On 10 May 2021, the May riots, during the Guardian of the Walls operation, began throughout Israel. It all started when rockets were fired from Gaza on Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim), and continued in the form of lynches and attacks against Jews in mixed cities, riots on the streets of the Negev, violence and terror during a long and difficult week.

As soon as the riots in Lod broke out, we set up a ‘situation room’, together with My Israel, for the sake of the Jewish residents in mixed cities. We helped to organize volunteers: medics, drivers, armed ex-officers, caregivers, and more.

But it doesn’t end here. Since last year, the situation on the roads in the Negev hasn’t exactly calmed down, while shootings and violence in the streets of mixed cities haven’t stopped. The sense of security and safety among the public has taken a hit. And the public’s trust in the authorities has also been damaged. However, as an organization that’s been battling for the Negev for over a decade, we feel as though the public is waking up and understanding the challenge that Israel faces. The Negev issue has become important and significant in the Israeli public discourse. There’s an understanding that the Negev is a place worth fighting for. Although it’s become an ‘ex-territory’, the State of Israel can and must return to the Negev!

In the last year, we have initiated and participated in Knesset hearings about the erosion of governance. We have engaged policymakers, and taken them out to the field to see, discuss, and monitor the various issues in the Negev and elsewhere. We opened dozens of new cases relating to the authorities’ conduct during and after the May riots. We wanted to find out how many rioters were caught, how many criminal cases were opened, and how many indictments were filed.

We weren’t surprised to learn that the real problem today in the State of Israel is the legal system. While we were critical of the Police’s efforts (or lack thereof) during the riots, it should be noted that criminals were indeed arrested. However, the Courts released the criminals back into the streets without significant punishment, undermining the authorities, the rule of law, and Israel’s security.

Looking forward, it’s pretty obvious that the next round of violence is just a matter of time. The judiciary must undergo serious reform. The criminals must be given the message that there’s accountability. When you break the law and engage in violence, there must be heavy punishments that serve as a deterrent to others!

We must not let down our guard. Israel is our one and only homeland – and we shall always work to protect it.

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.

A view from above: Town of Lehavim in the Negev

Today (Sunday) the Israeli government approved the establishment of 5 new settlements in the Mevo’ot Arad region, including a new Bedouin settlement. Regavim called the decision a “positive and proactive Zionist settlement policy decision.”

The Regavim Movement welcomed this morning government’s decision to establish five new settlements in the Mevo’ot Arad region. Among the slated new communities is a new all-Bedouin settlement.

Regavim’s statement pointed out that today’s decision affirms decisions taken by the previous government in 2011 and 2014.

“The Mevo’ot Arad region is a strategic area for the State of Israel, and strengthening this region through the establishment of new settlements is an expression of basic Zionist ideals, using planning and regulation of land resources for settlement in a manner that will make the Negev desert bloom. We congratulate Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked for her leadership in this matter.”

Regavim also welcomed the establishment of a new Bedouin community in the region, provided that it is established in accordance with the planning criteria set for the establishment of the other new settlements in Mevo’ot Arad, and subject to the ‘convergence model’ for relocation of Bedouin squatters formulated by the current government:

“Several months ago, the government approved the establishment of three new settlements and a new supra-tribal city for the Bedouin sector, subject to the ‘convergence model’, which includes detailed identification of the encampment clusters slated for relocation, signed consent and relocation commitments by 70% of those slated for relocation to the new community, and clear deadlines for relocation. These same criteria must be applied to the new community approved in today’s decision.”

Regavim: The radicalization of the Bedouin community in the Negev is unaddressed – and has resulted in bloodshed

Following the murderous attack in Beer Sheva this afternoon in which four people lost their lives, Regavim released an anguished statement: “Once again, the loss of governance in the Negev has taken an intolerable toll in human life. For years, Regavim has been sounding the alarm and calling out the loss of governance in the Negev. We have warned, again and again, that the void of governance in the Negev is an open invitation to extremism and radicalization of the Bedouin sector that will result in bloodshed. Today, our worst fears were realized, and blood has been spilled on the streets of Beer Sheva.”

Regavim added that “the government of Israel is afraid to raise the entire issue of law enforcement in the Negev, while it approves billions for the Bedouin sector’s five-year development plan. And who pays the price for this breakdown of common sense and loss of governance? The residents of the Negev, who are faced with a nightmare reality that continues to devolve with each passing day. The problem is not insufficient funding. The problem is the lack of law enforcement. There is a state within our state in the Negev; it is called Bedouistan. The time has come for the State of Israel to take back the Negev.”

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.”

This morning, Bedouin lawbreakers herding flocks of thousands of sheep invaded the IDF Tzeelim Base, leading to a confrontation with the Israel Police and the Green Patrol who were called out to remove the intruders from the IDF’s live-ammunition training area. The intruders called in backup of their own – Bedouin residents of the Bir Hadaj squatters’ camp – who stoned the police officers, faced off with the enforcement patrol, and attempted to run over one of the inspectors.

As this scene was unfolding, a different face-off was taking place in the Knesset, where ministers were embroiled in a tug-of-war over the government’s new five-year plan for the Negev. Over the past several weeks, the previous five-year plan (2397) – a ₪3 billion package that included 200 million shekels for forestation, land protection and law enforcement – ran its course. The new plan, which the government is scheduled to debate and approve this week, does not include one single shekel for these crucial projects; the chapter on enforcement was simply cut out of the draft legislation.

The plan in its present form includes funding for Bedouin municipalities but is completely devoid of any allocation of resources for enforcement authorities. It will cause long-term damage to the state of governance in the Negev.

Increased enforcement activity in the Negev over the past year is the result of government decisions and budgetary allocations legislated in 2017. As it now reads, the new Negev Five-Year Plan will cut the oxygen supply for enforcement, and the results will be felt over the coming years. Under no condition should this plan be approved; all ‘carrots’ and no ‘sticks’ is not a plan, it’s a recipe for disaster.

KKL tree-planting on state land, before it was stopped

Following the decision to suspend the KKL forestation project in southern Israel, the Regavim Movement decried the government’s capitulation, charging this decision as continued “protection payments” to Mansour Abbas that make the next round of violence and domestic terrorism inevitable.

The Raam Party and the Bedouin know full well that they can dictate to the government through the use of political pressure, strongarm tactics and violence. When you cave in to terrorism and blackmail, you invite the next round of violence. Prime Minister Bennett and Interior Minister Shaked have repeatedly asked that the “government of change” be judged by actions, not words. Today, the government’s decision to surrender to terrorism and to suspend the planting project is a an action that speaks louder than words. The words we’re hearing are Ayelet Shaked’s – but the tune the government is dancing to is being sung by Mansour Abbas.

Regavim’s 2018 report on polygamy in Israel

MK Aida Touma-Suleiman (United Arab List), Chair of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, canceled today’s scheduled hearing on polygamy in the Bedouin sector: “At this very moment, land is being stolen in the Negev.”

Three MKs who initiated the hearing requested a short delay: MK Amichai Chikli was participating in a parallel Knesset hearing, and MK Galit Distel Atbaryan was delayed by 5 minutes as she waited for her antigen results at the Knesset Guard’s desk.

Although Knesset committees customarily wait a reasonable length of time for MKs, who are often delayed by other Knesset business, to arrive and participate in hearings – especially those they themselves convene – MK Touma-Suleiman canceled the hearing after waiting for only five minutes blaming “absence of the MKs who convened the hearing” while exploiting the opportunity to cast accusations: “I am very skeptical whether the MKs who called for this hearing have any interest in advancement of the status of Arab Bedouin women.”

“At this very moment, the JNF is carrying out planting work on land that belongs to the Al Atrash family in the Negev, and under the guise of forestation work is actually stealing land and inflicting violence on the Arab Bedouin population there,” Suleiman continued, referring to JNF projects on state land in the Negev.

Naomi Kahn, Director of Regavim’s International Division and one of the authors of Regavim’s comprehensive, groundbreaking study of the practice of polygamy in Israel’s Bedouin sector “PolygamyToo“, was slated to participate in the committee hearing and to present new data on the impact and scope of polygamy in the Negev. Regavim is one of two civil society organizations that are standing members of the inter-ministerial committee established to tackle the issue of polygamy and to monitor the enforcement of the Palmor Report and the law prohibiting polygamy in Israel.

After the committee hearing was adjourned, Kahn commented: “Touma- Suleiman made it abundantly clear, in both words and actions, where her priorities lie – not in advancing the welfare and status of women, but in aiding and abetting the anarchy and lawlessness that are engulfing the Negev.”

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.”

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.”