The Interior Committee held its third lively discussion on Wednesday with speakers for and against the proposed Prawer-Begin law. Several Arab and leftists MKs and supporters from various human rights NGOs took part, claiming that the bill would result in up to 40,000 Bedouin losing their land. Labor MK Merav Michaeli said “It is impossible not to recognize the historical injustice done to the Bedouin.” MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) argued that most Israelis do not want to exploit the Arab Bedouin, but that there was no legal way for them to register their land.
MK Dov Khenin criticized MK Miri Regev (Likud), who chairs the committee, accusing her of not managing the committee fairly. “The ultimate goal of the bill is to dispossess the Bedouin and transfer them to another place,” he said.
This coming Sunday a special tour of some of the Bedouin communities is on schedule for members of the Interior Affairs Committee as they review the “Bedouin Settlement Law” or “Prawer Law”, which is to be followed by a formal discussion of the matter in Beer Sheva. After learning of the announcement, Arab-Bedouin activists announced that for the duration of the tour the Bedouins would be holding a general strike, leaving the majority of businesses and schools closed.
The Supreme Court legal struggle
The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard an appeal by Bedouin from the Umm el- Hiran village in the South on a lower court decision endorsing their evacuation in favor of building a Jewish village on the same spot. The legal battle is one of many in a broader struggle over the government’s attempt to relocate Bedouin in the South in order to build a series of contiguous Jewish villages in the area. But Attorney Suhad Bishara – of The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), representing the Bedouin – said that this case differs from the overall dispute. Even though the Bedouin lost in the Beersheba District Court on the final legal point, she argued, the court ruled in their favor on many factual points, points which few other Bedouin villages have won on.
Bishara said that while in many similar cases the state has related to Bedouin as trespassers with no right to be on the land, the lower court recognized that the Bedouin are citizens and has already ruled that they were legally given the land by the state and have a right to be there. The Adalah attorney noted that having won that factual argument, the Bedouin could be viewed as closer to prevailing than others, as they can focus on the remaining legal argument that the state has no rationale purpose (such as security or environmental concerns) for removing them.
Adalah says that the village was established in 1956 by order of the military governor “after the Israeli army forcibly displaced its residents from their homes in the area of Wadi Zubaleh,” and that the villagers were given 700 hectares to live on and cultivate. The court will hold another hearing on December 15, having asked both sides to provide updates on various issues.
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