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.

Security coordinator Andrei Dostov

Security Coordinator whose weapon was impounded last year when spiteful, baseless charges were filed against him by criminals, was wounded last night as he fended off a terrorist with his bare hands while protecting his community.

Last night (Sunday 30 May) a terrorist who infiltrated from the Gaza Strip stabbed the Security Coordinator of one of the Shalom Region communities. The Security Coordinator, who had been awarded certificates of excellence for his outstanding service, was unarmed: Last year, criminals whom he had apprehended and turned over to the police took revenge against him by filing trumped up charges with the Internal Affairs Department. Only last week, the Security Coordinator appealed, with the assistance of Regavim, for the return of his firearm, but his appeal was rejected.

The Security Coordinator of Avshalom, a Jewish community in the “Gaza Envelope” region, prevented what might have been a major terrorist attack, fending off an infiltrator who crossed the security barrier from Gaza armed with knives under cover of darkness last night (Sunday). The Security Coordinator sustained stab wounds to the arms and stomach, and was evacuated to the hospital for medical care. A second security team member, who arrived at the scene while the struggle was in progress, shot the intruder and neutralized him.

The absurdity of the situation can’t be missed: The first responder at the scene, who sprang into action in response to the alert sounded by residents of the community, has been forced to fulfill his security duties for the past year barehanded, as a result of a spiteful, unfounded complaint filed against him by Bedouin criminals from the squatters’ camp at Bir Hadaj whom he apprehended last year. Only last week, the appeal submitted to the Internal Affairs Department of the Ministry of Homeland Security by this decorated and highly regarded Security Coordinator and the Security Coordinator of another nearby Jewish community, with the assistance of the Regavim Movement, was rejected on the grounds that there was “cause for concern for the public’s safety.”  

The two Security Coordinators are Israel Police volunteers, and in the course of their duties last year they detained several suspects. The police officer who joined them issued the suspects citations for serious safety infractions and for violations of corona regulations then in force.

An IDF certificate awarded to the security coordinator

As the situation unfolded, the suspects threatened the volunteer policemen, warning them that they would take revenge. Soon after, they submitted a complaint to the Internal Affairs Investigation Unit, claiming that the volunteers had drawn their weapons on them. As a result, the two Security Coordinators’ personal firearms were impounded, forcing them to submit an appeal with the assistance of the Regavim Movement’s Legal Department.

Absurd as it may sound, their appeal was rejected on the grounds that these highly regarded security specialists pose a potential “danger public safety,” despite the fact that both men continue to take part in active police activity and carry firearms while on duty as volunteer policemen and during their IDF reserve duty, to which both men were conscripted in recent weeks.

“Tonight, it became clear beyond a shadow of doubt that this brave and professional Security Coordinator is no threat to public safety – he is the protector of public safety. If the terrorist had come upon women and children rather encountering this trained and fearless man, tonight would have ended in tragedy,” said Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim. “I hope the Ministry of Public Security will come to its senses immediately and return the Security Coordinators’ weapons without delay.”

UPDATE (2 June):
In face of this injustice, Regavim felt the need to intervene and help these two brave men. We raised the issue in the media and on our social media platforms, and made sure the entire country heard about the joint fight of Andrei, his friend Bert, and Regavim.

Yesterday, thanks to Regavim’s legal pressure, and thanks to the help of Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana, the two Security Coordinators received their weapons back. In the afternoon, Regavim’s Director General and Spokesman traveled down south to meet Andrei and Bert and award them certificates to thank them for their service.

We are pleased and honored to have been able to help these two men, to correct a wrong, and to improve their personal safety, as well the security and safety of Israel’s southern residents.

Regavim meets the two security officers whose weapons were confiscated and later returned
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.

Situation rooms set up by Regavim to aid the Jewish residents of Lod

Friends,

For over a week, the Jewish state has been under attack: Alongside incessant rocket fire by the Hamas terror group in Gaza, a wave of domestic Arab terror has swept across Israel. Years of poor governance and a lack of enforcement have served as a breeding ground for Arab riots, antisemitic pogroms and a wave of terror against Jews in mixed cities – from north to south.

The extent and magnitude of these events caused Regavim to suspend our other activities, and to focus our efforts on helping the residents of Lod , where Jewish residents have been victims of violent attacks, synagogues, schools, homes and vehicles have been burned, and public and private property destroyed.

Together with residents of Lod and My Israel (‘Yisrael Sheli’), Regavim quickly set up a ‘situation room’ that worked round the clock. Volunteers helped us respond to the urgent calls of residents of Lod, Ramle and other mixed cities, and to organize thousands of volunteers who called in and offered to help: medics, drivers, armed ex-officers, caregivers, & more.

Regavim purchased crucial equipment to support this important mission: cameras to document the situation, medical equipment, protective gear, computers for the situation room, and more.

Like everything we do at Regavim, none of this is possible without your support. We invite you to take part in covering the extensive costs, and to aid the ongoing Zionist struggle to insure a safe, secure Jewish future in our homeland.

To make an online, tax-deductible donation (US, UK, Canada, Israel) click here.

We pray and hope for quieter, more peaceful days.

Regavim: Protecting Israel’s Resources, Preserving Israeli Sovereignty

Following last night’s events in Tamra, an Arab town in northern Israel, the Regavim Movement applauds the decisive law enforcement activity by the Israel Police and calls on the leaders of the Israeli-Arab sector to support Israel Police efforts to eradicate organized crime.

In recent weeks, the Israel Police have carried out extensive – and long overdue – enforcement activity against organized crime operations and operatives, focusing on the scourge of illegal weapons in the Arab sector. After years of inaction that took a heavy toll on Arab society and both symbolized and contributed to the erosion of governance and Israeli sovereignty, these enforcement sweeps mark a change of course.

“The circumstances of the death of Ahmad Hijazi, who was killed last night during the exchange of fire between the police and criminal organizations, must be thoroughly investigated. That said, the complexity and difficulty of restoring law and order to Israeli Arab towns and villages should not be underestimated,” said Yakhin Zik, Director of Operations at Regavim. “The citizens of Israel who live in these communities continue to pay a high price for the years of inaction, and rooting out the criminal elements will be a long and challenging process.”

“The Regavim Movement has been monitoring and documenting the deterioration of the rule of law for years – and have often been harshly criticized for doing so. We are gratified that the Israeli government has begun to address the harsh reality that we have described for far too long.”

“Regavim applauds Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana, and the Israel Police for their determined efforts in this Sisyphean task,” added Zik. “We hope that the important steps that have been taken thus far to restore governance and security will continue, and we call upon the leaders of Israel’s Arab sector and members of the Knesset to give their full support to the Israel Police efforts to battle organized crime in their community.”