In the middle of the Arab uprising of 1936, the Jewish settlement of Kfar Hittim in the Galilee was established, on 2,000 dunams (200 hectares) of land which the Jewish National Fund had purchased in 1905.
David Ben-Gurion, who was then the head of the Jewish Yishuv, gave his tacit approval, as long as it could be completed in one day, and the plan was carried out.
The purpose of the settlement, and others like it, was to establish facts on the ground, to ensure that Jewish-owned land would be included in the future State of Israel.
Those were tough days. Arab gangs were intent on killing as many Jews as possible and wreaking havoc in order to convince the British to limit Jewish immigration. Kfar Hittim was the first of many 'Tower and Stockade' settlements, so called because those were the first two buildings constructed on the land in order to protect the brave pioneers who would dwell there. It was successfully defended on its first evening against Arab gangs.
Seventy-six years later, and with a sovereign government in place in Israel, one would think that there are various ministries whose job it is today to ensure that new towns are properly planned and established, and that it is the job of the IDF to defend them.
Well, not exactly. Today, in the Negev, one doesn’t have to travel very far off the beaten track to find new Bedouin settlements.
But these settlements follow their own rules. Unlike the case of Kfar Hittim, no Bedouin National Fund purchased the land. The residents just took it. Whether it is privately owned Jewish land, as in the case of Al Zarnoog, or Bir El Daj, built on JNF lands or state lands, doesn’t matter to them.
The Bedouins understand that their communities must also have means of defense, but their 'tower and stockade' is not physical. It’s virtual, but very effective.
Their protective 'stockade' consists of NGOs such as the Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF), Adalah, ACRI and the like. Their virtual towers are the New Israel Fund (NIF), the EU and the UN, all of which are extremely well-funded and focused on protecting the "rights" of the Bedouins to the lands on which they have built illegally.
One only has to visit the NCF website to see how effective their virtual defensive wall is:
- Entry from 18.05.12: British ambassador learns about NCF, visits Al Arakib. NCF Statement at UN Forum on Indigenous Issues.
- 28.05.12: UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights vows to pressure Israel on Arab- Bedouin rights violations.
- 28.06.12: NCF participates in conference in Sweden.
- 15.07.12: NCF activities in Umm-Mitnan, Al Arakib mark two years since first demolition.
- 21.07.12: NCF submits report to UN Human Rights Council.
- 28.07.12: South African ambassador visits Al Arakib.
For its part, Israel has developed generous programs to regularize Bedouin settlement in the Negev, through the Goldberg Commission, established in 2007, and the Prawer Committee, whose role is to implement the commission’s recommendations.
The Prawer plan calls for the legalizing of at least half of the illegal Bedouin settlements established in the Negev. For those 30,000 Bedouins whose settlements cannot be legalized, it offers generous gifts of land of up to 5 dunams per person, thus rewarding illegal behavior with private land in the land registry.
Bedouin settlement in the Negev (Photo: Roee Idan)
But of course, this generous offer of the Israeli government to appease illegal Bedouin settlers, costing billions of shekels to implement, is not enough for their NGO allies. They demand that every Bedouin land claim be legalized, or, as Clinton Bailey writing in Haaretz, put it: "Get ready for a Bedouin uprising."
Adalah, NCF and other NGOs ignore Israel’s democratic process and have taken their virtual "wall of defense" for illegal Bedouin settlements to the international arena. And their campaign against Israel has borne fruit. Last month, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning Israel’s policy toward the Bedouin communities living in "unrecognized settlements" in the Negev Desert.
The European Parliament had never before addressed the situation of the Bedouin citizens of Israel. It took Adalah, with the massive backing of their virtual tower, the NIF, EU and the UN to get the job done right. The director of Adalah’s Negev bureau, Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, commented on the decision, saying that "achieving recognition by the European Parliament that the Israeli government practices the same policies of displacement and dispossession against Palestinian citizens of Israel as it does against Palestinians living under occupation is a tremendous step forward."
With full intention to interfere in the internal workings of Israel’s democratically elected government and judicial system, another clause of the European Parliament’s resolution stated: "The European Parliament calls for the protection of the Bedouin communities of the West Bank and in the Negev, and for their rights to be fully respected by the Israeli authorities, and condemns any violations (e.g. house demolitions, forced displacements, public service limitations); it calls also, in this context, for the withdrawal of the Prawer Plan by the Israeli government."
All the usual suspects: NGOs which work to weaken the State of Israel in their so-called post-Zionist world, such as Adalah, Rabbis for Human Rights, Bimkom and ACRI, back the Bedouin claims. They not only support the usurping of land, they take clear aim at pillars of our Zionist establishment such as the JNF, which they claim is a racist, colonial entity that should be shut down.
In ACRI’s Bedouin Policy brief, their solution is simple. It states: "Today there are 45 Bedouin settlements in the Negev where anywhere from between 400 and 4,800 people reside. They meet all the objective planning criteria for recognition, including permanent population, population size, number of resident adults, and number of residential units."
Thus, not only do they call for the legalizing of all the Bedouin settlements with no other compromise possible, they speak of a "reasonable" number of 45 such illegal settlements.
Regavim, in its presentation to the Goldberg Commission, showed proof that in actual fact there are 2,100 separate settlements covering over 800,000 dunams (80,000 hectares). The Commission accepted Regavim’s empirical data and thus decided not to approve all the Bedouin and their supporters’ demands.
The goal of the defenders of the Bedouin land grab is no less than the establishment of facts on the ground, as Pnini Badash – the mayor of Omer states, "to create an autonomous region" that will eventually be contiguous with the oft-promised Palestinian state to be created only a few kilometers to the north.
The government cannot permit the financial and political power of the virtual tower and stockade to undermine the sovereignty of the State of Israel over its land.
The European Parliament also needs to understand that it is not the Planning Authority for the State of Israel and that illegal building activity anywhere in the world should be condemned – not encouraged – in the strongest possible terms.
Ari Briggs works for Regavim (http://www.regavim.org.il/en/), an independent professional research institute and policy planning think tank, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.