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 this morning to overturn the government’s decision to establish seven new Jewish settlements in the northeastern Negev.
Click here to read excerpts of the petition in English
The government decided to establish the seven agricultural settlements in the area of Mevo’ot Arad in October 2011. According to the explanatory notes to the decision, it was made as part of “the Zionist vision to make the desert blossom” and includes among its goals the “strengthening organized Jewish settlement.” The total area of the planned settlements – approximately 45,000 acres – is described in the notes as an area “empty of population” containing two Jewish settlements, four isolated ranches, and “sparse Bedouin scatterings.”
These “sparse Bedouin scatterings” are actually five unrecognized villages, home to approximately 8000 citizens. Three of these villages – Al Humra, Sawa and El-Baat – have existed since before the establishment of the state of Israel. The other two – Atir/Om Elhiran and Tel Arad – were established in the 1950’s when state security agencies forcibly moved their inhabitants from elsewhere in the Negev. These two villages were even recommended for recognition by the Ministry of Planning and Building, but the government opposed the recommendation and sought their evacuation on the grounds that the area is “extremely valuable and sensitive from an environmental and scenic perspective.” Now, in the same area, the same government is trying to establish new Jewish settlements.
Aside from the destruction of the five Bedouin villages, the plan is also expected to damage the infrastructure and development of other existing communities in the area. The government states that its goal is to increase the housing supply to accommodate an additional 11,000 people. This despite the fact that in the two Jewish settlements already authorized, there exists infrastructure for 17,500 people, and at the same time, scores of older communities in the Negev – urban and agricultural alike – are suffering from negative migration and desperate for new residents.
The petition cites a 2009 report from the Ministry of Environmental Protection that surveyed the financial costs of building new communities. According to the report, building a housing unit in a new settlement costs three times what it costs to build one in an existing community. Rejecting this plan will thus free up 1.4 billion shekels that can be invested in strengthening existing communities, especially urban ones like Mitzpe Ramon, Yeruham, Dimona, Arad, Ofakim and Netivot.
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.
According to Nili Bruch, City Planner at Bimkom: “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 – Bedouin 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. This plan has no justice and no logic – financially, civilly or environmentally.”