Today, Ameinu, the leading progressive Zionist grassroots organization in North America, expressed its deep opposition to the Israeli Cabinet decision last Sunday to demolish Umm al-Hiran, an unauthorized Bedouin village in the Negev, and to replace it with a new village for religious Jews. “The fate of Umm al-Hiran is a microcosm for the ongoing disregard for Bedouin Israeli’s land rights. Beyond the residents of this village, the Israeli government is considering controversial legislation that could result in the forced relocation of tens of thousands of Israeli Bedouin,” declared Kenneth Bob, Ameinu’s President.
Responding to the threats to the rights of Israeli Bedouins, Ameinu today issued a strong statement calling for the Prawer-Begin bill – now being debated in the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee – to be scrapped and a new process instituted that would fully engage Bedouin citizens of Israel in addressing Negev land issues, unrecognized Bedouin villages and unequal provision of social services.
“How Israel addresses the rights of Bedouin Israelis to their historic lands is a key indicator of the health of Israeli democracy,” said Bob. “Israel now has an opportunity to reject an inadequate plan and create a new process with the Bedouin community that recognizes their equal citizenship and contributes to the full integration of minority groups into Israel’s civic life,” Bob added.
To organize support for a just resolution to the Bedouin land issues, Ameinu launched a grassroots advocacy campaign encouraging members to contact Ron Dermer, Israeli Ambassador to the United States. “The Jewish people have a tremendous stake in the fate of Israeli democracy” said Gideon Aronoff, Ameinu’s CEO. “We can truly show our love for Israel by raising our voices and calling for justice for all Israeli citizens.”
A copy of the Ameinu statement is included below.
STATEMENT ON KNESSET CONSIDERATION OF THE PRAWER-BEGIN LEGISLATION THAT WILL FORCIBLY RELOCATE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF ISRAELI BEDOUIN FROM THEIR UNRECOGNIZED VILLAGES IN THE NEGEV
November 8, 2013
After consulting with colleagues from the Bedouin community, we urgently request that the Knesset immediately suspend consideration of the Prawer-Begin bill and that the Government of the State of Israel (GOI) initiate a collaborative process with the Bedouin communities of the Negev. Under this new process, Israel can achieve a just and mutually acceptable solution to the questions of the 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages and the grave disparity in social services between Jewish and Bedouin villages in Israel.
While some consultation with Bedouin representatives has occurred over the years, and diversity of perspective certainly exists within the community, no formal and comprehensive process has ever been attempted that would fully engage the communities at risk of dispossession from their traditional lands. It is a central principle of a democratic society that citizens be permitted a significant role in addressing social and political matters of direct concern to their communities. This principle has not been applied in the case of the Bedouin villages in the Negev.
The most recent approach to these issues by the GOI is the Prawer-Begin bill which was approved by the Knesset on first reading, on June 24, 2013. This plan is of great concern to Bedouin communities and their supporters in Israel and around the world because it fails to take into account the Bedouin’s land rights and historic connections to the land, their due process rights and their right to fair compensation for lands taken by the state. Moreover, it continues to view the Bedouins as a demographic and security threat rather than asequal citizens of the State of Israel who deserve equal respect, rights and access to social services.
While the Knesset has resumed consideration of the Prawer-Begin bill, it should instead suspend consideration and establish an alternative approach where the government and Bedouin communities directly engage with one another to carefully review all issues involved. This new process should be based on the detailed Master Plan, developed by the civil society organizations in the Negev and adopted by the Follow Up Committee of the Arab society in Israel. Use of this plan for future negotiations would serve as clear evidence of a new collaborative process.
With so much at stake for the Bedouin community, as well as for Israel’s democracy, the Prawer-Begin bill should not be pursued. However, simply ending consideration of the current legislation while failing to move forward to constructively address the uncertain legal status and social problems in the unrecognized Bedouin villages is also not an acceptable approach. We therefore urge all sides to come to the table in this new process, engage in good faith negotiations and develop just solutions that address both the needs of the State of Israel and the reasonable desire of its Bedouin citizens for a sustainable future for their community.
Respectfully Presented on Behalf of: