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.”