Israel to ‘Transfer’ 30,000 Palestinian Bedouin From the Negev

There have been daily protests across Israel's Palestinian community against plans to "transfer" the Negev Bedouin to an unspecified location. It is expected that 30,000 Palestinian Bedouin, could face removal from their villages to make way for the construction of new towns for Israel's Jewish citizens. The Prawer-Begin plan, which was first drafted in 2011, received its final approval from the Knesset last month.

Palestinian member of the Knesset Talab Asana said, "This plan threatens the displacement of 30 Palestinian villages and the relocation of 60, 000 people and the confiscation of 215, 000 acres of land. The plan represents ethnic cleansing and the Israeli government is trying to enact a law for discrimination and racism." 

The Bedouin are a semi-nomadic people, who have lived in the Negev desert for hundreds of years. Since the turn of the 20th century, they began a process of settling down in newly formed towns and villages. This process was accelerated when Israel was established in 1948- and they were given Israeli citizenship. Their numbers are estimated at 170, 000 and half of them live in so-called "unrecognized villages," the villages are now under threat from the Prawer-Begin plan. Some of the villages were formed before 1948 and others after —but they are not recognized by the state of Israel. For years, despite being Israeli citizens, the inhabitants have been denied access to state services and representation and generally the villages enjoy high rates of poverty.

The Negev desert is of strategic importance to the Israeli government. Because of its high population of Arabs and the proximity to borders with Arab countries, Israel has traditionally felt vulnerable in the Negev. Israel's feeling of vulnerability is not limited to the Negev either. There are 1.6 million Palestinian Arabs, who hold Israeli citizenship; their presence in Israel is a constant source of tension. Despite having serving members in the Knesset, this community is routinely referred to as "the fifth column" or the "demographic threat" in the Israeli media and parliament. They form the majority in the Galilee region of northern Israel- not too far from the borders with Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

The Israeli government since 1948 has followed a policy of "Judification" of the Galilee- in which they tried to make the region as Jewish as possible. In 2010, the Israeli security forces staged an exercise in the Galilee. The exercise scenario was that the Israeli government had signed a peace deal- and as part of the deal, they agreed to transfer their Palestinian citizens to another Arab country. The Israeli Palestinians, upon hearing the news, decided to protest and riot in large numbers. The security forces then have to try and detain all of them and prepare them for the transfer. The exercise was designed to see if the various security and civil authorities could cope with the scenario. What this demonstrates is that the re-location of the Bedouin is happening in this wider context. Many non-Bedouin Palestinians fear that if this goes through, they might be next. It is not entirely clear when this transfer will take place, but the fact that it might happen, sets a worrying precedent and it will have negative repercussions on future Arab-Israeli peace talks.