GENEVA (25 July 2013) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Thursday urged the Israeli Government to reconsider the proposed ‘Law for Regularizing Bedouin Habitation in the Negev’ (the Prawer-Begin Bill), which, if adopted, is likely to result in the demolition of up to 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev desert and lead to the dispossession, eviction and forcible displacement of as many as 30,000-40,000 Arab Bedouins from their ancestral land and homes.
“As citizens of Israel, the Arab Bedouins are entitled to the same rights to property, housing and public services as any other group in Israel,” Ms. Pillay said. “The Government must recognize and respect the specific rights of its Bedouin communities, including recognition of Bedouin land ownership claims.”
The High Commissioner regretted that the Israeli Government “continues to actively pursue a discriminatory policy of forced displacement against its own Arab citizens,” despite the concerns she raised during her official visit to Israel two years ago regarding the repeated demolitions of Bedouin villages in the Negev that are not recognized by the authorities.
“I am alarmed that this bill, which seeks to legitimize forcible displacement and dispossession of indigenous Bedouin communities in the Negev, is being pushed through the Knesset,” Ms. Pillay said, noting that the proposed Bill does not recognize any traditionally owned Bedouin land titles in the Negev desert. Instead it offers limited and inadequate compensation on the condition that claimants move to one of the seven officially recognized urban Bedouin townships it has created.
“If this bill becomes law, it will accelerate the demolition of entire Bedouin communities, forcing them to give up their homes, denying them their rights to land ownership, and decimating their traditional cultural and social life in the name of development,” she said.
Ms. Pillay pointed out that the 2008 Goldberg Commission set up by the Israeli Government recognized that the Negev Bedouins must be viewed as equal citizens with historic ties to the land, and that they were legitimate residents of the Negev. The Goldberg Commission report also recommended that, as far as possible, the State should recognize each one of the “unrecognized” villages, depending on the number of residents and its eligibility for municipal status.
The High Commissioner added that a reconsideration of the bill must involve a genuinely consultative and participatory process that involves all representatives of Bedouin communities in the Negev.
“Respect for the legitimate rights of minorities is a fundamental tenet of democracy,” she said.
The first reading of the proposed Prawer-Begin Bill passed by a narrow margin in the Knesset on 24 June, and is expected to go through the second and third readings before the end of July.
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