Several Israeli human rights organizations petitioned the High Court on Tuesday to prevent the demolition of five Bedouin villages. Five Bedouin villages housing 8,000 citizens will be destroyed to make way for seven new Jewish settlements whose need is not clear. Petitioners: “the plan is discriminatory, wasteful and unnecessary.”
Residents of five unrecognized Bedouin villages, along with residents of Arad, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, and the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, petitioned the High Court of Justice to overturn the government’s decision to establish seven new Jewish settlements in the northeastern Negev. The petition is aimed at averting the construction of agricultural settlements in the area of Mevo’ot Arad.
According to ACRI Attorney Rawia Aburabia, who wrote the petition: “A country that is committed to equality among its citizens cannot decide to remove Bedouin communities in order to establish new communities for Jewish residents. Behind the words “vision” and “making a wasteland blossom” hides a simple truth, which is the continuation of blatant discrimination between Bedouin and Jews.
The plan was approved on the basis that it was a continuation of “the Zionist vision to make the desert blossom” and includes among its goals “strengthening organized Jewish settlement.” The total area of the planned development, approximately 45,000 acres, is described in the notes of the decision as an area almost “empty of population,” containing two Jewish villages, four isolated ranches, and “sparse Bedouin scatterings.” But ACRI says these “scatterings” are actually five unrecognized villages, home to approximately 8,000 citizens. Three of these villages – Hamra, Sawa and El-Baat – have existed since before the establishment of the State of Israel. Two others, Atir-Um El-Hiran and Tel Arad – were established in the 1950s, when their inhabitants were moved by security authorities to other locations in the Negev, ACRI said in a press release. “This is a racist plan. It’s a plan to uproot people from this area, which is simply absurd,” Salim Abu Qi’an, a Beduin activist and resident of Atir-Um El-Hiran, told “The Jerusalem Post”. “We don’t have any power. Anyone who wants to force us out can. But we just want to live here in peace, and bring up our kids here.”
The petition notes that according to a 2009 study by the Environmental Protection Ministry, the cost of building a housing unit in a new town is three times that of building one in an existing community. Rejecting the plan would save NIS 1.4 billion that could then be invested in strengthening existing communities in the area, such as Mitzpe Ramon, Yeruham, Dimona, Arad, Ofakim and Netivot, the petition said.
“This plan doesn’t take into consideration the needs of people in our area. It may be a Zionist plan but is doesn’t aid the development of the Negev overall,” says Batya Roded, a resident of Arad and a geographic researcher at Ben-Gurion University. “Take this budget and invest it in Arad, Dimona, Yeroham. Instead, they’re trying to privatize open space. It would include destroying houses – which is a environmental injustice and also unfair to the Beduin,” she explained. Bimkom, an organization set up by planning professionals seeking to enhance the link between civil rights, social justice and the planning process in Israel, was also part of the petition.
“In past decades, many resources were invested in the establishment of more and more settlements for Jews only, at the expense of veteran residents of the Negev – Beduin in unrecognized villages who suffer from criminal neglect, and residents of cities and Jewish villages who also suffer from neglect and are desperate for new residents,” said Nili Bruch, city planner at Bimkom. “This plan has no justice and no logic – financially, civilly or environmentally.”