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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a summary of the findings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

We hope that MK Raz will stop spreading fake news.

Read the full research paper here.

Illegal Bedouin encampment in the Negev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarabin, part of the Al Kasum Regional Council

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

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

Aerial photo of an illegal Bedouin encampment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ג'וליס
Druze township of Julis in the Galil

Israel’s Regional Planning and Construction Board (Northern District) has approved the publication of a new municipal masterplan for Julis, a Druze township in the Galilee.

The new masterplan paves the way for construction of some 3,000 new housing units, providing residential opportunities that will allow the township to double its population to 12,5000 residents while enabling major improvements to existing infrastructure alongside development of new services and public institutions.

The masterplan was released on Tuesday (October 13).

Many of the new housing projects will utilize already-existing land reserves and newly-expanded construction rights, while others will be built on newly-acquired municipal land reserves, allotted to Julis as part of an expansion project launched by the National Planning Authority.

The plan sets aside some 300 dunams for commercial use, as well as 100 dunams of green spaces. Among other things, the new masterplan will convert the town center and its historic landmarks into a pedestrian mall.

The Regavim non-profit organization applauded the new plan.

“Well-designed planning that makes full use of land reserves while addressing the need to develop housing and employment opportunities is the basis of modern, efficient land-use policy,” said Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim.

“These principles should be at the heart of all future planning in Israel, particularly in communities that developed over the years without any oversight or long-term vision.

“Organized, forward-thinking policy of this kind is in the best interests of the residents themselves, who will finally enjoy the benefits of urban planning – modern infrastructure, improved living and working conditions, and a cleaner, brighter, more promising future.”

This article appeared on JewishPress

Illegal construction near Misgav, northern Israel

Following a legislative initiative over a decade in the works, the Knesset last week passed the “Kaminitz Law,” granting the state greater authority when it comes to enforcement with regard to construction violations throughout the country.

The legislation, known as amendment 109 of the Planning and Building Law, which passed 43-33 in a special session held during the Knesset’s Passover recess, is a game changer.

The new law was introduced by the government following recommendations by a committee led by deputy attorney-general Erez Kaminitz, who sought ways to deal with the plague of illegal building in Israel.

The law gives the National Building Supervision Unit the power to supervise the work of the local municipalities, which until today went unchecked.

What you had was a phenomenon in which local mayors would simply ignore building violations.

The law also provides building inspectors with greater authority to stop illegal building dead in its tracks as soon as the construction commences. In addition the law calls for a huge increase in fines for building without a permit.

Our organization, Regavim, has been working on passing this type of legislation from the very beginning to help change the situation on the ground when it comes to the enforcement of building laws in this country.

The law also lessens the bureaucratic nightmare prevalent for decades, in which those who knowingly build illegally were aware that if they played the “game” right, they could continue to make use of their illegal structures, whether homes, offices, or storage spaces, since appeal after appeal in the courts would lengthen the period of inaction, or lack of enforcement, for years at a time.

The Arab MKs are protesting against this new law, claiming that the state doesn’t allow the Arab population to build legally in their communities, hence they are forced to resort to illegal building. Regavim is aware of this recycled false narrative.

Taking a step back, obtaining a building permit throughout all of Israel is a multi-step process. Firstly, the National Building Planning Administration designs the overall layout of any given city or town.

Certain areas are designated for housing, other areas for open spaces, industry, agriculture etc.

Once that city plan is approved, the municipalities or private developers seeking to build in the recognized building areas must come forward with their detailed construction designs. The city then takes the detailed plan back to the building administration for final approval. Once that happens building can commence.

However, according to Regavim’s research, in 95% of the Arab towns and villages in northern Israel (where the majority of the Arab population resides), while the state has in fact put together long-term city plans, the local Arab municipalities don’t utilize those plans. It is for this reason that the residents of these areas are unable to obtain the proper building permits.

Whether it’s a lack of funds due to a failure to collect property taxes (arnona), or tensions between clans and tribes who fight over designated building areas, the municipal or private developers’ plans aren’t being brought for approval.

In other words, it’s not the state’s fault; the onus is on the local officials who aren’t taking responsibility for the construction demands of their populations.

As a result you get Arabs who resort to illegal building without approved plans. When the state points out the violations and seeks to demolish the illegal construction, it becomes the bad guy.

And that’s where the necessary new law comes into play – it allows for swift enforcement, before the above-mentioned scenarios can cause outbreaks of illegal construction.

As mentioned, while Arab MKs were critical of the new law, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed the exact opposite sentiment, showing his strong support for the legislation as a means to integrate the Arab population into Israeli society.

As he stated, “The government which I head has invested, and continues to invest more than any other [previous] government in the Arab sector in order to close the existing gaps – in education, wages, culture, as well as health.

“Israeli Arabs want to be a part of the State of Israel, they want to be a part of the prosperity of Israel’s economy, they want to be a part of the future of the State of Israel, of all the citizens of Israel, and therefore we are investing like no government before us has done. We want the integration of the Arab public into the State of Israel, but that also means integrating with the laws of the State of Israel.”

It’s important to note that the prime minister stressed that the new law wasn’t targeting Arabs only, but that enforcement of the law would be applied equally in all sectors.

“One state, one law, one enforcement. This is what we did today, and I thank you for the passage of this important law,” the prime minister concluded.

For Regavim the passage of the law was viewed as a major success. Leaders of the NGO said they were hopeful that law enforcement authorities would actively utilize the tools granted to them by the new legislation to strengthen the sovereignty of the State of Israel over all of its land.

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post