that enforcement procedures be taken against hundreds of Bedouin squatters from the Abu-Quider tribe who invaded private, Jewish-owned land near Moshav Nevatim in the Negev. The decision ends a legal battle and countless attempts at mediation that have dragged on for over a decade.
“The state may accept the violation of its own property rights, but it cannot condone the violation of the property rights of individuals,” noted Slotki, who ordered the issuance of demolition orders for all the structures in the Al Zarnog encampment, prioritizing enforcement against structures located on privately owned land and finding immediate accommodations for relocating the residents. In addition, legal expenses were awarded to the petitioners in the amount of NIS 15,000.
This is the second petition involving this land parcel; the first petition, submitted in 2012, was set aside in light of the state’s commitment to curb further invasion of squatters, and to develop a residential complex in the south of Rahat to which the existing squatters would be relocated within 6 years. The state further committed to strict enforcement against any new illegal construction in the interim period.
In practice, construction of the new neighborhood has taken more than a decade, during which hundreds of additional families invaded the private plot and law enforcement against new illegal construction in the ever-expanding squatters camp was virtually non-existent.
As the new neighborhood of Rahat neared completion, it became clear that the state had designated most of the plots to the families that have been squatting on state land adjacent to the privately-owned land; no relocation site was set aside for the families squatting on the privately-owned lands of Al Zarnog. Additionally, the state has refrained from taking enforcement action against the illegal structures that continue to pop up on the privately owned property.
Arguments were heard in the Beer Sheva District Court this past May. Attorney Amir Fisher, who represented the petitioners, argued that the state violated its commitments to the legal owners of the land and to the court by enabling the continued growth of the illegal encampment and is now washing its hands of the problem, resulting in expropriation of the petitioners’ property without compensation and violation of their rights.
Attorney Yaari Roash, representing the state, argued that due to the opposition of the Rahat Municipality, the development of plots to accommodate the evacuees was delayed for years, during which time the state allotted the plots in the new section of Rahat to any families willing to sign relocation agreements – without distinguishing between those who were squatting on private versus state land. “While the Bedouin Authority is obviously interested in relocating all the squatters,” Roash argued, “no additional solutions are available.” The representative of the Bedouin Authority presented official data on the situation: There are 550 households squatting on the private land, and only 50 families have signed relocation agreements; the remaining families are adamantly opposed to relocation and do not cooperate at all with the authorities or engage in negotiations.
Judge Slotkin opined that families living illegally on privately-owned land should be prioritized in receiving lots, in order to speed up enforcement procedures and regulation processes. The state’s representatives explained that, “regrettably, there are no vacant lots left, and due to this situation the authorities refrain from enforcement; the longstanding policy is that no enforcement procedures are carried out against squatters who do not have a readily available alternative.”
Slotkin replied: “I’m looking for solutions; this situation cannot be allowed to continue. That is why what you ‘regret’ is not what I regret. I regret that there is a violation of property rights.” Judge Slotkin gave the parties 30 days to reach a compromise; after mediation attempts were unsuccessful, the parties returned to court and the decision was handed down.
“The court has required the state to remove the kid gloves with which it has dealt with Bedouin construction offenders,” says Meir Deutsch, Director General of the Regavim Movement. “The state admitted, during the course of the hearing of this petition, that the program for regulation and relocation it presented to the court ten years ago, which was the basis for dismissing the original petition, was a work of fiction. Not only did the state fail to relocate the squatters, it also failed to demolish new illegal construction as promised. Thus, we have reached a situation where instead of 150 families who were squatting on the property at the time of the original petition, there are now 550 families that have taken up residence on private property, and they flatly refuse to cooperate with any attempt at regulation and regularization.”
“The District Court’s verdict restores hope – to the owners who have been waiting for decades to redeerm their property, and to all Israelis, who have waited for too long for justice to be done and for governance to be restored to the Negev,” Deutsch added.
Big news for the State of Israel: The government has outlined a historic and strategic plan that will restore governance and personal safety to the Negev.
Last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu convened a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Legalizing the Settlement, and the Economic Development, of the Bedouin Sector in the Negev to discuss the new plan. After a few adjustments, the plan, which will advance legalization of the settlement of the Bedouin population in the Negev for 2023-2025, will be voted on by the government in the next few weeks.
We congratulate Minister Amichai Chikli for his hard work to make this happen, and for insisting months ago, during the coalition negotiations, to take on the complicated task of legalizing Bedouin settlement in the Negev. We also thank Ministers Smotrich and Ben Gvir for their assistance.
There’s a long way to go, but this is a significant step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, recently, we launched the Hebrew-language version of our most recent report, “Virtual Reality: The Myth of Historic Bedouin Villages of the Negev.”
The report examines the factuality – more precisely, reveals the ‘fake’ – behind the Bedouin narrative of historic villages of the Negev for which they demand the State of Israel’s official recognition.
The report, based on analysis of aerial photographs of the Negev dating back to the 1940s, proves that in almost all of the locations currently claimed to be historic villages, not a single tent was erected before the establishment of the State of Israel; the locations were equally barren in the 1950s and 1960s. No tents, no houses – and certainly no villages.
The report has sent shockwaves through Israeli public discourse, and a barrage of attempts and rebuttal and denial from left-wing organizations.
The full English-language version is scheduled for publication later this summer; meanwhile, check out the Executive Summary here.
For the ninth time: the State of Israel asks the High Court to allow another postponement of its response to Regavim’s petition for the evacuation of the Palestinian Authority’s flagship outpost, Khan al Ahmar. Regavim: “A right-wing government is tested by deeds, not by words.”
The extension granted to the state four months ago to respond to Regavim Movement petition to relocate the Bedouin squatters of Khan al Ahmar ended today, and the state has requested an additional four-month extension to present its position.
“The political echelon remains steadfast in its position that the rule of law requires the demolition orders to be carried out in the Khan al Ahmar compound,” according to the state’s request, adding that in the weeks since the formation of the present government, the new head of the National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegavi, has been working in cooperation with the National Security Advisor, representatives of the Ministry of Defense, the IDF, the General Security Service (Shin Bet), the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, and other government representatives.
“The details of this intensive effort speak to the complexity, sensitivity and importance that state officials attach to compliance with the conditional orders already issued in this matter, as well as the fact that the issue is a high priority… On the other hand, given the complexity of the issue and its sensitivity, the high level of interest in the international community and the and implications for the foreign relations and security of the State of Israel at the present time, those charged with handling this case at the professional level have been instructed to complete all necessary steps required to formulate an appropriate response to the conditional order as soon as possible. The formulation of a detailed response on such a sensitive and complicated issue justifies the position of the political echelon that an additional stay be granted to enable the professionals to complete their work and to submit a comprehensive analysis to the political echelon.”
The Regavim Movement issued a strongly-worded statement criticizing the postponement request. “We were hoping for an appropriate response by a national right-wing government – as promised in the election campaign,” said Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim. “There is no justification for this. Like Cato in ancient Rome, we continue to repeat the same demand, to hold the same consistent position, to call upon our representatives in the government to act immediately to evacuate this illegal encampment – as well as dozens of other Palestinian Authority outposts created in the same mold – not 300 meters away from its present location, but to the neighborhood prepared precisely for this purpose near Abu Dis.”
Regavim responded to the state’s request for postponement by calling on the High Court to issue a final order, as it intimated it would when it granted the previous postponement, and put an end to the saga once and for all. “This is an extreme case of ‘lack of reasonableness’,” added Deutsch. “After all is said and done, this case will prove whether the High Court applies the same standard of reasonableness to cases from both sides of the political divide, or whether the reasonableness standard is nothing more than a judicial fig leaf for a particular agenda. We await a final judgement for the relocation of the Khan al Ahmar outpost in a manner that is consistent with Israel’s national interests.”
This morning (Monday), Likud MKs Danny Danon and Yoel (Yuli) Edelstein joined the Regvaim Movement and the Jerusalem Environs Forum – and faced by a pro-Palestinian demonstration. Regavim: “The question isn’t whether or not, but how and when the outpost will be evacuated.”
The deadline for the state’s response in the Khan al Ahmar case is rapidly approaching – and the political pressure is climbing. This morning (Monday), World Likud Chairman MK Danny Danon and Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee MK Yoel (Yuli) Edelstein were joined by Likud activists on a tour of Khan al Ahmar hosted by the Regavim Movement and the Forum for Jerusalem Satellite Communities. A group Palestinian Arab and leftist activists protested nearby, waving Palestinian flags.
Less than 2 weeks remain for the state to submit its response to the High Court of Justice in the sixth petition submitted by the Regavim Movement regarding the illegal outpost adjacent to Route 1, the main access road connecting Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and Israel’s eastern border. This most recent deadline marks the eighth time the state has delayed compliance. The fast-approaching deadline of 1 February is the ninth such extension granted by the High Court – which also declared that it would be the last.
MK Danny Danon: “I have come here today to strengthen our government as it prepares its response to the High Court regarding the evacuation of this site. Israel is a state governed by law and order, and we must not accept selective enforcement. Khan al Ahmar must be evacuated immediately. I am well acquainted with the international community. Our friends around the world will understand that there can be no place for selective enforcement that discriminates against Jews in Judea and Samaria.”
Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim: “The State of Israel must understand that this is a mega-issue that goes far beyond the Khan al Ahmar outpost. Our annual documentation and mapping of the illegal construction in Area C proves that in the past decade the Palestinian Authority has taken tremendous strides toward establishing a de facto state in the heart of the Land of Israel – and the government is simply closing its eyes to reality.”
“The new government must prove to the voters who elected them that it is a real Zionist nationalist government – and place the Battle for Area C at the top of the agenda. The question regarding Khan al Ahmar is no longer whether the outpost will be evacuated, but when and how.”
While the cost to fill up your car continues to rise, there are those living in a parallel universe – in Bedouistan.
For many years, Regavim has been sounding the alarm bells about the phenomenon of dozens of illegal gas stations that are scattered throughout the Negev. Even when Police forces manage to shut one down, three new ones appear.
These gas stations don’t meet any regulatory standard, endanger lives, damage the environment, and bring in millions of shekels for criminal organizations that avoid tax payments.
This is another major task for the new government and Knesset: to restore governance in the Negev and the Galilee.
Learn more about the lawlessness and lack of governance in Israel’s Wild South in “Bedouistan” – the book published by Meir Deutsch, Regavim’s Director General. Place your order here.
To mark the 49th anniversary of the passing of David Ben-Gurion, we launched our “Sde Boker Initiative.” This comprehensive roadmap for the future of the Negev is the result of 16 years of fieldwork, analysis, legal research and activism that have enabled us to formulate a vision for the future, looking ahead to 2050 through the prisms of national planning and development imperatives, improved governance and resolution of land ownership claims.
Over the past year, we presented the Sde Boker initiative to each of the Zionist parties in the Knesset, and immediately after the establishment of the new government, we have begun to present it to the general public. Many members of the new government view the plan favorably, and we will continue to push for implementation of its core recommendations.
To view a summary presentation of the Sde Boker Inititiative, click here.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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