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What's next for Bedouin in a post-Prawer Israel?

The cancellation of the Prawer Plan is a victory for committed protestors. But how did this happen, and what does it mean for the Bedouin living in unrecognized villages who will wake up to a new reality?

The “Stop Prawer Plan” campaigners can take this evening off and celebrate their enormous success in halting the Prawer Plan. Up until two weeks ago, all bets were on a lengthy struggle: a bill that would pass in the Knesset, followed by a long and complicated appeals process to the High Court of Justice, with a simultaneous escalation in violent confrontations between new police forces (mandated by the plan) and the Bedouin residents in the Negev’s unrecognized villages.

But the tide turned two weeks ago as clashes between demonstrators and police in Hura and Haifa rattled the country. The blind eye turned by the Israeli media to Prawer and the resistance to it on the ground (as long as that resistance was peaceful) was torn asunder after stones and rubber bullets began flying. Suddenly, everybody was talking about the Bedouin and house demolitions.

Demonstrators run away from a police water canon track during a “day of rage” protest against the Prawer-Begin Plan, Haifa, Israel, November 30, 2013. Around 1,000 demonstrators participated in the demonstration. Police used horses, water canons and shock grenades to disperse the demonstrators. Around 20 protesters were arrested and several injured. (photo: Mareike Lauken/Activestills.org)

Reactions to the “day of rage” took place on several levels: on the ground, police used excessive violence, while the courts have repeatedly prolonged the detention of anti-Prawer demonstrators in ways that can only be described as a state of emergency (13 of them are still behind bars). Activism on the ground encouraged the opposition in Knesset to be more assertive, to demand answers about the proposed bill and warn of the dangers that may await the country if it was to go forward as planned. While government officials were trying to portray the protests as marginal, claiming that the vast majority of the Bedouin support the plan, one of its primary promoters—Minister Benny Begin—was forced earlier in the week to admit that he had never really shown the plan in detail to Bedouin, and thus could not have obtained their support. This enlarged the already existing rift within the right wing, as Liberman, Bennett and parts of the Likud rushed to attack the plan for allocating too much land to the Bedouin. Attacked on all sides, the government was eventually forced to scrap the plan altogether.

But what does all this mean for the tens of thousands of Bedouin living in unrecognized villages in the Negev, without basic infrastructure and in constant fear of demolitions? Broadly speaking there are three possible outcomes to the end of Prawer. First, and in my mind most likely, the government may completely retreat from its visions of “cleansing” the Negev and settle for a continuation of the current state of affairs (with a possibility of yet another committee that could take years to reach any kind of decision). This is definitely better for Bedouin than the Prawer Plan itself, but it still means a life of poverty and fear, demolition orders, court appeals and the occasional destruction of homes—as is the case in Al-Araqib and now Umm al-Hiran.

The second option is that the hawks in power, rather than the Bedouin and leftists, will take credit for scrapping Prawer, and will try to push forward a new, more radical plan of uprooting with little or no compensation. However, such an initiative might be harder to promote among the more pragmatic people in the government, and would be much harder to explain to the High Court (which would already be aware of concessions made as part of Prawer). One can even imagine the media, now awake to the entire issue, being more critical of such a move.

The third and least likely option is for the government to start a process of dialogue with the Bedouin, review the plans made by local leaders and NGOs and consider recognizing villages and developing the Negev for all its inhabitants. While unrealistic under the current administration, this is what Bedouin and left-wing activists will continue fighting for. Maybe in the future it will not seem as absurd as it does now. After all, just two weeks ago no one would have believed Prawer would be scrapped.

Bedouins and other activists shout slogans during a protest against the Israeli government’s Prawer Plan, on road 31 near Hura, Israel, on November 30, 2013.

Related:
Bill to displace Israel’s Bedouin to be scrapped, Prawer architect says
Opinion: Allow me to rain on the Prawer parade
Police, courts take extreme measures against anti-Prawer Plan arrestees

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    COMMENTS

    1. Kolumn9

      Living without basic utilities as opposed to moving to towns with the full range of modern infrastructure is ‘better for the Bedouin’? The Prawer Plan would have brought the Bedouin from squatting in shacks in the middle of the desert to towns with all the services that modern society provides. People like you with the racist ‘noble savage’ mentality have prevented the Bedouin from significantly improving their lives.

      And the more likely scenario is between 1 and 2, closer to 2. The right will push for removing the Bedouin from the land they have stolen. The radical left in Israel will continue with demonstrations in the name of the Bedouin that will make the general population believe that the Bedouin are a security risk. This will give a right-wing government the full extent of tools to use to impose an outcome on the Bedouin, with much less of the generous subsidies that the Prawer Plan was willing to provide. The current situation of the Beduin continuing to swallow up land in the Negev has reached intolerable proportions in the eyes of the majority of the Israeli population and there is zero chance that the status quo will continue to be tolerated.

      Congratulations on your ‘victory’.

      Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        Is jy ‘n immigrant vir Suid-Afrika? Is dit wat jy oor? Ontbreek die huis?

        It’s Google Translate but I’m sure you know what it’s about, eh, K9.

        Reply to Comment
    2. ayla

      thank you, Haggai, for your reporting and for your activism.

      Reply to Comment
    3. There are financial interests involved, construction of housing and infrastructure and forest. Some of this may be diverted elsewhere, but money will want its due, money which helps define the success of the ruling coalition. Money and population often trump law.

      People like K9 said Begin devised the plan with Bedouin “leaders.” Now Begin says he didn’t really consult with any Bedouin–or at least any he will admit to. I suspect bribes were made, with false promises from “leaders” in return. If protest was,as K9 asserts, merely leftist imposed, I would expect the plan to continue. Rather, I think call ins failed, Begin’s political promises to the government failed. The hard right (is there a soft right left?) now says “never again,” no benefits to leaders to bring in their “people.” That’s my guess.

      It might be that the “goodies” offered would have been adequate if the people on the ground, living without infrastructure, with family and friends subject to demolition, had been treated differently before hand. But the neglect and hostility have created a different perception of the government, and enough were no longer willing to trust. If there was trust, or at least not overt suspicion, the promise “leaders” made to the government might have panned out, in de facto outcome.

      I’m not certain the ruling coalition will give up. It doesn’t like losing, or being pushed back. Look at the coming reply to the High Court’s detention center decision.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Most of the protests were led by leftists and the usual coterie of anti-Israeli activists, mostly from the Triangle and the North. Hardly any Bedouin participated. At most there were several hundred Bedouin at the biggest protest in Hura out of the 30,000 impacted by the plan. The protests continued in Jaffa, Haifa and in the Triangle, with hardly a Bedouin in sight. The Israeli Arab leadership bullied the Bedouin into silence. The failure of the Bedouin leadership to publicly acknowledge the understandings they obviously reached with Begin/Prawer, means there is no incentive to spend the vast amounts of money that the government had allocated to this plan.

        The plan as it stood was too generous to the Bedouin and intended to bribe them into accepting “compensation” for the lands that they have stolen over the past 20 years. The activists among the Israeli extreme left and the Israeli Arabs for whom any arrangement with Israel is a betrayal came in and torpedoed a plan that would have left the Bedouin far better off than they are now. The problem of the Bedouin continuing to steal land hasn’t gone away and it will be dealt with. If the Bedouin leaders couldn’t publicly accept an arrangement which effectively legalized much of their land theft, then they will be forced into a worse arrangement against their will which will remove them from the land they stole.

        Reply to Comment
        • I don’t know enough to get in an argument with you here, but I find it strange that Bedouin, who do serve in the IDF, would be intimidated by the non serving IDF population; nor do I see how this latter “Arab leadership” could materially intimidate the Bedouin if these wanted the plan. Indeed, it would as much sense for the government to press forward to break this leadership’s hold over the Bedouin.

          Nor does the logic you provide square with Begin’s admission that he did not share the plan with the Bedouin in any official sense. I do suspect he shared the plan with some Bedouin, at least in vague outline, and I suspect financial benefits were promised–perhaps involving choice transfer arrangements. Begin’s admission makes me wonder if something else if afoot, something which shouldn’t be investigated. Otherwise I cannot see, without out further detail, why Bedouin leaders and larger community should be fold when confronted with, as you usually state, a marginal bunch of kooky leftists and an exterior puppeteer Arab elite. Why should the government care about protests in Haifa over the Negev?

          More likely, something is being suppressed; after all, the whole process hasn’t exactly been transparent. My guess is that the “Bedouin leaders” turned out not to be such; some money has already changed hands with more previously promised; and that the true extent of anger revealed by Bedouin networks, present or not at this first protest phase, shock the government. Then the hard right uses the debacle to push down what is left of the moderate right, which you see some evidence on in statements.

          Begin now says the Bedouin however defined had no input into the plan, which is what dissent has been saying for months. I think this likely more controlling than hysterical leftists who apparently have no influence in politics otherwise.

          Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          The real problems of the Bedouin require; emancipation and education of Bedouin women, jobs for Bedouin men and women, reducing family size, ending polygamy, breaking the master,serf, slave hierarchy, encouraging marriage outside the clan,etc.

          The Left,Right and the Palestinians won’t address these drastic changes. They’d sooner let the problem fester until Bedouin overpopulation leads to civil war with the Jews.

          Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            I would not described the problem in those terms, but there are definitely issues to address, and current Israeli political system is indeed not capable of doing that.

            Prawer plan was not even “a child that only mother could love” because the very parents of the plan did not like it either. That alone shows that the process of addressing issues of groups not represented in the Knesset majority can be most charitably called “disfunctional”.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Don

      The Prawer plan would have guaranteed enormous unhappiness for the Bedouin for the generations in the future. It’s all about a way of life that no government has any right to destroy. That goes as much for Israel as for the PRC destruction of the lives of [like the Bedouin transhumant!] nomads of Tibet.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Average American

      Yes let’s look at the money aspect.

      Does the plan relocate Bedouin into rental apartments that someone owns? Tens of thousands of new rental units generating huge income for the owners? Which will most likely be Jewish owners. Making the Bedouin renters\serfs to the owners\masters?

      Does the plan expect the Bedouin to trade agriculture and ranching on open land (and the specific skills mastered for doing it well) for unskilled minimum wage jobs at fast food joints in town, or for cheap labor to clean someone’s house? Most likely a Jewish house.

      McDonald’s and a maid’s uniform is what they should want to pass down to their future generations instead of their land?

      Reply to Comment
      • Naftali Greenwood

        Average American indeed, viewing the world through the narrowest of American lenses. Israel has no organized rental housing industry, let alone a government-backed one, for anybody. Prawer-Begin proposed not rental housing but of clear title to land and housing for its benefactees, all of whom would be Bedouin. Similarly, Israel has only a pale shadow of the American fast-food industry. Fast food is not a mass employer anywhere in Israel, least of all in the Negev.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Average American

      One more note. Why not provide the basic services of modern society to the Bedouin right where they are? Clean water. Power. Those services are certainly going to be provided to the Jewish settlements in the same location once they are built. So it can be done for the Bedouin too. Why for the Jews and not for the Bedouin?

      And just to head off certain comments, if I can say “Bedouin” I can say “Jewish”. It’s not anti-Jewish to speak the name of the people. What should I do instead, say People A and People B?

      Reply to Comment