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.”

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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.

The illegal outpost of Khan al Ahmar, next to Route 1

Regavim first petitioned the High Court of Justice over a decade ago for the evacuation of Khan al Ahmar, the illegal squatters’ camp encroaching on Route 1 and the Jewish community of Kfar Adumim.

This evening, Amit Segal reported on Channel 12 News that the Bennett-Lapid government intends to relocate the squatters a mere 300 meters (330 yards) away from their current location.

This hare-brained scheme, hatched by the Ministry of Defense, will turn the Palestinian Authority’s flagship outpost in Judea and Samaria into a permanent, recognized Palestinian settlement.

The PA targeted this point on the map precisely because of its critical strategic value as the link between Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jericho – an area where there is no Palestinian Arab presence. Enabling the takeover and de facto annexation of this strategic location will be a fiasco for the security and strategic integrity of the State of Israel.

The Israeli government invested millions, preparing an alternative location for relocation of Khan al Ahmar on Israeli state land in Jahalin West, but the relocation of the squatters has been stalled solely due to European pressure.

It is inconceivable that the very same members of this government who repeatedly attacked Netanyahu for his failure to evacuate the squatters of Khan al Ahmar are now responsible for this bizarre, pathetic alternative – one that is far worse in every way.

The planned relocation will do little to improve the lives of the squatters, but it will set a dangerous precedent of state-sanctioned annexation for the dozens of illegal squatters’ camps throughout the region that were established according to the Khan al Ahmar model.

Jahalin West: the relocation site that remains ready and waiting for the squatters of Khan al Ahmar
KKL tree-planting on state land, before it was stopped

Following the decision to suspend the KKL forestation project in southern Israel, the Regavim Movement decried the government’s capitulation, charging this decision as continued “protection payments” to Mansour Abbas that make the next round of violence and domestic terrorism inevitable.

The Raam Party and the Bedouin know full well that they can dictate to the government through the use of political pressure, strongarm tactics and violence. When you cave in to terrorism and blackmail, you invite the next round of violence. Prime Minister Bennett and Interior Minister Shaked have repeatedly asked that the “government of change” be judged by actions, not words. Today, the government’s decision to surrender to terrorism and to suspend the planting project is a an action that speaks louder than words. The words we’re hearing are Ayelet Shaked’s – but the tune the government is dancing to is being sung by Mansour Abbas.