Israel is taking the first steps towards establishing desert refugee or displacement camps designed to hold tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens whom it plans to "urgently" displace from their homes in unrecognized villages across the Naqab (Negev) desert – without offering them any permanent and just housing solutions, the Haifa-based Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
Israel's Southern District Planning and Building Committee convened on Sunday, 6 October, to discuss two plans – 652-0767921 and 624-0765792 – "Temporary Residential and Public Building Solutions for the Bedouin Population in the Negev", it said.
The plans are intended "to provide temporary housing solutions for the unregulated Bedouin population, in cases where the population is urgently required to move from their living sites before permanent buildings are established". Once approved, the plans would enable the “temporary” structures to remain for a period of up to six years.
In January 2019, Israel's Bedouin Development and Settlement Authority announced a plan for the forced displacement of 36,000 Bedouin citizens to make way for "economic projects" and the expansion of live-fire training areas for the Israeli military.
However, Israeli officials did not draw up solutions for the Bedouin citizens who would be evicted from their homes to make way for these projects – including the Ramat Beka weapons development and testing zone and the Sde Barir phosphate mine.
The Israeli plans would allow authorities to immediately evict and transfer Bedouin citizens to the new displacement camps for a period of three to six years.
Three days earlier, on Thursday, 3 October, Adalah sent a letter to Israeli authorities calling on them to reject the proposed plans and stop them from moving forward.
The letter – sent in Adalah's name and on behalf of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev (RCUV), Shatil, and the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF) – was addressed to Southern District Planning and Building Committee Chairman David Leffler.
Attorney Suhad Bishara, director of Adalah's Land and Planning Rights Unit, wrote in the letter that the plans are a severe violation of the fundamental rights of Bedouin citizens:
"These plans continue to impose upon the residents of unrecognized villages the same reality to which they have been subject for decades: the reality of temporality as a result of forced relocation from one place of residence to another … It is unreasonable to again coerce displacement to temporary housing tens of thousands of residents who have been living in their villages for decades and, indeed, for generations – most of which are actually located on their traditional tribal lands. Remember the people targeted by this plan: it will be socially and economically devastating to thousands of families, children, adults, and elderly."
In a statement to the media, Bishara said "Israeli authorities are working hard to invent planning mechanisms for the sole purpose of evicting Bedouin residents from their villages that are not recognized by state authorities. Israel plans to displace thousands of people from their homes to live in some form of refugee camps, without a just solution via recognition of their villages – some of which have been in existence for decades – and allowing them to develop in accordance with their needs."
Attiya Al-Issam, chairman of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, also said in a statement: "We wholeheartedly reject this malicious plan, whose sole purpose is to expel the Bedouin people from their lands. We see this as the embodiment of Israel's Prawer Plan, discussed in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in 2013, which was meant to expel tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens and destroy their villages."