Bedouin settlement, are we missing the point?…asks Ari Briggs

December 11, 2013 by Ari Briggs
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Recently a day of rage in Israel was initiated to protest the Begin Plan, the Government’s proposal to accommodate Bedouin settlement in the Negev.

Ari Briggs

Ari Briggs

To understand why the position of the government and the position of some Bedouin seem so irreconcilable, all we have to do is stand in the shoes of these Bedouin. To do that effectively, some background information is needed:

There are approximately 220,000 Bedouin in the Negev making up 2.8% of Israel’s citizens. About 140,000 of the Bedouin live in the seven towns and cities that were expanded and funded by massive government grants in the 1970’s and 1980’s including Rahat, Laqia, Segev Shalom, Arara, Kissufim, and others. Although only 7,600 Bedouin are registered as living in the newly approved 11 Abu Basma towns, which include towns like Al Sayyid & Bir Hadaj, our research indicates that approximately 40,000 Bedouin live there.

 This leaves approximately 40,000 Bedouin living in illegal villages, hamlets, and outposts, on state owned land. These Bedouin (20% of the Bedouin population) occupy approximately 600,000 dunam (150,000 acres) in an area between Beersheba, Arad and Dimona in the Northern Negev. For the sake of comparison: There are 205,000 residents in the city of Be’er Sheva living on only 34,600 dunams (8,650 acres) of land.

 Instead of taking these law breakers to court and then enforcing the resulting court orders to remove them from these illegally occupied locations, the government has proposed the Begin Plan to finally arrange Bedouin settlement in the Negev specifically geared to finding a more than equitable solution for these 40,000 Bedouin. The law is made up of 2 sections, the first intends to resolve Bedouin land claims and the second intending to resolve the illegal Bedouin settlement.

 Of the 2700 Bedouin land claims registered in the 1970s, 300 families have claims to over 300,000 dunams (75,000 acres). Those 300 families comprise approximately 15,000 people today (6% of the Bedouin population), most of who are among the 40,000 Bedouin living in the illegal villages, hamlets, and outposts.

 The Begin Plan offers to settle 100% of these land claims with a combination of land compensation and monetary compensation. The ratio of land compensation to monetary compensation depends on various factors, such as whether that particular Bedouin is currently domiciled on the land he claims, and whether the claimed land is in the Western or Eastern part of the Northern Negev.

 On average, 50-60% of the claim would be paid out as land and the rest as cash (read billions of shekels). In a country where 93% of land is owned by the state and not by Israeli citizens (among which are Israeli Bedouin), such an offer to register these lands in the names of the families is unprecedented and extremely generous. It also immediately establishes, very rare private property rights to a newly privileged sub-class of less than 1% of Israeli citizens whose acreage would be similar to the total of all other private land holdings in Israel.

 The second part of the Begin Plan proposes recognizing most illegal villages where possible. Where not possible, due to their proximity to highly polluting industries, such as the hazardous waste disposal facilities at Ramat Hovav (Wadi Al-Naem area) or the inability of the State to provide the necessary services, the Begin Plan proposes compensation, gratis, 1 dunam (¼ acre) plots, in a new, nearby, purpose-built neighborhood, plus at least NIS100,000 ($28,000) in compensation for previous residence whether tent, shack or villa.

On paper it looks like a once-in-a-lifetime, very sweet deal, especially in the eyes of the majority of Israelis who will never receive anything like these benefits and rights and are suffering under ever increasing housing prices.

But let us now try to see such an offer through the eyes of a Bedouin male, head of his family unit that includes 3 wives and 20 children. As one of those 40,000 Bedouin living in an illegal village, hamlet, or outpost, he must surely be asking himself “Why would I accept such compensation when today I already have whatever land I need, I can build where I like, when I like, and when my children grow up they can occupy the next hilltop and set up their own families?”

In his eyes, the offer of a “small” privately owned plot in a legal town where he is restricted by zoning rules and building codes and on which he must pay property taxes and other levies (that he does not today pay on illegally occupied land) leaves him no choice but to oppose this legislation.

But aren’t modern day conveniences of running water, electricity and sanitation enough to convince him to “get legal” and connect to the municipal grid? Wouldn’t he want to have his children attend a nearby school instead of having his children travel by bus for hours each day to and from school? Wouldn’t he want local health clinics to care for the sick nearby, instead of having to travel hours for health care?

Surely these considerations must weigh on those Bedouin living in these illegal villages, but despite all that, a small, vocal minority of these particular Israeli citizens have spoken with their feet and choose to stay where they are and avoid their civic responsibilities to the rule of law and payment of taxes.

So how did we get to a situation where anarchy seems to rule the Negev and a $2.2 billion government plan to reenergize the Negev and specifically help the poorest of its residents seemingly has some of the Bedouin and some other larger Arab segments of Israel’s population up in arms?

Maybe it’s because some of the 20% of Bedouin who live in the sprawl of illegal villages, hamlets and outposts prefer the current situation over proposed solutions and compromises. Maybe it is because they have seen the successful implementation of a well-orchestrated and well-funded campaign supplied by the “usual suspects”, the New Israel Fund and the EU to delegitimize Israel, again.

Maybe, they also understand that this is the last battle they will have to win, using international public opinion as leverage, until the government finally backs down. The Bedouin will then go back to their sprawl of illegal structures and illegally occupied acres of state land and their disdain for the obligations of citizenship, so as to maintain a seemingly “contented” life.

Where does that leave us, the Israeli public? We need to recognize that some Bedouin are unwilling to cooperate with the plan and thus ensure that within the law itself the necessary means are added to deal with a non-cooperative party to the process.

As long as there is no determined law enforcement, and a small number of Bedouin can take what they want, where they want it, no plan will work. When there are no sticks, all the carrots in the world only worsen the problem, broadcast weakness and further postpone a solution.

Only when the Government of Israel is determined to restore the rule of law to the Negev, will this small minority of Bedouin understand they have something to lose, and only then will it be possible to speak of a historic compromise and successful settlement.

The writer works for Regavim, an independent, professional research institute & policy planning think tank. The mission of the Institute is to ensure the responsible, legal & environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands and the return of the rule of law to all areas and aspects of the land and its preservation. He formerly resided in Sydney.



7 Responses to “Bedouin settlement, are we missing the point?…asks Ari Briggs”
  1. Sam says:

    To answer your question. Search one word ‘ADALAH’ that will give you all the answers you require

    Adalah is an Arabic word which means justice. It is among the five Shia Principles of the Religion.
    So what’s a so called Jewish group doing with an Arabic name that’s a grantee of the NIF.
    The NIF’s main source of income was the notoriously antisemitic Ford Foundation. Fortunately the US government stopped that funding.

    Approximately 20% of the NIF’s monies go to NGOs that engage in political activities related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including some that reject the legitimacy of Israel as Jewish democratic state, and are active in boycott and similar campaigns.

    Adalah calls for eliminating Israel’s Jewish framework, and is based on the “one-state solution.”

    Adalah officials were also involved in writing and editing a May 2009 South African publication “Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A re-assessment of Israel´s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law.” The document refers to Israeli occupation as a “colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid.”

    Adalah received funds to testify in the now disproven Goldstone Report and was referenced 38 times in that report.

    Adalah New York runs the New York Campaign for the “Boycott of Israel”

    • Funding: Based on financial information submitted to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, in accordance with the Israeli NGO transparency law, Adalah received NIS 1,948,459 from foreign governmental bodies in 2012. (As of December 5, 2013, Adalah has not submitted 2013 quarterly financial reports to the Israeli Registrar of Non Profits.)
    • Donors include the European Union, Switzerland, Germany (via EED and Medico International), Spain (via ACSUR), NDC (joint funding of Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands), UN Development Programme (UNDP), New Israel Fund, Ford Foundation, Open Society Institute, Oxfam-Novib, Christian Aid, and Broederlijk Delen (Belgium).
    • In 2008-2012, the New Israel Fund (NIF) authorized grants worth $1,602,686 to Adalah (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012).

  2. Sam says:

    Again I think you are missing the point Carl.

    He is a Bedouin House in the Negev sitting on stolen government land

    “scratching a living from Negev” hardly!!

  3. Sam says:

    I think it is you that “might well be missing the point” on this issue not Ari Briggs.

    Maybe you would be kind enough to tell us what you think would happen to you in this country if

    Firstly, you built anywhere illegally.?

    Secondly, you built on government owned land.?

    Would you expect the government to turn a blind eye to those facts?

    Would you expect the relevant utility companies to lay on , water, gas and electricity for you?

    No doubt you would.

    No doubt too, like the Bedouin, you would not pay any taxes, have multiple wives [which is against the law but that does not appear to bother them either.], claim all kinds of social welfare benefits because you don’t work and need to support 15 to 20 children.

    You should read this article with excellent links which is posted here

    It wouldn’t hurt either if you watched this video about the lawless Bedouin in the Negev

  4. Carl says:

    Ari Briggs might well be “missing the point”.

    The Bedouin have scratched a living from Negev land for generations. All they ask is to be treated in the same way as their fellow citizens who happen to be of the ethnic majority that controls the state. Curious that there are no “unrecognized” Jewish villages deprived of water, electricity, paved roads, building permits etc.

    Ari Briggs goes on about law and illegality etc. but doesn’t mention that the laws were drafted by a majority ethnic group to favour themselves at the expense of an ethnic minority who have no say in the matter.

    A comparable situation occurred recently in Botswana where the government wanted to deny the minority Bushmen access to their traditional areas in order to create a game reserve for tourists.

    It’s not enough to simply quote “the law”, when the the legislation is inequitable. Ethical considerations are equally important.

    Briggs talks about “standing in the shoes of the Bedouin” but doesn’t actually ask the opinion of any Bedouin farmer. Here’s a video giving the Bedouin point of view:

    • Sam says:


      By quoting a video produced by Adalah, a grantee of the New Israel Fund, you lose all credibility in any argument that you have.

      You quote an organisation that is working hard to delegitimise the State of Israel.


      • Carl says:

        Legitimacy, Sam, concerns conformity with law. By not respecting international law, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which it is signatory, the state of Israel delegitimises itself.

        That said, kindly explain in what way Adalah works to delegitimise Israel.

  5. ben says:

    The settlements pre-date Israel and are illegal because Israel has not recognized them. Strangely, the very same government regualrise outposts in the West bank and builds settlements which are on occupied land.

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