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

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

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

A resident of Kuseife, a legal Bedouin town in the Negev founded in 1982, decided to expand his assets, and illegally took over land part of the unrecognized Al-Fura squatters’ camp.

A few months ago, the resident, who already owns a big villa in Kuseife, began to build a huge compound containing two living spaces. The construction started without permission or supervision during the Passover holiday, seeking to take advantage of the enforcement officials being on vacation.

Regavim immediately identified the threat posed to the entire area by the massive compound, and we demanded that the enforcement authorities remove the structure and restore the land to its original state.

At the beginning of June, the construction criminal tore down the structure he built following warnings he received from the National Enforcement Unit (NEU). The swift action taken by the NEU in this case is significant. It’s ridiculous that a resident of a legal town, established by the State of Israel, can build without permits and ‘join’ an illegal Bedouin squatters’ camp. Such cases must not be repeated!

We welcome the NEU’s quick and efficient steps. We call on the authorities to hold the construction criminal fully accountable; he should clean up all the mess he left behind!

Turn on English subtitles for an explanation by Regavim’s CEO about the new “communities” discussed

What are the “new settlements” in the Negev that Raam Party leader Mansour Abbas is demanding?

When you imagine the establishment of new settlements, you probably think of architects and engineers who sit down together and plan framework and infrastructure of any new settlement down to the smallest detail.

But things in the Negev work differently. Hundreds of thousands of illegal homes and structures throughout the Negev are scattered across enormous swaths of land. The policy that Abbas is pushing for is to simply draw an imaginary blue line around each cluster of illegal structures and call it a community. Does that solve water, electricity, and construction problems? Is this a sensible, environmentally or socially sustainable utilization of the land? Of course not! Will it restore the land the state has lost to the huge expansion of illegal construction? No; quite the opposite.

The new agreement means that the State of Israel (and the Jewish residents of the Negev) will cede more and more land in the Negev for Bedouin “settlements,” and equitable, sustainable long-term planning be damned!

The bottom line is that Ra’am’s “nice ideas” are a disaster for the Negev, for Israeli sovereignty over what amounts to two thirds of the country’s total area, and for future national development.

Don’t be fooled: If Ra’am get their way, the country will essentially be split in half, with the northern and southern parts divided by a midriff section controlled by Bedouin clans – devoid of modern planning, beyond the reach of Israeli governance, a breeding ground for stunted communities with no sources of legal employment or industry and no prospects for development. The Zionist vision for the Negev and for the country will be nothing more than a distant memory.

Regavim: Protecting Israel’s Resources, Preserving Israeli Sovereignty

The details of the coalition agreements publicized in the media yesterday evening (7 June) reveal that Bennett and Saar, who blamed Netanyahu for the failure of governance in the Negev, are not only failing to provide solutions – they are exacerbating the problem.

Aside from approving the whitewashing of thousands of illegal structures on about 11,000 dunams of land to create three “new communities“, the coalition agreements do not stipulate what will happen to the rest of the illegal Bedouin squatters’ camps nine months from now, and neither Bennett’s Yemina Party nor Saar’s New Hope Party will have the ability to influence the outcome in a government kept afloat by Mansour Abbas and his Islamist Raam Party.

The coalition agreements place both the Bedouin Settlement Authority and the Knesset’s Interior Committee, the key actors in the Negev issue, under the complete control of the left-wing bloc and Raam.

This situation has unparalleled destructive potential, setting a course for total abandonment of the Negev while rewarding rampant illegal Bedouin construction that imperils the healthy development of the Negev, home of the vast majority of the State of Israel’s land reserves.

Regavim calls on any government that is formed not to abandon the Negev. The Negev is a key part of the Zionist vision! But when the State of Israel fails to govern, other forces fill the void. Regavim invites you to take a long, hard look at where we are and where we’re headed in the Wild South; it’s not too late to change course.

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.”