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Amos Gvirtz: Don't Say We Didn't Know 711 - "Stop the campaign of destruction waged against the Bedouin in the Negev" [26.08.2020]

Our struggle will now be fought against apartheid laws, like in South Africa. Offener Brief der Geschäftsführerin des Negev-Koexistenzforums für zivilgesellschaftliche Gleichberechtigung, Haia Noach, an den neuen Leiter der Siedlungsbehörde für die Beduinen, Amir Peretz.

Amir Peretz, You can stop the campaign of destruction that is being waged against the Bedouin in the Negev

During the five years that Uri Ariel served as the Minister of Agriculture, nearly 8,000 Bedouin buildings in the Negev were demolished. The destruction only served to deepen the anger, widen the poverty and prevent development. As the new head of the Bedouin Settlement Authority, Peretz can make a difference

According to the annual report of the Southern Administration for the Coordination of Land Law Enforcement in the Ministry of Homeland Security, which operates exclusively against the Arab-Bedouin residents of the Negev, the extent of house demolitions in 2019 is similar to that in 2018. A recently released report of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality found that in 2019, no less than 2,241 buildings were destroyed in the Negev, both homes and temporary structures: animal pens, kennels, and sheds. The tenure of Uri Ariel as the Minister of Agriculture and, as such, in charge of the "enforcement" between the years 2015-2019, brought the campaign of destruction to new heights. In approximately five years, 7,939 buildings in towns, and in recognized and non-recognized villages were demolished.

The Southern Administration's report reveals an astonishing statistic: In 2019, a third of homes that were demolished were destroyed by their owners, before a demolition order was even issued. Sometimes just an inspector's notice was enough. The residents preferred to demolish their own homes so as to avoid administrative fines of NIS 300,000 per building, draconian penalties that are also imposed without the involvement of a judge. Most residents cannot take the risk. For them, it is an unimaginable sum. They prefer to destroy their homes, rather than be fined.

Most importantly, residents want to avoid the violent spectacle of hundreds of policemen entering the village with dozens of vehicles and destructive tractors and bulldozers. The sights terrify men, women, children and the elderly. And that is exactly what they intended to do. The Bedouin Settlement Authority, now under the administration of Amir Peretz, operates "in close coordination" with enforcement and destruction forces.

An elaborate mechanism deals with enforcement among the Bedouin. The Administration for the Coordination of Land Law Enforcement in the Ministry of Homeland Security coordinates the work. Inspectors are employed by the National Enforcement Unit in the Ministry of the Interior, and by the Israel Land Authority, which operates under the Minister of Housing. Even more inspectors are provided by the "Green Patrol", subordinate to the Minister of Environmental Protection, and by Regional Committees, regional and municipal planning committees, in areas that include unrecognized villages.

The Southern Police District employs forces, along with a special unit, the 'Yoav Unit', which is made up of one hundred special patrol officers. By Government decision, these forces do not act against violations of planning laws in moshavim or Jewish municipalities. These are special forces for use only in Bedouin communities.

The character of the special enforcement is manifested in the modes of action. According to the Southern Administration report, annual enforcement plans are evolved "in close coordination" with the Bedouin Settlement Authority. The "Enforcement Forum" plans a weekly program of destruction. The extent of this activity is unparalleled in other districts of the country.

The Bedouin Settlement Authority denies having any role in enforcement. It prefers to present itself as a body engaged in neighborhood construction and social activities. This is a bluff. The governmental decision that established the Bedouin Authority defined its powers in the field of enforcement. The report of the Southern Administration in the Ministry of Internal Security specifically notes the participation of the Bedouin Authority in the weekly enforcement forum. The demolitions are intended to advance the strategic goal of the Bedouin Settlement Authority: the displacement of the unrecognized villages.

The Authority uses a GIS system and maps the region using drones and aerial photography. It is in this way that targets are marked for "enforcement promoting order" activities, as defined in the report. The Authority builds a work plan in close cooperation with the enforcement agencies. The plan marks locations in which the Authority seeks to displace residents, in coordination with its "negotiation" system. The "enforcement" is not intended to promote compliance with the law, but rather to impose planning that the Authority has determined for the Bedouin - to bring them to surrender in the framework of "negotiations". The main goal is: to get them to agree to be uprooted.

In practice, the destruction does not prevent construction. Like all human beings, the Bedouin Arab need a roof over their heads: this is an existential need. Therefore, in the unrecognized villages continue to build. And this is not for profit: young couples just need a home.

This is not just a matter of selective enforcement, but of unbridled use of violence against a weakened minority, deprived of public sympathy and of representation in the ruling political coalition. This minority is excluded from all the mechanisms of enforcement. In comparison, there are wholesale violations of law, for the purpose of expanding residences and for business purposes, in many Jewish regional councils. But, the councils themselves enforce the law on their residents. And how do they enforce the law? For the most part – slowly and thoughtfully, with much concern for the law breakers. For example, the State Comptroller's report for 2019 reviewed the measured, mitigating, and considerate enforcement in the Southern Sharon Regional Council. Literally "the power of softness."

The campaign of destruction has not led to the displacement of villages, because the Bedouin cling to their land. So, what has been achieved? First, the campaign nurtures the rage in the community, as almost every clan can point to a house that has been destroyed. The State is convincing citizens that they are not equal. They are treated as subjects, and sometimes - as enemies. Second, the state has managed to perpetuate poverty. 79.6% of Bedouin children live in a poor home, according to data from the National Insurance Institute regarding 2018. Four out of five Bedouin children are poor. The demolitions consume resources and increase distress.

And thirdly, the Government is succeeding in thwarting the development of the Negev. One arm of the Government is investing NIS 3.2 billion in the Five Year Program for the Bedouin. At the same time, the second arm of the Government creates a planning vacuum, as it refuses to recognize approximately 35 villages, completely denying their very existence. A fortune is being invested in pushing 270,000 residents of the Negev to the edge, poverty and unemployment.

Economy Minister Amir Peretz was recently entrusted with the Bedouin Settlement Authority. Peretz favors dialogue and coexistence. Stopping the campaign of destruction and formulating an outline for dialogue in preparation for the recognition of the villages will be his first test.

Haia Noach is the CEO of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality. The Forum recently published their yearly demolition report, "On (In)Equality and Demolition of Homes and Structures in Arab Bedouin Communities in the Negev/Naqab."


Ergänzende Links:
On (In)Equality and Demolition of Homes and Structures in Arab Bedouin Communities in the Negev/Naqab (ncf)

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