On Saturday, thousands gathered across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to demonstrate against the Prawer-Begin Plan—a controversial bill currently under review in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) that could displace up to 40,000 Palestinian Bedouin from the Negev Desert.
“We were here before Israel. What they’re doing in the Negev is what they have done to us all along,” Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian MP who participated in the protests reportedly told Reuters from Haifa.
Demonstrators were met with violent confrontations with the Israeli Police Forces, including teargas shot from water cannons, sound grenades and rubber bullets. By the end of the day, more than 40 protesters were arrested, and 15 Israeli police officers were lightly injured.
Although the largest protests were in Houra, a Palestinian Bedouin village in the Southern Negev Desert, Haifa and Jerusalem, there were more than 20 other demonstrations throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and solidarity demonstrations in cities around the world.
Despite this outpouring of opposition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed that the Israeli government will go forward in passing the Prawer-Begin Plan—known more commonly as the Prawer Plan–into law.
“The attempts of a boisterous and violent minority to deny a better future for a large population are grave,” he commented in reference to the protesters. “We will continue to promote this law for the better future it will provide for all of the Negev’s citizens.”
For the Jewish Israeli citizens currently living in settler outposts in the Negev Desert, the Prawer Plan would mean the establishment of permanent towns and communities and extra land for industry expansion and an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) base. But for the Palestinian Bedouin residents of the Negev—known in Arabic as the Naqab—Desert, the Prawer Plan would mean being forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in the largest displacement of Palestinians from present-day Israel since 1948.
Umm al-Hiran is a Palestinian Bedouin village established in 1956 by the State of Israel—although its inhabitant’s ancestors have lived in, and cultivated the Negev Desert since 7 B.C.E. However, according to the State of Israel, Umm al-Hiran is one of 35 unrecognized villages—meaning that in addition to being denied state services such as water, electricity, infrastructure and health services, its inhabitants are unrecognized and therefore legally defined as trespassers on State land. Because of this, its residents are vulnerable to spontaneous home demolition and evacuation orders.
Now, a camp of Jewish settlers have established an outpost near Umm al-Hiran, with the intention of moving in once Umm al-Hiran is evacuated and re-naming it “Hiran.” Umm al-Hiran’s current residents will be moved to one of seven government-sponsored townships.
Many Israeli officials see this as–or at least claim to see this as–doing the Palestinian Bedouin a favor.
“The current levels of underdevelopment in the Bedouin community are simply unacceptable,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to the lack of infrastructure—often caused by the State of Israel—and low levels of education and employment associated with high rates of poverty.
A government-sponsored report goes so far as to claim that the resettlement initiatives outlined in the Prawer Plan will “bring the Bedouin into the 21st century” by moving them from their villages to the “more developed” townships.
In reality, these government-sponsored Palestinian Bedouin townships have one of the highest crime and poverty rates in the country—much of which stems from forced urbanization and a lack of state investment. While 67.2 percent of Palestinian Bedouin families live in poverty, and the school drop out rate is 70 percent, total per capita spending on social welfare is 30 percent lower in these communities than in Jewish localities in other parts of Israel.
It is not difficult to see the racist undertones of the Prawer Plan and the treatment of the Palestinian Bedouin under Israeli occupation at large. Palestinian Bedouin villages’ “unrecognized” status is unique to the Israeli occupation. Under both the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate Palestinian Bedouin held legal claims to their ancestral land–which were taken away with the establishment of the State of Israel. Despite the legalese that classifies Palestinian Bedouin as trespassers and refuses to recognize their land, over time sixty technically illegal Jewish Israeli settlement outposts have sprung up in the Negev Desert–often encroaching on Palestinian Bedouin villages.
In 2010, the Israeli Knesset legalized all 60 of the Jewish settler outposts in the Negev Desert.
In many ways, the Prawer Plan has already begun–even though it technically needs two more rounds of votes in the Israeli Knesset to become law. In 2011, more than 1,000 Bedouin homes were destroyed in the Negev, and a similar number were destroyed in 2012. Over this period of time, one village, Al-Araqib has been destroyed–and rebuilt by its inhabitants–fifty-three times.
The Prawer-Begin Plan may or may not pass—but it is already in motion.
Photo by Chalky Lives, licensed under a Creative Common Attribution 2.0 Generic license