JERUSALEM - Israel on Sunday approved a plan to settle tens of thousands of desert-dwelling Bedouin in permanent townships, triggering criticism from opponents who say it will displace many from their traditional lands.
A statement said that “most” residents of such communities - which now receive no government or municipal services - would be able to continue living there after the villages are granted legal status. “The goal of this historic decision is to put an end to the spread of illegal building by Negev Bedouin and lead to the better integration of the Bedouin into Israeli society,” the statement quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying.
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which represents Arab communities in Israel, has described the initiative as a “disaster” which would have “dangerous” consequences.
“The government is taking over Bedouin lands,” Israeli Arab MP Taleb al-Sana told Israeli army radio on Sunday. “We are totally opposed to this.” There are around 160,000 Bedouin in Israel, most of whom live in and around the Negev desert in the country’s arid south. More than half of them live in unrecognised villages without utilities and many of the rest also live in extreme poverty.
“Not only does it reject their land claims,” the left-leaning Haaretz daily wrote on Sunday of the government plan.
“It also threatens to demolish 20,000 huts and move the approximately 100,000 people living in them to communities that have not yet been built for them, and will probably not be able to take them in.” The paper also criticised the outgoing government for dealing with the issue despite the results of Tuesday’s general election which mean that although Netanyahu is most likely to retain the premiership, the makeup of his coalition government - which is yet to be negotiated - will be significantly changed.
“The complexity of the issue and the expected grave ramifications require more serious consideration and discussion in the new cabinet. An effort to hastily push through this decision in an opportunistic way could lead to disaster,” it wrote.
The cabinet statement said that the plan would be submitted for parliamentary approval after the newly-elected Knesset is sworn in on February 5 and a new government formed.