The Israeli government is trying to use a “divide and conquer” strategy on the Bedouin community in the Negev Desert in order to seize its lands, Bedouin representatives charged March 10, in response to a reported initiative to settle the issue of “unrecognized” villages. A special committee is reported to have prepared a plan under which Bedouins who can prove a historical link to their land could receive financial compensation for a portion of their lots. If the Bedouins accept this offer, the extent of land that could be included in the deal would be approximately 150,000 dunums (about 40,000 acres)—less than half of the land the Bedouins lay claim to.
Dr. Awad Abu Farih, spokesman for the local committee for the unrecognized village of al-Arakib, rejected the reported deal, saying: “How can someone discuss the lives of tens of thousands of people in the Negev without involving them at all? [O]ur principled position is to recognize all the unrecognized Bedouin settlements in the Negev, and nothing but that.”
Ibrahim al-Wakili, who heads the regional council of unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev, said that the offer does not answer the Bedouins claims at all. “There are more than 45 unrecognized settlements on a large portion of land worth hundreds of thousands of dunums for decades,” al-Wakili said.
“The government isn’t doing us a favor, we are living on our lands and this isn’t a gift from anyone,” al-Wakili added, charging that the government has been seeking “for years to huddle all of the Bedouins in one piece of land in an attempt to take over those tracts, and trying to seduce people with compensations and money.” Al-Wakili deamnded “recognition of those settlements,” asserting, “our land isn’t for sale.”
The committee, which was appointed by former Housing Minister Zeev Boim in late 2007, is now ready to submit a draft report, which will be considered by the Prime Minister’s Office, based on a survey headed by retired justice and former State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg. The Prime Minister’s office is preparing its own regional development plan for the Negev. The development plan foresses a large Jewish influx into the southern desert region. Ramat Negev Council head Shmulik Rifman warned, “If they don’t finalize the Bedouin settlement it will be very hard to enhance Jewish settlement in the Negev. This must be addressed if one wants 700,000 Jews in the Negev.” (Ha’aretz, YNet, March 10)
One of Israel’s best-known authors, AB Yehoshua, is publicly promoting the Negev as an alternative to the ongoing settlement of the West Bank. “In the Negev Israel’s potential comes into proportion. Huge areas can be discovered there, which can be used for science and settlement, instead of fighting over every piece of land in Judea and Samaria,” Yehoshua said. (YNet, March 10)