The illegal outpost of Khan al Ahmar; Route 1 can be seen in the background

The Regavim Movement reacted with concern to the state’s response in the Khan al Ahmar case, which was submitted to the High Court this evening.

The government requested an additional six month delay of the deadline to submit its official position to the court in the matter of the illegal outpost on Route 1 slated for demolition over a decade ago. During this additional half-year period, the state intends to submit a confidential document to the court detailing all the considerations that impact the enforcement of demolition orders at the site.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, sharply criticized the state’s response, and the conduct of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

“From the first day of the current government’s term, we have stressed that deeds, not words, are what count,” Deutsch said. “Today it has become clear that contrary to its oft-repeated declarations, this government is continuing along the dangerous trajectory set by its predecessor, conducting its law enforcement system according to the whims of foreign governments.”

“The root of anarchy is selective, preferential law enforcement. No sector or segment of the population should enjoy immunity from law enforcement because of international pressure while the law is enforced against other sectors.”

Regavim noted that in earlier responses to the High Court, the state explained that law enforcement at Khan al Ahmar would be postponed for fear that this would trigger proceedings in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

“This conduct broadcasts a very problematic message to the world, intimating that the State of Israel is a guest in this territory when in fact Judea and Samaria have been under internationally-recognized Israeli jurisdiction for a longer period of time than the British Mandate and the Jordanian occupation combined,” noted Deutsch.

“The time has come for the State of Israel to exercise its rights to this territory, and to behave in a manner befitting the sovereign body responsible for law enforcement in the area according to international law and in accordance with the historic right of the State of Israel to the territories of Judea and Samaria.”

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.

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

High Court’s decision to allow the State an extension until 5 September

This afternoon (Wednesday) the High Court of Justice granted the government yet another extension, requiring a response to Regavim’s petition by 5 September 2021 – but stressed that this would be the last time.

The most recent round in the Khan al Ahmar case – the sixth petition by the Regavim Movement demanding the evacuation of the illegal squatters’ camp – follows more than a decade of legal ping-pong.

In 2018, the Israeli government gave a commitment to the High Court that Khan al Ahmar would be evacuated, but since that time the state has requested a number of extensions, citing a virtual laundry list of excuses.

Last week, the state’s lawyer requested yet another delay, claiming that the formation of a new government requires a re-evaluation of government policy regarding the illegal encampment on the Route 1 highway. This time, it appears that the High Court is losing patience; today’s decision granted a short extension but made it clear that this would be the last such delay.

“Like us, the High Court of Justice is fed up with the government’s “theater of the absurd,” said Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim. “The government’s ineffectual – even helpless – posture in the face of the illegal construction at Khan al Ahmar is emblematic of its weak-kneed stance against the Palestinian Authority’s strategic takeover of the open spaces of Judea and Samaria. We are gratified that even the High Court of Justice has grown weary of the government’s failure to enforce the law, to maintain order in areas under its jurisdiction, and to protect Israel’s national interests.”

Khan al Ahmar

Today, the General Security Service (Shabak) released details of the arrest of the Bedouin millionaire Yakub Abu-Alkiyan on suspicion of treason.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim responded: “The fact that Abu-Alkiyan, a millionaire with extensive property and business holdings who maintains close ties with leaders of Israel’s economy, passed sensitive security information to Iranian operatives proves that the rising tide of nationalism in Israel’s Bedouin sector is not connected to often-heard complaints of poverty or discrimination. This very real and very serious developing trend is an expression of radical currents that are re-shaping the Bedouin community in the Negev. Israel is now paying the price for years of denial and wishful thinking. The government must face up to reality – and there’s not a moment to waste.”

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.