"Israel should declare an immediate moratorium on demolitions of Bedouin homes and create an independent commission to investigate pervasive land and housing discrimination against its Bedouin citizens in the Negev," Human Rights Watch said in a report published Monday.
The human rights group said that Israel's policies "force tens of thousands of Bedouin in the south of Israel to live in 'unrecognized' shanty towns where they are under constant threat of seeing their homes demolished and their communities torn apart."
The 95-page report is based on interviews conducted in 13 unrecognized Bedouin villages and three state-planned Bedouin towns in the Negev.
"Israeli policies have put the Bedouin in a lose-lose situation,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The state has forced them off the land they claimed as their own and into illegal shanty towns, cut off from basic necessities like water and electricity.”
New homes – only for Jews
According to HRW, Israel has demolished thousands of Negev Bedouin homes since the 1970s, and hundreds in 2007 alone. Israeli officials contend that they are simply enforcing zoning and building codes, but the group claims to have found that officials systematically demolish Bedouin homes "while often overlooking or retroactively legalizing unlawful construction by Jewish citizens."
The report further maintains that while the Bedouin suffer an acute need for adequate housing and new communities, the state instead is developing new homes and communities for Jewish citizens even though some of the more than 100 existing Jewish communities in the Negev sit half-empty.
“Israel is willing and able to build new Negev towns for Jewish Israelis seeking a rural way of life, but not for the people who have lived and worked this land for generations,” Stork said. “This is grossly unfair.
'Independent investigative body needed'
Today, the Bedouin community comprises 25% of the population of the northern Negev, but controls less than 2% of the land there.
In its report, the organization urged a special Housing Ministry commission recently formed to examine the issue of land-disputes to "base its recommendations on Israel’s international human rights obligations prohibiting discrimination and guaranteeing rights to adequate and secure housing, and protection from forced evictions.
“One recommendation should be for a special commission that can conduct an impartial and comprehensive examination of the problem of the unrecognized villages,” Stork said. “Because the state itself is responsible for this systematic discrimination and denial of basic rights, an independent investigative body is needed.”