Israel’s Prawer Plan: New Nakba Hits the Negev

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A Bedouin woman gestures during a demonstration against Israeli government's plans to relocate Bedouins in the Negev desert, on 15 July 2013 in the southern city of Beersheva. (Photo: AFP - David Buimovitch)

By: Malik Samara

Published Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bedouins of the Negev desert are facing perhaps the most dangerous attempt yet to cleanse them off and expropriate their land, in what Palestinians are calling a “New Nakba.”

In the south of occupied Palestine, a vast stretch of desert land has remained largely absent from the Arab consciousness. The Negev, which once made up fully 50 percent of historic Palestine, is home to 300,000 Palestinians today.

The largely Bedouin population, which makes up a third of all Palestinians living on the lands occupied by Israel in 1948, have roots in the area that go back to the fifth century BC. The Israeli authorities have subjected the Negev’s people to repeated attempts at “resettlement” and land expropriation, trying to force as many Palestinians as possible to settle within the confines of a small area in order to seize their lands.

The Israeli government has succeeded so far in corralling nearly half the population into an area Palestinians refer to as al-Siyaj (the Fence), while the rest have fought to remain in 45 villages across the Negev unrecognized by Israel, which therefore refuses to provide the most basic services.

In perhaps one of the most dangerous transfer plans adopted by the Israelis since 1948 under the guise of “developing the Negev,” the Netanyahu government signed off on the Prawer Plan in 2011, which seeks to expropriate 800,000 dunams (1 dunam = 1000 square meters), and expel between 30,000 and 50,000 Palestinian Bedouins in the process.

The plan passed its first reading in the Knesset in June and a committee was formed on July 15 to complete the approval process, with a second and third reading scheduled for Fall 2013. If the measure passes, Palestinian Bedouins could see 35 of their villages destroyed in an attempt to squeeze the whole Arab population onto 1 percent of the desert.

This will have a devastating effect on Bedouins and their tribal way of life. In the name of improving their lives by moving them into more developed urban centers – with only modest services such as schools and clinics offered – Israel hopes to break the communities’ ties to their land and culture, so it can be more easily expropriated, either for settling Jews or for military purposes.

In Rahat, one village “recognized” by Israel, local resident Iman al-Sanea explains that nearly 60 percent of the town’s 60,000 residents live under the poverty line. Here, young people have no hope whatsoever of finding work.

Nevertheless, the Bedouins of the Negev are struggling to foil attempts to subject them to another Nakba. On Monday, a national day of rage against the Prawer Plan was organized, leading to protests throughout occupied Palestine, including many areas within the Green Line, including the Galilee and the Triangle area in the country’s center.

Many young people now active in the Negev complain of negligence from their political leaders – including their representatives in the Knesset – who offer little more than one compromise after another.

This has prompted these young activists to pursue fresh ideas to mobilize people against the Prawer Plan, such as organizing simultaneous Nakba events in 10 Negev villages, linking the Palestinian catastrophe to the new expropriation plan.

The activists have made headway in improving ties to Palestinians in other areas who tend to know little about the plight of the Negev. Their latest protest quickly spread to other parts of Palestine, breaking the area’s isolation, which is but a further attempt by Israel to fragment Palestinian national identity into localized ones, be it in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, Akka, or elsewhere.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


It is a true fact that on the border of Palestine a vast stretch of desert land has remained largely absent from the Arab consciousness. Arab peoples are migrating to Palestine due to this issue.

The same bedouins used to wander also in the Sinai desert and the Arabian desert, until some years ago. Does that mean that they own also Sinai and the Arabian deserts???

What a stupid question. First of all, do you really think that the same bedouins currently in the Negev were able, "some years ago," to just wander from the Sinai across the Israeli border? And if you mean a longer period of time, what have you to say about historians who have noted bedouin agricultural permanence in the Negev in antiquity?

Second, bedouins are not a homogeneous group of people. There are thousands of different bedouin tribes, many of which have ethnic lineages to the areas where they currently reside. So no, they're not all the "same bedouins."

Third, just because some bedouins have traveled from Sinai to Negev before 1948 as you may have implied, how does that somehow justify further Israeli colonialist expansion of a people that are *currently* (and have been before Israel's creation) settled there? This is like saying that just because some Native American tribes traveled across different parts of what is now the US, American expansion and Native expulsion and genocide was justified; since, after all, it would be ridiculous to say that Natives "owned" all of that land.

I have to agree with Tarud. However the main point of the article was to emphasise that the Bedouins have deep routed themselves in southern Israel and that the Israelis want to kick them out of their land. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the first place the Bedouins have freely moved around the entire Sinai, in and throughout Jordan, including the Arabian peninsula for decades and still do. As of recent and for safety reasons they have congregated longer than usual in one place or another mainly for safety reasons and for maintaining communication links through Cell phones whereby cell services are available. The problem at hand is the accumulation of garbage and sewer waste that occurs when setting up longer than temporary locations which lack such sanitary services. What the Israeli authorities want to do is to relocate Bedouins to areas that have such services are available including medical facilities. God only knows what type of diseases can be avoided by regularly maintaining cleanliness, which is what the Bedouins much like travelling European Gypsies equally are confronted with when moving about. The written article is based on hatred and attempts to inflame further hatred, when in truth the Israeli authorities are attempting to provide better health services to Bedouins and not have them live in deplorable conditions and without proper sanitary facilities. Shame on the writer of the article.

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