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Put a Stop to the Displacement of Bedouin Communities in Israel

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For the third time this year, Palestinian youth in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are working together to prepare for a "Day of Rage" - coordinated, popular protests scheduled throughout the region for Saturday, November 30. Though the previous peaceful protests have been met with alleged police brutality and mass arrests, the young people remain steadfast and united against the Israeli government's plan to forcibly displace tens of thousands of its own citizens in the Negev (Naqab) desert in southern Israel.

The Prawer Plan is specifically targeting the some 70,000 Palestinian-Bedouin citizens of Israel who continue to live in 35 historic villages, which are unrecognized by the state and therefore denied access to all basic services such as water, electricity, sewage, schools and health clinics. The Prawer Plan seeks to destroy these villages and forcibly displace their residents (again, all citizens of Israel). If fully implemented, the Prawer Plan would be the largest confiscation of Palestinian-owned land since the 1950s.

The Bedouin have lived in the Negev since the 7th century, and, while members of the Palestinian people, have retained a traditional, pastoral existence in the desert. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the government has sought to dispossess the community not only of their ancestral lands, but also of their very livelihoods, concentrating them into crowded and impoverished urban towns, unsuited to their way of life. Simultaneously, the government has sought to encourage Jewish settlement and agricultural activity in the same area, developing over one hundred small rural communities (kibbutzim and moshavim) as well as sixty individual single-family farms on confiscated Bedouin land.

The Prawer Plan seeks to legalize Israel's discriminatory treatment of its most vulnerable citizens, through a piece of legislation known as the Prawer-Begin bill. The bill passed its first reading (a critical initial vote of approval) in the Israeli Knesset in June of this year, and is expected to be brought for its final readings in the coming weeks. The Prawer-Begin bill joins the wave of discriminatory legislation to have been proposed or passed in recent years by successive Israeli governments that directly threatens the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, a 20 percent national minority. While not unique in its explicit and exclusive applicability to only a subset of the population in Israel, the Prawer-Begin bill exceptionally proposes a legal regime for the Bedouin citizens of Israel, which is completely separate from the one that applies to their Jewish neighbors.

Such an extraordinary measure is in direct response to the legal work of human rights lawyers and organizations like Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, that have been able, in some instances, to halt demolitions and evictions of entire villages by appealing to the Israeli courts. According to the Prawer-Begin bill, Israeli courts will thus be stripped of their powers to review and will no longer be able to intervene against unfair state land and planning measures, such as home demolitions and evictions. The bill replaces the rule of law with an administrative regime that suspends due process and the constitutional rights of the Bedouin community. According to the Prawer-Begin bill, the Bedouin community will not have access to the courts, and individuals could face up to two years imprisonment for failing to comply with administrative home demolition and eviction orders. The rights of the Jewish citizens of the Negev remain fully intact.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the European Parliament have deemed the Prawer Plan discriminatory, and publically urged for its withdrawal. The international community is echoing the calls of the Bedouin community, who are demanding meaningful consultation and participation in the decision-making process that will determine their futures. The Bedouin community, together with civil society, have proposed an Alternative Master Plan that, on the basis of equality, recognizes the Bedouin villages in their existing locations, using the traditional land system as a foundation for future planning. The community has presented the plan to the government several times, but in response, is witnessing an increase in home demolitions coupled with government approval to build new Jewish towns, Jewish National Fund forests, and industrial or military projects on Bedouin land.

The unfair treatment of the Palestinian Bedouin community has struck a particular chord among young people in Palestinian communities, both within Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. While discrimination isn't new, the unified opposition is. The unprecedented coordination of the popular protests points to a growing resistance to the social and political fragmentation of the Palestinian community, and a recognition of a common threat to their shared existence. Solidarity protests regarding the displacement of the Bedouin in the Negev are taking place in the Galilee and in Gaza, in Yaffa and in Ramallah; and indeed, around the world. United in their opposition to injustice, Palestinian youth are challenging the forces that seek to divide them, and their demand for the protection of human dignity and human rights wherever they are at risk is a hopeful response that should inspire the international community to do the same.