Issue 4: The Bedouin Land Rights
One of Israel's most obvious violations of the right to equality is in the discriminatory planning directed against the Bedouin community. Whereas the government has employed a policy of population dispersal for Jewish settlement in the Negev, its policy towards the Bedouin community has been one of population concentration in as little an area as possible. Over the years, every regional master plan for the northern Negev has entirely ignored the existence of Bedouin villages (with the noted exceptions) and the land rights of their residents, instead designating Bedouin lands as agricultural, or under other headings such as industrial, military, infrastructure. This classification prohibits residential construction in these areas. Furthermore, residents of unrecognized villages cannot legally obtain building permits, and the homes in which they were born and raised and in which they have eventually expanded their families are considered illegal by the state. These homes are perpetually under the threat of demolition and of incurring large fines. With such policies, the Israeli state aims to delegitimize the land rights of the Bedouin community, construing Bedouin residents as squatters rather than as full citizens of the state and as members of a historical and vulnerable community.
Please provide information on action taken to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on the Policy regarding Bedouin towns (the Goldberg Committee), including the settlement of individual and collective Bedouin land claims. In this connection, please indicate how the State party has considered the application of relevant international norms and jurisprudence in the settlement of such claims.
Bedouin Land Rights
The unrecognized status of Bedouin villages in Israel's Negev region has been the leading obstacle to the community's realization of planning and building rights. For decades now, the Bedouin-Arab residents of the Negev have waged a struggle to gain official recognition for their home villages, and today about half of the Bedouin Arabs of the Negev, some 90 thousand people, live in 46 rural villages and ex-urban settlements in this area. Only ten of these have been recognized, and this only in 1996 following a concerted campaign on the part of Bedouin residents and human rights NGOs.
Such policies are reflected in the conditions of unrecognized villages. The denial of a legal status to these villages, and the subsequent restriction of their inhabitants' planning and building rights, means that Bedouin residents of the unrecognized villages are, to a large extent, citizens in name only. They are denied their most basic rights – their villages are not connected to the national water supply, electricity grid, or sewage system; essential services such as education, healthcare and welfare services are provided only partially and then inadequately; and the state refuses to recognize their traditional ownership of their land.
The various UN committees that examine countries' compliance with human rights obligations under international conventions have repeatedly pointed out the human rights violations suffered by the Negev Bedouin at the hands of the Israeli government. From the perspective of international law, to which Israel has committed itself, the treatment of the Bedouin represents a dark stain on a country that considers itself respectful of human rights.
Strikingly, Israel’s Third Periodic Report from 2009 to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [hereafter: (Israel) Report 2009/The Third Periodic Report], as well as Israel’s Answers to the list of Issues from 2011 [hereafter: (Israel) Report 2011] fail to recognize these residents' legitimate right to water. Rather, citing a Mekorot Report, the Report of 2009 discusses the decline in use of direct water connections due to their "problematic nature" of necessitating water transfer to unrecognized villages. Its section on water concludes with a remark on the "numerous pirate connections to pipelines" in the Negev, whose existence was not authorized by the Water Committee, but whose demand– the human context, need for water – is blatantly absent.1
Bedouin Rights and International Law
Israel's violation of Bedouin rights runs counter to the norms of international law, which, through a number of international declarations and charters, has singled out for protection the rights of minorities in general and indigenous minorities in particular. Israel is a signatory to many of these, which enshrine minorities' rights to equality, to property, to adequate housing, and to the preservation of their cultural character. Indeed, the Negev Bedouin fit the classic description of an indigenous minority: a distinct population with unique religious and cultural characteristics, organized by traditional social structures and rooted by their way of life to their land, who are subject to new rule by a modern state that threatens their culture and property. Because of their vulnerability, indigenous minorities have been singled out for special protection under international law, and these protections have been enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples. Though the declaration carries no legal obligation incumbent on the State of Israel, it does reflect the international norms regarding the rights of indigenous peoples. These norms, as formalized in the declaration, include the obligation not to forcibly remove indigenous peoples from their lands or their living areas; and not to resettle them without their free, informed consent and without full and fair compensation. The declaration established that states must grant recognition and legal protection to the land, territory, and natural resources belonging to, or under the control of, indigenous peoples.
Israel refuses to recognize the status of Bedouins as indigenous people. The Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, although acknowledging Israel’s position, observes that the Bedouins share many of the characteristics of indigenous peoples, such as a strong connection to their lands and the maintenance of cultural traditions that are distinct from those of the majority populations. Further, the grievances of the Bedouin, stemming from their distinct cultural identities and their connection to their traditional lands, are representing the types of problems to which the international human rights regime related to indigenous peoples has been designed to respond. He therefore considers the Bedouins’ concerns to fall within his mandate and them to be protected by the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.2
From the text of the government resolution, we see that the intention is to arrange the settlement of the Negev Bedouin in a series of successive and integrated stages: a land arrangement anchored in expedited legislation; new planning arrangements; and the creation of a new institutional and administrative framework that will include new enforcement mechanisms. Those mechanisms allow for more homes to be demolished in the future, when only last year over 700 houses were demolished. These would all be implemented in an accelerated, time-bound process, at the end of which all lands whose status is not arranged (either through the implementation outline or through the courts) by the time of the deadline would be officially registered as state-owned lands. This move, which radically alters the reality of life in the Bedouin villages, was decided with barely any input from the local residents, and as such, it is not implementable in practice.
Summary of the Implementation Outline to the Goldberg Report for the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev
("The Prawer Report")
In January 2009, following the adoption of Government Resolution 4411, an implementation team led by Ehud Prawer was appointed by the Israeli government and charged with the task of formulating a detailed and implementable outline plan for the arrangement of Bedouin settlement in the Negev. This was to be done on the basis of the recommendations of the Goldberg Committee Report composed under the directorship of Justice Eliezer Goldberg. On 11 September 2011, the Israeli government approved the recommendations of the Prawer Team’s Implementation Outline, subject to a number of government amendments. As such, one must read the Implementation Outline together with the text of the government resolution, as detailed below.
An examination of the government resolution and the Implementation Outline reveals a long list of problems and design flaws. We would like to present you with our preliminary, and by no means exhaustive, treatment of these two texts, in order to demonstrate the host of problematic issues and question marks which require much deeper examination and consideration. As this document represents only an initial survey, we intend in the near future to compose a complete and detailed analysis of the implementation program, in conjunction with the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages.
A. A substantive change in the discourse and rhetoric – While the Goldberg Report adopted a clear definition of “the unrecognized villages,” the government resolution and the Implementation Outline return to the old rhetorical usage of such terms as “the Bedouin dispersal”, “unorganized settlement”, and “population groups.”
Below are ACRI's brief comments to the published texts of the government resolution and the Implementation Outline:
1. Planning Arrangements – the Implementation Outline establishes a planning policy that diverges entirely from the approach currently practiced and from the approach recommended by the Goldberg Committee Report. In addition, the government resolution and the Implementation Outline run contrary to the understanding, developed in Israel’s planning authorities over the past decade, that in order for any new planning to be viable, it must take into account the social, cultural, and functional characteristics of the communities in question. Instead, the Implementation Outline presents a new approach to planning that is based on a singular criterion – location – and seeks to concentrate the Bedouins via the use of population transfer and population concentration. The practical implication of this is that 40,000 Bedouins would be uprooted and evicted from their homes.
Below are a few examples:
B. Individual village treatment vs. geographic treatment – Whereas, until today, planning solutions have been offered to Bedouin villages on an individual basis, the government decision offers arrangements for only one specific geographic area within whose borders planning solutions will provided, without any reference whatsoever to the current locations of the existing villages. Furthermore, the first priority among the solutions offered in the Implementation Outline is the transfer of populations into the townships and communities of the Abu-Basma council, either within their current borders or adjacent to them, whereas the establishment of new villages is given lowest priority, and even then only with the approval of a separate government resolution. This fundamentally contradicts the Goldberg Report (Article 110) which states that the government should “recognize, insofar as possible, every one of the unrecognized villages”. Regarding this point, we’d like to once again emphasize that the official recognition of the unrecognized Bedouin villages must be a central principle at the heart of any just and viable solution.
C. Conditions for internal planning – The Implementation Outline states that all internal planning of communities will be designed to ensure compliance with a number of criteria, including: population density, continuity of built-up areas, refraining from leaving areas undeveloped, removing agricultural lands to outside of the village borders, critical mass, “municipal strength”, and more.
These criteria are inconsistent with the principles of equality and distributive justice, and raise serious concerns of discrimination against the Bedouin population in the distribution of land resources, planning, and development when these are compared with those of the rural Jewish sector. Had these same conditions been imposed upon the Jewish sector, entire communities (communal villages, kibbutzim, moshavim, and outposts) would soon disappear from the map of Israeli settlement.
D. Fixed and defined planning principles – The planning principles as laid out in the Implementation Outline reflect a fixed and defined permanent settlement pattern for all the Bedouin villages, while ignoring the existence of the Bedouin village and the communal living systems within it, with their unique character and needs. In practice, the villages as we now know them will soon disappear. On the basis of these principles, even those villages that are slated to remain in their current locations will find it necessary to evict and transfer portions of their population.
E. Temporary settlement - This definition, adopted by the Goldberg Report, was intended to enable the immediate supply of essential services to the Bedouin population, while certain villages remain in various stages of the planning and zoning process. The Implementation Outline chose not to adopt this principle on the grounds that it might overburden the land regulation and planning process.
2. Conditioning planning on land registration - The government resolution and the Implementation Outline state that the settling of disputed land ownership claims will be a necessary precondition for any planning solutions offered to the residents of the unrecognized villages. This is extremely problematic, as it leaves the local population without the basic infrastructure and living conditions to which all people are entitled. The current reality on the ground allows for the initiation of the planning process for all the unrecognized villages in accordance with the existing communal structure of each village, even before the issue of land ownership is permanently settled.
3. Arranging land ownership under new legislation - The program proposed by the Implementation Outline would settle disputed land ownership claims via a unilateral, roughshod legislative process, which ignores the historic connection of the Bedouin to their lands, a connection that has already been noted and recognized by the Goldberg Report (Article 77) and follows the principles of equality and distributive justice. Instead, the government resolution offers a very tight timetable that coerces the Bedouin into relinquishing their rights to their lands. The government’s disregard for the historical rights of the Bedouin and refusal to recognize their proprietary system of land acquisition represents a severe injury to the Bedouin population, their land rights, their right to housing, and their right to preserve their way of life, which is intimately tied to the land.
Furthermore, this lack of acknowledgement violates international human rights norms, specifically the right of indigenous people to retain ownership of their historic lands, to control them, and to make use of them by virtue of their traditional ownership. The Implementation Outline offers “solutions” that are simply not viable for the Arab Bedouin population and continues the long line of Israeli policies aimed at annulling Bedouin rights and appropriating their lands.
B. Classification of land – The proposed arrangement of land ownership would apply solely to cultivated agricultural lands and not to uncultivated grazing lands. This distinction flies in the face of the knowledge accumulated in academia over past decades regarding the unique nature of Arab Bedouin agriculture in the Negev. Use of this criterion raises serious suspicion that the government will attempt to define certain agricultural lands that are only farmed seasonally – according to the changing seasons, the nature of the crops and the desert climate – as grazing lands.
Below are a few examples:
A. Personal applicability – According to the government decision, any arrangement of land ownership would only be applicable for persons who submitted a Memorandum of Claim on or before 24 October 1979 and whose claim was neither rejected by the registrar clerk nor by the courts. This contradicts the provisions of both the Implementation Outline and the Goldberg Report (Articles 78 and 89 respectively), which state that any arrangement must be applicable for all Bedouin who submitted claims under the Arrangement of Land Rights Ordinance, even those who were served with government counter-claims and subsequently lost in court. So we see that instead of reaching for a mutually agreed-upon solution regarding the right of the Bedouin to their lands, the government instead seeks to reaffirm the same miscarriages of justice that the Goldberg Report sought to correct.
C. Cultivated land – The Goldberg Report (Article 85) states that the determination of whether land should be classified as “cultivated” should depend on how that land was used during the pre-state period. In place of this, the government resolution specifies that the classification of land will depend upon evidence of cultivation close to the time of submission of the original Memorandum of Claim.
D. Geographic applicability – In the second part of the cultivation criterion, the government resolution goes on to say that evidence of cultivation is insufficient; the land in question must also not have been under the control of the state in the past or be under state control today. This completely contradicts the Goldberg Report (Article 71), which recognizes the forced displacement of the Arab Bedouin population to the contracted area known as the Siyyag (the “enclosure zone”). Owing to this population transfer, the Goldberg Report recommends that the arrangement of land ownership should also apply to areas outside of the Siyyag that were registered as state lands, if no ownership claims regarding said lands were filed at the time (Article 90). The practical significance of the government resolution is that most of the lands in the Negev that were cultivated by the Arab Bedouin before 1948, and which lie outside of the Siyyag zone, will be left out of the arrangement.
E. Rates of compensation - Whereas the Goldberg Report recommends that the first 20 dunam (approximately 5 acres) of any proven ownership claim should be compensated at a rate of 100% with each additional dunam compensated at a rate of 50%, the Implementation Outline sets an upper limit for all compensation at 50%, most of which will be monetary and not in-kind compensation of alternative lands. Even for this stipulation to apply, the claimant must comply with a complicated system of requirements, evacuate his land, and agree that the government can make use of it as it sees fit, including allocating it to other individuals.
4. Borders - The government resolution makes it clear that no compensation will be given in the form of land and no settlements will be planned west of Route 40. This contradicts the principle of equality and constitutes blatant discrimination of the Bedouin population. This decision seeks to concentrate the Bedouin population in one specific geographical area, with total disregard for their needs, their wishes, and the realities of life in the Negev.
5. Enforcement - One of the key tools proposed for promoting settlement solutions is enforcement, which means the continued demolition of homes in the Negev as a matter of policy. This is a retreat from the Goldberg Report, which recommended that within the area of the temporary blue lines “gray structures” will be defined, which are not to be demolished until a mutually agreed-upon solution is reached. But under the Implementation Outline there would be no such freeze in home demolitions during the period when settlement is still being arranged. In practical terms, the government resolution establishes a new coordination and enforcement unit under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security that will lead and coordinate all enforcement activity to ensure that the Implementation Outline is properly put into effect. This is despite the fact that the Israel Police, the Inspection Unit of the Israel Land Administration, the National Unit for Building Supervision of the Interior Ministry, and the Green Patrol all already operate within the Arab Bedouin communities of the Negev, using aggressive force to demolish homes in the unrecognized villages. This new policy will only serve to exacerbate the crisis between the Negev Bedouin and the state.
6. Public participation – The Implementation Outline proposes new arrangements together with new interpretations of existing reports. Despite the far-reaching implications of the outline, the work of the Prawer Team was carried out without the participation of the Bedouin community and without their input on decisions affecting their lives, though the Bedouin community tried many times to initiate a dialog on these subjects. When one examines the Implementation Outline, the absence of the principle of public participation becomes glaringly obvious. The lack of public participation in matters so critical to the local population represents a fundamental flaw in the Prawer Report. Even when the Implementation Outline was reevaluated, it was a unilateral action that totally ignored the criticism of the Bedouin community to the preliminary published versions of the plan. Public participation is an essential component of any plan, and its lack makes the Implementation Outline's viability seem highly doubtful.
7. Organization - The government resolution reshuffles the Authority for the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, moving it from the Housing Ministry to the Office of the Prime Minister, and establishes a new enforcement body, also within the Office of the Prime Minister. This is a discriminatory decision, as it chooses to view the Bedouin not as equal citizens with equal rights, whose services are provided through the various normal government ministries similarly to other population groups within Israel.
9. Summary – The Implementation Outline significantly diverges from the planning approach currently practiced and from that recommended by previous official reports, namely, an approach that takes into account and incorporates the characteristics of the Bedouin way-of-life and the population’s unique needs. The Prawer Report continues the discriminatory planning that has been common practice regarding the Bedouin population of the Negev. It utterly disregards Bedouin property rights to their lands and seeks to unilaterally and forcefully impose upon them a “solution” that is discriminatory, unjust, and whose ramifications are the blatant and continued violation of their civil and human rights. Past experience has taught us that any attempt to ignore the will and the needs of the Bedouin population and to impose a forced solution upon them is doomed to end in failure. Therefore, we believe that the Implementation Outline is not implementable. We call upon the government to freeze the implementation of the report, and to work to promote the recognition of all the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, which should be acknowledged as regular settlements, on the basis of objective planning criteria. We further call upon the government to acknowledge the Bedouin’s property rights to their lands, and to treat the Bedouin residents as equal citizens with equal rights and as full partners in the planning process.
8. Appointment of a representative of the National Security Council to examine the report - The government’s appointment of Yaakov Amidror, a member of the National Security Council, to examine and review the Prawer Report only served to widen the gap between the state and its Bedouin citizens. Amidror’s appointment reflects the perception that the Bedouin population is a matter of "national security." This is a significant step backwards from the conclusions of the Goldberg Report, which recommended that the matter of Bedouin settlement be handled as a civil dispute between the government and its citizens (Article 72). Amidror’s involvement in and signature upon the final version of the Prawer Report represents a serious black mark that takes us back to the period of martial law, during which the Bedouin issue was viewed as a matter of national security rather than a civil affair.
Please provide information on legislation adopted by the state since its previous report, that has affected the disposition of land resource, as well as the subsequent role played by the Jewish National Fund (hereafter: JNF) and the Jewish Agency in the control of such resources so as to ensure that everyone under the jurisdiction of the State party is able to fully enjoy economic, social and cultural rights
The facts provided in the following section cast doubt on the assertion of the State's Report that the state of Israel is pursuing non-discriminatory policies in housing, planning, and land projects in the Arab sector.
Continued Discrimination in the Allocation of JNF Lands
Negotiations between the state and the JNF are still in progress for completion of a land exchange agreement in the context of land reform. The emerging agreement, however, violates the rights of Israeli Arabs in all matters of allocation, use and enjoyment of these lands. The plan is designed in part to implement the Prime Minister’s program for privatization of land under the land reforms, in which the JNF will trade ownership of land in the Central region to the state in exchange for available and unplanned land in the Negev and Galilee. The agreement stipulates that the State will administer JNF lands ‘in such a way that will preserve the principles of the JNF in relation to its lands.’ This statement directly signifies a continuation of discriminatory policies against Arab citizens in the marketing and allocation of land – even though the Israel Land Authority [hereafter: ILA] or, according to the new law, the Land Authority [hereafter LA] is a public body, obligated to act in a way that preserves equality and fairness and in accordance with the principles of distributive justice. The State's Third Periodic Report does not mention this land exchange agreement.
The agreement raises concerns that the state will transfer land to the JNF to which Negev Bedouin have claims, upon which are located unrecognized villages, or which are included in areas slated for resettlement and resolution of the Bedouin land problem. Use of land in the Negev and Galilee for Jews alone will exacerbate the already existing crisis and cause further damage to the Arab population that lives primarily in the Negev and Galilee and that is desperate for development, proper land planning and the equal distribution of land resources.
This policy also contradicts the position of the Attorney General, namely that JNF lands must be managed and administered according to the principle of equality, a position that the Attorney General took in hearings on a petition submitted by ACRI and other human rights organizations against the ban on marketing JNF lands to Arabs. These petitions were filed many years ago and are still pending.
Regarding the continuation of discrimination in land allocation, it should be noted that the current Israel Lands Council contains not a single Arab person as a member. In the absence of fair representation on the ILC, which is the body that makes decisions regarding the allocation of land, there is no guarantee that interests and needs of Arab towns and citizens will be heard and treated with the proper consideration required.
In this context, it should also be noted that the state and the government have done nothing regarding the expressed criticisms directed at them by the Or Commission, which discussed the crisis of land and housing in Arab society, and recommended that the state allocate land to the Arab public ‘in accordance with the patterns and principles of equality, as it does with other population sectors.’
A Lack of Housing Solutions and an Increase in Home Demolitions
Over the last year, the state has ramped-up its policy of home demolitions in Arab communities and in the Arab neighborhoods of mixed cities, especially in Ramle and Lod. The government and law enforcement officials have expanded the home demolition policy at a time when no suitable housing solutions exist and no regional planning is in place to allow for legal residential construction within Arab villages and neighborhoods. For the Bedouin villages that were officially recognized a decade ago, no master plans have been adopted that would allow for legal construction within their borders. The recognition was intended to enable the arrangement of municipal planning status for these villages and the houses in said villages, since all of them were constructed without permits. The government further continues to demolish homes in Lod, a city with a serious housing crisis, without providing residents with any housing solutions. The demolitions carried out in Lod several months ago left dozens of residents, including many children, homeless and without any assistance.
The state is not promoting proper planning for Arab communities, and most Arab towns and neighborhoods today do not have updated master plans in effect. Some of these communities have no plans that allow for residential construction. The process of preparing and approving master plans for Arab towns has typically lasted years and, in some cases, decades. Nevertheless, the government must take several actions to provide minimal answers to the rapidly growing housing needs of the Arab population. For example, the establishing new Arab communities or neighborhoods, undertaking appropriate public housing projects, and implementing alternative assistance programs, as they already exist for the Jewish population. The fact that there are no such government programs has greatly exacerbated the housing shortage in the Arab community and severely limited the housing options available to them. In this context, it should be noted that the territorial jurisdiction of the Arab local councils currently make up less than 2.5% of Israel's total territory. Despite the rapid growth of the Arab population, which has multiplied seven-fold since 1948, the land reserves designated for the Arab population have been reduced by one half since the founding of the state. Since 1948, not a single new Arab community has been established in Israel (except for the Negev townships whose purpose was to remove the Bedouin from their historic lands and concentrate them in population centers), while over the same period hundreds of new Jewish communities have been established.
At the same time that Israel is pushing its policy of home demolitions and refusing to promote housing programs for Arab communities, it is lending support to discriminatory programs and bills that violate the constitutional right of Arab citizens to adequate housing and further limit the housing options available to them. For example, the recent attempts to create more stringent conditions for acceptance into communal settlements. Some have tried to adopt conditions for acceptance into communal settlements that make admission contingent upon accepting and adopting Zionist values. However, the sole purpose of this condition is to keep Arabs out of those communal settlements. Additionally, the Acceptance to Communities Law that was passed this year during the Spring Knesset session, injures, among other population groups, Israel's Arab citizenry. This law gives legal grounds to the exclusionary policies of certain communities in the Negev and the Galilee, justified by what they call “social unsuitability.”3
Issue 6: The Abu Basma Council
Please explain why the Knesset has deferred local elections for the appointed Abu-Basma Council. In the light of this deferral, how does the State party ensure that Arab communities participate genuinely and effectively in their own local governance including land-use, planning and public services?
The 2003 establishment of the Abu Basma Regional Council, which followed the 1996 recognition of ten Bedouin villages in the Negev, represented a significant achievement for inhabitants of unrecognized Bedouin villages. Within its jurisdiction, the Council includes ten rural communities with a population of 30,000 residents, but additionally provides municipal services (education, welfare, and environmental protection) to 40,000 Bedouin residents in nearby, unrecognized Negev villages. The State's Report makes several references to the Council, among whose duties it lists ameliorating the infrastructure of all Bedouin villages.
Indeed, the Negev Bedouin had hoped that the recognition of their villages and the establishment of the Abu Basma Regional Council would constitute a real change in Israel's policy toward them. Yet in the end, the story of the Abu Basma Council reflects the policies Israel has continued to use to stifle the expression and existence of its Bedouin population. Since its founding in 2003, the council's significance has been persistently undermined by the absence of democratic elections due to their recurrent postponements by the government. As a result, the council has been administered by an (appointed, Jewish) representative of the Interior Ministry throughout its seven-year existence. This situation denies residents their constitutional right to elect their own local representatives and from exercising their right to run for office, and thus is a direct extension of the government's general policy of excluding the Bedouin Negev population from the decision-making processes that affect their daily lives, culture, and land.
The first democratic elections for the Abu Basma Regional Council, which were twice previously postponed, were scheduled for December 8, 2009, six years after the council’s establishment. But instead of organizing local elections, the Interior Ministry chose to advance an extreme amendment to the law, which would grant the Minister of the Interior authority to postpone said elections indefinitely. This latest amendment, formulated in general terms, was specifically directed at the elections in Abu Basma, and had practical ramifications for Abu Basma only. This "Abu Basma Law" underwent an accelerated legislative process and less than a month and a half later, on November 26, 2009, took effect.
In response to a petition submitted by local residents, ACRI, Adalah, and several other organizations, on February 9, 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that elections for the Abu Basma Regional Council are to be held on December 4, 2012. Following this ruling, the petitioners decided to forego hearings on the constitutionality of the law itself, in hopes that the law will be amended once again by the Knesset in the future. It remains yet to be seen whether the elections for the Abu Basma Regional Council will finally be held as currently scheduled, or whether they will be postponed yet again.
This amendment violates one of the foundational principles of democracy, which requires regular, periodic democratic elections with fixed dates known in advance. The violation of this principle carries with it additional injury to a long list of constitutional human rights, first and foremost among them the right to elect representatives and to be elected, as well as the right to equality. These rights are enshrined in Israel's Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. The new amendment injures the constitutional right to equality, because though it purports to be cut of a general cloth, in actuality it applies only to the residents of Abu Basma. This discrimination against Abu Basma residents has extremely suspect motives and denies them a right that is enjoyed by all other citizens of state.
The court stated that the Ministry of Internal Affairs should make extensive efforts to register the residents of the villages and take proactive actions to accelerate the process of elections. The state’s claim, that there is not enough democratic representation, as only 20% of the Bedouins are registered, only suggests that the state needs to ensure the registration of the Bedouins, as well as ensuring that elections can be held, within the given time frame.4
Even though the council allegedly achieved many positive outcomes, it is important to remember that Bedouins were insufficiently involved in these decisions. Because of the lack of elections, no Bedouins were able to serve in office, and no Bedouins could elect the council. Therefore the basic idea of a local administration has been undermined, as the decisions are made not by the locals but by the government representatives. ACRI together with Adalah wrote a letter to the Director of the Interior Ministry, Amram Kalaji, to draw attention to the fact that the steps taken since the court rulings are insufficient and to ask for a detailed plan on the further steps that the Ministry intends to take in order to ensure that the elections will be held in December of 2012.
The situation of the Abu Basma villages is far from what it is described in the Israeli report of 2011.5 Firstly, the residents of these villages are unable to receive building permits and therefore most of the villages cannot build permanent houses. Although outline plans are formulated, the Abu Basma council connects the issue of land ownership claims to the issue of planning and services. This implies that the residents, in order to receive permits, need to sign a contract with the state that puts down in writing their willingness to give up claims of landownership. So far none of the residents were willing to sign such a contract, as they are afraid of losing the rights to their lands. As a consequence no house permits were issued in the Abu Basma villages. Secondly, the villages are still not connected to electricity. Only public buildings such as schools etc are connected to electricity, while private houses are still left without it.