A Bedouin village in the Negev - Photo by Julie C.
October 23, 2013
"We want this scheme to be known as it really is, not as the government is showing it." says Farah, as we were in route to visit the Bedouin communities in the Naqab desert (also called Negev, south modern day Israel).
Farah is a Palestinian student in Human rights and International Law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. On Saturday 12 October, she participated, with a movement known as "Stop the Prawer Plan" in the organization of a trip that brought about 50 Palestinians citizens of Israel (mostly students from the Galilee area of modern day Israel) to meet with Bedouin communities in the Naqab. The objective was to increase their knowledge of the communities affected by the Prawer Plan, and strengthen the mobilization of Palestinian youth against it.
The Prawer Plan: Justified by development and humanitarian concerns
Around 160,000 Bedouins live in the Naqab, with more than half residing in unrecognized villages, to which, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), "the state refuses to provide with (sic) a planning structure and place under municipal jurisdiction."
As ACRI further explains, "The government uses a variety of measures to pressure Bedouins into relocating to government-planned urban centers that disregard their lifestyle and needs. Whole communities have been issued demolition orders; others are forced to continue living in unrecognized villages that are denied basic services and infrastructure, such as electricity and running water." For instance, the village of al-Araqeeb has been destroyed over 50 times since July 2010.
The Prawer Plan, elaborated under the direction of Ehud Prawer – former Deputy Head of the National Security Council and former Colonel in the Israeli Defence Forces – was publically approved by the Israeli government in September 2011. It aims at relocating the Bedouin population in order to favor the development of the Naqab area with the construction of new military facilities, industrial zones, housing and an airport around the predominantly-Jewish city of Be’er Sheva (in Arabic : Bi’r as-Sab’).
"If fully implemented, the Prawer-Begin Plan will result in the destruction of 35 "unrecognized" Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab," according to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
"The first time we heard about the plan, not all the people knew exactly what that plan was because they presented it as a good plan for the Arabs. The plan is to move out all the Arabs from villages that are not recognized. So they say: 'this way we will give them a better way of life.’ But it’s not so true because they are moving [them] from their land, 80 000 acres of land, and they are putting them in a very smaller sized land," explains Farah.
Israeli authorities justify the plan to forcefully displace the Bedouin communities by asserting the move will improve living conditions of those affected. A translated copy of the State of Israel’s "Process of Consultation with the Public" sights an increase in development and an improvement in living-conditions as the main justifications put down by the authorities to justify the displacement.
"In the long run, moving the houses of families to an alternative location proposed after a dialogue with them, can be a blessing: by moving to a formalized settlement, even one that is located a few kilometers from their present place of residence, the families will make it possible for their children to leap in time in the midst of the 21st century."
Rejecting any claim the Bedouins could present in the name of property or indigenous rights, the report argues that the plan will allow for the development of the Bedouin communities, but fails to take into consideration their social structure and culture that have long been based on rural herding.
Palestinian youth seeking unity in mobilization
Important mobilizations, in and out of the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, were triggered after the Prawer Plan was made public in September 2011. Organized on Facebook, the platform "Stop Prawer Plan" has gathered Palestinians, anti-Zionist Jews and internationals from all over the world.
Palestinian youth within Israel have taken charge of the movement. Most of the participants are aged from 16 to 30 years old, according to Farah. "We are independent, we don’t belong to any official organization", explains Farah.
The group participated in the organization of two separate "days of rage," on July 15th and August 1st this year. The two demonstrations were held after the Prawer Plan passed its first reading at the Knesset by 43 votes to 40 on 24 June of this year. Their goal was to encourage the mass mobilization of Palestinians in the occupied territories, modern day Israel and the diaspora in solidarity with the Bedouins of the Naqab. The two days of protests resulted in the arrest of respectively 34 and 12 demonstrators near Sakhnin (in the north triangle area) and in the Naqab.
If the demonstrations are seen as the main tool for resistance against the Prawer Plan, other activities, such as the trip organized on Saturday 12 October serve to raise awareness among the Palestinian population.
"After we did all these activities, [the Palestinians] are more aware (…). We wanted to do it first in the Arab community, not in the Jewish [one], because it’s more important for them," says Farah.
For Farah and for the participants of the trip, the implementation of the Prawer Plan would indeed be a destructive precedent for the Palestinians: "it is a very dangerous plan. It would give [the Israeli government] the chance to do it again (…)" in other parts of the country.
H. (who has asked to exclude her name for reasons of anonymity), a kindergarten teacher working in Rahat and originally coming from the north of the country, also argues that Palestinians from the north should come to work in the south to see the conditions in which the Bedouins are forced to live. Raising awareness among the Palestinian community about what happens in other parts of the country is, for her, essential in this struggle.
Upon meeting with the Chairman of the Council for the Un-recognized villages in the Naqab, Atteieh El-Asam, participants expressed their concerns regarding the unity of the Palestinians in this struggle, whether within the Bedouin tribes themselves, between Palestinians from the north and the south, or between Palestinian political actors.
Thabet Abyrd, Adalah’s Director for the Naqab area, lecturer at Beer Sheva University, and guide of the group for the day, tried his best to motivate the students to mobilize other people around them and increase their knowledge and participation on the issue.
"I bring two or three groups like that every week to the Negev (…). For the moment we have dozens of activists. We need thousands of them," Thabet said in an interview with the Palestine Monitor after the meeting.
"We will stay in our homes even if it takes our lives" - Atteieh El-Asam
The participants ended their trip with a demonstration of their support, marching with representatives of the Bedouin communities in the streets of Rahat, near Be’er Sheva. The demonstration, though limited in terms of participants, was a way for Farah to show that the Palestinian youth are still mobilized: "Any action, even four or five [people] standing, still raises awareness."
Another "Day of Rage" is scheduled for November, as the public’s attention is currently focused on the municipal elections that are to be held on 22October throughout Israel.
The second reading of the Prawer Plan is scheduled this month. No matter the decision of the Knesset, both the Bedouins and Palestinian youth groups seem determined: "We have plan B and C…", says Farah, "Even if this scheme passes, we are not going to let it become real. We will go there, we will sit there, we will have some camps there."