The Israeli government today announced that it had withdrawn a bill that proposed the expropriation of land and the forcible transfer of tens of thousands of Bedouins from 35 unrecognized villages in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the south of present-day Israel.
Known as the Prawer Plan, the Israeli government scheme was met with mass protests throughout historic Palestine, including several “Days of Rage.”
As Linah Alsaafin and Budour Youssef Hassan commented for The Electronic Intifada in September:
These protests have succeeded in drawing local and international attention to the threats posed by the Prawer proposal, and mobilized youth to take to the streets, including many who were not politicized. They also managed for the first time in a while to unite efforts across the fragmented sections of Palestinian society for one cause, as Palestinians in the 1948 territories, the West Bank and Gaza Strip all organized protests on the days of rage.
These protests, which faced state violence and intimidation, are being credited for making it impossible for the bill to move forward to become law, at least for the time being (Haaretz reported today that it “is not clear whether the bill has been shelved or just temporarily postponed”).
As news emerged that the bill was about to be withdrawn, some Israeli officials, such as foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, stated that in its current form, the plan had been, if anything, too generous to Bedouins.
Haaretz also reported that contrary to the Israeli government’s claims, the Prawer Plan had never been approved by the Bedouin community.
“The withdrawal of the Prawer Plan bill is a major achievement in the history of the Palestinian community in Israel,” Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, stated today.
“It shows that popular action, legal advocacy and international pressure can succeed in defending the rights of 70,000 Arab Bedouin residents of the unrecognized villages in the Naqab to live with freedom and dignity on their own lands and in their villages.”
The group added:
The government was forced to reveal the Plan’s details after intensive media attention and public activism against the Prawer Plan in recent weeks. On 30 November 2013, thousands demonstrated against the Prawer Plan in Hura and Haifa, where they were met by police who used excessive force and made dozens of arrests. Adalah and other volunteer lawyers defended the detained protesters in court and filed official complaints to the Police Investigation Unit (“Mahash”) against the police’s violent conduct.
While today’s announcement marks a major victory, the rights of Bedouins in the Naqab are still under threat.
Adalah added that “the cancellation of the bill is a platform to continue the dedicated work in the struggle to prevent the Israeli government from implementing the Prawer Plan. The government’s plans for the Naqab will lead to the demolition, evacuation and confiscation of Bedouin homes and lands, among which is the village of Atir-Umm al-Hieran, which will be destroyed in order to build a Jewish settlement and a forest over its lands.”