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.”

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.

The coalition depends on the votes of the Ra’am party so it is about to pass a law that effectively rewards illegal construction, which is a serious problem in the Arab sector.

Without fanfare, the Ra’am party recently submitted one of the shortest bills in Israel’s legislative history. Amending only three words – “14 Sivan 5777 (May 31, 2007)” to “30 Kislev 5785 (Dec. 31, 2024)” – the Islamist party aims to legalize electricity hookups for tens of thousands of illegal homes built in the Arab sector over the course of decades.

Israel’s Electricity Sector Law enabled thousands of illegal Arab-sector structures, some of them decades old at the time, to be hooked up to the main grid. The law, passed in 1996 as provisional legislation limited to two years, stipulated that only structures not slated for demolition could be connected. But as everyone knows, there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary fix, and if you give an inch they’ll take a mile.

In short order, Arab MKs made uncommonly good use of this common wisdom: They submitted a bill to “amend” the temporary law, which was extended several times through political deals cut in shadowy Knesset corridors, until it finally expired on May 31, 2007.

The law applied only to “structures which the government has no intention to demolish,” but since then, every year many thousands more are added to the already-staggering tally of illegal construction in Arab communities in the north and the Bedouin hinterland of the Negev. The burden on law enforcement agencies results in skewed enforcement priorities and a dismal situation on the ground: Demolition orders against “old construction” are no longer applied for or enforced, and as time goes on, more and more illegal structures slide, unobstructed, into this category.

Illegal construction is a national epidemic, and its primary victims are the residents of these communities who continue to suffer from a lack of adequate infrastructure. It is impossible to pave a road or build a park if an illegal house is built on land slated for public use; high-speed internet lines, fiber optic cables, sewage, water and gas lines can’t be improved if public utility corridors are filled with illegal structures that the state has chosen to ignore and eventually ‘legalize.’

Despite the often-heard complaint that national planning authorities have failed to advance development plans for Arab communities, the responsibility actually lies with local authorities. Moreover, dozens of detailed plans for housing construction in the non-Jewish sector, drafted and approved by the state, have hit a brick wall – literally – because dozens of structures were built illegally during the approval process on land slated for development, burying any hope of alleviating the housing crisis under illegal single-unit structures built without regard for the environment or the current and future needs of the community.

The prohibition against connecting illegal structures to electricity is one of the state’s most significant tools in the fight against illegal construction; it helps ensure that crime doesn’t pay. Yet since the expiration of the “temporary” legislation, the Arab parties have tried no less than 10 times to revive it; each time, MKs of the Zionist parties blocked it.

But now, because the coalition depends on the votes of Mansour Abbas and his colleagues in the Arab bloc, Ra’am is demanding that the law not only be re-enacted, but applied retroactively from its expiration 15 years ago. A deal has begun to take shape; according to the details that have leaked out – despite attempts to keep them hidden away in the shadowy Knesset corridors – the coalition will pass the Electricity Law in the next Knesset session in exchange for the Joint Arab List’s abstention or outright support for the state budget.

If the coalition allows this law to pass, the ramifications will be both immediate and far-reaching: Not only will it reward construction offenses in the Arab sector, it will in effect create two separate legal systems for planning and construction in the State of Israel. While in the Jewish sector the National Planning and Construction Law is alive, well and strictly enforced, tens of thousands of illegal homes in the Arab sector against which the law has not been enforced due to bureaucracy and incompetence will be connected to infrastructure, granting them a legal seal of approval.

It is said that there is no death penalty in the State of Israel, but it seems that Israel’s Planning and Construction Law is already strapped to the electric chair, and the coalition’s trigger finger is hovering “ten degrees to the right” of the power switch.

This article first appeared on Israel Hayom

The start of a new year gives us a unique opportunity to thank you for your support, encouragement and partnership.

This past year presented a new set of challenges. Lockdowns and social distancing, along with a volatile and exceptionally challenging political environment, forced us to find new, creative solutions in order to continue our important work. Despite it all, we are gratified by the progress we have made and the successes we have had in our fight to protect our national resources.

  • With your help, we protected our brothers and sisters in Lod and other mixed cities.
  • Our meticulously researched and carefully crafted strategic plan for the protection of state land in Area C and the Negev has taken center stage in the public discourse.
  • We prevented the repeal of the Kaminitz Law.
  • We blocked political deals that would have spelled disaster for the Negev.
  • We helped strengthen and empower regional land protection departments.
  • We successfully blocked highly polluting projects, and more.

All of our activities sent one message, loud and clear: The land of our forefathers – and of our children and grandchildren – is a good and beautiful land.

Throughout the year, and particularly at this time of year, we at Regavim share our success and our vision for the future with you, the partners who make our continued efforts possible. With your help and the help of the Almighty, we look forward to redoubling our efforts and achieving even more in the year ahead.

**

Our newest report, tracking the Palestinian Authority’s use of illegal schools as a tactic of annexation, has been presented to the government, and will be available in English soon.

**

Here’s a recent Israel Broadcasting Corp. video about the Negev, the 7th in a series already seen by thousands of Israelis:

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.

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