Protect the Bedouins!

While Hamas claims to target only Jews, Bedouin in the Negev have suffered from the relentless Hamas bombardment. Two sisters from the illegal Bedouin outpost of Awajan were wounded by shrapnel from a Hamas rocket. A 32-year-old from an illegal Bedouin outpost near Dimona was killed and four others wounded, including his daughter.

These causalities occurred among the 2,000 illegal outposts that extend over 200,000 acres of state-owned land between Beersheba, Arad and Dimona. My colleagues and I at legal advocacy think tank Regavim have counted some 60,000 illegal structures overrunning the Northern Negev. About five new illegal structures are added every day, making it nearly impossible for law enforcement authorities to keep up. Our tours of the areas reveal that these illegal settlements do not consist merely of tents and tin huts but also of multi-story concrete block and cement houses.

This week, a series of NGOs* funded by the misguided New Israel Fund yet again sought to harm Israel in time of war by exploiting Bedouin tragedy in the Negev. At a special hearing at the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee of the Knesset, they demanded allocation of shelters to illegal Bedouin settlements. This comes two weeks after their petition to the Supreme Court was rejected because the State gives priority to border communities.

Since the early 1990s, Israeli law makes it the responsibility of every home and property owner to build a safe room. In flouting Israeli law, Bedouin put themselves at risk and essentially render themselves illegible for services that would better guarantee their well-being.

Instead of encouraging the Bedouin to build according to law and code, these supposed “human rights” NGOs have incited Bedouin against the State of Israel and endangered their safety. Their discriminatory suits and petitions are methods to delegitimize Israel and alienate Bedouin from Israeli society rather than foster the co-existence and safety they claim to desire. By demanding Israel equip illegal houses with shelters, they further seek to legitimize Bedouin illegal occupation of state land.

Other communities are just as – or even more – vulnerable. The physically handicapped, which has had particular difficultly taking shelter during red alerts, also came to the Knesset hearing to petition for more safety measures, as did the ultra-Orthodox sector. According to the Home Front Command, 27 percent of the population – 2.2. million people – do not have safe rooms.

Despite that, the Home Front Command has actually offered special treatment to illegal Bedouin communities, sending in special Bedouin teams to educate them about what to do in time of rocket fire. (Potential injury is reduced by 97 percent from lying on the ground with hands on head.) Bedouin leaders have rejected the Home Front Command’s offer to deploy red alert sirens in their mosques. Yet now they complain, knowing full well that they have erected homes in the middle of open expanses of state-owned land where sirens do not reach.

We at Regavim seek to prevent such illegal, hazardous building from the outset by petitioning the government to enforce equal rule of law, which includes safety codes. Compared to its treatment of Jewish builders, the government turns a blind eye to rampant Arab illegal settlement throughout Israel, leaving Regavim supervisors to alert and press authorities about violations.

The majority of Negev Bedouin who do live in legal cities, towns and villages are protected today from the terrorist rocket onslaught against Israel. Take, for example, the city of Hura. The mayor of Hura, Dr. Mahmoud Nabari, has publicly stated that every house in Hura has a safe room.

The Israeli government has invested hundreds of millions of shekels toward supporting legal cities, towns and villages for the Bedouin in an attempt to improve their lives. Every Bedouin family living in an illegal outpost has been offered a free 1/4-acre plot in and around such neighborhoods as Rahat, Lakiya and Hura, all near the site of the casualties. Equipped with full infrastructure for utilities and services, these neighborhoods are ready for construction. Instead, they have become ghost towns.

Approximately 70,000 Bedouin – with the help of NIF grantee NGOs – have preferred to stake their claim on state land, thus putting themselves at risk. The financial support for such illegal behavior by the NIF proxies are not only misguided in this case, but heartless and cruel. Bear in mind, these same NGOs (now receiving generous “emergency funding” from the NIF) are preparing “Goldstone Report 2.0” to once again wrongly accuse Israel of war crimes.

Instead of expecting the Home Front Command to chase after every illegal house with a shelter and siren in hand during a war, it is time for the Bedouin to accept the magnanimous terms being offered by the State of Israel so they can start living as responsible, law-abiding citizens. The best way of ensuring the safety of all citizens at all times, whether peace or war, is by equally applying the rule of law to all.

*The NGOs referred to in this release are Council of Unrecognized Villages, Physicians for Human Rights, Dukium NCF and ACRI.


About the Author
Ari Briggs is Director of the International Department of Regavim, the non-profit advocacy group for Israel’s national lands. As director, Briggs works to ensure responsible, legal & environmentally friendly use of national lands, and to educate about proper and legal land claim issues through aerial photography, maps and historical documentation.