Photo credit: Meir Elipur

Today, we participated in an emergency meeting organized by the Land of Israel Caucus in the Knesset to demand security and safety for the Negev.

Meir Deutsch, Regavim’s Director General, spoke to the Members of Knesset about the Negev predicament, and explained why Bedouin settlements that have been legalized are, in effect, still squatter camps.

The retrospective legalizations have not provided appropriate solutions for the Bedouin residents, nor have they solved the root problem of the loss of governance in the Negev.

The government decision to approve three Bedouin settlements and to connect illegal structures to the electricity grid could either lead to the regulating of settlement in the Negev and the Galilee, or the exact opposite: the abandonment of these areas. The devil is always in the details.

Regulating Bedouin settlements in the Negev and merging them into legal towns – yes. Encouraging more lawlessness – no.

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Regavim has also been at the forefront against Ra’am’s Electricity Law, which endangers the rule of law. Ra’am, headed by MK Mansour Abbas, has threatened to dismantle the government coalition if its proposed amendment to the Electricity Law, which seeks to connect tens of thousands of illegal structures to the national electricity grid, is not passed.

The legislative amendment seeks to connect existing and all future illegal structures. This extortionate bill endangers the rule of law and national planning and construction policy. And it’s clear that approval of this law will result in a surge in illegal construction.

One of the state’s most effective tools against the national epidemic of illegal construction is the existing ban on connecting structures erected without a permit to the electricity grid.

Although there’s a certain degree of logic in approving electrical connections for structures for which the government intends to approve permits, a wholesale whitewashing of illegal construction would be a disaster.

Structures that lack permits should meet basic criteria to be approved:

  1. Only structures built before 2018 and the enactment of the Kaminitz Law, which included clear and enforceable criteria for construction.
  2. Only structures for which a detailed outline plan has been submitted by the state, and not by various entities such as local authorities.
  3. A bank guarantee of NIS 40,000 should be deposited. If the plan is not approved and a building permit is not obtained, the guarantee will be forfeited.
  4. If judicial or administrative orders of demolition for the structures haven’t been issued.
  5. The connection will be temporary; permanent electrical connection will be contingent on approval of the state’s plan and issuance of a building permit.

The coalition depends on the votes of the Ra’am party so it is about to pass a law that effectively rewards illegal construction, which is a serious problem in the Arab sector.

Without fanfare, the Ra’am party recently submitted one of the shortest bills in Israel’s legislative history. Amending only three words – “14 Sivan 5777 (May 31, 2007)” to “30 Kislev 5785 (Dec. 31, 2024)” – the Islamist party aims to legalize electricity hookups for tens of thousands of illegal homes built in the Arab sector over the course of decades.

Israel’s Electricity Sector Law enabled thousands of illegal Arab-sector structures, some of them decades old at the time, to be hooked up to the main grid. The law, passed in 1996 as provisional legislation limited to two years, stipulated that only structures not slated for demolition could be connected. But as everyone knows, there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary fix, and if you give an inch they’ll take a mile.

In short order, Arab MKs made uncommonly good use of this common wisdom: They submitted a bill to “amend” the temporary law, which was extended several times through political deals cut in shadowy Knesset corridors, until it finally expired on May 31, 2007.

The law applied only to “structures which the government has no intention to demolish,” but since then, every year many thousands more are added to the already-staggering tally of illegal construction in Arab communities in the north and the Bedouin hinterland of the Negev. The burden on law enforcement agencies results in skewed enforcement priorities and a dismal situation on the ground: Demolition orders against “old construction” are no longer applied for or enforced, and as time goes on, more and more illegal structures slide, unobstructed, into this category.

Illegal construction is a national epidemic, and its primary victims are the residents of these communities who continue to suffer from a lack of adequate infrastructure. It is impossible to pave a road or build a park if an illegal house is built on land slated for public use; high-speed internet lines, fiber optic cables, sewage, water and gas lines can’t be improved if public utility corridors are filled with illegal structures that the state has chosen to ignore and eventually ‘legalize.’

Despite the often-heard complaint that national planning authorities have failed to advance development plans for Arab communities, the responsibility actually lies with local authorities. Moreover, dozens of detailed plans for housing construction in the non-Jewish sector, drafted and approved by the state, have hit a brick wall – literally – because dozens of structures were built illegally during the approval process on land slated for development, burying any hope of alleviating the housing crisis under illegal single-unit structures built without regard for the environment or the current and future needs of the community.

The prohibition against connecting illegal structures to electricity is one of the state’s most significant tools in the fight against illegal construction; it helps ensure that crime doesn’t pay. Yet since the expiration of the “temporary” legislation, the Arab parties have tried no less than 10 times to revive it; each time, MKs of the Zionist parties blocked it.

But now, because the coalition depends on the votes of Mansour Abbas and his colleagues in the Arab bloc, Ra’am is demanding that the law not only be re-enacted, but applied retroactively from its expiration 15 years ago. A deal has begun to take shape; according to the details that have leaked out – despite attempts to keep them hidden away in the shadowy Knesset corridors – the coalition will pass the Electricity Law in the next Knesset session in exchange for the Joint Arab List’s abstention or outright support for the state budget.

If the coalition allows this law to pass, the ramifications will be both immediate and far-reaching: Not only will it reward construction offenses in the Arab sector, it will in effect create two separate legal systems for planning and construction in the State of Israel. While in the Jewish sector the National Planning and Construction Law is alive, well and strictly enforced, tens of thousands of illegal homes in the Arab sector against which the law has not been enforced due to bureaucracy and incompetence will be connected to infrastructure, granting them a legal seal of approval.

It is said that there is no death penalty in the State of Israel, but it seems that Israel’s Planning and Construction Law is already strapped to the electric chair, and the coalition’s trigger finger is hovering “ten degrees to the right” of the power switch.

This article first appeared on Israel Hayom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a summary of the findings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

We hope that MK Raz will stop spreading fake news.

Read the full research paper here.

Today (Thursday), we held a field tour in the Negev for Members of Knesset from the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus. We discussed the complex topic of the illegal squatter camps in the Negev and its consequences for the State of Israel.

Participants in the field tour included: MKs Yoav Kisch, Orit Strouk, Amir Ohana, Micki Zohar, Yomtob Kalfon, Simcha Rothman, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Negev activists, and local leaders.

We began the tour with a talk by Pini Badash, the Mayor of Omer. Badash spoke to the MKs about the difficult daily reality that Negev residents encounter: protection payments, crime, wild driving, etc. Almog Cohen, a Negev resident himself and a leader of the Negev Rescue Committee, talked about the ‘Islamization’ of the Bedouin sector and the Police’s helplessness in the face of rising crime rates.

We then stopped off at viewpoints near Hura, Lakiya, and Al-Said. The MKs saw the mass illegal construction with their own eyes, and debated the issue of land ownership claims, the prospects of legalizing three new Bedouin settlements, and the dangers of whitewashing thousands of illegal structures.

To end of the tour, the Caucus members met in Beer Sheva with Shlomo Magnazi, Head of the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, and Shimon Boker, Deputy Mayor of Beer Sheva.

We thank the MKs who joined us for this important day.

Now, more than ever, Regavim is proud to lead the fight for the future of the Negev. With important government decisions on the horizon, we continue to provide policymakers with data, analysis, and practical, pragmatic solutions to the growing challenges facing all residents of the Negev – and beyond.

Regavim: Protecting Israel’s Resources, Preserving Israeli Sovereignty

Wednesday’s emergency Knesset meeting about recent attacks on Jewish communities in mixed cities

Today (26 May) we participated in an emergency Knesset hearing to discuss the explosion of lawlessness throughout Israel in recent weeks. The hearing, organized by Regavim and MK Amichai Chikli of Yemina, was attended by many Members of Knesset, local leaders, civil organizations, and residents of mixed cities.

In his remarks, Meir Deutsch, Regavim’s Director General, criticized the Police: “Even if we accept that the Police was surprised by these riots, we must not accept that they will be surprised by the next round [of violence].”

“For many years, Regavim has warned that failures in law enforcement against seemingly isolated and unrelated issues – such as illegal construction, protection rackets, drug trafficking, and violence and dangerous behavior on the country’s roads – results in an atmosphere of chaos and the erosion of governance. Where there is no governance, there is anarchy, and almost inevitably – full scale war that threatens the existence of the State.

“The anarchy that began in Jerusalem with lynches, rock and incendiary attacks and vandalism, spread to blocking of roads from the north to the south of the country, and then to attacks against Jewish residents in mixed neighborhoods [where Arabs and Jews live side-by-side]”.

Deutsch said that he came to Lod at the beginning of the riots, answering calls for help from regular citizens whose lives had been turned upside down and were now under threat. Regavim suspended normal operations to focus its energies and expertise on Lod, purchasing equipment to protect besieged residents and the volunteers who came to their aid, and setting up a ‘situation room’ to answer hundreds of calls for help and thousands of offers of assistance that poured in from around the country.

“Every IDF soldier knows that every training exercise, and certainly every operational incident, is immediately followed up with an internal investigation; this is how we learn, how we improve our preparedness and our operational capabilities. It’s how we learn the lessons necessary to do better next time. For the first 72 hours of the riots, the Police did not function, and Lod residents, whose lives were at serious risk, were left to protect themselves, by themselves. Then volunteers came from all over the country to help, and only then did the Police step in.

“Even if the Israel Police did not anticipate riots of this sort or this magnitude, what are they doing to learn the lessons that will prevent a recurrence? Where is the self-examination by the Police, the Minister of Public Security, the Prime Minister? As things now stand, the next outburst of violence is only a matter of time”.

Deutsch called on the government to formulate a comprehensive and adequately-funded plan to restore law and order and to bring governance to the Negev, the Gallil, and cities throughout Israel through equal and universal enforcement of the law.

Illegal construction

In an attempt to garner Arab parties’ support, the Israeli left is now seeking the total repeal of Amendment 116, better known as the Kaminitz Law, which seeks to address the epidemic of illegal construction.

Illegal construction on public and private land is a national epidemic that has been ravaging the Israeli landscape for far too long. Each year, thousands of structures spring up in violation of Israel’s Planning and Construction Law; current estimates number them in the hundreds of thousands.

This wildcat construction threatens the prospects for planned, organized construction and development, stymies formulation of long-range planning policy and stunts efforts to develop modern national and local infrastructure, but first and foremost, it endangers the resolution of Israel’s housing crisis, which is particularly acute in the minority sector.

Despite often repeated claims to the contrary, the majority of Arab settlements in Israel have municipal master plans that enable legal construction and development. On the other hand, most of the land in these communities is privately owned, and illegal construction is both widespread and unenforced, resulting in a supply-demand imbalance that prevents the implementation of existing development plans.

A special committee, headed by Deputy Attorney General (Civil Affairs) Erez Kaminitz, presented a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the phenomenon of illegal construction and its devastating impact on the Knesset in January 2016, and proposed a series of legislative amendments that would vastly improve the state’s ability to address the problems and more efficiently enforce Israel’s Planning and Construction Law.

These proposed amendments, known collectively as Amendment 116 but commonly referred to as the Kaminitz Law, were ratified by the 20th Knesset in 2017 and incorporated in Chapter 10 (“Oversight, Enforcement and Penalties”) of Israel’s Planning and Construction Law.

Amendment 116 mandates stiff penalties for illegal construction and places efficient enforcement tools and significantly enhanced authority in the hands of inspectors, including the authority to issue work-stop and administrative demolition orders that cut through lengthy, complex legal procedures that had been required in the past. Hefty administrative fines were instituted as a deterrent to new illegal construction, and municipalities were empowered to act swiftly and decisively against offenders. In addition, the Kaminitz Law required the relevant authorities to revamp demolition priorities, carry out more efficient mapping and reporting of construction violations, and more.

According to data presented to the Knesset in December 2019, in the two years following the Kaminitz Law’s implementation, common construction offenses were reduced by 41 percent, and serious construction offenses were slashed by 75 percent.

Since the Kaminitz Law’s ratification, the Joint Arab List Party has waged an unrelenting battle to repeal it: In 2019, they conditioned their recommendation to the president of a candidate to form a government on the law’s repeal. In another attempt in late 2019, they conditioned their vote on the dissolution of the Knesset upon the repeal of the Kaminitz Law. In October 2020, an attempt by Knesset member Gadeer Mreeh (Yesh Atid-Telem) to legislate a “suspension” of the law pending approval of master plans for Arab municipalities was defeated.

Bowing to this incessant political pressure, in November 2020 then-Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn announced that the attorney general had reached an agreement with the Justice Ministry, the Treasury and the Joint List to institute a two-year enforcement moratorium against existing residential structures in Arab and Druze municipalities and structures in the agricultural sector eligible for legalization. The agreement also calls for expedited planning and registration activity during the moratorium period.

Nissenkorn’s “agreement” amounts to a severe limitation of the provisions of the law and a dangerous circumvention of the Knesset’s authority. It undermines the basic concepts of legislative democracy and the rule of law, protects offenders and encourages offenses. But that is apparently not enough: Left-wing parties, in an attempt to garner the support of the Arab parties for the coalition-building mandate, are now seeking the total repeal of the law.

This would restore the status quo ante, resulting in a complete reversal of the progress that has been made since 2017 against illegal construction. It would once again deprive municipal authorities of the ability to act effectively against construction criminals, making it difficult to promote stable, long-term planning policy for responsible utilization of Israel’s limited land reserves and severely impairing the state’s ability to develop national and local construction and infrastructure plans—particularly in the minority communities that suffer most from development inequity.

The Zionist parties must act in every way to prevent the repeal of the Kaminitz Law, and work to strengthen the rule of law in general. Israel’s Planning and Construction Law, including Amendment 116, was designed to create a rational land-use policy that will ensure a healthy future for all citizens of Israel.

This article by Regavim’s Director General, Meir Deutsch, appeared in the Jerusalem Post on April 12, 2021