On Monday in Beersheba, a group of 700 Bedouins protested the Prawer Bill, newly passed legislation which seeks to resettle more than 20,000 Bedouins living in the Negev into “government-recognized villages,” the Associated Press reports. The bill was drafted by former Cabinet Minister Benny Begin and Ehud Prawer, director of policy planning for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to the protesters, the implementation of the bill would be detrimental to their way of life, and would allow for the government to confiscate their land. Israeli officials, however, claim that the move is necessary in order to provide amenities to Bedouin communities. Protesters and police officers were injured, and fourteen people were arrested.
Later that day, more protests developed in the north and throughout Arab neighborhoods, YNet reports.
Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi said: “The government is pushing the Arab minority to a corner of confrontation instead of listening to their needs and equalizing the living conditions. We will keep fighting to cancel the Prawer Bill. Only in Israel there is a different law for the Arabs in the Negev. It is not a regularization plan, but an exclusion plan.”
The bill barely passed in June, with 43 votes in favor and 40 against, the Jerusalem Post reported at the time. Its passage incited “loud arguments” between the Israeli and Arab MKs in the Knesset.
According to Arab Israeli MK Talab Asana, it’s not only the Bedouins who are being threatened:
“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.”
Bedouin land was never officially recognized under Turkish, British or Israeli rule, the Forward explains, which has led to poor living conditions in Bedouin villages, and often no running water. Currently, the Bedouins do not receive any government services, but the plan would change that, according to its proponents.
Backers of the plan insist the displacement “can be a blessing” because of the modernization and financial opportunities that it will bring. The relocation of families “will make it possible for their children to leap in time into the midst of the 21st century, and to build a better future for them while maintaining their culture and way of life,” Begin wrote when presenting the plan.
Opponents, though, maintain that there is “nothing to suggest that this wave of urbanization will be more successful.”