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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Illegal structures in the Adumim region (E1)

This morning (Monday), the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus held a hearing focusing on the battle for Judea and Samaria.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of the Regavim Movement, shared updated data upon which Regavim based its recently-released precise map of Area C. The satellite mapping project revealed the alarming situation on the ground: From 2019 -2021, the Palestinians built 5097 new illegal structures in areas under full Israeli jurisdiction, an average of 7 new illegal structures per day. These new structures joined the already-staggering tally of illegal construction, for a total of 72,274 illegal structures in Area C.

On a parallel track, during the same two-year period the Palestinian Authority used agricultural projects to seize control of 7,125 dunams of Israeli state land, for a total of 93,071 dunams (93,071,000 square meters or 23,268 acres).

By planting hundreds of thousands of trees in the undeveloped open spaces of Area C, creating agricultural roads spanning dozens of kilometers each year, digging wells, cisterns and water delivery and irrigation systems, the Palestinian continues to exploit a loophole in Ottoman Land Law, still in force in Judea and Samaria, to wrest land rights from the State of Israel and establish de facto Palestinian control.

While the newly-released data indicate a slight reduction in the rate of illegal Palestinian construction compared to the previous two-year period, when 7,957 illegal structures were built (an average of 11 per day), the rate of agricultural land-grabs has remained virtually unchanged.

Regavim explained the lower rate of construction coupled with a steady rate of agricultural annexation as the result of the European Union’s decision to shift its funding away from illegal construction in order to focus on two alternative tracks: “lawfare” to prevent enforcement against new and existing illegal structures, and agricultural projects that achieve much greater territorial gains with far smaller financial investment.

“The Palestinian Authority is drawing the lines of the State of Palestine and presenting Israel with immutable facts on the ground. This is a strategic challenge of the first order, and one that Israel’s governments have done virtually nothing to address. It is a policy failure of a magnitude not seen since the Yom Kippur War,” said Deutsch.

The Regavim Movement issued a scathing rebuttal of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s statement earlier today comparing the Palestinian Authority’s takeover of land in Judea and Samaria to Israeli land grabs.

The written statement by Gantz was issued as an official reply to a parliamentary query submitted by MK Keti Shitrit (Likud) requesting clarification of the Defense Ministry’s response to the hostile takeover of the open spaces of Judea and Samaria.

In his response, publicized by Amiel Yarhi, political correspondent for the Kipa news site, the Defense Minister noted “attempts to trespass and to commandeer land in Judea and Samaria by both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Gantz referred to renewed issuance of construction permits for the Palestinian sector in Area C as the solution to the problem of land grabs.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, responded: “This document indicates that the present Defense Minister is completely clueless regarding the strategic issues involved. This is nothing less than a revisiting of a “Yom Kippur War-style” implosion for the Defense Ministry,” Deutsch said.

“The Defense Minister has compared a situation described by the Palestinian Authority itself as its primary objective for the past decade, establishing the Palestinian state in Area C – an objective that is funded by European support in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year that has enabled the Palestinian Authority to pave dozens of kilometers of roads, put up thousands of electricity poles, build hundreds of public structures, schools and religious institutions in illegal outposts, supports agricultural work that has already taken over hundreds of thousands of dunams of Israeli state land, and orchestrate the construction of some 3500 illegal structures each year – and the Minister of Defense of the State of Israel compares this enormous, organized, systematic program of annexation to illegal construction in the Jewish sector in Judea and Samaria, the sum total of which amounts to some 3000 structures.”

Deutsch added that “the Defense Minister’s utter lack of understanding of this matter is an existential threat to the State of Israel. It is clear to us that this disgraceful document, which reflects a dangerous and reckless approach to the problem, will be a key piece of evidence in the official hearings of the Commission of Inquiry, the updated version of the Agranat Commission, that will be appointed to investigate and analyze the conceptual failure behind Israel’s acquiescence to the conquest of Israeli territory by the Palestinian Authority without a single shot being fired.”

The written statement issued by Gantz

This article first appeared on Arutz Sheva

Israel National News – Arutz Sheva travelled to Southern Israel with Regavim to witness up close what many call “loss of governance in the Negev,” and to find out whether construction of the three communities the government is planning for the Bedouins will solve the problem or make it worse.

“We must understand that this is a national issue – there is an illegal community spread out over hundreds of thousands of dunams, and the State of Israel should be looking decades into the future, not only at the here and now,” says Avraham Binyamin, Head of Policy, Regavim.

Looking at the ground from an aerial view, there is a clear picture of the dispersed tents and the villages.

“You can see it’s a huge swath of land, everything you see is illegal,” says Evyatar David, Regavim Southern Region Field Coordinator. “There is a tremendous amount of squatters on a vast stretch of land. No planning, no regulation, and no solution from the government for this matter.”

Israel has tried to create a solution for the Bedouins in the past, and in the late 1960s, it established cities for the Bedouin population to provide an adequate response to their needs. But, according to Regavim, that didn’t really work.

“Between 1966 and 1970, the State established seven cities, in the Bedouin area – within the ‘Sayeg’ Triangle, and told the Bedouins, come live in the cities we’ve built for you,” David says. “The Bedouins refused to enter, because under Bedouin law and Bedouin practice, if the father, grandfather and son used a particular piece of land, that land belongs to them.”

Meir Deutsch, CEO, Regavim, explains that the urban construction plan created by the State of Israel for construction of residential units can house 35,000 residents.

“In actuality, there are 12,000 residents living in Lakiya today. Why? Because most of the land in Lakiya is under claim of ownership,” Deutsch says. “The only person who decides what happens in claimed land is the person claiming it. No one else can decide what happens with that land, not the court, not the police.”

He adds: “The only homes you do see are those of people claiming ownership. Either the person claiming ownership, or their children or someone they sold to.”

These claims are far beyond logistic or legal issues. The war over ownership can escalate into violence and murder.

“Almost half the Bedouin population still live in scattered clusters, and the government wants them to consolidate within the villages and cities,” Deutsch explains. “But the Bedouin says: I can’t come live here, I will be killed.”

David notes that nobody comes in to the seven cities established for the Bedouins “because there’s an ownership claim, from a clan claiming that this land belongs to it.”

“Anyone who comes here will be shot in the head. So the government provided a solution that is irrelevant and inapplicable,” he says.

The result is that land allocated by the government, and prepared for residential construction, is empty.

“We can see the spread, and the empty fields, which are actually pieces of land on which there are claims of ownership,” David says.

He points to a neighborhood built by the government for the Bedouin community – “but it too is under claim, so no one goes to live there.”

There is an entire neighborhood in Lakiya that was developed.

David explains: “There are plots ready for construction, pillars, electricity and water, but no one will come because there is a claim of ownership. A person or family or Bedouin clan who claim the land belongs to them, and nobody can live here. Because whenever it is their land, no matter what the government says and the State claims, or what the government develops, ultimately the rules of the south are what matter.”

Other than residential issues and the takeover of the land in the Negev, Regavim also warn of internal processes that are unfolding within the Bedouin population. They emphasize that the government is unaware of the situation on the ground, and there is no law or justice at the moment.

“There are two components of Palestinization that are gaining momentum within Bedouin society,” Binyamin says. “One is related to polygamy, with women who are imported, there is trafficking of women coming in from the Gaza strip and from Judea and Samaria, and in fact we have dozens of percentages of Palestinian women and their offspring in the Negev Bedouin society, and that inevitably affects the values that society absorbs. The security services also tell us that the majority of Bedouin citizens involved in terrorist attacks are those connected to Bedouins from Judea and Samaria or Gaza, through these second and third wives.”

He adds: “In addition, Bedouin society has also been infiltrated and influenced by the Islamic Movement, the southern stream, which is connected to Ra’am, as well as the Northern, with teachers coming from the northern stream, which has already been declared illegal, teaching and imbibing these values.”

Noting that Bedouin society used to be a society of nomads, Binyamin says that it is “becoming increasingly nationalistic and Palestinianized, and that is also manifest in the huge decline in enlistment numbers, which today are negligible, nearly nonexistent.”

As Israel National News – Arutz Sheva reported, the government approved the construction of three Bedouin villages. According to the decision, the villages will be built only if 70 percent of the scattered Bedouin communities commit to leaving the land on which they are squatting and moving into them.

Noting that Bedouin society used to be a society of nomads, Binyamin says that it is “becoming increasingly nationalistic and Palestinianized, and that is also manifest in the huge decline in enlistment numbers, which today are negligible, nearly nonexistent.”

As Israel National News – Arutz Sheva reported, the government approved the construction of three Bedouin villages. According to the decision, the villages will be built only if 70 percent of the scattered Bedouin communities commit to leaving the land on which they are squatting and moving into them.

Regavim supports this decision, but demands that past mistakes not be repeated.

“We can build the villages, that’s fine, it’s the right thing to build them, provided the land the squatters are on goes back to the government in the end,” Deutsch says.

The problem, according to Deutsch, is how to include this stipulation as a condition in the government’s decision.

“We have to identify the entire population that is supposed to relocate into each village. We have to clearly define the size of the new town, where it will be, how large. We have to get the agreement of the citizens in the scattered Bedouin communities. Before they are a licensed town, they have to sign, 70 percent of them have to sign on their commitment to relocate to the permanent village. Naturally, there will be a small percentage that won’t, and the state will have to force them to relocate, and clearly in such a situation where the majority, 80 or even 70 percent come willingly, the government can handle the remaining 30 percent.”

He explains that establishing the three villages is “not the ideal situation.”

“The ideal situation is a map of the Negev for fifty years from now, that defines where the international airport is and where the trains go, where there are highways and cities and agriculture, and open areas,” Deutsch says. “Once you have that, you can decide where the Bedouin villages will be 50 years from now, and based on that, determine where to establish new communities now.”

While he says that “I don’t trust this government simply because it’s hard to trust someone who’s broken a promise,” he is willing to wait and judge them by their results.

“This government has asked us to judge them by actions, not words, so we will be judging them on that,” he says.

Regavim is publishing a book called “Bedouistan.”

“It reflects what we’d like to share with every citizen of Israel: Right under our noses, there’s a state within a state growing in the Negev,” Binyamin says. “We also point out the major problematic incidents that have plagued the Negev, which we find out about sporadically. We illustrate the problems and flaws in national planning over the years, as the State attempted to solve the problems, and of course we present our vision for the future, because ultimately, without a vision, there is anarchy, and we try to address this larger need, in order to solve the problems of the Negev.”

Last week, we participated in a Public Security Committee hearing in the Knesset about agricultural crime. Regavim’s Director General, Meir Deutsch, presented the Committee with Regavim’s multifaceted plan to combat the issue. In his opening remarks, Deutsch shared with chairwoman MK Merav Ben Ari that this was the 14th (!) meeting about agricultural crime in which we’ve participated over the years, and sadly they’ve all felt the same.

In every meeting, the difficult reality is surfaced, the Police says what it has to say, the farmers express their anger, and life goes on (without change) until the next meeting. However, this time, perhaps there’s reason for hope. Before we explain why, it’s important to outline briefly what our plan is:

After dealing with the issue of agricultural crime for years, Regavim formulated a plan that is predicated on the simple principle that, in order to achieve real change, different forces must join arms: the Police, the farmers, the State Attorney, and the judiciary.

If one of these forces, each constituting a link in the chain, isn’t effective, the whole battle will be unsuccessful. The government plan must be comprehensive and include more than just the establishment of special police units. The plan must consider the matter of insurance for farmers, provide backing for farmers to file complaints with the Police despite their despondence (accompanying the complaints, improving service, etc), allocate resources to the Police, amend legislation to help the State Attorney, and seek to increase punishments in the Courts.

On this occasion, unlike the previous Knesset meetings in which the discussion focused solely on bolstering the Police, the Agriculture Minister’s representative announced that the Minister intends soon to reveal a comprehensive plan to fight agricultural crime.

Although we’ve become used to disappointments, we prefer to keep pushing and remain optimistic. We hope that the tides are changing, and that we’ll see substantial change in the nearby future. Keep following for updates.

The Negev from above

Despite heavy pressure by the Raam Party to make substantive changes in the wording of the government’s decision, cooperation between Regavim and the staff of Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked’s office resulted in wording virtually identical to the proposal tabled by the Netanyahu government.

Earlier today (Wednesday), the government approved plans for a new Bedouin city and three rural Bedouin communities, intended for the resettlement of residents of illegal squatters’ camps who would be brought into legal, permanent communities.

Regavim’s spokesperson noted that despite the very heavy pressure from the Raam Party to make changes in the government’s decision, the wording of the decision that was approved is virtually identical to that of the proposal tabled by the Netanyahu government. The language that was eventually adopted was the product of several months of intensive consultation and joint effort between Regavim and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s staff.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, reacted to this morning’s decision: “We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: This plan is both an opportunity, and a risk.”

“On the one hand, this plan may lead to real change in the Negev, the restoration of state lands to the government’s hands and the beginning of the process of resettlement of the Bedouin squatters who have taken over the open spaces of the Negev. This plan envisions relocation into legal, organized settlements rather than the fictitious “expansion” of existing settlements that was standard procedure over the past decade. The decision approved by the government today establishes criteria for relocating residents of the Bedouin encampments into permanent settlements according to clearly-defined timetables; if the criteria are not met, the plan to create new settlements will be cancelled.”

On the other hand, the merit of the government’s plan must be proven by action, not intentions. To date, Israeli governments have been most adept at offering “carrots” but have failed to use “sticks” and enforce the conditions of previous plans. This plan, like its predecessors, is built on carrots and sticks, and it’s up to the government to prove that it intends to see the program through – including the evacuation of the squatters’ camps and the return of state land on which the Bedouin are currently squatting illegally, to state hands. The failed policy of endless land allocations for the Bedouin sector must come to an end.”

“If the government stays the course and sees the program approved today through – both carrots and sticks – it will be the first real progress toward a better future for the Negev and for the restoration of national resources to government jurisdiction.”

Cover of Regavim’s 2018 report

Regavim: “We exposed the terrorist ties of Palestinian NGOs years ago, and we congratulate Minister of Defense Gantz for his important decision to officially blacklist organizations that have been actively pursuing Israel’s eradication.”

In a report released in 2018 entitled “The Roots of Evil,” the Regavim Movement exposed the connection between the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Peoples’ Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Late last week, Israel’s Minister of Defense took the necessary – and long overdue – step of officially banning the UAWC, along with five additional PFLP-affiliated organizations.

Immediately after its publication in 2018, Regavim’s “Roots of Evil” report was presented to the Israeli government – MKs, ministers and other members of the defense establishment – and then to the US Ambassador and other foreign diplomats, as well as Members of the European Parliament.

Founded by George Habash in 1967, the PFLP is a Marxist-Leninist Palestinian terror group, originally supported by the Soviet Union. The PFLP, infamous for carrying out suicide bombings, shootings, and assassinations, hijacking commercial airlines and other attacks that harmed thousands of civilians in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, is responsible for countless deaths and injuries in Israel. The PFLP is designated as a terrorist organization by governments around the world, including the US, EU, Canada, and Israel.

In order to circumvent international sanction while continuing its murderous assault against Israel and its citizens, the PFLP co-opted the discourse of human rights and international law and created a web of “civil society organizations,” which was exposed in a 2015 ruling by Israel’s Minister of Defense: “Civilian activities of the PFLP draw a systematic picture indicating deep involvement in achieving [PFLP] goals – which are terrorist attacks against Israel…”  The PFLP established “civil society” and “charitable” foundations as a means of creating a “halo,” encouraging outside observers to associate the terror group with positive progressive values instead of violence,” using rights-based rhetoric to justify a host of illegal, violent activity and to obscure its ultimate goal – the elimination of Israel.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim: “We welcome the important decision taken by the Minister of Defense. Unfortunately, after the publication of our findings in 2008, the terror organization known as UAWC was allowed to continue its activities, which cost innocent lives: the UAWC was actively involved in the murder of Rina Shnerb.”

“The recent decision by Defense Minister Gantz illuminates the direct connection between terrorism and the Palestinian Authority’s aggressive, illegal annexation of Area C – under the guise of ‘human rights’ and ‘humanitarian aid.’ We hope that this important decision will result in the shuttering of these terror organizations and that our defense forces will take the steps necessary to halt the flow of funds that keep these terror fronts afloat.”

Read the full “Roots of Evil” report here.

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.

**

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.