How did a domestic Israeli issue (a government program to solve land litigations in the Negev desert) become international news with harsh condemnations from the European Parliament? Why did demonstrators against the Israeli policy in the Negev wave PLO flags? And what to make of the fact that Benjamin (“Benny”) Begin, a former cabinet minister and a so-called “Likud prince,” who co-authored the “Prawer-Begin Plan,” has provided anti-Israel NGOs with a dream scenario to smear Israel in the international media?
The word “Bedouin” comes from the Arabic badawi, which means “nomad.” The Bedouins originate in the Arabian Peninsula, from where they spread out to the surrounding deserts in search of water and food. They were converted to Islam in the 7th century. Most Bedouins living in the Negev today arrived in the early 19th century. In the late 19th century, the Ottoman authorities started the forced sedentarization of the Bedouins. After WWII, with the emergence of independent nation-states throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the nomadic seasonal migrations of the Bedouins was halted. In most countries, forced sedentarization came with a price. In Syria, Bedouin tribalism was outlawed by the Baath party in 1958, and in Egypt the government bulldozed Bedouin-run tourist campgrounds in the Sinai in 1999.
There were an estimated 12,000 Bedouins in Israel’s Negev desert after the War of Independence. They were all granted Israeli citizenship and many serve in the army’s elite tracking units. The Bedouin population has grown to about 200,000, a huge growth that has generated serious issues of urban development and of land ownership. Nearly half of Israel’s Bedouins live in settlements that were built illegally on state lands, without government approval and without proper urban planning. According to the Interior Ministry, and as anyone can witness on Google Earth, the Bedouins build about 2,000 new illegal structures in the Negev every year.
The Israeli government does not recognize those oriental favelas because they are illegal and because those who built them are unable to provide verifiable property rights. Indeed, most Bedouin land property claims have been dismissed by the courts for lack of evidence and based on aerial photos from pre-state days which show that there were no cultivated lands back then in the Negev.
Israel’s Bedouins kept building illegal settlements despite the government’s investment in Bedouin towns in the Negev (such as Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in the world). As a result, nearly half of Israel’s Bedouins live in shantytowns built on public property. Funds for illegal Bedouin building in the Negev come from the Gulf states, which funnel money through the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. The Israeli government could and should enforce the rule of law in its lawless desert. Instead, it went for a compromise with the Bedouins over their massive land theft and crude disregard for zoning laws. This is what the “Prawer-Begin Plan” is all about.
The Prawer-Begin Plan is both immoral and delusional. It is immoral because it waives national sovereignty, rewards theft and lawlessness, and undermines the rule of law. It is delusional because the Bedouins themselves reject it, and because they are happy to pocket the land and money that the government is offering them but they have no intention to abide by the law, in return.
The Prawer-Begin Plan calls for recognizing claims to 63% of Bedouin land, attributing 54,000 acres of land to the Bedouins, and offering generous financial compensation for stolen land that will be handed back to the state (the state is paying money to get back its stolen property). In return, the land grabbing will cease and all land disputes between the Bedouins and the State will be considered settled.
Privately, the Bedouins admit they can’t believe their luck. But they reject this sucker’s deal, encouraged by NGOs whose agenda is to de-legitimize Israel and are therefore more than happy to challenge Israel’s sovereignty in the Negev.
An entire army of NGOs funded by the New Israel Fund (NIF) has been orchestrating a smear campaign against Israel in order to depict the Bedouins as helpless natives, victims of “ethnic cleansing.” These NGOs include Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), Bimkom, and Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR). RHR went as far as to produce a movie (Fiddler with no Roof) that compares the Bedouins to the Jewish victims of the anti-Semitic Tsarist regime.
The ultimate tragedy of the Prawer-Begin Plan is that a former “Likud Prince” has become the “useful idiot” of anti-Israel NGOs. In fairy tales, frogs turn into princes; in the Likud, the process is reversed.